Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Uncertainty in Unbelief.


I, a life-long, wholly dedicated believer in God and one who thinks he has a reasonable basis for that belief, do not think that I have enough information to come to an absolute and accurate conclusion regarding the matter.
At some point a thorough investigation having found nothing concludes that there is nothing to be found. In your quote you are in effect admitting that you have found nothing but hints and rumors of something valuable perhaps eternal life that keeps you chasing these hints and rumors in the hope that there will be a there there at least after you die.

I have no problem admitting I am not certain the hints and rumors of a life after death are all false. Since they all require different rituals and understandings of the mediator of that life after death, the only conclusion is that they are all false, and pursuing any one is chasing an invisible pink unicorn and destined to be a waste of time.

As a result I do not claim there is no God, I just live as if none of them are of any value. In addition I live my life as if there is no reasonable way to achieve an afterlife but to live this life as if it will be the only important criteria for any afterlife concierge. This has the immeasurable added value of insuring that if there is no afterlife, everything I do in this life is significant. Which puts responsibility for everything I do right where it belongs: on me. No savior, no one to do it over for me, no one to blame.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Cradle Atheists


I am not sure if I've really met any "cradle atheists."

You probably wouldn't know it if you had. Most cradle atheists pay no attention to religion and only do what is necessary to comply with the mores of the community. My father as an example played mental golf in church and the only comment we might get on the whole service would be "I wish the minister would stay with his boring sermon topics, I only got 12 holes played today."

My mother's family is atheist and incidentally feminist back to my great grandmother who was the matriarch. Most went to church as a social necessity, this was the midwest, but chose a Unitarian Church if available and a Congregational Church if not. That way when people asked where you went to church you had an answer, and whatever church was chosen had a decent choir, we were musical as well as atheist. The matriarch wrote children's stories and songs which were read and sung by all of us as children. Typically a g-greatgrandaughter changed a mildly derogatory (today) racial reference in one of her songs that was taught to the g-g-g-g-grandchildren.

Socialization was the responsibility of all, and morality was taught on the street as the responsibility of all adults. I remember quite clearly an incident when I was visiting an uncle as a child, and a store clerk overpaid the change by a few cents. My uncle returned the few cents, without a fuss but asked me if I would have done the same. I said sure, a few cents makes no difference, but a few dollars would be different. His comment "Dollars or cents, WE do not steal." WE was clearly "Our kind of people." To this day, I cannot download copyrighted content because "WE do not steal." In everything from sexuality to race relations to ordinary politeness the lesson was always the same "WE do not do it that way." If I wanted to be a part of WE and there was really no choice, there was no choice. In the family free will was a joke. We were encouraged to think rationally about everything, but there were a few rational conclusions that were mandatory. If we came to the wrong conclusions we were shown the logical errors in our reasoning.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

What is an Atheist?


An atheist is a person who does not believe in God, gods or goddesses. Some atheists have considered the reasons, such as they are, that theists present for the existence of gods and have reached the conclusion that the evidence and arguments of theists are lacking. Other atheists are atheists because they've simply never adopted any belief in gods.

As a minimalist definition where one size fits all, it works just fine. Nonetheless a Budddhist atheist has a complete paradigm covering all the important aspects of living and dying. It simply does not include God concepts.

But it seems to me that if an atheist cannot deal reasonably with those important aspects of living and dying but simply says God answers are wrong, hesh is missing the essence of atheism, which is building a valuable life that does not depend in any way on God concepts positively or negatively. There are of course off the shelf belief systems that are atheistic, skepticism and Secular Humanism as a couple of examples, but it seems to me that they are still negative systems, denying God rather than offering reasonable alternatives that do not involve God.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Atheist Communities.


