Archive for November, 2010


Happy Song Sunday! Today we have a song from VNV Nation titled “Testament.”

A few lines from this song bring up what seems to be a recurring theme in religion, that humans are inherently sinful, wicked, or evil. (Not all religions, mind you. Buddhism, for example, says that we are perfect at birth but the world around us makes us wicked.) Even science tells us that, as we have parts of our brains that are remnants of our reptilian ancestry, we have the capacity for aggression.

“We conquer paradise just to burn it to the ground”

This reminds me of another quote: “I can picture in my mind a world without war, a world without hate. And I can picture us attacking that world, because they’d never expect it.” (From Jack Handey.) Or think of the movie Avatar, or Pocahontas (both movies having the same storyline). The sad thing is, I could also picture this situation.

“We bring destruction, we bring war without an end”

While animals have been slaughtering one another since time immemorial, humans might be the first species that has the ability to destroy the planet, too. Elephants might be able to trample small trees, but they do not seem to have the desire or inclination to.

Why are we like this? Why do we have to continuously fight one another?

It is difficult to tell whether we are all inclined to be violent, or if it is power that corrupts. It is difficult to tell whether what drives us to commit bad acts is desperation, or a thirst for (more) power.

Looking at countries like Switzerland, Sweden, and Norway, it appears that if you have what you need there is not a drive to acquire more. But are these countries free of desperation, or lacking the power necessary to acquire more? The United States, arguably, has what it needs. All it has to do is trade, and that does not require war. Why then are we at war? Are we a global “peacekeeper” because we want to make the world a better place, or because we want to increase our influence? North Korea does not have what it needs. (Although perhaps it might if it didn’t spend all its money on its nuclear program.) Is this why North Korea is militant? Or does it have just enough, when resources are focused in certain areas, to practically increase its power?

And then we come into the realm of nature vs. nurture. Though it is very likely that it is a combination of the two that dictates who we are, is one more dominant? And if so, do those who are desperate steal or kill because they are biologically wired to, or because they have been brought up to think doing so is okay? Is it in our genes to abuse power, or do phrases like “what do all men with power want? more power” (The Oracle from The Matrix) become self-fulfilling prophecies?

Lots of questions, and no answers from me. I don’t think I’m qualified to answer these questions, lol. But I am interested in what you guys think. If you have opinions on any of these questions, leave a comment!

~peace, RR

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

A hobby of some atheists is debating with Christians and other theists. You’ll find many YouTube videos dedicated to this subject. I myself have not debated on the specific issue of the (non)existence of God in a long time, but when I did, I found it to be a quite enjoyable method of stimulating the grey matter.

However, stimulating as it is, I often find myself growing tired of the very academic nature of the debate. Who cares whether angels had free will? Who cares what the Bible says about shellfish and fabric material? Who cares if there’s a Hell or a Heaven or if we just rot in the ground, really?

I grow tired and ask these questions (to myself, not my opponents, obviously) because on a very fundamental level I consider the real issues to be solely political in nature. I almost consider atheism to be a purely political, rather than philosophical, position.

It all stems, I think, from the definition of “atheist.” For those who are not aware, “atheist” means “does not believe in a god.” It does not mean that you “believe no gods exist”, “believe the Christian God doesn’t exist”, or “worship Satan.” (Yes, some people actually think atheist means “worships Satan.” And yes, it makes my brain hurt, too.)

This definition tells someone essentially nothing about your beliefs. It is only the answer to the question “do you believe in <insert god here>?” If your answer is “no,” you are an atheist. If I were going to give myself a categorical title like “atheist” that actually reflected what I believe in, it would have to be something ridiculous like “materialist naturalist secular humanist agnostic atheist.”

But then, why do I call myself an atheist? If I don’t really care that much about the theology and the philosophy other than in intellectual conversation, why do I identify with this movement?

It is exactly because it is a movement. But while many might call it an intellectual movement, I’m willing to call this a political movement.

If atheism were a political party, it would stand for separation of church and state, skepticism, reason, and science. It would be against the teaching of intelligent design in schools. It would be against public funding for faith healing, homeopathy, or other new age medicines. It would be for gay marriage (or perhaps moving everyone to civil unions and letting marriage be solely a religious issue). It would be pro-choice and for stem cell research. Looking forward past the hot-button issues of today, it would be for technological and scientific advancement, space exploration, and improving the quality of life via human efforts.

The party’s motto might be this phrase I once saw on a button: “Two hands working can do more than a thousand clasped in prayer.” What we want is evidence and reason to be used to make decisions, not faith and dogma. What we want is scientific advances to fix our problems, not moral edicts and church charities.

These are (some of) the issues I care about. And atheists aren’t the only ones who care about them. That’s why the atheist/theist debate is only something you think about late at night when you’re with some friends and you have a few beers in you. The real issues, the things atheists really want, are all to be found in the political realm.

