Worlds Newest Geo-Thermal Formation
|Frying pan lake|
The general ravings of Scott Baldwin
|Frying pan lake|
|Geo-Thermal Activity at "The Hidden Valley"|
I found this little gem as I was going through my Google+ feed today. The Christians For a Moral America (CFAMA) website has a really “quaint” little pole on their website asking what their loyal readers think is the main reason for the rise of Atheism in America. and the options are as follows.
* Propaganda by Hollywood.
* Flaws in the education system.
* Broken families, divorce.
* Rise in homosexuality
Wow… where do I begin… OK well lets tackle them in order.
1. Propaganda by Hollywood. Hrmmm… that is curious. I personally have not seen any significant shift in the amount of Atheist oriented films recently. Having said that, it’s not surprising that a Christian organisation picks on another for using propaganda. After all, the Christian faith is one of the biggest propaganda machines we have ever seen. Repeating the same messed up dogma until people are so saturated with it, they can’t think for themselves is exactly how fundamentalist faiths pass on their viral memes.
2. Flaws in the education system. Well, I really probably shouldn’t say too much about the American education system as I am an Australian. I’m guessing that the CFAMA’s chief criticism would probably be based around most schools refusing to teach non-science such as “intelligent design theory” along side of science like Evolution. At the end of the day, the true marker of a good education system is that the students learn to think critically, and more importantly think for themselves. Christians like to say that you should always be searching for the “truth”, but it is curious how they react when their children actually seriously seek out truth and start asking first order questions like “What are the true origins of the scriptures”, “How exactly did we arrive at the dogmas we now hold as undeniable truth” and “why do all other fundamentalist religions/ideologies look and smell so similar to ours, just with different names and places”, or God forbid “Does God really exist", or “did we merely create God in our image”? It seems to me that the Christian search for “truth” has to be conducted within the narrow bandwidth of what the church hierarchy deem “safe”. I remember back at high school (when I was a fundamentalist Christian), friends of mine who were also fundamentalists were pulled out of science class when the teacher was scheduled to teach evolution. They obviously did not trust their child (16 years old) would be able to develop the cognitive skills to appropriately discern “truth”, and that the only way to ensure they found truth was to cripple their education. Fortunately my parents were not so blind as to do this, and I spent the year giving my poor science teacher hell and challenging everything about the theory of evolution. It wasn’t ‘til much later that I was able to unravel all of the pre-conditioning that my fundamentalist upbringing gifted me with, and be able to look at the facts with a critical mind. This I feel shows that the Australian education system worked.
3. Broken families and divorce. Ok this is a curious one. Not only because of the fact that the divorce statistics within the Christian church are pretty much the same as outside it, but also because there is NO logical correlation between “Broken families and divorce” and Atheism. Incidentally, it is also a known fact that arranged marriages in cultures like India are far more likely statistically to succeed than marriages in the US. Maybe the Hindus have the “truth”.
and finally saving the best for last.
4. Rise in Homosexuality. This again simply shows a distinct lack of correlation. Homosexuality is simply about being attracted to the same sex. It has no logical connection to choosing to believe in a god or not, and there are plenty of homosexuals who do. Perhaps the rampant victimisation and outright hatred shown towards homosexuals from within the church has given many little choice but to seek other avenues to find a spiritual path, but really the two are mutually exclusive. The CFAMA’s suggestion that this could be linked to the dreaded and feared “rise of Atheism” is just mindless fear mongering designed to keep their adherents from potentially having an open mind.
Of course the CFAMA forgot probably the most important reason that there may be a rise in Atheism, so I’m going to put it here, and hopefully it will get more votes than any of the others (btw vote by leaving a comment or by +1 on Google+), and that is…
* With unprecedented access to information and the free exchange of ideas that the internet provides us with, coupled with many countries focus on providing better education systems, more and more people are being able to employ critical thinking to challenge ancient dogmas that fundamentalist faith based organisations have for centuries dictated to their adherents, and are seeing how flawed some of the thinking really is.
I remember one family at the fundamentalist Christian church I was involved with as a teenager, had taken the whole not telling lies thing to a very interesting extreme. They had decided that teaching their children not to lie, and then spinning them this tale about a Jolly old fellow dressed in Coca-Cola red went around the world at midnight on the 25th of December distributing gifts to all the “nice” children, was kind of hypocritical. At the time, I could see their point, but felt a little sorry for the kids that missed out on some of the magic and mystery of the festive season.
