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Justin Bieber was talked about quite a bit a while ago, and not for the normal, preteen-girls-giggling sort of way. He made some comments to Rolling Stone magazine, in which he came out against abortion. More shocking was his comment on whether abortion should be allowed in cases of rape. He said “everything happens for a reason.” Now, as TheAmazingAtheist said on YouTube, the quote as a whole wasn’t very shocking, being appended by “I don’t know how that would be a reason. I guess I haven’t been in that position, so I wouldn’t be able to judge that.”

Now, I really don’t give a shit what Justin Bieber has to say. There are millions of people in this country who agree with him, and there are millions of people who disagree with him. Hopefully more people disagree than agree with him on the abortion issue, or at the very least the rape instance of the abortion issue, but what I want to talk about is his comment that “everything happens for a reason.”

TheAmazingAtheist, in the video I linked to above, replied to Justin’s remarks by saying that in a random universe, things don’t happen for a reason. He didn’t really go into this and moved on to his next topic. However, I think I would agree that, as an atheist, I do not agree with the phrase the way it is usually meant. That is, that there is some greater purpose to the universe, and that everything that happens — good or bad — is part of this purpose.

Theists would chalk this purpose up to “God’s Plan” or “God’s Will.” New Age types would probably talk about some “force” or “energy” within the universe that influences events. These spiritual-types are usually comfortable with the idea that there is something greater out there, and that that great thing or being or whatever it is has some influence over events and cares about us.

I, on the other hand, will only accept “everything happens for a reason” insofar as it is literally correct. Everything happens for a very specific reason. Why did the ball fall to the ground? Well, because you let it go and gravity had its way with it. Why did you catch a cold? Because your immune system could not deal with a certain virus it encountered. This, however, is not what is normally meant by the phrase.

This reminds me of a personal story. This was a little less than a year ago, when my father and I were shopping around for a used car. If you’ve ever shopped for a used car on a budget with a guy who has different tastes in cars than you, you know it can be a very frustrating experience. We had just left a dealership and were pretty happy with the car, but were going to check out a couple more places before going for it. Anyway, I’m not sure if it was because of my atheism or if he just wanted to impart upon me some of his philosophy/wisdom, but he told me that if we didn’t get the car because someone else bought it or whatever, it was for a reason.

You see, it is his opinion that if something doesn’t go your way, it was because something better is supposed to happen to you later. For this car shopping example, he thought that if I was unable to buy the car I wanted, then that car was not “the one for me.” The first couple times he said it I politely mumbled agreement but after hearing it about ten times (perhaps he wanted me to explicitly agree) I had to tell him that wasn’t how I saw things.

What causes people to adhere to this worldview? I am going to estimate that a vast majority of people in the world subscribe to it. I have a few ideas.

First, I think this is one of the main reasons religion and spirituality are so appealing. It is probably very comforting to believe that some higher power is looking out for you. Shit could be hitting the fan all around the world, , but you’d at least have an out in thinking that The Big Guy (or Girl, I guess; usually Guy) has things under control.

Second, it may have a lot to do with confirmation bias. A nonreligious person like me views all events as “not planned by a powerful being.” As such, my confirmation bias keeps me square in this worldview. Most people, however, see things completely differently. They are taught from a young age that whatever God they’re worshiping controls some subset of the events that take place in the universe, and that these events are directed in such a way that a divine plan is being fulfilled. Confirmation bias leads to even the most mundane events being attributed to God if they are beneficial to us, and if they aren’t good we forget about them.

The interesting thing is which things are attributed to God and which aren’t. Depending on your level of religiosity, you may attribute everything to God (even the really bad things) or you may attribute only the good things. You may attribute the motion of every atom in the universe to God and you may only attribute smiles, butterflies, and rainbows. You may take Satan into account and you may not.

The typically one-sidedness of event attribution is most easily observed through what language we use. Take the words “blessed,” “lucky,” and “unlucky.” The opposite of the word “lucky” is “unlucky.” The opposite of the word “blessed” is “cursed.” But have you ever heard someone actually use the word “cursed” in actual conversation? Use of the word “blessed” is a huge, blinking sign that a person grew up very religiously and/or is currently somewhat spiritual themselves. But they will not use “cursed” as the opposite of “blessed,” opting instead for the word “unlucky.”

Some examples: “Oh, when we were in Ireland it was really nice and sunny; we were so blessed.” (Real example from a date, at which point I’m like crap…) “He got hit by a car. Man that’s unlucky.”

Other nonbelievers and I are consistent with our lucky/unlucky usage, attributing neither good events nor bad events to the influence of some greater being. Theists, on the other hand, wish to attribute only good things to their God, and leave the bad things to random chance. I’m sorry, but you can’t do that.