So, if there are any theists out there who want to debate via email or something, feel free. Just know, however, that while that’s all good and fun, I don’t really care what you believe, as long as you aren’t trying to impose your beliefs on me via the government. If you try, that is when it will start to get serious.

~peace, RR

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

It is patently obvious that creationists are not against the theory of evolution by natural selection because they are not satisfied by the rigor of the experiments being done, or by the amount of evidence that supports the theory. If they were, they would not be attacking it from angles like “oh, a dog never gave birth to a cat, so evolution isn’t true” or “there has never been one transitional fossil found.” These objections can be resolved simply by opening a high school biology textbook or spending an afternoon on Wikipedia.

If they were really interested in the science they would be taking part in debates that are actually happening, but they are not. The childish arguments they make can easily lead one to believe that they actually know nothing about the theory they are attacking. It seems almost obvious that they have not taken a science class, let alone read one of the many thousands of peer-reviewed papers on the subject.

No, this cannot be the case. They must have taken the classes. They must have read the papers. If they could find one factual inconsistency in the theory they would jump on it like SIr Mix-A-Lot was their lord and savior. The one thing they would love more than anything would be actual documented evidence that the theory of evolution is the scam they say it is, and you know someone has been wasting their entire life digging through the journals looking for it.

Much more likely is the idea that organizations like the Discovery Institute are against evolution for political reasons. And while I do not at all agree with this approach (obviously), I do understand it in a way. (You must be wondering why the title is “I don’t understand creationists.” Read on.)

If you think about it, a lot of people might consider the diversity of life and the Bible (perhaps in conjunction) to be their main argument for believing in God. (Not the main reason — the main reason is probably that they simply want to believe. They like the idea that their lives have an objective purpose, that when they die they aren’t actually going to die, that bad things happen for good reasons, that someone is watching over them.)

The “diversity of life” or “complexity of life” argument was probably a relatively good argument back in the early 1800s and before. Now, however, it’s just plain obvious — it is evidently true — that the Bible is false. Nowadays you have to twist and turn a verse here and there, read a few lines backwards, ignore a few chapters, and squint your eyes a bit before the Bible starts to sync up with reality.

I think creationists, and a good portion of Christians in this country, are worried that evolution will take their argument away. And in a way, on a subconscious level, they know that they are wrong. This is where doubt comes in. Nobody would doubt Christianity if miracles happened nowadays or if prayer worked. People doubt nowadays because it’s very hard to take iron age philosophy seriously in this age of information. They don’t want to lose their argument.

They also probably hold some sort of opinion that if religion goes away society will not be as good as it is now. That society will deteriorate. People will be sleeping with dogs and raping children and eating people and doing drugs for breakfast without religion telling them not to. And because they are worried about that, they are then worried that if more and more people believe in evolution, more people will lose their faith and more people will find their neighbor’s wife not just sexually appealing, but appealing on the dinner table as well.

So in a sense I understand why they’re turning this into a political issue and not a scientific issue. They’ve long given up on the science. They did so because they knew they had already lost and could never come back from their defeat. That’s obvious.

Here though is why I don’t understand them at all. I know I’ve said a couple times why I understand why they’re doing what they’re doing, but let me explain why even this doesn’t make sense to me once I give it more than a few seconds of thought.

Let’s say everyone in the world agreed that random mutations and non-random selection could, over time, lead to speciation (which has been observed, by the way), and that all current lifeforms share a single common ancestor billions of years ago. In other words, let’s say everyone accepted evolution. There is no reason why religious people could not still use the “magic” argument.

Right now their argument is “magic.” They’re saying evolution could not have happened without divine intervention. For example, the eye could not have evolved through natural processes. (It could have, by the way.) What difference would it be to say that God directed evolution specifically so that humans could have evolved? Or that there’s no way you can get consciousness from matter, so God used magic for that? What would be the difference!?

So overall, I just do not understand creationists. Continue brainwashing your children. Continue lying to yourselves every Sunday. I don’t care. You obviously don’t care about facts, but we do. Creationism or intelligent design or whatever you want to call it does not help us in any way to solve problems in biology or medicine or any subject for that matter. Why don’t you just get out of the way of our facts and theories and problem solving? If your lack of interference would help us get to a cure for AIDS, cancer, and aging that much faster, I’m sure the world would thank you for it.

~peace, RR

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

Backscatter Bullshit

…or, if you’d like, “My Argument Against the TSA’s Advanced Imaging Technology and ‘Enhanced’ Pat Downs.'”

