Archive for December, 2010

Obligatory Christmas Post

I have learnt something about blogging this year. This particular blog is now just over a year old and successful isn’t what I would use to describe it; however, I have learnt this year, though, what it takes to have a successful blog (other than the obvious ability to string a couple of grammatically correct words together).

To have a successful blog you need to post often. The more often you post, the more traffic you’ll get.

And that is all I have to say about that.

Hope you all have a smashing day and don’t lie to too many children.

The True Story

Science has made us what we are, more than anything else. The scientific method has given us an expected lifespan almost three times as long as the stone age sheep herders that wrote the Bible (and God himself actually appeared to and spoke to them personally). It has put a man on the moon, a spacecraft outside our solar system, eradicated smallpox, explored the bottom of the ocean and photographed the unseeable. It has frozen light, split atoms and discovered quantum mechanics. It has made virtually all of human knowledge available to anybody who cares to look from anywhere all of the time. It has created virtually all of human knowledge as it is.

I wish I could say it as succinctly and eloquently as xkcd: “This world is amazing and I’m going to live to experience more of it thanks to people who refused to gracefully accept the ineffability of reality.”

And then this stroke of pure genius: “I find my courage where I can, but I take my weapons from science. Because they work, bitches.”

“Science works whether you believe in it or not.” – Herb Silverman

Religion, on the other hand, only works when you can’t measure it,  can’t see it; when you can’t prove it. Funny that.

Check out the xkcd comic strip here.

xkcd - Sickness

It is pretty hard to argue that religion must be good for something to people personally, must have some kind of attraction that has kept many millions of people from walking away from it. As much as religionists like to believe their fairy tales are true and the Bible is chock full of truth and good stuff, the opposite is abundantly clear to anybody who doesn’t happen to have a vested interest in believing what religion is selling. The number of unbelieving clergy and “in the closet atheists” that preach or attend church is testament to the fact that there must be another attraction aside from the obvious.

What then is the draw of religion? Why are people so attracted to it and once in religion, why is it so hard to leave?

A recent study published in the journal American Sociological Review sheds some more light on that question. Researchers Chaeyoon Lim and Robert D. Putnam identified a link between religion and improved life satisfaction and published their results of their study: Religion, Social Networks, and Life Satisfaction.

The results basically show that about a third of religious people who attended services weekly report being “extremely satisfied” lives had 3 to 5 close friends in the congregation.  “Extremely satisfied” is defined as a 10 on a scale ranging from 1 to 10.

Only 19 percent of regular service attendees with no close friends in the congregation reported being “extremely satisfied” with their lives. On the other hand, 23 percent of people who only attend a handful of services per year but that have 3 to 5 close friends in the congregation reported being “extremely satisfied”.

“To me, the evidence substantiates that it is not really going to church and listening to sermons or praying that makes people happier, but making church-based friends and building intimate social networks there,” Lim said.

So, essentially, it’s your friends at church that makes you happy, not being at church, worshipping or praying.

When I look at myself I think I recognise that as the reason it was mostly painless for me to embrace atheism and feel very little discomfort at walking away from the religion of my parents. I didn’t have any close friends in any congregation and didn’t have any real social ties to stop me from leaving or make me want to go back.

I also think a lot of atheists are like me in that we don’t have or want extended social networks and mostly get on quite well on our own. It’s this that makes organising atheists like ‘herding cats’. The lack of a strong desire to be social made it easy for us to leave religion but hard for us to form a cohesive, working atheist “community”. In quotes because there is a bit a “movement” of atheist bloggers, activists and people who frequent the same forums, sites and groups together with secular campus organisations but nothing on the scale of a major religion.

The atheist “community” or “movement” should learn something from this study. A lot of effort goes into denying that atheism is not a religion, that atheism is a religion like bald is a hair colour. While technically true, atheism is not a religion, the atheist community is more like a religion than most atheists would like to admit; in fact, the atheist movement can be compared to a lot of organisations – “promoting something that you think would better the world, wanting more members, etc. It’s not really a big deal, aside from being a very efficient way to troll people.

Atheism has causes: maintaining the separation of church and state is one, the teaching of science fact instead of religious fiction in schools is another. Atheism and its causes has much to gain from a united organised community able to advance it’s aims in an organised, united way.

It might sound a bit ridiculous to say that we atheists should start to think of and treat our “community” like a religion but it seems that it might just be a good thing both for us personally as well as for the rest of world at large.

If there was a God and he happened to fancy a spot of book writing (or video making, you never know) this is what it would be like:

It takes a very special kind of self deception to disagree with that.

Check out Edward Tarte’s other videos here:

Condolences to Richard Dawkins

Our sincere condolences to Richard Dawkins; his father, John Dawkins has passed away at the age of 95.

Read more here.

My wife and I were sitting on our balcony yesterday discussing a previous discussion on religion. We are both atheists and have some strong views on atheism and religion not entirely (OK, not even a little) shared by the rest of our families. We are both quite clear on the ridiculousness of religion, Christianity in particular (since Christianity in general most closely matches what the rest of our families believe).

During our discussion it was mentioned that we know there is no god, there isn’t even a question about that; however, wouldn’t it be great of there really was an all good, all-powerful, all loving, caring God out there who had our best interests at heart? Wouldn’t it be great?!?

Well, no. It is, in fact, the worst possible thing I can imagine.