I went into adult hood as a sincere and devout fundamentalist Christian, and this idea started to play on my mind. I began to wonder if when I had children, I would tell them about Santa Clause. I started to come to the conclusion that maybe these parents had the right idea. I did not want my children applying the same logic to God as I forced them to apply to Santa Clause. I told my Mother of this decision, and she simply replied, “well you and your sister didn’t apply the same logic to God as you applied to Santa Clause”. This made me think for a second, but I judged that the risk was too great. I couldn’t bare the thought of my children loosing their faith in God because I had told them a lie about a mythical being in their early childhood.
Many years past, and a few years ago, now as an Atheist, I reconsidered the proposition (not that I am any closer to having children mind you). Looking at the scenario, I decided that, yes I want to tell my children about Santa Clause. About this mythical figure that can do amazing and magical things. A being that can defy the laws of nature that bind the rest of us, and that brings so much happiness in the form of the toys their little hearts most desire. I then want to allow them to come to the realisation that it is just mummy and daddy spinning them an elaborate fairy tale to make the season seem somehow magical.
My ex-partner thought I was just a sadist wanting to be cruel, but cruelness is certainly the last thing on my mind. I think it is a very powerful vehicle to teach two very valuable life lessons.
1. Things that sometimes seem magical, often (if not always) have a very logical and natural explanation. Just because we can’t see that explanation at this very moment, does not imply that we should accept the default and very unlikely explanation of “magic”.
2. Even people who love you sometimes lie to you for varying reasons. If you really want to know the truth, it is up to you to seek it, and be prepared for it. Truth, like life can sometimes be harsh.
In essence, I see it as a sort of panacea against fundamentalists attempting to indoctrinate my children (as they inevitably will, assuming I ever have any), into their faith.
I was raised as a fundamentalist Christian. Until the age of about 25, I believed the following facts to be immutable.
I chose the word "fundamentalist" in my opening sentence very specifically. There is a quintessential difference between someone who believes
There are many aspects in which this distinction plays itself out. One we see commonly, is the biblical literalists insistence on attacking the scientific theory of evolution, and insisting, against all evidence to the contrary, that the earth is less than 10,000 years old. The reason Biblical literalists cannot, and will not accept that the creation story is anything more than a myth for the benefit of an illiterate desert tribe to take solace in, is because they argue that this denial in the literal truth of the opening chapter of the Bible creates a slippery slide that will hold the rest of the Bibles message to critique, and will ultimately invalidate (in their minds) the undeniable truth of the word of God. It has very little to do with the psuedo-science of intelligent design. People who fall into category b however, (those I would refer to as liberal Christians), see no problem with juxtaposing the creation myth as a beautiful and metaphorically elegant story of the supernatural origins of the universe against the scientific theory of evolution. I myself went through a phase of believing that the Bible wasn't meant to be a modern scientific dissertation, but rather in regards to the creation story was meant to provide sufficient information for people in a pre-scientific era to satisfy the ontological question, and move beyond this to more important aspects of how to live a good life. While I was still able to accept the rest of the dogmas of the particular brand of Christianity I was involved with at the time, this event marked my slow progression from fundamentalist Christian to liberal Christian, which eventually culminated in my current position of Atheism. But there was much more to this progression than simply taking the creation story metaphorically.
I've spoken with a number of ex-fundamentalists. Some have, like me, gone to almost the polar opposite of atheism. Others have chosen the less extreme agnostic route. Some have found solace in some form of deism, while others prefer to hold to their theistic understanding of the world but chose a more liberal approach to their Christianity. Many of these people, however, will have some key thought, argument or idea that has eventually broken the continuum of the cyclic logic that is necessary to maintain a fundamentalist belief system. What I wish to do in this essay is to explain what that argument was for me, and how I was finally able to break out of the fundamentalist mind-set. Note to any fundamentalists who might be reading this essay, before you start formulating your killer cyclic argument that will in your mind destroy my "sole" objection to your fundamentalist belief, just be warned that this is not my "sole" objection, but merely the one that I deem responsible for enabling me to jettison my dogmatic and limited world view.