Recently, there has been a slight increase in the outrage regarding the TSA’s security policies at various airports across the country. The current policy, as far as I understand it, is as follows: At airports with the Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT), you may be randomly selected to use one of the machines, or may be told to use one if you set off the metal detector. You may, if you want, opt-out and instead get a pat down. However, so many people were opting out of the AIT that you now get an “enhanced” pat down, in which women’s breasts will be touched, and both men and women will have their thighs felt until the screener meets “resistance” which is touching the testicles of a man and the labia of a woman. Children were subject to this as well, but recently the TSA has stated that “modifed” pat downs will be used for children under 12. (More on this later.) You may request to be taken to a private room for the “enhanced” pat down, and also bring a friend if you wish. If you opt-out of the AIT and also decline the “enhanced” pat down, you will be asked to leave the airport and may be threatened with a $10,000 lawsuit. (It is apparently illegal to leave the TSA checkpoint without fully complying with either the AIT or the pat down if they request it.)

Now, I am against the use of the AIT scanners as well as the “enhanced” pat downs. In this post I will outline the multiple reasons I have for being against these measures, put forward what I would request the TSA do instead, and provide you with information on what you can do to help the cause if you so choose.

1. Health Risks

The TSA claims that the two varieties of the AIT, Backscatter X-ray and Millimeter Wave, do not pose any health risks to travelers. This is backed up by studies done by organizations such as the FDA and NIST. However, many scientists have since come forward and raised doubts about these claims. At any rate, there are some things we do know. First, that no amount of X-ray radiation is “good” for you. And second, due to the nature of the devices (being used for security purposes), we are unable to get the details on how much radiation they actually do emit, and are hence unable to do independent testing.

2. The 4th Amendment and Privacy

The text of the 4th Amendment of our Constitution is as follows (emphasis mine):

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

In other words, you cannot search someone unreasonably unless you have probable cause that they have done or are trying to do something illegal. A policeman cannot just ask you to show him whatever is in your purse or backpack. A policeman cannot just walk into your house and walk around. A policeman cannot search your vehicle. None of those things without a warrant, and you cannot get a warrant unless you convince a judge there is reason to get one.

Yet it is quite obvious that buying a plane ticket and wanting to take a flight does not provide sufficient reason to assume you will try to do something illegal. So at this point they do not have a legal right to perform unreasonable searches. But are the searches unreasonable?

Well, you would (I assume) wholeheartedly agree that making you strip naked would be unreasonable. And while the current-generation Millimeter Wave AIT has somewhat low resolution (as evidenced by the leaked images that the TSA promised cannot be stored, printed, transmitted or saved), the Backscatter X-ray AIT has a much higher resolution. These machines are effectively giving you a virtual strip search. (And again, we cannot trust the TSA’s claims that the images will not be saved, allowing them to be potentially leaked.)

The “enhanced” pat downs also fall into this category of unreasonable searches. What is more unreasonable than someone touching your genitalia? The TSA quizzically reminds us that “you can always request to be screened in a private area,” apparently completely ignoring the issue at hand. I don’t think anyone cares if they are patted down in private or in public — the issue is the extreme nature of the pat down. Now you have to tell your children that they shouldn’t let anyone touch their private parts… unless they are wearing a uniform.

I would also argue that such a pat down or the AIT imaging is much less reasonable than having your backpack or car searched, but those things are most certainly not allowed without a warrant. Seems pretty clear to me that these airport screenings are unconstitutional.

3. Security Theater

Okay, you may now be thinking to yourself “alright, maybe the AIT machines pose health risks, and maybe our privacy is being — perhaps even unconstitutionally — invaded by these practices, but don’t they make us safer?” I think now would be a good a time as any to pass on these words of wisdom from one of our founding fathers, Ben Franklin: “Those who would give up Essentially Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

But let’s address this concern on a more practical level. Bruce Schneier, a cryptology expert and security consultant, refers to the TSA’s methods as “security theater.” This is because they are just a show put on to make people feel as though the government is doing something to make them safer, when in reality the methods do not do so. He says that these methods “won’t catch anybody,” and that if the terrorist is from a well-funded group like Al-Qaeda, “nothing can be done” to stop them.

Why is this? Well, let’s think about what these machines and pat downs cannot detect. They cannot detect anything within the body. So if there was a something stuck up a guy’s ass, or surgically implanted in a woman’s breasts, no dice. And remember what I said about children under 12 being subject to a “modified” pat down? Well, doesn’t that prove it right there, that this is security theater? We know terrorists are not against using children in their plots. The reason the TSA has backtracked on this issue is because they are worried that public outrage will grow so much (after seeing videos like this) that they will be out of the job.

Not convinced by some computer nerd? How about the former chief security officer of the Israel Airport Authority? The airport in Tel Aviv has some of the toughest security in the world, and they do not have these machines. He calls them “useless” and says that he could “overcome the body scanners with enough explosives to bring down a Boeing 747.” The Israelis use behavioral screening rather than AIT machines to improve security.

