Tag Archives: Religion

The Conscience of the Puppet

I often start my day by opening Wikipedia and reading the “On this Day” section of the front page. Today it noted that on this date in 1940, the Walt Disney movie “Pinocchio“, the first animated film to win a competitive Academy Award, was released to theaters. I clicked through to read a bit more about the movie, as I had not seen it in a long time. Because of Gepetto’s wish, the Blue Fairy makes Pinocchio come alive, though he is told that in order to become a real boy he had to learn right from wrong by listening to his conscience. Since he was not sure what a conscience was, Jiminy Cricket was appointed to be his conscience. And so the movie goes.

How funny. Many theists argue that morals must come from a god or a book such as the Christian Bible.  Some argue that while each of us has a sense of right and wrong, that conscience must be written into us by a creator.  In the case of Pinocchio, he learns his sense of right and wrong from an animate, non-ethereal being.  A cricket to be precise.

So congratulations to Disney, celebrating over 70 years of confounding the morality stories of conservative theists. Have One Million Moms heard of this?

Breaking News – Pope Retires

Here are my thoughts on the matter:

Can I Get a Witness?? (I got 2)

A few months back I wrote about a visit of some Jehovah’s Witnesses to my house.  We were short on time, and my challenge to the question of why I should accept the word of the bible as true threw them off them a bit, but they promised to get back in touch.  In the interim they did return, as promised, but I was not at home.  This morning two Witnesses again arrived at my front door.  It was a lazy fall morning, a perfect chance to sit down and talk.

Bill and Jen were pleasant of course.  I would guess Bill was in his mid 40’s, Jen maybe 30-ish.  We sat down on our back porch. It was a little cool to be sitting outside, but I always get a little too animated in discussions such as this, so I preferred the outdoor session.  Bill asked about my religious history, which I related fairly accurately: raised Catholic, sort of a hippy-kumbayah-deist for a number of years until I became acquainted with real arguments regarding the probability of the existence of a god, any god.  And that subsequently led me to where I am today, an agnostic atheist. I also related the particulars of my first encounter with the JW’s, and in particular that I simply asked why I should believe anything that is written in the bible.

Bill began heading down the road toward the argument from design.  I admit that this argument can seem quite compelling, but when presented with counter arguments it falls apart pretty quickly.  It comes from the 200 year old idea called “Paley’s watchmaker argument”, which posits that if one finds a watch in the woods one immediately recognizes the design in the watch.  The main point of this argument is that one can recognize design.  The gears, the springs all suggest design.   While this can seem quite compelling, it falls apart pretty quickly.  The most intesting counter argument is to ask who designed god?  After all, one would expect the designer to be more complex that his creation.  Also, one sees design because it is different that the rest of the world, different from nature.  So if it is different from nature, nature must not be designed.

I made this point to Bill, and also made the point that while I find nature full of wonder and complexity, I do not need to invent a god to explain it.  I can simply say I don’t know.

Bill took another route of questioning.  He asked why we age, why do we get old.  Certainly, scientists have identified mechanisms that cause the aging. But why do we age? I don’t know.  I don’t know why time only runs forward, when there is no reason why it should not run either direction.  Certainly physicists have identified the concept of entropy, but why entropy always increases is not fully explained.   Bill then asked a most interesting question, one that I had been thinking about a bit lately.  He asked if I want to live forever.

I don’t think I do.

When I imagined heaven as a child if always seemed to involve infinite bliss.  That seemed like a good thing.  I had not thought about it much in the last few years, but the idea has popped up in discussion on a few different podcasts that I listen to. And I have come to the conclusion that infinite happiness just wouldn’t be that great.

There are those heavenly moments in life.  Often they are unexpected.  Sitting in the garden, with a beer that I made in hand, watching the bees do their work and listening to the birds singing, watching the sun slowly set.  What makes moments like that special is the fact that they are transient.  They don’t last. And as I savor those moments it is knowing that moment is special is what makes it so.  If it lasted for a million years it would be no good.  Forever?  Forget it.

The conversation moved on from there, but it didn’t go too far.    My JW friends had other souls to see, souls that might just be candidates for the 144,000.  I explained that even if there were some god out there, I cannot believe he is the god of the bible.  I explained how a god who is loving would not command his people to commit genocide, he would not give the rules for keeping slaves.  Jen asked if I was truly seeking answers on how such a loving god could do these things, I smiled and said no, not really, no words you could say could convince me.  They thanked me for my time and excused themselves.  I went to the kitchen and started prepping for dinner.

