Archive for the Social Causes Category

A Test of Morality

Posted in Morality, Social Causes with tags , , , , , on August 29, 2010 by Jay Vollmond

Like This!

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

As a quick note, this post is not to “pat myself on the shoulder” or anything related. I simply find all too often that atheists/agnostics/freethinkers get an unfounded bad reputation in the marketplace of ideas regarding morality. In my experience, this stems from the falsities spread by those who do not take the time to get to know and understand atheists. Many people who learn later on after meeting me that I am an atheist are very surprised by this fact. “But, you’ve always been so nice” and other comments are typical, as if I somehow should have been expected to have “666” tattooed on my forehead and drink the blood of infants.

What tested me yesterday was a simple and probably otherwise uneventful situation in just another day of life. However, most people (from the reactions I received by all parties involved) would apparently not do the same. Here was the situation:

Upon exiting a retail store with my girlfriend, we were heading back to our vehicle when I passed a white sedan. I noticed near the driver’s door laying on the ground were a set of keys. On this set was an obvious car key, remote keyless entry fob, and an apparent house key. The first thought that ran through my mind was “Oh, shit! Someone dropped their keys getting out of their vehicle. If these stay on the ground, someone could come by and steal this vehicle without incident.”

The thought that came to mind was NOT whether I should steal the car, or rifle through the vehicle to see if there was anything I could steal. I had tested the remote and it was in fact for that vehicle. The problem that most troubled me was how to ensure that the owner and NO ONE else got the keys after we left.

The best route that I supposed was to take the keys to Customer Service in the store that the person was obviously parked in front of. I did so, despite the fact that it was extremely hot outside and we were not parked very close to the entrance of the store. As I reached the counter to Customer Service, I explained to the employee that I had found the keys. She looked at me with a puzzled look and stated “If it had been me, I would have taken it for a joyride and brought it back.”

I left her with the keys, the make/model of the car, and the license plate number (of which I took a photo on my iPhone to ensure I got the plate number correct). I asked the woman if she could please announce the return of the keys on the PA system in the store so that if the owner heard the announcement all would be taken care of. It still irked me a bit though to leave without having confirmed that the owner’s keys would be safely returned. When I got back to the car I asked my girlfriend if she had a pen, which at the time she unfortunately did not.

I noticed a woman parking her cart and getting ready to enter her vehicle. I asked politely if she had a pen that I could borrow. As I would expect (upon being approached by any stranger) she seemed hesitant. I advised her of the situation with the keys and that I wanted to leave a note on the owner’s vehicle informing them that their keys were with Customer Service inside the store. The woman happily lent me her pen, and as I finished writing my note, she proclaimed that what I was doing was very nice, and would hope that if she was in a similar situation of losing her keys, someone would take the time to do the same for her.

Luckily this extra time to find the pen resulted in perfect timing for me to return to the owner’s vehicle to see a man digging around in his pockets while looking confused. I approached the man and asked if the vehicle was his. He nodded, albeit with a confused look on his face. I explained the situation and advised him of where he could find his keys. He seemed a bit flabbergasted, but managed to shoot me a smile and a quiet “thank you.” He then unlocked his car with a spare “valet” key and placed his bags inside before heading back to the store to regain his keys.

As I mentioned, this is all too trivial, but the reactions I received from the Customer Service rep, woman who lent me the pen, and the owner of the vehicle indicate that it was anything BUT ordinary. I find this to be unsettling. Is it not important to take 5 minutes out of one’s ‘busy’ life to help a stranger?

What helps me make moral decisions is placing myself in the situation. How would I feel if I was the owner of the vehicle and lost my keys? Would my stomach not churn in anguish as I realized I had no idea where my car keys were? How am I going to get home? It’s over 100 degrees outside and to lay on the asphalt looking for keys would burn my skin!

I hope that my actions are not as rare as they seemed to be based on the reactions of the people I met yesterday.

Advertisements

This Life…Or The Afterlife?