You should be convinced by now that these machines are nothing but show, but if not, consider this: the TSA has never caught anyone with them. They might say they aren’t allowed to divulge such facts, but that is (as Bruce Schneier says) bullshit. With all the horrible PR they have been getting, they would jump at the chance to show they’re actually effective. And this is the story of the life of airport security. We didn’t stop the 9/11 hijackers, so we started banning stuff. We didn’t stop the shoe bomber, so now we take off our shoes. We didn’t stop the underwear bomber. We are always one step behind, and that is because our methods are just for show and do not provide any real security that a determined terrorist could not overcome.

4. My damn paranoia 🙂

If you aren’t against these things yet, allow me make a final push by barraging you with some paranoia built up from reading a lot of blogs and dystopian fiction!

Do you want to know what I think they could be trying to do with these machines? Getting us ready for them to be put elsewhere. I mean, these things aren’t at train stations or subway stations. Why is that? Since they are used for domestic flights at airports we are assuming the terrorists are already in the country. Does nobody think they will just skip the plane and try the bus, train, or subway instead? They aren’t putting them everywhere because they are expensive (why waste the money on something you know doesn’t work) and because a little too much invasion might ruin the whole endeavor, causing a public backlash.

I’ve already talked about cameras being put everywhere. Do you know that the powers that be are trying to introduce new “security” measures that the public has not yet seen? At my place of employment I saw retinal scanners being demonstrated. This would be a better way of identifying people than fingerprints because they can be used from a distance. Think Minority Report. But do you know what’s stopping them? It isn’t so much the technology as it is the public backlash. They admitted people do not like these things. Well, how do you get people to like them? You force people to use similar measures like what the TSA is doing, and get them used to it. Over time, being used to less privacy will quell the fire that would be shown today.

Alright, if you aren’t already convinced you probably never will be. If this is the case, you better leave a comment and say why, dammit! 🙂

Now, what would I like to see done by the TSA?

  1. Stop the use of the AIT machines
  2. Stop the enhanced pat downs
  3. Implement behavioral screening from trained law enforcement officers (TSA officers are really just rent-a-cops), like we have at our borders

And finally, if you’re interested, what can you do?

Well first, Ron Paul has introduced new legislation in the form of HR 6416 that would stop all of this quite assuredly. If you want to read the bill, it is very short:

“No law of the United States shall be construed to confer any immunity for a Federal employee or agency or any individual or entity that receives Federal funds, who subjects an individual to any physical contact (including contact with any clothing the individual is wearing), x-rays, or millimeter waves, or aids in the creation of or views a representation of any part of a individual’s body covered by clothing as a condition for such individual to be in an airport or to fly in an aircraft. The preceding sentence shall apply even if the individual or the individual’s parent, guardian, or any other individual gives consent.”

Please call your Representative and tell them to support this bill! I will be doing so, perhaps today. (I gotta figure out how that works first. Never have called in for anything before.)

Second, you can sign this online petition to stop the scans.

Finally, you can participate in National Opt-Out day. It is officially November 24th, but any time you go to the airport you can opt to not get the full body scan. Do this to show people that it is possible to step up for your freedoms! And if you want extra credit, when you get the enhanced pat down, make some loud sexual noises to make the TSA scumbag uncomfortable. If anybody looks at you funny, recommend that they get a pat down from that agent, as they give a good rub!

I greatly appreciate your support on this issue. Feel free to share this post on facebook or twitter, email it to your friends and family, or just be a voice for freedom and privacy in your daily lives with the knowledge you have gained. If you don’t want to associate yourself or this message with my other posts, I do not mind if you just copy/paste the text into an email or something and send that. I just want the word out.

~peace, RR

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

Another odd argument for the existence of God is what I like to call “objective beauty,” though the actual argument might be called the “argument from beauty.” Not sure.

While not normally phrased in the form of a logical argument like it is in the Wikipedia article I linked above, you do get the sense from religious people that this is a reason they believe. How you normally hear it phrased is something like “Works of art like Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, Dante’s Divine Comedy, and Bach’s music could not have been done without faith in God. Not only are these works a testament to the greatness (and existence) of God, but if we take God away we will lose this part of us and regret it.”

Right away you can see that there is a major assumption that is not necessarily granted. If you argue this, you are assuming that these works are not only recognized as beautiful, but are actually thought of as beautiful by anyone who sees them. (To deny this is to deny that every person has a “God shaped hole to fill” and opens up a whole mess of problems.)

Next, it just simply asserts that these works could not have been created without faith in God. First, which God? Could a Muslim or Hindu do similar things? Second, why? Did they take so much time that only a very devoted person could do them? Or is there some physical impossibility that requires a miracle from God to overcome to create these works? Needless to say I am very skeptical that these could not have been done by heathens.