This is starting to drag on a bit, so I’ll cut to the chase: we need to return to a literal usage of the phrase “everything happens for a reason.” We need to start looking at the world scientifically, empirically, and with the assumption that nobody is going to come to our rescue. They say “a pair of hands working does more than a thousand clasped in prayer.” I agree. Let’s stop begging daddy to come help us and start fixing the world’s problems ourselves.

~peace, RR

The idea for this post was provided by a reader like you! If you have any issues, subjects, or topics, specific or broad, that you want me to weigh-in on, please leave a comment below or send me an email at radiantreason[at]gmail[dot]com 🙂

It is almost taken for granted in discussions of morality, government, and human endeavor in general that life – as opposed to there not being life – is a good thing. Who knows how long this opinion has been around, and when it was that the first person argued against it.

I know of a few places where this point has been challenged in recent times. There was an opinion piece in the New York Times by Peter Singer titled “Should This Be the Last Generation?” in which Singer makes a case for no longer having children so that we can be the last generation. There are also a couple songs by Bad Religion, namely “Better Off Dead” and especially “Pity the Dead” that express skepticism over the idea that living is better than not living.

And certainly there are arguments for ending it all. I won’t go into them, as that’s not why I’m writing this. If you want some arguments, read Singer’s article or listen to “Pity the Dead” (and read the lyrics while you do so you know what he’s saying; he talks pretty fast, but has some interesting things to say!).

What I’m getting at is that the answer this question of whether or not we should bother living is not a de facto “yes.” But I do want to get past this question so we can move on, so how should we decide? I do not simply want to say “yes, we should live” just for the sake of it. And I also do not want to weigh the merits of living and ending it all, as I have already mentioned.

What I will do is take each answer to their logical conclusions. I will say what I think are the only reasonable things to do if you choose to answer the question. And then, perhaps, based on the conclusions we come to, we can decide how we want to answer the original question.

If we answer “no,” if we decide that life is actually not worth living because it contains more suffering than happiness, more strife than peace, what should we do? I think the only options would be what I call the “quick fix” and the “slow fix.”

The “quick fix” would be for everyone to take their own lives. Perhaps not outright using guns or nooses or razor blades, but perhaps after one last planet-wide party. After the huge feast, after the orgy, after getting drunk and high and listening to the best music our humble planet has produced, we could all take an overdose of something or another and die peacefully in our sleeps, before the next day’s hangover and (probably justified) accusations of infidelity, and especially before going back to work.

The “slow fix” would be, as Singer suggests, to no longer have children. Let us soldier through these painful lives we lead, but at the same time not bring any more innocent souls into the world. As the last human being dies off, our species would finally be free from this Hell on Earth. Perhaps our brains are not equipped for reality. Wolves feed by brutally killing deer, and deer live by constantly avoiding the wolves, but neither are smart enough to realize their horrible positions. To them, living is merely so. Too much knowledge, as the God of Genesis might have said, only led us to understand the suffering we actually face.

As poetic as I tried to make those solutions sound, would you take them? I doubt you would take either, but would you agree you would more likely take the latter (if say, forced to decide)? I think there is an easy explanation for this: people don’t want to die. I won’t go so far as to say they like living. Many people, not even those who are crippled by depression, are not happy. Yet nonetheless they do not want to die. (And some people really want to have kids.)

So, at this point I could very well stop and say since we do not want to answer “no” to our question of whether we should bother living, we therefore must answer “yes.”

I will note here that if you answer “no” to the question, the two options I laid out are, as far as I can tell, the only logical conclusions. You may have a slight adjustment to one of my “fixes,” perhaps modifying the “quick fix” to instead party until we have exhausted all resources that are readily available. (If we allow for resources not yet excavated or turned into something usable, I don’t really see how that’s different than what we have now, or the “slow fix.” Why bother working (suffering) at all if your goal is to enjoy life as much as possible before killing oneself?)

You may have come up with another solution, such as killing 90% of the population so that the 10% remaining may start over with the more resources per person, presumably eliminating the problem of suffering for those who are alive. However, that is not answering “no” to the question “is life worth living period?” In this case you are just saying that life is not worth living as it is now and are therefore saying that life would be worth living ultimately if we could change it. This means life is worth living, if only to ensure that eventually we don’t need to put so much thought into this question. This is a “yes” answer. So far as I can tell, the only things that lead from the “no” answer are killing ourselves and no longer procreating – in other words, somehow ending the human race. (If you can think of another conclusion to the “no” answer, let me know in the comments!)

I am not going to stop at our answer of “yes,” however. I want to take this answer to its logical conclusion as I did with the “no” answer. If life is in fact worth living, if the human race is better around than not, what must we do? At the very least, this will give you something to compare to the “fixes” I proposed in response to the “no” answer. Perhaps you will choose “no” after all!

Anyway, unlike the “no” answer, I do not think there are multiple options in this case. I think there is just one thing that needs to be done, as well as a number of things that would probably be a good idea.