If you’re a Jesusianismist, you probably find that quite strange, startling and possibly even a little ludicrous. Let me explain with a short parable.

John Smith, tired from a long day at work at an investment bank on Wall street, was walking through central park on his way home. He always got the cab to drop him on the corner of 5th avenue and East 72nd street. He would then walk across the park to his apartment on West 73rd street where he lives with his wife and two children, twins, a boy and a girl aged 7. These children were John’s life and he loved them more than anything in the world. He was very fond of children in general and coached the second grade soccer team at the local school.

As John was walking through the park this fine evening, whistling to himself, he heard what sounded like a muffled scream coming from some bushes in the distance. Curious as to what caused the commotion, John walked over to investigate. As he walked around a bush he struggled a bit to make out the scene in the quickly fading light of dusk. As his eyes adjusted to the light, what was going on became a little clearer.

In front a bush, not thirty feet away was the small naked body of a girl, perhaps 7 or 8, tied up, hands and feet. Her eyes wide with terror, staring at John, pleading. A couple of feet to the left was a large man, dressed in black from the waste up, busy raping another girl, perhaps the same age.

The man paused momentarily as he saw John, who held up his hand and said, “Sorry, didn’t want to interrupt”.

“He’s probably going to kill these girls”, thought John as he cast his eyes across the scene.

“He’s probably that serial rapist that was on the news last night”.

John looked at both girls terror filled eyes and quietly said, “Don’t worry girls, it will be over soon”, turned around and walked away without another word.

John quietly whistled to himself as he crossed the road to his apartment, wondering what his wife had made for supper and what his kids had gotten up to that day while trying to put the thoughts of the man raping the child out of his mind.

I think you’d be hard pressed to find somebody who wouldn’t take issue with the actions of the fictional Mr. John Smith. In fact, what was described in that short story is something we call “gross criminal negligence” and possibly “accessory” to rape, kidnapping and murder. The actions of Mr. John Smith are both illegal and morally abhorrent and nobody in their right mind would disagree.

We could all probably agree that were any sane person to find himself in the shoes of Mr. John Smith they would either do something to stop what was happening or at the very, very least make a damn good effort to get the authorities involved to stop what was happening.

And that is why the worst possible thing I can imagine is for a god, especially the child loving god of the Christians, to exist.

If an omnipotent God exists, it means he has, for thousands of years sat and watched the most horrifying things imaginable get done to children, woman, mentally disabled people, animals, you name it and he didn’t do a damn thing to stop any of it. He has watched children being raped, and worse, sometimes in his own house, sometimes by his own ordained representatives while listening to their horror filled pleas and he pretty much ignored it.

He listened to the cries of six million Jews being slaughtered and did nothing. He watched as hundreds of thousands were murdered in his name and sat on his hands. He watches every day as thousands die of starvation in Africa without so much as lifting a finger. He watched as a tsunami drowned a hundred thousand people, babies and children included without warning anybody. He sat still as an earthquake crushed a hundred thousand in their sleep, babies, woman and children. He has watched every conceivable disturbing thing in all of history happen and he has let it happen; he has the self-proclaimed ability and authority to stop any and all of it, but doesn’t.

This is not a being I could like or respect, let alone worship.

God works in mysterious ways and we cannot understand the greatness of his plan one might say? It is beyond human comprehension? Bullshit, if God exists, he is without a doubt the most offensive thing in the universe. I do not need to understand any divine plan to know that I find the torture of children offensive in the extreme. The only part of this that is beyond my human comprehension is how people can delude themselves into believing that God loves them and their children and has the ability to protect them from anything but fucking doesn’t.

Let’s imagine for a second though, that all of this horror does actually have a point and there is, by some miracle, a good reason for God to allow suffering on a scale that is too horrific for normal people to comprehend.

Let’s imagine that you’re a devoted parent with a daughter. You love her, you raise her properly. You educate her as well as anybody can be educated. She grows up to be a magnificent, intelligent woman who devotes her life to the service of others and saves the lives of countless people through her selfless actions.

Let’s imagine now that because your daughter is educated so well, she is completely unable to accept Christian mythology as the truth and instead sees it for what it is: the creation stories of a clan of savage bronze age tribesmen. Let’s imagine your daughter ends up an atheist.

You and your daughter die together in a car accident, you a devoted Christian and your daughter an unapologetic atheist. By some miracle, your version of religion turns out to be true and Yahweh and his son Jesus meet you both on judgement day.

The verdict, as it turns out, is that you get to go to heaven and be happy with Jesus himself for all eternity. Unfortunately, you’re going to have to spend eternity, perpetually happy, yet knowing that your daughter, along with billions of other people are being tortured, all day and all night, forever, without any possibility of respite. Because, at least in your daughter’s case, your deity Yahweh, couldn’t put a credible story together?

How do you live with that? How is it that an omni-benevolent deity invents the single most horrific thing that any human being could imagine?

There is no god.

I can live with a universe where bad things happen to people because shit sometimes just happens and there isn’t anything anybody can do about it. I cannot live with a universe where an apathetic deity watches people suffer and does nothing, just to go and make them suffer some more, but this time without respite for eternity simply because that deity cannot come up with a story that can be believed by rational people.

If a human being had to act the way the gods of human invention act, they would get locked up for gross criminal negligence at best and executed as mass murdering tyrants at worst.

The reason hell is the most horrifying thing a human being can imagine is because it is from the twisted imagination of a human being.

Thank god there is no god.

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