If we define community as "a free and voluntary gathering of individuals with shared goals and interests -- of persons who have not so much been forced together as have chosen to associate with one another" (Harris, p. 138), then secular people, whether urban or rural, will probably belong to a number of different communities that are based on their values, political stances, hobbies, interests, and ways of living.
The reason that such people overwhelmingly live in large polyglot cities is the richness of the groups of like minded people that are available. My wife and I were early adopters of a dual income, dual parenting, atheist life style. In Manhattan I found many groups where we were not considered odd or unusual and had a choice of groups of every interest to choose from with a compatible philosophical viewpoint.
Just as an example, of hundreds of community choruses, and church choirs to choose from I joined a group whose board chose Bob DeCormier, a radical left folk arranger (Harry Belefonte, the Weavers, and Peter Paul and Mary) as its (classical) music director. Sure we sang the popular religious works, but as an example the Verdi Requiem was always dedicated by the music director to the performers of the Requiem at the Terezin Concentration Camp most of whose performers died at the Death Camps at Auschwitz, Treblinka et al.

Our children went to a left wing private school. Our Museum memberships were the Modern and Natural History as well as the mandatory Met. But even at the Met the groups we attended were intellecual groups. Please note the absense of atheism as a unifier. It probably was a fact that most of the people involved were atheist, but the political tenor of the times was that it was never mentioned, but assumed by all even the theists.

Friday, February 17, 2012

On Nietzsche


I have never been a Nietzschean, atheist or otherwise. That said, Nietzsche was one of the first to articulate the fact that if God is dead atheists are going to have to step up to the plate and create a godless world worth living in. As I see the world by and large atheists are doing just that. Theistic solutions just don't work any more, and the frantic political activity in the US is a desperate denial of that fact. Prominent atheists are almost irrelevant in the remaking of a modern world, it is the ordinary atheists quietly doing what is necessary to remake the world that are the Ubermenschen.

It is not incidental that the religious destruction of the ideal of an educated population has opened the way for the Chinese and Indians to leapfrog with the example the US provided. Fortuantely there is still a large part of the population that values education, and the religious can always work in the service industries these people use to support their educated life style. The fact that these are minimum wage jobs at best is God's will.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

On Athiest Priests.


I was part of a Requiem sung for a good Catholic friend. There was no hypocrisy there, for the duration of the requiem I was a believer helping other believers send their loved one to herm Lord Jesus Christ. My beliefs or lack of them had absolutely nothing to do with the performance. I was a human being helping other human beings deal with their grief.

A very good Catholic friend asked me to pray with him in a berievement situation. He knew I was an atheist, but he also knew that I knew his God. We were on our knees together in a chapel praying for the gift of strength for him to deal with the situation. Was I being a hypocrite or was I helping a friend in a difficult situation? He was the one that told me that atheist prayers are more valuable to God as they are always sincere.

I see no problem with an atheist priest suspending disbelief to perform his offices for the benefit of his parishioners. Since there is no God to care anyway, what is the difference if the priest complies sincerely with the rituals for the believers in his parish. If their belief in the myth helps them get through the week, what is the problem with an atheist facilitating that belief? He is simply a human being helping other human beings, not judging them.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Alex and Kevin Black - Amazing Grace

Fantastic even for a proud papa and grandpa.

Moral Rules, Community Standards and Conscience.


If we are to make any sense of this topic, Morality, we must distinguish between moral behavior and moral rules. Moral behavior is concerned with how we treat each other and how we treat other animals. When we mistreat someone, we should feel guilt or remorse. When we hear of someone mistreated, we should feel moral outrage. These feelings are innate and instinctive. We refer to these instincts that enable us to discern right from wrong as Conscience.
There is a third distinction that must be considered: Community moral imperatives which preceed the moral rules. This is where the intersection of reason and moral outrage result in a workable community. And where workable communities may be in considerable conflict.

As an example consider the food animals. At one extreme is the community exemplified by PETA. At the other is the community of trophy hunters that waste the food that may be subsistance for other carnivores or even their poorer neighbors. In the middle we have a mixture of rules, and community standards for the ethical treatment of food animals. The rules basically are concerned with humane slaughter. Community standards which are rapidly and rationally evolving concern the treatment of food animals while alive. There is a local university where the community standard is that free range meat is the only meat served in campus eating places. It is served side by side with soy based products for the PETA crowd. If you want cheap feedlot meat products you must go off campus, and being seen in a feedlot or manufactured food establishment may result in community scorn at the very mildest. Most of the local off campus eateries must comply with the free range ethic to survive.