I think it is safe to say that if life is worth living, if living is good, then if something happened to us (either you or I personally or the human race as a whole) that killed us it would be bad. So what do we need to do to ensure that this bad thing has as small a chance of wiping us all out as possible?

Simple: we need to get off this rock. As it is now, there is far too much possibility of self-destruction. I won’t get in to the fact that people with Iron Age beliefs are getting access to 21st century weaponry. I won’t get in to the fact that we have enough nuclear weapons on this planet to destroy it many times over. I won’t get in to the fact that we’re slowly killing the planet through our over-use of fossil fuels. I’m sure you all know enough about these things already. But there isn’t just our self-destruction to worry about. If an asteroid hit Earth, we’d be done for. If aliens attacked us, we’d be sitting ducks here on this single planet.

We need to spread beyond our planet. We need to colonize the moon. Colonize Mars. We need to invest in new methods of transportation to get us even further away. This will ensure that no intentional act or accidental disaster could wipe us all out. Because that would be bad, as we’ve established.

That’s pretty much all I can think of that absolutely must be done. Leave the governance of the people, what moral systems we should have, and so on to the ebb and flow of human culture to decide. All that needs to be done is to ensure that we’re around for as long as possible.

I think there are a few things that are “strongly recommended” though. We need to improve the lives of everyone on the planet. If killing ourselves is bad, why give people the idea in the first place? By this I do not mean to censor media so that it does not mention suicide. I also do not think that suicide should be illegal. What I mean is that we should make every place humans live a place where nobody would want to kill themselves. Let’s feed the hungry. Let’s end prejudice and hatred. Let’s eradicate human slavery.

So there you have it. If we’re going to say that life is worth living, if we’re not going to be hypocrites and cowards, living when we think we shouldn’t, then let’s at least look like we mean it. If we’re going to live, then let’s live, and spread, and try to bring happiness to everyone.

~peace, RR

I welcome comments and suggestions. Comments can go below, suggestions to radiantreason[at]gmail[dot]com :)

Atheism and charity

In contrast to the relationship between organized religion and charity (which is probably the only thing organized religion can say it has going for it), the relationship between atheism and charity is much more complicated.

A reader of the blog, David, brought a piece of information to my attention that is pretty interesting. A study done by The Barna Group found that nonreligious people (atheists, agnostics, and those who profess “no faith”) donate less to charity than religious people do. The relevant bit of the article is as follows:

One of the outcomes of this profile – and one of the least favorable points of comparison for atheist and agnostic adults – is the paltry amount of money they donate to charitable causes. The typical no-faith American donated just $200 in 2006, which is more than seven times less than the amount contributed by the prototypical active-faith adult ($1500). Even when church-based giving is subtracted from the equation, active-faith adults donated twice as many dollars last year as did atheists and agnostics. In fact, while just 7% of active-faith adults failed to contribute any personal funds in 2006, that compares with 22% among the no-faith adults.

It should first be noted that The Barna Group, according to Wikipedia, was “founded … for the purpose of providing ‘research and marketing expertise as a service to Christian ministry.'” I am not saying that their facts are wrong. (I am actually not surprised by the results.) I am just saying that with such apparent bias it might be prudent to take what they say with a grain of salt.

So, per David’s request, I’d like to go over why I think this is. Why do we give less?

Let’s go over some things mentioned (and not mentioned) by the study. There is a lot of interesting information that the study presents, even though it is not all applied in ways that I will.  (Perhaps due to their bias, perhaps because they are just stating facts and nothing more.)

First, the study notes that nonbelievers tend to be younger. (From the article: “The no-faith audience is younger, and more likely to be male and unmarried.”) Already I am seeing reasons why charitable donations are not as common. Some good reasons are that young people are just getting started in life, and are probably living paycheck-to-paycheck as they start their lives in the working world. Perhaps they are saving for houses. Perhaps they have children that are still in their care. Some less-good reasons are that young people probably spend more and party more.

In contrast, religious people — who must be older if atheists are younger — may be well-established in their careers. Their children may be out of the house already and no longer need to be cared for. Plus, religious people party less, and (according to the study) are less interested in new technology (“64% [are interested] among no-faith individuals versus 52% among active-faith adults”) so they might spend less, too.

Next, the article mentions “[nonreligious people] also earn more and are more likely to be college graduates.” Let me start with the college graduate bit. Again, nonreligious people are more likely to have college loans to pay off, so they have less money lying around to spend on charity. Now let’s touch on this bit about earning more. This strikes me as saying “they should be able to give more.” However, living in an area with a lot of younger, intelligent college graduates in the work force (coastal regions or larger cities in blue states), the living expenses are also higher as well. The article does not mention specifics about how much more nonbelievers earn, which is surprising because they give specifics for just about everything else.

So, the religious people might just have more money lying around.

Now, I’d like to provide a few reasons outside of the article that might explain why nonbelievers give less.