Posted in Environment, Rant'n'Rave, Religion, Social Causes with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 15, 2010 by Jay Vollmond

Like This!

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

So which is more important? Personally, I don’t believe in an afterlife. There is no evidence worthy of any real pursuit of religious ideas of an afterlife. This is especially true with the monotheistic religions’ idea of Heaven and Hell, eternal life/suffering, and Paradise by way of martyrdom (and the killing of “infidels”).

Why? Because they are a pipe-dream. Can you truly imagine life that is ever-lasting? The human mind is not capable of grasping a concept like infinite life. We are alive for an average of 50-80 years. Some of us only make it to our teens or early 20’s, and some are stillborn and never even live outside of the womb.

We WILL die, and that will be the end of it. But knowing and understanding this makes life MORE beautiful. Those who cannot stand to live without their fictional god and afterlife see this eventuality as meaning that life would be worthless or useless without a god. I believe this is false. Life is precious. We are on the smallest speck of a planet in a solar system, within a random whirlpool galaxy amongst the vastness of the universe. This sounds pretty depressing, right? Except that we have evolved AND ARE HERE! We are more precious than any religion seems to note. Despite the overwhelming odds against life forming in the universe, we are alive and have the ability to ponder these ideas. But, you cannot actually believe that a deity created the ENTIRE universe just for some mammals on a small planet.

Personally, the thought of a life that never ends is quite frightening. By this I mean that because our lives are NOT everlasting, we are able to better cherish the time that we have with those that we love. We have ONE shot to be the best person we can be, to enjoy life, to make a positive impact on others, and to leave the world better than we found it.

If there is some sort of sequel-life that never ends, it would not be what we consider to be “life”. What do you do with an unlimited amount of time on your hands? How many times can you go to Disney-Heaven before you get sick of the rides and want to punch Mickey in the face? I know, I’m being facetious. But seriously, it’s the knowledge that life is NOT forever and that someday our loved ones (and ourselves) will be gone that makes us appreciate our lives.

Everlasting life has been a human dream since our origins in Africa. Civilizations everywhere throughout human history have different ideas of how we live beyond our deaths. Also, look at the massive interest in vampire culture, zombies, living dead, and the whole Jesus “resurrection” thing. These are physically impossible scenarios, but tickle the human aspiration to live eternally and to not have to face death. They are fiction, used to entertain our desire to live forever despite knowing that it is not true.

To believe that after we die there is some greater “paradise” awaiting us if we exalt the right deity, eat the right food, marry the right person, have a certain amount of children, or other superficial criteria, is just laughable. If the Catholics are right, then the priests who molested thousands of innocent children will go to paradise while non-religious upstanding people are to spend eternity in torture? Really? Come on…

To think of this incredible chance at life that we have as some sort of “training camp” or “final exam” takes away all of the beauty of this life. But, you might inject, we can still enjoy the beauty of this world while aiming towards an afterlife. True, many people do still work towards a better world while aiming for eternal after-life. But, is this additional step really necessary? Can we not do better than this if we all understand that we are here, and it is up to us to be responsible while we are alive? Religion does nothing in this area but make empty promises (that cannot be fulfilled) that keep humans from appreciating the real-world life that they have.

The Christian idea of the Rapture is a dangerous belief that keeps many from caring about the viability of our planet. It seems every generation of Christian (at least the fundamentalists and crazies) believes that Jesus will come back in their lifetime to oversee the Earth as some sort of “loving” dictator. Oh, and supposedly he’s going to fix any problems with our planet with the snap of his fingers (pollution, disease, hunger, etc.). Yeah, and as you wait with bated breath for some mythological savior, the rest of us are trying to work towards a realistic long-term goal of allowing future generations to flourish on a planet that is able to sustain them.

Here’s what we DO know. We are here. We see, smell, breathe, love, laugh, and feel all sorts of emotions. We enjoy time with friends, family, and our animals, while developing memories of these experiences. We are all part of a network of cultures, civilizations, and social beings on a small planet rich in life-preserving elements. Few of these necessary elements are renewable resources, so we must work to sustain the Earth and ultimately our own existence as a species.

