Archive for Faith

A Test of Morality

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

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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.

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This Life…Or The Afterlife?

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

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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

Inhumane and unnecessary

Posted in Faith, Human Rights, Islam, Religion, WTF? with tags , , , , on July 9, 2010 by Jay Vollmond

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If you’ve been paying attention to the media this week you’ve probably seen one or two articles related to the planned stoning of an Iranian woman who has been convicted of adultery. Here’s a basic summary of how her “conviction” went:

“In May 2006, a criminal court in East Azerbaijan province found Ashtiani guilty of having had an “illicit relationship” with two men following the death of her husband.

But that September, during the trial of a man accused of murdering her husband, another court reopened an adultery case based on events that allegedly took place before her husband died, the BBC reported.

Despite retracting a confession she said she had been forced to make under duress, Ashtiani was convicted of “adultery while being married” and sentenced to death by stoning.

Ashtiani, a mother of two, denies the charges. She has been in prison since 2006 and has already been given 99 lashes. She has lost appeals for clemency.

Under Iran’s Islamic laws, adultery is the only capital offense punishable by stoning. A man is usually buried up to his waist, while a woman is buried up to her neck. Those carrying out the verdict then pelt the convict with stones until he or she dies.” (MSNBC)

Okay, first of all, this is horrendous. Most people around the world will probably agree with me. The article states that many people have been up-in-arms lately about the possibility of this woman being stoned to death. I, of course, am one of them and appalled as well. However, what I noticed upon my first reading of the article is that what this woman has already gone through should have made many people shudder in disgust.

She has already suffered several years in an Iranian prison (I can’t imagine that it’s very clean), been torn away from her children, forced  into giving a false confession, and whipped, yes WHIPPED, 99 times. I view stoning as a vile and inhumane thing to do, probably one of the things that most shows the barbaric nature of the Muslim faith and culture. But I find it unfortunate that it took to this point for this woman’s story to reach public knowledge.

A major side-effect of this idiotic process is the damage done to her children, who now have had to deal with the murder of their father and the inappropriate imprisonment of their mother. The son also witnessed his mother’s lashings at the age of 17. We can add psychological distress to the list of effects that Sharia Law has on everyone involved.

“She’s innocent, she’s been there for five years for doing nothing,” Sajad told the Guardian. He described the imminent execution as barbaric. “Imagining her, bound inside a deep hole in the ground, stoned to death, has been a nightmare for me and my sister for all these years.”

Why is this happening in modern times?

One thing that frustrates me at every turn is the misogyny that occurs in the Muslim culture. To me, and anyone else who has had their consciousness raised and made aware, women are no less equal to men, and to treat them simply as birthers and sub-human is wrong. What’s even worse is that the sexual repression in the Islamic culture is always channeled towards the women like it is their fault life sucks. They view the women as temptresses who would otherwise draw all men to temptation. Such is the reason for women’s’ requirement of the burka, to prevent them from “dressing inappropriately.” Because the men apparently have no self-control (raping that lead to “honor-killings” are also common in Muslim-led countries) they oppress women at every level of life.

What occurs within lands under Sharia Law is seldom witnessed or made public to outsiders. I certainly hope that these types of human travesties reach the public eye more often so that the world can put more pressure on these countries to abide by human decency, not Islamic oppression. I don’t want this woman stoned to death, imprisoned, removed from her children, chastised, OR whipped for a false charge. Especially if this charge is for something like adultery after the death of her husband. The media is portraying very little but the stoning, and it seems every article I read quickly notes what she has already gone through, but does so matter-of-factly while skipping over it. Hopefully the whole story will be known widespread and the world come together to prevent this woman’s barbaric death.

I like that the media has started covering this. However, if I may ask a few things of the media… PLEASE relate to your readers that things of this sort can only come to fruition when barbarism and religion are allowed to reside within governmental processes. I’m not sure why the religious foundation of these atrocities is never spoken of. All we get is  “Under Iran’s Islamic laws…”. Can the media please explain this in further detail for those who are not as well informed on Islamic society? This is what happens when a theocracy is in place; when religion determines “morality” and “law” regardless of how a-moral the outcome is.

Ask yourself, would something like this happen in a civilized country? Do we hear stories of this nature from Denmark or Norway (unless it’s from a Muslim or religious extremist)? Does a secular society allow human rights to be trampled on in such a way? No, only faith and religion have the power to destroy the progress of society in such a quick and simple way. Sarah Palin, I’m looking at you…

*As an American I have to say this with a bit of tongue-in-cheek since a large portion of my country’s citizens are ignorant and don’t approve of (or in fact fight against vehemently) gay marriage and universal health care. So to some Europeans, America probably looks just as ignorant as Iran in this situation. Sorry world, many of us are trying!