First ties into my post on atheism and politics. I think the “battle lines” are different for religious and nonreligious people. Religious people focus on giving to the poor at least in part because it gives them easy targets for proselytization.  Nonbelievers, on the other hand, are not worried so much about converts. They are worried about keeping God out of our government. So I feel as though perhaps we are spending money, or at least effort, but not on charities. Instead we are focusing on political issues.

Now, there are a couple bits about politics in the study. First, “[nonreligious people] are less likely than active-faith Americans to be registered to vote (78% versus 89%).” This might take some bite out of my previous point. However, with the average overall-voter-turnout being much lower than either of those figures, you wonder if perhaps a higher proportion of nonbelievers actually vote, while the religious people (already steeped in ritual) register to vote out of habit or due to a sense of “civic duty.” The figures for whether people actually vote are, like specifics on income, absent.

Second, “[nonbelievers] are also more likely to be registered to vote as an independent or with a non-mainstream political party.” This tells me that nonreligious people are more involved with politics than their religious neighbors. The mere fact that someone would not do the easy thing and vote for one of the major parties shows at least a higher level of sophistication with regards to politics.

The unfortunate thing about how the article presents the numbers on charitable giving is that it is unclear what “charity” means. I am comfortable, however, in assuming it leaves out political and activist spending, which is where I think nonreligious money would go anyway over charities.

And to focus a little bit more on the numbers the article gives, it is also unclear what “church-based giving” is. Is that just donating to pay the pastor and renovate the church, or is that to fund a soup kitchen in the basement? It is very unclear. I am unsure whether a fair comparison would include the church-based giving or not. Since they even bothered to mention it, I think it would be fair to leave it out.

And with that being said, I think it’s much more enlightening to say that the average nonreligious person gave $200 in 2006 while the average religious person gave $400. (Rather than to say that the average religious person gave double what a nonreligious person gave.) With the points I put forward already, I think a meager $200 gap can be easily explained.

However, explained or no, I will continue with what I think to be the central issue with regards to a lack of nonreligious charitable donations: it is simply easier for a religious person to give. I do not mean that atheists lack the necessary mental faculty to give. I mean that the tools, institutions, and networks for religious charitable giving are very robust and very visible.

If a religious person wanted to donate some money to charity or something, it would be very easy. Go online, find basically any charity, and give. Or, just give in church! Not only would it be incredibly easy to give in church, but the guilt factor further explains why church-based giving is so high. Plus, giving to the church is like putting money directly into God’s wallet! Who cares if the money is just going to go towards new Bibles that nobody will read? You’re giving to the church! High-five! (Psyche!)

On the other hand, if a nonreligious person wants to give to charity, they have their work cut out for them! In the past few years a lot of high-profile atheist organizations and YouTubers have been highlighting secular charities (like Doctors Without Borders), but if you don’t belong to any groups (or their mailing lists) and don’t watch YouTube, it is difficult to find a suitable charity. You need to make sure the money isn’t secretly going to anti-gay, anti-woman, or pro-superstition institutions. Basically if “God” is mentioned on the website, you’re fucked, and you’d be surprised how many times you can be fucked in a day if you’re looking for a secular charity! (Hint: Do NOT give to the Salvation Army.)

But don’t worry, my fellow heathens. All is not lost! If you feel bad about our (in my opinion, understandable and expected) inferiority when it comes to charitable giving, here’s a case to cheer you up!

Kiva is a microfinance website that attempts to alleviate poverty by providing loans to people. They take out a loan (from the money people donate), start their business, whatever that may be, and when they are able, pay back the loan. Your donation can actually be used multiple times as it gets paid back again and again! From their website: “Kiva empowers individuals to lend to an entrepreneur across the globe. By combining microfinance with the internet, Kiva is creating a global community of people connected through lending.”

Okay, sounds pretty good. But you’re probably wondering, aside from the fact that such a site exists, what’s to be happy about? Well check out this page. That’s right! Atheists, agnostics, and other non-believers collectively have given more money than any other group on the website, by far. They are very comfortable in their #1 spot. Perhaps nonreligious people do give after all, given the opportunity?

Now you may be thinking that being good is not about who gives the most money. You may be thinking it cheapens the whole experience and spirit of giving to make it a competition. And it certainly isn’t a “fight” we could win, so why bother trying to start it? I agree. However, I think it would be an amazing thing if groups of people competed to see who could give the most to charity. No matter who came out on top, the real winners would be those whose lives depend on the help of charitable organizations like Kiva and Doctors Without Borders.

All this talk of charity and helping others has got me smiling 🙂 I’m gonna create an account on Kiva right now! I encourage you all to donate something to some secular charity. Here is a list of some secular ones so that you may pick a charity that is tackling an issue you care about!