We are a recent addition to the ecology of the Earth, and in evolutionary timeframe humans have been here but for only a few minutes (measured in hundreds of thousands of years, if anyone reading this is a young-earth creationist). But, in those few “minutes” humans have managed to over-populate, pollute, and otherwise bleed the Earth dry like a virus.

Let’s all take a moment to reflect. Then, reject religious ideas of the world being a temporary vessel to heaven, and then we can start working on repairing the damage to the Earth. Maybe if these dogmatic wishes for an afterlife get discarded, we can move forward and take care of our home.

– Jay

What the Ten Commandents Should Have Been

Posted in Human Rights, Religion, Social Causes with tags , on June 30, 2010 by Jay Vollmond

Like This!

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

I’m always awestruck at the incredible support of the biblical Ten Commandments as some sort of ultimate moral code. What puzzles me is the view that this archaic “written in stone” baloney is something to actually live by. Now, of course, there are some decent points: no killing, lying, stealing, perjury. Unfortunately those who hold these ten articles as the impeccable moral code from some supernatural being believe that they have the best way to live morally. Really? I mean, really?

Have they not read other historical documents that were written before Moses? Just research a few of Siddhartha Buddha’s sentiments. Ever heard of the Jains? They’re just as dogmatic as the rest of the religious, but at least their dharma includes peace and the effort to never hurt another living creature. There is very little that would support any claims of these sorts by Christianity and Islam in the bible or Quran. The Golden Rule and the Ten Commandments were the best Christianity could offer? It’s really pathetic when you actually READ these ten rules as set by the supposed creator of the universe. The first few are examples of a jealous idiot-deity showing how insecure he really is. If the Judeo-Christian god does exist, he’s a cry-baby bitch. Yes, I said that the god of the bible is an insecure bitch. What type of personality sets apart three of the ten “most important” rules for humanity as self-preservation and prevention of serving other gods? A man (yes, it was certainly a human man) who needs to control the masses.

Now I’m sure everyone has heard the Ten Commandments at least once, if not memorized it due to childhood indoctrination. After all, how can you miss the giant stone representations of the Ten Commandments that religious zealots somehow get placed on our secular government’s courthouses? These blatant offenses to the separation of church and state are continuously being fought against by secular organizations such as the Secular Coalition for America (www.secular.org). Unfortunately a lot of elected officials subscribe to the same delirious beliefs that their constituents do.

Personally, I had to memorize the Mormon Articles of Faith (which I will attack at some point in the near future, these are less known by the general public) growing up. So in reality I don’t need to go through them all and dissect each one. Christopher Hitchens’ revised version has already done an excellent job of this, and has shown the amoral aspects of the Decalogue. There are many other alternative versions of the Ten Commandments that have shown modern human initiative into what would work more effectively (and less barbarically) than the Ten Commandments of the bible. Here is my take, and a revision of what I feel would be a MUCH better set of ten suggestions (mostly from a positive aspect and not the negative “Thou shalt not…” variety) to live by… Oh, and they would be suggestions, not commandments from a bearded man in the sky. In no particular order:

1.       Refrain from causing suffering unto others in any way (this includes rape, torture, killing, and slavery among others), especially through physical, mental, or sexual abuse.
2.       Live life in a way that ensures happiness for you and those around you, so long as it does not cause suffering unto others.
3.       Humans and animals are all creatures worthy of respect; Humans are in a unique position to make the world a better place for themselves AND animals.
4.       Attempt to uplift everyone around you with positive words of encouragement, support, love, and laughter.
5.       Support education, critical thinking, science, music, the arts, and learning in general; Without education we are lost.
6.       Everyone is equally free to find consensual love, companionship, and happiness so long as it does not cause suffering unto others; What people do (safely) in private is no one else’s business.
7.       Do not waste precious resources and time fighting against the rights of others. Fight FOR rights, not AGAINST them.
8.       The Earth is our home – Treat it with respect.
9.       Small gestures go a long way; A simple “Please” and “Thank you” or holding a door open for someone shows basic respect and is positively contagious.
10.    Be cognizant of how your actions affect others; Will your actions improve the quality of life or degrade it?