I think it is possible to refute this argument simply by invoking this quote from Christopher Hitchens: “That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.” If they actually try to use the aforementioned works as evidence, you need only say “but I don’t find those works incredibly appealing,” provide a work that is better that was made by a nonbeliever, or do as I am about to do and provide an explanation for why we might think these are beautiful. An explanation that does not invoke God, to be more specific.

Say we grant the assumption I mentioned earlier, that all people find those works of art appealing. What could be the cause of this? Since it is Song Sunday today, I’d like to introduce “Exhibit A” as part of the evidence I will use in my argument:

So fun to watch 🙂 That was the Axis of Awesome, by the way.

Now, what do we know about those songs? Well, they were all popular at some point in time. They are also all composed of the same four chords, as the band demonstrated. Might I go so far as to also say that while the songs are “good,” they did not require as much talent in composing as their popularity would have you believe?

How can we explain this? Is this, like Dante’s Divine Comedy an example of divinely inspired beauty? Is that combination of chords a bridge between us and God?

Here’s another example. Call it “Exhibit B.” Apparently if a picture is composed of mostly teal and orange, it looks more vibrant and the colors really “pop.” This fact, from “color theory,” is apparently being taken advantage of in movies nowadays. Here’s a shot from Transformers 2:

Now, let’s go back to our “objective beauty.” Is this color combination divine in some way? You might say no, that’s bullshit, that’s just something they started doing recently.

Oh? What about all these images from that beautiful Sistine Chapel?

There's a little bit of teal/orange going on here.

Eh, quite a lot of teal and orange here.

They even made things more orange-y and teal-y during the restoration!

Good fucking game. Is there anything *but* teal and orange in this painting?

Now, before you run off and tell all your friends that teal and orange are God’s favorite colors, let’s try and find another solution to this problem.

What we’ve seen so far is that you can have popular songs that are incredibly difficult to compose, or somewhat easy to compose. You can have pictures that are vibrant and attractive simply because of the colors chosen, while others are masterpieces having taken years of work.

One thing we can establish right now is that you do not need faith in God to take advantage of the techniques used by Michelangelo or the songwriters who wrote those pop hits. This destroys the second part of the argument right there, but let’s keep going.

We still have to touch on the first assumption made, that everyone finds those masterpieces to be, well… masterpieces. Have you ever noticed how many people hate the sound of fingernails on a chalkboard? In my opinion what we’re dealing with is a similar case of evolved preferences.

Most people like sugary and fatty foods, because that is what our brain craves. Most men like women with big breasts. Most women like men who are fit. Most people hate fingernails on chalkboards. Most people think rape, stealing, and betrayal are bad and loyalty, courage, and love are good. Is it really so surprising that most people like the chord progression in the video I posted? That most people think a combination of teal and orange looks vibrant?

It all has to do with how our bodies are wired. Things like beauty, taste, and annoyances are very subjective (you cannot really argue that vanilla is actually better than chocolate), yet in many cases these subjective desires are manifest in a large majority of people. This doesn’t mean they are objectively beautiful or tasty. It doesn’t mean that there exists a divine composer who implanted a love of harmony and contrasting colors into us when he created us. It probably just means that we all have a lot more in common than we realize.

~peace, RR

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

[POLL] What do you want?

Hey all! I have a quick poll I’d love all of you to take. While I do mostly write this blog as a way to do something with all the ideas I have (before I forget them), I do enjoy when people read it, and you’ll probably read it more often and more regularly if it is about stuff you care about. So I ask you, what do you want me to write about more often? You can pick up to 3 things. If there are other things you are interested in that I didn’t mention, or if you want to give a more specific answer, don’t hesitate to leave a comment or email me! Any other suggestions are welcome, too! Thanks!! 🙂

My plan for world peace

Hey all, longer post today, but I hope you’ll enjoy it. Some comments/criticisms would be great, too! 🙂

Recently TheAmazingAtheist put out a YouTube video in which he criticized Obama for seeming to be willing to compromise with the Republicans on the extension of the Bush tax cuts. (I think he made the video before Obama clarified his position. Not sure.) Anyway, at the end of the video he had a really interesting idea to fix the economy:

“I’ll tell you what, America. You really wanna fix the deficit? You really wanna fix the jobs problem? Here’s what you do. You get rid of all these foreign bases that we have all over the world, but you don’t stop spending the money. What you do is you bring those troops home and put them to fucking work improving our infrastructure. Our infrastructure gets Fs and Ds across the board. Get those motherfuckers building roads, building bridges, building a mass transit system, building better schools, better hospitals, so on and fucking so forth. Get the American people employed. Take that military money and instead invest it in infrastructure.”