~peace, RR

The idea for this post was provided by a reader like you! If you have any issues, subjects, or topics, specific or broad, that you want me to weigh-in on, please leave a comment below or send me an email at radiantreason[at]gmail[dot]com :)

I swear, every time the topic of privacy is discussed, some yahoo has to bring up the old cliché “well, if you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to worry about.” I’m so sick of hearing this phrase that I’m going to devote this post to BEATING IT INTO A BLOODY PULP. There are so many things wrong with the idea that it’s almost laughable.

I actually used a short version of these arguments on my father while visiting him for the holidays. It worked on him, and he’s pretty stubborn, so hopefully it’ll work on you too, and you can bring these points up the next time some yahoo at a party rattles off this phrase rather than giving any real thought to the issues.

First, the statement assumes that laws are static. It assumes that what is legal today will be legal tomorrow. It assumes that if people don’t need to hide something now, that they never will. I’m sorry, but this isn’t how it works. The law is most certainly not static. Sure, smoking cigarettes is legal today, and if someone knew you smoked they may say “tsk tsk, that’s bad for you, you know.” But what about ten or twenty years from now? What if cigarettes are illegal then? Then your stupid phrase comes back from the dead to bite you in the ass. I guess your only choice is to quit smoking, eh?

Which brings us to the next assumption the phrase entails: that the laws are good. Ask yourself, do you think every law in this country is just, fair, and worth having? I bet you’ve already thought of at least a half-dozen bullshit, unfair, unjust, or perhaps even unconstitutional laws. You might have replied to my cigarettes example “well yeah, we should ban cigarettes, that would be good.” Alright, how about… music? Say some quack shows that music makes people violent, irrational, emotional, and dumb. Say the government thinks its a waste of time. And, say the government starts by making instruments illegal to play. Are you going to toss your guitar in the trash just because it’s something that you’d end up having to hide?

And what about things that aren’t illegal, but are frowned upon? Things that society doesn’t like? What if the government wanted everyone to disclose whether they were straight or gay? Or how about what religion they were? Yeah, no problem for the straight Christians in this country. And probably not a huge deal for gays, atheists, Muslims, Hindus, Jews, and Buddhists who live in more enlightened areas of the country (i.e. the North). But what about the atheists and the gays in the Bible Belt? Why should they be forced to reveal what are very personal aspects of themselves, especially when the main result will just be ostracism from their neighbors?

But even throwing aside all those flaws with the assumptions of the phrase, we are still left with people’s need for privacy. Perhaps you’re okay with having your privacy being taken away in subways, and at airports, and sooner-or-later whenever you’re outside your home. Maybe you’re even okay with cameras in your house, as long as they aren’t in the bathroom or the bedroom. But wait, what? You mean you don’t want them to see that? But you’ve got nothing to hide! They don’t care what your dick looks like! They don’t care how big your breasts are! They just want to make sure you’re not doing anything illegal in there. Oh, and they want to watch.

Do you see? It is a fact that we need some sort of privacy. Humans may be social animals but we are not purely social. We wear clothes. We have our own rooms. We have secrets, even if they are meaningless in the grand scheme of things.

If you give the government an inch with regards to privacy, they will eventually take a mile. And once everyone gets used to the mile, they will ask for ten more. You may think that such measures will make everyone safer, rather than simply give those in power another avenue to control what we do. You might. I, on the other hand, think that’s a very dangerous gamble.

~peace, RR

I welcome comments and suggestions. Comments can go below, suggestions to radiantreason[at]gmail[dot]com :)

The blog is not dead

Haven’t posted in like a month. Don’t worry, the blog is not dead. It’s just in the hospital in critical condition. Haha, just kidding. Holiday season took up a lot of my time, and my apartment is currently very messy, and I have a cold. I know, excuses, right? Well a big reason I haven’t been posting is because I’ve been thinking so much. Lots of ideas rolling around the ol’ noodle, so look forward to some posts in the near future!

My apologies to those who have subscribed to my RSS feed and were like “sweet! new post!” only to find this, lol.

~peace, RR

Theists often have a significant difference from atheists regarding how they approach the question of God’s existence. An atheist, in the vast majority of cases, looks simply at whether or not there is evidence to support the proposition “God exists.” (The biggest exception to this generalization is Christopher Hitchens, who not only sees no evidence for God’s existence, but also makes a large to-do about how he “doesn’t even wish it were true.”) A theist, on the other hand, looks for evidence (or more usually — via the field of study known as apologetics — tries to explain why there is none) but also puts a large amount of effort into describing the societal benefits of belief in God.

This non-evidential form of argument does nothing more than frustrate atheists. Not because it is difficult to deal with (all one must do is steer the debate back to the topic at hand) but because it is not relevant to the conversation. What does it matter if people are happier when they believe in God? As George Bernard Shaw said, “the fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one.”