This is a quick list that I compiled. Imagine if the great thinkers of the world got together every decade or two and analyzed the state of the world. We could create a living, breathing ‘Human Document of Ethics’ that could adjust to the needs of the world.

Perhaps once gay marriage and marijuana are legal all around the world Number 6 on my list will seem like a no-brainer. I say that with a bit of a laugh, however, since many of these on my list seem like a no-brainer already. Unfortunately the poisonous faith of religions causes this to be untrue to the majority of the world’s population. Here’s to hoping that this list will seem archaic someday. If so, that means we’ve made the progress that we need to.

– Jay

Review – “8: The Mormon Proposition”

Posted in Bigotry, Human Rights, Religion, Social Causes with tags , , , on June 19, 2010 by Jay Vollmond

Like This!

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

On Friday, June 18th, 2010, I went to see a documentary entitled “8: The Mormon Proposition.” I first heard of this documentary through a friend’s magazine, and later on a poster. This poster was on view at an art-walk in downtown Phoenix aptly named “First Friday.”

For over a month I waited with anticipation to see this film. For those who are not aware, my childhood took place in a Mormon household. That is, of course, a book in itself… However, this definitely brought a personal aspect that made me even more intrigued. Typically, Mormons keep a low profile because of the public’s less-than-favorable view of them (at least, compared to other major monotheistic religions). It was a surprise to see that someone FINALLY had the courage to show this cult’s back-room dealings, especially with irrefutable documentation.

The opening scene was speech over a fuzzy background with subtitles. The words were eerily confusing at first, but ultimately explained further later into the film. This opening definitely left me feeling eager to know more about where this speech was coming from.

The film’s mood relayed the extremes of emotions that California gays went through after finally receiving the right to marry and then having it taken away. There were scenes of lines of partners lined up outside courthouses awaiting marriage certificates and ceremonies. The look of happiness on their faces was unmistakable. The film introduces the audience to partners as they exchange vows and enjoy their first day as a married couple. Interviews show the partners reflecting back to that day.

Of course, this ends up being the build-up to what eventually shows the incredibly malicious agenda of the Mormon (LDS) Church. See here for just a simple example of some of the documents the church never intended to reach public eyes. From official documents obtained by one of the men interviewed in the film, we find that the church had worked against gay marriage in Hawaii before the California Proposition 8 even started. There was very little time spent on the Hawaii incident, but showed that to the church, Hawaii was a “practice run” for other states.

The main issue with the way the church went about this is that they distanced themselves from the actual “camp” that worked to push against gay marriage. They did this by creating coalitions and working with many other religious bodies to conceal that it was an LDS-led push. Specific sentences of the documents shown in the film describe how church leaders were fully aware and updated on the progression of the initiative.

The anguish felt by those whose marriages took place before Prop 8 passed (and those who had hoped to marry in the future) was palpable. The subjects interviewed in the film explain their stories with true passion. They are simply trying to live in happiness with their partners in no way different from heterosexuals. The fear mongering, fallacies, and rhetoric used by Mormons and other religious institutions are utterly revolting to me. These lies are often discredited, but generally, this is after the fact (especially with Prop 8 ) and no one seems to remember that they were lied to.

There was also a very interesting interview in the film with a man who had been “outed” as gay by a fellow Brigham Young University student. The man explained a series of meetings that were explained to him as “therapy to cure him.” Let me just say that what the man experienced is similar to a failed type of therapy in the cult-classic movie “A Clockwork Orange.” I felt disgusted and cannot believe that someone would treat a fellow human in such a way.

Honestly, I do not want to give away too much, and would much rather have people go see the film (or buy it when it comes out on DVD in mid-July 2010). However, be prepared to see the way that the Mormon Church runs much like a corporation full of ignorant old men. One member in particular that is exceptionally intolerant is Utah Senator Chris Buttars (start video at around :30).