Before I go on, I need to say something about language, and my understanding of it. I have always had an interest in languages. If you haven't figured out by now, English is my native language, and despite attempts at learning a few others, I have to concede that I am not yet bi-lingual, although it remains one of my life goals to become so. In high school I did a few years of Italian, not that I remember much of it now. I have had a number of attempts at learning Spanish, and it is currently the language I am most fluent in aside of English. I can actually hold decent conversations in Spanish, and understand a reasonable amount. I even attempted to learn Greek at one stage. Very early on in my investigation of the concepts of language, and the ways in which languages differ, I started to feel very overwhelmed with the way in which the language we speak, and the way in which we use language can shape our subjective experience and understanding of the world. This can be demonstrated using a very simple example such as the following.
In English we would say
"The red shirt"
The equivalent Spanish translation would be
"La camisa roja"
Even in this very simple 3 word example we notice two very astounding things. Firstly the word ordering is different. In English we have the definite article "the" followed by the adjective "red" and finally the noun "shirt". In Spanish we have the definite article "la" followed immediately by the noun "camisa" and then finally the adjective "roja". The second and even more significant difference is that in Spanish nouns have a gender whereas in English they are gender neutral. The word for shirt in Spanish "camisa" ends in an "a" making this word feminine, and forcing the usage feminine definite article "la" instead of "el"(masculine) as well as the feminine form of the adjective for red "roja" instead of "rojo".
These differences may seem small, and perhaps just an annoying little peculiarity if you are trying to learn a enough of Spanish so that you can order a meal at a restaurant when you go on holidays. However, if you look a little deeper, it raises all sorts of questions around how the world is viewed by the native speakers of these different languages, and how the language you use to think in shapes your subjective reality. The ordering of words is important to the emphasis we place on things, and concepts. Attributing a gender to nouns, or not changes your whole understanding of that concept, and forms different associations in the neural pathways of the brain. Admittedly, in the very simple example I give here, we a reasonably certain that we are talking about the same thing, but this is an extremely simplistic example. It doesn't take too long into trying to explain more detailed concepts that you very quickly see a difference in the ways in which people with different languages understand and perceive the world. This fact is demonstrated quite profoundly by recent scientific research that shows how our concept of languages affects the colours we perceive and how well we perceive them.
Spanish and English aren't even all that far apart in their linguistic origins. Extrapolate these differences between say Hindi or Mandarin and English, and the mind can only begin to imagine how differently these people must perceive the world and relate to it. Added to this, our language is constantly changing (I would normally use the word "evolving", but I didn't want to alienate any creationists that might be reading). Just reading a play by William Shakespeare will demonstrate just how much the English language has changed in the past 400 years. It has changed so much that learned Academics debate furiously about the meaning of certain words and phrases that subtly (or sometimes not so subtly) alter the understood meaning of the plays.
The Holy Book
This brings me to the main intent of this essay. The argument that caused me to break the cyclic logic of fundamentalism, and allowed me the freedom to intellectually assess the evidence for myself and more honestly strive for an understanding of the mysteries of life. Or as a fundamentalist Christian might put, the lie that the devil sold me to win my soul and take me to a hellish eternity.
The bible is a collection of works with many different human authors over a period of a few thousand years. Or again if you’re a fundamentalist Christian, the Bible is a collection of works all authored by God but entrusted to a number of different humans over a period of a few thousand years. Regardless of your position on this, the defining argument for fundamentalists is that "The Bible is the written word of a perfect God and therefore infallible". OK, so let's break this down. I don't even want to get into the debate here about the inconsistencies and contradictions in the Bible which are well documented. I will instead assume that if you are a biblical literalist, then you will have arguments against these supposed "contradictions", or you are blissfully ignorant of them and don't care, in which case I'm surprised you've read this far.