This tendency of theists is also the reason Hitler is brought up in debates between creationism and evolution. (Unfortunately for the theists, causing an automatic loss due to Godwin’s Law.) That acceptance of evolutionary theory as fact by the vast majority of a population (or, more likely, its leaders) could lead to genocide, eugenics, and “evil” has no bearing on whether evolution is true or not. But again, the reason theists bring up the argument is because they do not care solely about evidence. They, for whatever reason, think the outcome of holding a belief is as important as whether the belief is true.

A great example of this is the quote from Dostoevsky’s novel “The Brothers Karamazov” which states “if God doesn’t exist, everything is permitted.” Basically, the theist is claiming, by using this quote, that if people don’t believe in God, everyone would be raping and killing one another, and they would be objectively allowed to do so. Sounds pretty scary, huh?

Of course, like most theistic claims, only a few moments of thought are required to see right through this inanity. Say God was disproved tomorrow. Would you be free the day after tomorrow to murder your neighbor? Not if you want to stay out of prison. Would it be okay to park in the handicapped spot in the parking lot? Not unless you want a $500 fine. Not only would laws still exist even if God didn’t, I don’t think people would even want to murder and rape and steal just because God wasn’t about to punish them for it. Or at least, I hope not. As Einstein said, “if people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed.”

But I don’t want to use this post to refute this oh-so-easily-refuted yet oh-so-often-used quote. It’s been done before. I want to explain why I think the statement isn’t just wrong, but backwards. It isn’t that everything would be permitted if God didn’t exist. No, no, no. Rather, if God exists, everything is permitted. I’m going to start generally with theism, and then hone in on some specific grievances I have with Christianity and the specific sect of Evangelical Protestantism.

Alright, so God exists. What does this mean? Well for starters, it means that there is now an avenue to knowledge that is completely unverifiable. Since God intervenes in human affairs, there is no reason why he can’t tell anyone something in secret, as in the case of Moses. Want that piece of pizza? Just say “God told me I could have that.” Think that 12 year old will make a perfect wife? Tell the mother that their lord GOD has decreed the marriage will occur this afternoon. There’s no way to verify any of these things, but hey, God exists, and it’s possible he did say them, and you don’t want to piss off God by not listening to his newest prophet!

Moving on to Christianity and all the religions that say Hell exists. Okay, what the hell do we need laws for, then? You can outline what will and will not send you to Hell, and that should be it. If that rapist would really enjoy raping everyone he sees for the rest of his life, and he’s okay with going to Hell, well Hell should be punishment enough. (Being everlasting suffering of infinite magnitude, and all.) The threat of Hell should be much more of a deterrent than prison or other punishments exacted in this life. But for those who don’t buy it, they will be free to do whatever they want.

Then there is quite possibly the most dangerous belief of all. The idea that, just by accepting Jesus as your personal savior, you can be absolved of all your crimes and be “born again,” giving you a VIP ticket through the pearly gates. How does this not permit anything and everything? Murder your family, rape your grandmother, kill every single person in the state of Idaho, and will you go to Hell? Not if you just BELIEVE IN JESUS. This belief, which is rampant in Evangelical Protestantism, is the most insane moral proclamation ever made. It completely removes intent, action, and consequence from the ethical equation. Good means “anything plus Jesus” and bad means “anything without Jesus.” Ridiculous.

On the other hand, if God doesn’t exist, we are forced to find reasons for our actions. Consequences mean something. Intent means something. It isn’t what you believe, but what you do that makes you good or bad. To say that everything would be permissible in God’s absence completely ignores what goes in to moral decisions. Because adding God to the equation forces you to remove everything else (reasons, intents, actions, and consequences) from morality, you are truly free to do whatever you want if God exists.

~peace, RR

I welcome comments and suggestions. Comments can go below, suggestions to radiantreason[at]gmail[dot]com 🙂

I think there is a fundamental issue I have with the religious traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

It is not what you think it might be. Or rather, it is not solely what you think it might be. It is not solely the lack of intellectual rigor that goes into the theology. It is not solely the absence of evidence for the claims. It is not solely that they turn their adherents into mindless sheep.

The problem I have with them is that, at their core, these religions are not vehicles for gathering a deeper understanding of the universe or ourselves. Rather, they are systems of morality aimed at controlling a population.

Think about it. In the beginning, or at close enough to it, there was God and Adam and Eve and a garden. There was no religion. There was, however, a rule. Humanity’s existence was from the get-go bound by rules, according to these traditions. That rule was to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And once that rule was broken, religion had to be created to keep people in line.

Let’s compare the Abrahammic traditions with both Eastern religion and modern-day science. If you listen to gurus or monks of Eastern traditions, you sometimes hear them talk about Christianity and the Western religions. How do you think they talk about them? Unlike Western religion, which seeks to demonize and drive people away from other religious schools of thought, Eastern religions embrace the language and more esoteric teachings of Western religions when the audience would find it useful. Eastern religion does not express superiority, but encourages empathy, compassion, and most of all perhaps, opening one’s mind to new ideas.