For being a YouTube celebrity, I think it’s actually a really great idea. The other day I was in a discussion about what to do to fix the economy, and someone suggested we could cut spending by shutting down our bases overseas. However, someone brought up a good point: what do you do with the troops that are now out of work? At the time the only response was that regardless it would probably help, but this idea from TheAmazingAtheist solves that problem and then some.

I’m not going to claim that his idea would completely fix our economic issues, but I think it would do more good than harm. A boost to our infrastructure and a cutting of costs related to maintaining oversea bases would probably be a good thing.

Anyway, this idea had me thinking the next day. I came up with a sort of continuation of his idea. But rather than attempting to fix the economy, my idea is how to achieve world peace.

A little background before I explain my idea. At this point in history, we are probably the most imperialist nation in the world. (Only other option being China, and they are much more low key, and mostly economic in nature rather than military.) We have bases in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and Central America. We are not as imperialistic as Great Britain was when they owned half the globe, but we certainly have our fingers in more pies than any other country.

We aren’t attempting to conquer other countries, but we are doing some serious stuff. We are influencing elections, assassinating leaders we don’t like, and trying to spread democracy to places that might not be ready for it. Furthermore, we aren’t primarily doing this to help these countries. We’re doing it primarily to make the world better for us.

And this breeds a lot of animosity towards the United States. I mean, when we are using drones to kill the Taliban in northern Pakistan, and kill some kid’s parents, who’s he gonna hate? The Taliban? The Pakistani government for not taking care of it sooner? Or us? Obviously, us.

Alright, now that we have a little background, step one. We bring the troops home from all these bases. Or don’t. Doesn’t matter. If anything bringing the troops home would be a simple gesture of “we’re not trying to colonize your continent anymore.” However, we’re really just bringing them home so we can… send them out again! (If you want to fix our economy before fixing the world, you can do that while they’re here.)

What I am going to advocate here is (making up terms here) “aggressive pacifism” or “imperialist pacifism” or “militant pacifism.” I’m using these terms to emphasize the active nature of my plan. You can do absolutely nothing and be a pacifist, because you aren’t going to war. What I’m talking about is definitely not war, but definitely not sitting around and doing nothing, either.

The first phase of my plan is to have our foreign diplomats, ambassadors, etc. (even the Secretary of State or President, if you want) go to all the other countries and ask them “what do you need done in your country?” Do you need some infrastructure built? Do you need hospitals? Do you need schools? Do you need some drug warlord in the jungle taken out? Do you need help drawing up a constitution?

I would focus, though, on things that are not militarily-related. We could certainly do those kinds of things. I’m not entirely against them just because they are military operations, but I’d want to avoid them as much as possible because that’s not really doing anything different than now. It would be a little different because we’d be actually asking these countries beforehand if they want us to come mess with their shit.

What I would want to focus on are the infrastructure projects. What do countries need? Broadband internet? A power grid? A nuclear power plant? A telecommunications network? A system of roads? An airport? Hospital? School system? Water sanitation plant? Water desalinization plant? That’s what I’m talking about.

They’d tell us all the stuff they want, and we’d take our troops (that we train to do these sorts of jobs), officers being project managers, and we’d go do this stuff. We’d do nice things for them, aggressively doing all these nice things for these countries. And how could you not be liked for that? How could that not lead to everyone loving the United States?

The only thing I can think of is the sort of “boo hoo, you’re helping them, but we need help!” mentality. I would first say that we have a very large military so we could certainly do more than one thing at a time. Second, maybe it’s time for compulsory military service. Plenty of countries have this. But in this case military isn’t military! Nobody’s going to get killed. It’s just going overseas and helping. And if people didn’t just up and volunteer for something like that, I bet they wouldn’t be as against compulsory volunteer work as they would be against being sent to die in the desert.

Now, some specifics. We would still need generals and the like. We would still need a Department of Defense. (Not sure if it would be renamed. I don’t care as long as it isn’t called the Ministry of Peace.) The reason we would still need a military-type structure is because a lot of strategy would have to go into deciding which places we would go first. We just could not go to Lebanon first. Hamas, Al Qaeda and other organizations would try to disrupt us because they do not like peace. We would need a very military-esque strategy in determining the order of operations.

We would select countries to help in a combination of two ways. First being what the country needs. A country that is relatively well-off shouldn’t be our first priority. Let’s focus on putting hospitals and roads places before bringing broadband internet to 2nd world countries. Second factor would be the difficulty in accomplishing the task. I am not talking about the difficulty of the engineering — I think we are more than capable of accomplishing any task. I am alluding to the difficulty in completing the job without being interrupted by terrorists.