Faith Is A Disease

Posted in Faith, Idiots, Rant'n'Rave, Religion with tags , , , on July 2, 2010 by Jay Vollmond

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Why, you may ask, is faith a disease? Religious apologists would often say ‘Faith is what gives people the peace of mind to get through life’s troubles.’ I agree with this statement. Faith can help people overcome obstacles and problems – SOME of the time. But it does more harm than good. There are multiple problems with faith, and I will explain why faith is a major detriment to the progress of society and the health and welfare of the world’s population. By the way, you’ll probably notice some sarcasm in the headers. These are some of the responses that religious people would actually make, so I wanted to partially address them.

Islam

Christians will most likely agree with me that the beliefs of Muslim suicide-bombers are a key factor in the decision to blow themselves up and take the lives of innocent bystanders around them. Now, what most don’t understand is that to the bomber, the bystanders are anything but innocent. They are either infidels, members of opposing Muslim sects, or others who need to be killed in accordance with a jihad or fatwa. What reasoning do these men use to justify such a heinous act? It is so that the person in question can reach eternal bliss for himself and his family by becoming a “war hero” of sorts.

This seems incredibly foreign to Christians, whose idea of reaching heaven is through… well… every Christian sect has a different idea of how to get to heaven. Regardless, Christians rarely cite any “suicide” clause which rewards one’s death with eternal bliss.  However, in the Islamic religion, this is quite the fact. The issue here is that these people actually believe the unfounded claims made by their holy books that when they perform these actions they are benefiting themselves and their families at the expense of people who would otherwise poison them with heretical beliefs.

FAITH is what creates these insidious beliefs. There is no evidence of any “life after death”. Anyone who says otherwise is using circular arguments that will be based on faith and scripture. That or they’re bat-shit crazy new-agers or ghost-hunters. No one can know if there is something after death unless they’re dead. Obviously this creates a communication issue. But these religious terrorists “know” what they will receive based on faith in Allah and the Quran and the teachings of Muhammad. Just as Christians, Mormons, Hindus and many other religions claim to know from their holy books.

That is an extreme; what about “good” faith?

This is a question that really denotes the lack of understanding that many religious people have as to what faith really is. They like to think of faith as a virtue and a loyalty to a positive message. Obviously from the definition below loyalty is certainly an aspect of faith. However, this is only AFTER someone effectively accepts the idea or belief in something that is based without evidence. I can be loyal to the tooth fairy or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, but we all know that they don’t exist and there’s no evidence for them so they can be dismissed*.

Here is the definition from Merriam-Webster:

Faith:

1 a : allegiance to duty or a person : loyalty b (1) : fidelity to one’s promises (2) : sincerity of intentions
2 a (1) : belief and trust in and loyalty to God (2) : belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion b (1) : firm belief in something for which there is no proof (2) : complete trust
3 : something that is believed especially with strong conviction; especially : a system of religious beliefs

So the question I have is when is it a “good” thing to believe in something without evidence? If someone can point one out I’d like to know. Maybe I’m a bit pessimistic, but I can’t really see how believing in something without proof can be productive. If I get a letter or email that offers something “too good to be true”, I immediately delete it. I would imagine most people do the same. Unless gullibility is involved, does anyone view an offer like this with anything less than skepticism? Is the offer legit, or is it most likely a scam? Such is religious faith. A scam.

Take a look at how you approach other things in your daily life. Are you skeptical until you have enough evidence to believe something? You probably are. So why would someone have a dualistic approach when it comes to what is often seen as the most important thing in their life?

Religions use faith to control the uneducated (and in modern world even educated people fall for it). It goes like this: Don’t question anything we say, just follow blindly and have faith despite the fact that it doesn’t make sense. It’s when a person starts to focus and question what is logical and reasonable that he or she understands that religion does not have answers, only smoke and mirrors. Truth comes from open inquiry and scrutinizing details (using things like the scientific method and basic critical thinking) which results in understanding or a scientific theory. Please be aware of the differences between a scientific theory and a “theory” (‘my theory is…’) that someone makes up without evidence.

My biggest complaint with faith is that it prevents otherwise rational and skeptical people from working towards creating a better world. Far too often, people “have faith” that their deity will fix problems or make things all better like a parent to a small child that skins its knee. Here is an example on the recent oil spill in the Gulf. But, you say, it does no harm to be positive and pray for help! It may do no harm by itself, but it does nothing productive. It is offensive when the religious throw up their hands in defeat and wait for their magic-man to fix the problem. Faith that a deity will solve problems, whether you believe he/she exists or not, stalls progress and wastes time/resources that could be better used by physical beings capable of problem-solving.