This analysis is similar to what one gets when they compare Western religions with science. As Carl Sagan said, “there are no forbidden questions in science, no matters too sensitive or delicate to be probed, no sacred truths.” You are free to investigate whatever interests you. You are free to follow the evidence wherever it leads. But this is not so if you are an adherent to one of the Abrahammic traditions. Some things are off limits. Some things should not be thought about, and especially not told to others, lest you damage their faith. And if you are too curious, you will be branded as different, as an outsider.

But you can’t learn anything within the Western religions, either. Not anything you don’t already know, anyway. You sit in church every Sunday and all you are told is what you shouldn’t do (drink, gamble, have sex for fun, use contraceptives, get abortions, etc.), what you should think (about what you shouldn’t do and about current events), and what you shouldn’t think (anything that would lead to doubting your pastor). Yet society is already a sufficient guide for what you should and shouldn’t do. Everyone already knows, to varying degrees, how to be a “good member of society.” Going to your weekly worship workshop in the Western way is simply a way to declare yourself to be part of the “in group” and to meet others in the “in group” that you may together ostracize the “out group.”

Why is this? Why do the Abrahammic religions discourage learning and compassion of other groups so? It is because Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are not, as I said, systems one uses to gain knowledge. The systems are meant to be forms of social control, the glue that keeps the structure of society together. “Strength through Unity. Unity through Faith.”

Because of this, Christianity and the other Western traditions are merely moral systems, a set of rules under a pseudo-spiritual figurehead that allows for in-group-out-group mentality. Intellectual curiosity is not allowed because you may learn too much. You may learn about other systems and what they teach, or even (gasp!) that the religion you were born into is false. You are not allowed to know about other systems, and are especially not allowed to like them, because this defeats the purpose of us versus them. Having someone to hate boosts group cohesion.

It is from this that all the problems people have about “religion” (by which people usually mean Christianity, Islam, and sometimes Judaism) stem. This is why less than half of the United States believes in evolution. This is why gays can’t marry. This is why atheists are widely believed to be Satanists. This is why abortion clinics get bombed and doctors get shot. This is why. And this is my problem with the Abrahammic religions.

~peace, RR

I welcome comments and suggestions. Comments can go below, suggestions to radiantreason[at]gmail[dot]com 🙂

In this semi-serious post, I seek to compare two of my favorite philosophers: George Carlin and Alan Watts. Now, I say semi-serious for many reasons. First, George Carlin is a comedian, not a philosopher. However, as a social critic I do think he had a distinct outlook on life that could be labeled as a philosophy. Second, while there are some similarities that I will outline with this post, the two men would probably disagree on a wide assortment of issues, and their range of topics only overlapped to a very limited degree.

Yet while this post will be only semi-serious, I do think it will be one of my most original and (hopefully) thought-provoking posts for a long time. I hope you enjoy it. I know I will enjoy writing it 🙂

It would probably be prudent to explain who these men are for those who do not know. George Carlin, as I mentioned earlier, was a comedian and social critic. He had a sort of black humor that bit into the heart of modern society and made us laugh at ourselves. In doing so, I think he also did a great deal to make us actually think. Not just about ourselves, but of our society and the real problems it has. Here’s a video clip for a taste of George:

Alan Watts was a philosopher and theologian. (What? RR likes a theologian!? B-blasphemy…?) He was most famous for explaining Zen Buddhism and other Eastern religions to Western audiences. It might be better to just give you a taste of Alan rather than try to explain him:

So you may be wondering how these two people could have anything in common. Carlin seems to be a very cynical, skeptical, sort of person, while Watts is very mellow and perhaps high. However, though the two seem at first glance to be quite different, I think their philosophies complement one another quite well.

To begin our analysis, let’s compare two videos, one of George and one of Alan:

They seem, in these videos, to be talking about roughly the same thing. Namely, that modern society in this country is a sham, a hoax, a game meant to benefit those at the top. Carlin focuses much more on the “conspiracy theory” of it, insinuating that things are they way they are because those with the power want it to be so. This reveals in him his not-so-secret distrust of government. Watts, on the other hand, puts the attention on how we delude ourselves into buying into the system. He holds a more idealistic view of humanity, claiming that we are only stuck in this mess because we have been tricked into it.

Both, however, clearly label the system as rigged. Carlin said in that last clip “the table is tilted, the game is rigged.” In this next video, Alan joins George in brining “them” (those in power) into the mix:

In that video, Alan says “they are so unsure of the validity of their game rules that they say everyone must play.” And at the end of the video, he says of people who choose not to play the game that they “give the community great strength, because it tells the government in no uncertain terms that there is something more than government.” Watts and Carlin come together again to lift up individualism and nonconformity as virtues in this society in which conformity is the norm and anything else brands you as an outsider.

Now, because this view of society as being against us is somewhat depressing, especially as George describes it, George was asked how he manages to see the problems without having his mental state negatively affected. His answer, as outlined in this next video, shows yet another similarity between himself and Alan.