The church used its powerful influence over its members to garner initial votes for the initiative early on, and then funding once the initiative was on the November 2009 ballot. The amount of person-hours spent going door-to-door, calling, and distributing materials by members of the church was unprecedented.

What truly upsets me about the situation is that one group is working diligently to PREVENT another group from having equal rights. I just do not understand this level of thinking, even when taking into account the ridiculous beliefs of their faith. However, the film does an excellent job of explaining that the Mormon’s idea of heaven is such that gay marriage is a monumental disruption of this “plan” for the afterlife. Oh, well, that makes it okay I guess

For those that do not know, the LDS religion is one of utmost patriarchal and misogynistic bullshit. Sure, Mormon women are not forced to wear burkas like Muslim women, but they are certainly subservient to their husbands and are treated as birthing centers, cooks/maids, and as though they are UNEQUAL to men. The Mormon plan for the afterlife is loosely based on how the man’s family (with as many children as possible) follows his lead blindly and unquestioningly. The man and his family are also required to do the same of the church’s leaders. Questioning the prophet and doctrine is not allowed in the church… Therefore, when the church leaders called its members to action in a political movement, the members did so with fervor.

Over 30 million dollars was raised for the support of the Prop 8 campaign by the Mormons within only a few months. During the campaign, they hid behind the veil of vaguely named coalitions and organizations to limit their visibility.

However, once the bill passed and the dreams of thousands of our fellow humans were dashed, the Mormons ultimately received most of the credit for the passing of Prop 8. Large demonstrations occurred outside of Mormon temples all around the country in protest to their involvement in the US political system. While this received some media coverage, it was not enough to give the Mormon Church the giant gaping wound it deserves.

I refuse get into some of the ignorant and hateful things that were said in the film by Mormons and those who supported Prop 8 (except the video of Buttars above, that guy is just such a douchebag I had to share it). It is disrespectful for me to even quote them here. One thing that continues to give cause to the religious (of any religion) to persecute LGBT’s is that they believe that being gay is a “choice.” That’s a bold statement considering how many have never truly sat down with a gay person and listened intently to their life stories: growing up confused, even very early in life before any “social factors” could have influenced them, having to face persecution and rejection from family and friends, etc. Unfortunately, the religious try to make a debate out of anything that contradicts their god’s plan, whether the results of such harm others or not. There is good research here that may offer some additional insight.

My hope is that everyone, including Mormons and people of other faiths, will see this film. Maybe those who previously supported Prop 8 or who are against gay marriage will see the damage that this viewpoint does to other families. Many of the subjects interviewed in the film had family members who supported Prop 8, despite knowing fully how that decision would affect their gay family members.

The dogmatic beliefs that are held by the religious are affecting the opportunity for society to progress and give equal rights to our fellow citizens. Some say that giving gays “civil unions” is enough, but that marriage is some sort of sacred right reserved for a man and a woman. This should be plainly obvious that it is not giving gays equal rights. It is saying, “Okay, we’ll give you this, but you’re still not getting the same rights we have.” We are conscious humans, and deserve the same equal rights regardless of petty differences. Your religious freedom does not give you the freedom to persecute and lobby in the political realm to further your agenda! It is also freedom FROM religion (www.ffrf.org).

One of the conclusions that I drew from the film is this: the Mormon Church should no longer be eligible for tax-exempt status. They have invested heavily in the political movement in the US and have affected innocent people with their bigotry. This cannot be tolerated any longer. In my view, the sheer deception (see videos here) displayed by the religious and the Mormons (see actual Mormon broadcast here) during the Prop 8 campaign shows that their ludicrous religious beliefs will continue to impede human civility and progress.

Please see this documentary, as it exposes an aspect to the Mormon religion that rarely shows its face in public. You may feel that Mormons are “kind-hearted” people who are family-oriented. This is typically true, unless you get in the way…

–          Jay