The fact that our legislators were wasting time to devote a day of appeal to a mythological being is pathetic. Yes, the oil spill is disastrous and unfortunately we have had difficulty containing it effectively. But does holding hands and talking to our devoted invisible friend do anything to fix the problem? Absolutely not. We are not telekinetic creatures. We do not move things with our mind. We develop ideas with our minds and then carry out those ideas using our hands.

Religion and faith are the antithesis of open inquiry and truth. Because the holy books of the most common religions are supposedly written as concrete “Word of God” documents, modifying or updating these beliefs only occurs when society’s progression will no longer tolerate certain dogma (slavery, racism, polygamy, etc.). So in essence, religion keeps us from moving forward and leaves us in the past, while honest inquiry helps us progress. Think about the extensive progress that can be made in the field of medical science if the general public could understand that the cells used are not a human child. Faith in the idea of a “soul” has caused religious pressure on the governments of the world to withhold funding for stem cell research, despite its incredible potential. The faithful seem to think that these cells are more important than the rights of the person whose body they are in, and more important than finding cures and relief for the suffering of actual human beings who could benefit from stem cell research.

But… But… Faith in the Bible is good!

The major improvements in life throughout the last few hundred years have been made DESPITE religion, NOT because of it. Does the Bible tell us that slavery is wrong? Fuck no! Even Jesus condoned slavery (Luke 12:47-48 NIV) and the Bible is rampant with horrendous advice on keeping, trading, beating, and killing slaves. There was no “Bible 2.0” that came out around the time of the Civil War indicating that god changed his mind about slavery. No, it was because of HUMANS, secular AND religious, who understood that other people do not deserve to be treated as less than human. Faith in scripture allowed these despicable practices (among MANY others) to continue for waaaaaaay too long.

When a person’s belief-system of how the world works, both socially and physically, derives from writings of desert nomads from thousands of years ago, we are left with bronze-age beliefs in the modern world. This is unacceptable when we have minority groups struggling for rights. These groups will stay oppressed due to divisive scripture in the world’s religious holy books. Does anyone truly have a legitimate reason to deny gays equal rights that it NOT based on religious discrimination? How about a woman’s right to control her own body? Are these things really anyone else’s business? No, unless of course you believe through faith that there is a magic-man up in the sky watching everyone and reading their thoughts.

If it wasn’t such a serious issue, I would find it hilarious that people believe some creator of the universe (the size of which is unfathomable; the human brain cannot comprehend the distances involved) gives a shit about peoples’ private love lives. Again, unfounded faith, without evidence, in religious dogma is a deterrent to social progress. Just a few more examples of the impediment to peace and progress found in the “good book”: witch burning, anti-Semitism, tribalism, misogyny, homophobia, and racism.

Put Your Views Under Scrutiny

One of the most important things I’ve learned over the last few years is to constantly question myself and things around me. What is reasonable? What is logical? Does ‘this or that’ make the world better, or does it only serve a select few and cause suffering to others? As I mentioned previously, religion ultimately describes this type of inquiry as a sin. Do what you’re told and you’ll get to heaven. Wow… I am utterly amazed at how often this works. I imagine that childhood indoctrination plays an important part in this lack of critical thinking.

My challenge to anyone would be to truly put their beliefs under scrutiny. Think critically and skeptically about your own beliefs in the way you would in our hypothetical “too good to be true” situation. Ask yourself if you really believe the following:

  • The universe was ‘created’ 6,000 years ago – Humans and dinosaurs walked the Earth together – Evolution is “just a theory”
  • A man was born of a virgin, walked on water, turned water into wine, and then rose from the dead to fly into space without propulsion
  • A flood wiped out every living creature on Earth except one family – and two of every species (millions upon millions) that somehow managed to refrain from acting on their hunter/prey instincts on the boat
  • You will live in paradise after you die for all eternity because you happened to choose the “right path to salvation”, while others who did not will be sent by your all-loving deity to suffer in torment for eternity
  • God is a man who lives on Kolob and you are the offspring of his sexual encounters with his many wives
  • Joseph Smith was directed to the “real” truth in golden-plate form and translated these plates using magic rocks in a hat
  • Slavery is okay – Native Americans can have their skin lightened if they convert to Mormonism

You may think I’m just being facetious, but these are the tenets of Christianity and Mormonism. These are the ridiculous “truths” that religious faith keeps alive. I say it’s time our species grows up and sheds the “flat-earth” tradition of religion.

– Jay

For more information on the topic of faith, please read “The End of Faith” by author and neuroscientist Sam Harris. It’s an excellent book.

*Side note: “…what can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence.” – Christopher Hitchens