So from the definitions here, Firstly God is "perfect". This by definition, at least in my mind, means that God when communicating with say the angels or even just thinking aloud to himself, or creating the universe by his "word", would not use an imperfect human language to perform this act of divine communication. So God's native concept of "language" would be drastically different to anything any human actually speaks. OK then, but God wanted to communicate with us his created cognisant beings to explain his plan for our lives, and his elaborate rules for gaining salvation and entering into eternity in the nice place as opposed to the horrible place once our mortal bodies had stopped functioning. This would seem an important thing for such a God to want to do. He decides that the best way to do this is to reveal it to various people over a few thousand years in their native language. Right here is where I have my first problem. Translation is imperfect. It is notoriously easy to translate things incorrectly even between very similar human languages let alone between a perfect divine language and an imperfect human language. There is an old saying "The translator lies". So even in the original Ancient Hebrew, Ancient Aramaic and Ancient Greek that the collection of books we know as the bible was written in, there is one level of translation involved. To get to where we are today though, which is to say to a Bible written in our modern languages, involves at the least one more step of translation from one of these ancient languages which are no longer in normal every day use, and are now more for academic interest, into our modern language. The sheer amount of opportunity for inaccuracy in this step renders the task frightfully problematic. This is evidenced by the sheer number of different versions of the bible that are available in English alone, and the constant debates between different adherents of their favourite translations. At this point my belief that what we call the Bible has any claim to being "the written word of God" crumbled and shattered into pieces.
One might be tempted to argue that even though their are different translations the underlying doctrinal beliefs that come from the Bible still hold true. In response, I would simply point to the number of different denominations and factions in the Christian church today. If God really thought it was that vital to have a core set of doctrines then he's doing an extremely rotten job of communicating it to modern humans.
Life after Biblical Literalism
This was the start of the slippery slide that made me question everything I ever believed about Christianity. It made me realise that the Bible should not be given special treatment and be elevated above the critique given to any other historical document. It gave me the freedom to stop taking everything in the Bible as literal truth and to be able to understand it as a collection of books written in a particular period of time for very specific purposes that the people in those times had a far better chance of understanding than I ever will, with my language and my subjective understanding of reality. That's not to say that I don’t still find parts of the bible unbelievably inspiring and enlightening. The elegance of Jesus' words "let he who is without sin cast the first stone" is amazingly poignant and very applicable to our lives today. The problem is, the Bible is statically locked in time and place, and as a consequence there are a great many things for which it does not and cannot speak. Biblical literalists try desperately to extrapolate, but in my opinion just end up causing pain both for there own adherents and for others who they try to inflict their out-dated ideas onto.
One of the things that bothers me about my whole journey to this point, is why it took me so long. It wasn't until I was 25 that I really started to ask first-order questions about the faith I was raised with. The only conclusion I can come to is that the combination of the brainwashing working so well, and my own personal insecurities as a young adult caused me to want to keep believing it for so long.
Wall Streets response to Occupy Wall Street
I find it quite insulting. My mother was a primary school teacher, and she worked very hard. Not only did she have to drive almost an hour each way to get to school, after working a full day, she'd then have to come home, prepare dinner for the family, and then sit at her desk until late at night preparing the next days lessons. All for such a small salary. The only benefit was the decent amount of holidays she had, half of which were spent preparing for the next semesters classes.
I find this response arrogant, and displays the ignorance of someone who has only ever worked on Wall Street. I find it laughable that these people think they could possibly settle for a teachers salary. They don't seem to realise the extent of the lifestyle change they'd have to make to adjust to the disparity in income. I am a reasonably well paid software engineer, and earn significantly more than both of my parents combined, yet I don't think even I could deal with the lifestyle change that I would require to change my career to teaching, even if I could walk straight into a teaching job today.
I do respect what these very smart people do, and I don't think anyone is suggesting they change jobs. Part of the problem with occupy wall street is that there is a lot of confusion about what is being asked for. Things like eliminating corporate corruption, the unfairness of corporate criminals going unpunished while defaulting mortgagees are kicked out on the street, the ever increasing disparity in income for the super rich, corporate bailouts, and a plethora of other issues all thrown in together. My personal concern is that the system we have been building is unsustainable. Sure wealth disparity is a natural part of life, and from an economic point of view it can be a very good thing. However, there is only so much disparity that the majority will accept before there is a revolution. If you want to base your right to be greedy/wealthy on the concept of “the trickle down effect”, you have to be sure the wealth is trickling down, not accumulating at the top. Maybe occupy wall street is a warning that we are approaching a limit that is unacceptable. This response from Wall Street sounds to me very much like “Let them eat cake”.