Carlin suggests that if you want to stay sane while keeping your mind going, seeing the problems in the world, you should “become a spectator.” He later says “I look at it as a show. It’s a big circus, it’s a big parade, whatever metaphor you wanna use.” Little does he know, however, that taking the attitude of a spectator is a very Zen, a very Eastern, way of looking at the world. Carlin used the the words “circus” and “parade,” while Watts, in the video above, called life “a musical thing.” Watts also preferred to call life a “theater.” In this video (8 minutes in) Watts, describing the Hindu concept of God (Brahman), says it is “the actor of the world, the player all the parts, so that everyone is a mask… in which the Brahman plays a role.” And that we, incarnations of Brahman “like an absorbed actor, the divine spirit becomes so absorbed in playing the role, as to become it.” He then mentions another term for our society, saying “and this is all part of the game.”

While it is obvious that Carlin’s suggestion is driven by a sense of practicality rather than mysticism, it seems clear to me that they are both on relatively the same page. Both in the same chapter, so to speak. Carlin says that it is a good idea to not take such a vested interest in the outcome of things such that you become infuriated with the impossibility of your plight. Watts says that it is a good idea to not take such a vested interest in such things because deep down the problems are simply what you make of them. They are problems because your are looking at things from the wrong angle. Carlin agrees, and to him the world with all its problems is the “freak show.” For him it is entertainment.

So there you have it. How interesting that two (seemingly) completely different people would have so much in common. I was very surprised the last few days, as I had been watching YouTube videos of both of them, how their messages overlapped. What do you guys think? Am I reading way too much into this, or do great minds think alike?

~peace, RR

I welcome comments and suggestions. Comments can go below, suggestions to radiantreason[at]gmail[dot]com 🙂

We as a species have come up against a quite a few problems, (at least) two of which related to energy. First, there is only so much energy on the planet in the form of fossil fuels — coal, petroleum, and natural gas. Second, the burning of these fossil fuels, according to research done by climate scientists, is warming our planet, which could have negative impacts on our environment in the future.

Is it even possible to solve these problems? Are the solutions to the problems related? Can we kill two birds with one stone?

I think the answer to all these questions is “yes.” The question then becomes not can, but how? How should we go about solving these problems that will come back to bite us in the future?

There seem to be two schools of thought that are most prevalent in the political debate that has formed around this topic. The first is the conservative notion that the second problem isn’t a problem at all, and to deal with the first problem is an attack on our liberty to use whatever fuels we please as well as potentially harmful to business. The second is the liberal notion that we have to do anything we can to solve the second problem before it is too late, and doing so should solve the first problem at the same time.

I would like to propose that both approaches to our energy problems are flawed, either in their premises or in their approaches (or both).

Let’s start with the conservative approach. It is wrong on its face due to its denial of global warming. The science tells us the earth is warming, and we are most likely the cause, plain and simple. (I again encourage you to check out this series on the subject, which is very well done.) The latter piece of it, a hodgepodge of offense at the idea of being forced not to be an idiot and typical conservative defense of big business (which has plenty of resources to take care of itself), is similarly flawed, because it does not even make an attempt to solve the first problem we have (that we’re running out of fossil fuels). However, I do not necessarily blame them, due to how the liberals are handling things…

The liberal approach, while at least based in scientific accuracy, is not completely based in reality. It places far too much emphasis on global warming and the environment. While it is noble to fight these issues from a liberal standpoint, it is akin to insanity from a conservative outlook. Liberals do not seem to understand that by making the issue global warming, they have given conservatives an easy out. Conservatives are comfortable with ignoring facts, especially scientific ones, so they are more than happy to turn the whole thing into a public referendum on the legitimacy of climate science.

Here is what I propose: drop the global warming issue. Not outright, because conservatives would jump on that and claim they were right all along. But over time, increase the emphasis on the need to wean ourselves off of fossil fuels, lest we have to bow to the Middle East to get our country to function.

If we can get the debate focused on how to solve the energy problems (be that with wind or solar or nuclear energy) instead of whether there is a problem at all, I think we can actually make some progress.

~peace, RR

I welcome comments and suggestions. Comments can go below, suggestions to radiantreason[at]gmail[dot]com 🙂

(Blog) Policy Change

Hey all! You may have noticed that I missed Monday and Wednesday this week. (For the past few weeks I’ve been posting religiously (lol) on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday.) Monday I missed because Comcast sucks, and Friday I missed because I was too busy getting drunk the night before to write anything.

Anyway, I think I’m going to change things up a bit. I’m not going to post on a set schedule. This may negatively impact readership, but the readership isn’t very high right now anyway so I don’t mind 🙂 I am still debating whether to write many little things or fewer longer, more thought out things. (If you have a preference either way, feel free to comment.) But I will probably post at least once a week.

Thanks for reading and thanks for the supportive comments!