Using these metrics, you pick off the best targets first. Do the most good for the least money (hospitals, for example) and move slowly but surely closer to areas where people do not like us. Go to Egypt and Turkey. Then to Saudi Arabia. Then move into places like Iraq, and before you know it, word will have spread and public opinion will make it easier to do these jobs in places like Gaza, Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. (Focusing on the Middle East to roughly demonstrate my method of selecting countries.)

Another point of clarification: it needs to be get in, help, and get the fuck out. No more of this oversea bases crap. Again, they do nothing more than breed anti-American sentiment throughout the world, and would severely undermine our pacifist mission.

And that’s about it! Hopefully overtime, as we help more and more and more countries, people would like us more and more. And maybe (a bit of a stretch) if everyone had this common like, “I like the United States,” “oh I like the United States too!” that would be one step closer to peace.

Maybe it would spur other countries to do the same thing. Japan, China, Germany, the UK, France, these people have the resources to do these sorts of things. I don’t think they’re doing them because they don’t want to be tied up in our imperialist label. But if we do something like what I’m proposing, these countries might feel better in joining us in helping to make the world a better place. All of a sudden, there would be people doing good works all over the planet.

And if that doesn’t lead to world peace, I don’t know what would.

~peace, RR

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

Religion is humorless

The other day, while I was driving to where I was going to be playing ultimate frisbee, I saw a great bumper sticker that read “Jesus Christ loves the HELL out of you.” I laughed at this, but afterwards wondered whether it was something I (an atheist) should be laughing at.

I decided that yes, it was something I should laugh at. Not because the concept is humorous; the notions of sin and Hell — and Jesus’/God’s complicated role in their interaction — are more contradictory than funny. Rather, I realized that any jokes related to religion are not really meant for overly religious people. They are for those who do not take the concept of religion seriously.

For someone who takes religion seriously (and by seriously I mean really believing that if you don’t do the rituals correctly or believe the necessary things, bad things will happen to you after you die), it’s a matter of life and death. Actually, it’s worse than life and death. Death is death, this is eternal torment we’re talking about. Someone who takes this stuff this seriously cannot risk laughing at a bumper sticker like the one I saw the other day.

And this seems to be prevalent not only in orthodox branches of religions. Religious people in general, I think, have a sort of reverence for the establishment of religion. They might not feel that if they make fun of Jesus or the Bible they will go to Hell (they might not even believe in Hell) but they might refrain from poking fun at it because it is so embedded in society. To laugh at (or criticize, especially) religion is to declare oneself against society’s traditions, in a way.

Then you have religions like Islam, where it’s actually dangerous to make jokes!

LOL

Nevertheless, I think the faithful need to start adding some humor to religion. They need to make it fun, cool, sexy. I have no idea how to fully accomplish that, and it may actually be impossible. It may be too late. But if they actually want to try, they can start with injecting a little humor.

A good example (in my opinion) of some “sacrilegious/religious humor” was a facebook status I had a while back:

I understand why God made Sunday a day of rest… I can’t do anything productive after a night of drunken shenanigans, either.

Do I believe in God? No. Do I think the God I don’t believe in created the universe in six days and rested on the seventh? No. But I took that widely-held belief and spiced it up with a little humor.

Religious people are going to need to start doing this, lest they become tired and boring. Ahem, I guess I mean more tired and boring. Religion is already a very unfashionable thing to be into. Though I’m not sure whether such heretical humor would bring more people to the faith, or cause more people to leave it. Perhaps the seriousness of religion is what compels people to stick with it. If it wasn’t serious business they might not bother.

However religious people want to sell religion, be it with or without humor, I think it will be a win for people who dislike it. If they use humor, the blow to the seriousness of the whole enterprise might cause God to be finally removed from public discourse. If they don’t use humor, more and more people will leave the faith as they feel more and more ostracized by the rest of society.

Anyway, anyone know any funny sacrilegious stuff? Any good links? Post ’em in the comments! 🙂

~peace, RR

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

When you mix a political ideology with a philosophical or religious belief system, you often get contradictions and problems. These aren’t really inherent problems, but they are problems that seem to crop up in most cases.

For example, a conservative Christian has to reconcile Jesus’ love of everyone (even enemies) with the dislike (hate might be a better word) of homosexuals. A liberal Muslim has to square their liberal view of sexual equality with the very anti-woman Qur’an.

If you look hard enough at any combination of belief systems, you’ll inevitably find some discrepancy between political leanings and religious opinions.

Most combinations, but not being both politically liberal and atheist. If you are a humanist (which most atheists are even if they don’t know it), your philosophical opinions line up very nicely with a liberal political outlook.

Liberals support freedom of religion, as do humanists (wanting to keep church/state interaction at a constitutional level does not mean you are against freedom of religion). Liberals want to help the poor and unfortunate, and humanism holds that the only way to fix problems in the world is to do it ourselves (since no supreme being will help us). Liberals and humanists are pretty anti-war. Et cetera.

However, there seems to be a wrench in the works. And that wrench is Islam. Islam seems to be the one thing that is difficult to account for if you are a liberal atheist.

You see, Islam is a problem. Objectively so. (If you take issue with this, saying that it doesn’t have to be a problem, that it isn’t inherently problematic, at least admit that it is a problem in its current form.) Islam brings to the West an assault on women’s rights, an assault on freedom of speech and expression, and an assault on homosexuals. Plus violence if you care to disagree with their opinions.

This is not a problem for atheism or even humanism. Freedom of religion only goes so far. It does not mean that other people have to bow to your religious edicts. It does not mean that we have to shut up because you’re offended by what we’re saying. It doesn’t mean that you can erect your own courts that adhere to Sharia Law and trick women into using those instead of real courts that will ensure them their rights.

It is, it seems, a problem for liberals, though. Liberals tend to be cultural/moral relativists, and that would mean that the actions of radical Muslims cannot be called “wrong” or “bad.” Liberals are also very politically correct, not wanting to call a spade a spade and assign blame where blame is due. 9/11? No, not Muslims, that was a bunch of people who were uneducated and poor and had nothing else they could do! (They were actually middle class, educated people, but okay.) Fort Hood? He was just disturbed, it wasn’t because he was Muslim. Terrorists? Political extremists. Taliban? Uneducated tribal warriors.

Liberals need to drop the politically correct, multiculturalist crap and stand up to Islam. Yes, let them practice their religion. Yes, let them build their places of worship. But do not let them take our freedoms away in the name of “tolerance.”

And when those of us who aren’t afraid to stand up for our way of life and our rights speak up, please do not throw out the horribly inaccurate term “islamophobe.” A phobia is an irrational fear, and there is nothing irrational in pointing out that where Islam goes, human rights don’t last.

What do you think? Do any of you liberal atheists have any difficulty responding to Islam?

~peace, RR

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

God, faith, and love

Happy Song Sunday! Today we have a song from the hilarious Tim Minchin titled “If I Didn’t Have You.”

Alright, now that we’ve had our chuckle, I need to vent.

I CANNOT STAND IT WHEN PEOPLE EQUATE FAITH IN GOD WITH LOVE.

You may have heard the argument before. It goes something like this: “It’s not so crazy to believe in God, you make the same leap when you decide to enter a serious relationship with someone. In each case you have to just trust in them and take a leap of faith.”

*cough*Bullshit*cough*

I’m sorry, but I cannot believe that I actually still hear this argument being made. I know it couldn’t get past any nonbeliever, so the people who use it must be folks who have never had their beliefs challenged in the slightest, who have never even talked to an atheist. These people must think they have a secret weapon — I mean hey, who can argue against love?

Luckily, we don’t have to. It may be difficult to argue against at first because it is so mind-numbing of a claim, but after thinking for a few seconds the flaws in the argument become abundantly clear.

Let us compare faith in God with “faith” in a loved one. When you meet someone, you are initially attracted or you aren’t. If you are, you might want to get to know the person better. You can talk to the person, see if your interests line up. Perhaps you’ll go out on a date or two, and see how your “chemistry” is together. If all goes well, perhaps things will eventually get more serious. By the time you tie the knot, you know so much about the person, whether you’re a good fit for each other, and if you can trust them. To quote from the song:

“And if I may conjecture a further objection love is nothing to do with destined perfection. The connection is strengthened the affection simply grows over time. … And love is made more powerful by the ongoing drama of shared experience and synergy and symbiotic empathy or something…”

There’s no leap of faith that has to be taken. Sure, when we’re in the heat of the moment, we don’t take out a pencil and paper and write down the pros and cons of entering a relationship with the person, but we aren’t just randomly choosing a person from a crowd to let into our homes and raid our fridge, either.

Compare this with faith in God. Can we see God? No. Can we ask God questions? No. Is there some evidence that makes it very clear that God even exists? Sorry, no.

This is so very unlike love. It is almost ludicrous to claim that believing that something you will not be sure of until “after you’re dead” is anything like furthering a relationship with a living, breathing, real person.

Inanity aside, it is understandable that they would want to make this argument, and continue to use it even though it sucks so bad. Think about how embarrassing faith must be. To know that you have no evidence, no reason behind your beliefs, and that you just believe because you want to, because it makes you feel better.

What they want to do, knowing they could never win an actual argument, is change the rules. They want to make everyone out to be crazy. They want to lower us to their level. Then faith becomes okay. It becomes normal. If everyone has faith in something then they are perfectly justified in their beliefs, no matter how crazy and unsupported.

That’s what they want. Too bad they’ll never get it.

~peace, RR

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