“You add up the laughter in minutes and days,  but the deal out the sorrow in lifetimes…”  – Tonio K

The Witness

It was Saturday morning. I was working in the garage/brewery (the chest freezer fermentation chamber was pretty nasty). I had been out to gas up the Loving Wife’s car, and as I drove through the neighborhood I noted some young men and women, with children in tow, gong door to door. The women and young girls were wearing dresses; the men ties. I suspected a religious connotation.

The Loving Wife was preparing to go to her office to process some orders when two young men and one young child walked up the driveway. I perceived both to be younger than me, the Younger One maybe in his early twenties, the Older maybe thirty or thirty five years old. “Will you handle this?” she asked. Sure, not a problem.

They walked up and the Younger One asked me if I thought, based on the recent shootings in Aurora, Colorado, that violent crime was increasing. I answered, quite honestly, that I was not sure. Certainly shootings and the like are more publicized than ever, but statistics suggest violent crime rates are going down. The younger witness was a little put off, but he gave a quick “OK” and opened his bible. I spied several copies of ‘Awake’ in his hand. I wasn’t sure at that moment, but later I confirmed these were Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Younger read a couple of verses from Revelation, and it was my opportunity to ask why I should believe anything that is written in the bible. I explained that I require evidence before accepting a belief. The Younger seemed a little confused; I am sure most people send them on their way long before now. The Elder interrupted.

He began to tout the scientific basis of the bible. You know, Isaiah referenced the circle of the earth, and this must mean that God had told him about the nature of the world.

“Are circles flat?” I asked.

Both seemed a little off their game.

The Elder offered to return with a pamphlet that had all the details of why the bible was the word of God, and he asked if he could return to discuss it.

I accepted his offer. Will he return? I will be disappointed if he does not.

52 Times Around

I woke at 6:44  this morning.  Saturday birthdays are the best. Just lie in bed, and think about things.  Fifty two years old and what have I learned?

I exist.

I guess that is pretty self-evident, but maybe we are all living in the Matrix and existence is an illusion.  If we are, great, because it is one interesting illusion.  But lacking evidence to the contrary I believe I exist here, and now.

I am conscious.

Big whoop.  So is my cat.

I am self-aware.

This narrows things down quite a bit. The mirror test has shown that only a handful of animals in the world seem to be self aware. I am not surprised that great apes and dolphins are self aware.  Magpies surprised me.

I can express my thoughts and feelings in language and words.

OK., maybe those squeaky dolphins are talking to each other, but until I see one post on Facebook I am claiming that the ability to express ourselves is what sets humans apart.

Beyond that, my knowledge becomes a little dicey.  Sure, I know that Star Trek is way better science fiction than Star Wars could ever hope to be.  Or that a well crafted English bitter is the most sublime and satisfying beverage ever created by man.  But really, what do I know?

I look at the world around me, look at a beautiful sunset, gaze through the lens of a telescope and recognize that the universe is one magical place.  Not Harry Potter magical, but magical in the sense of watching a conjurer execute a well designed feat of magic.  You see the trick and watch in amazement, and you say to yourself  ‘how did he do that?”.  There is an explanation, but you don’t know what it is. For me, knowing that an explanation exists fails to diminish my joy in watching the trick.

The world is a lot like that.  Sure, a full explanation of the trick of the universe does not exist, but that also does not mean it is unexplainable.  And just like a magic show, I can say “I don’t know” and still be fully satisfied.  Sure, when I get home from the show I might do a google search and try to find out how the trick was done.  Similarly, in life I can look at the universe and say “I don’t know” and not be scared or embarrassed – but all the while trying to learn a bit more and figure out the trick.

Some argue that as a magic trick must have a conjurer to execute it, so must the universe.  All I know is that when I go to a magic show the magician introduces himself before he begins the show.  If the universe has a conjurer, it has not offered me an introduction, it has only allowed me to see the trick.  I guess almost all cultures in history have claimed knowledge of the supreme conjurer or conjurers.  I have found all of these explanations lacking.  When I examine the evidence, I find these conjurers not to be the supreme conjurer, but merely a reflection of what the culture envisioned the conjurer must be.

So I will continue my search for the explanation of the ultimate trick of the universe for as many more times around the sun as this trick may last.  And I will never be afraid to say “I don’t know”.

Knowledge and Belief

I am a regular reader of the Daily Dish, a blog by the gay, British, Catholic writer Andrew Sullivan.  I love the insights that Andrew brings to his blogs.  His political and social commentary is quite astute, in my opinion, probably because he so often manages to put my thoughts and feelings into words.  Or maybe the chicken came before the egg, and my thoughts and feelings coalesce around Andrew’s writing.  But I have one serious disagreement with Mr. Sullivan – his theism.  Not that I do not sincerely believe that he is fully entitled to it, but that a person with his logic and grasp of reality somehow manages to imagine a deity when the evidence is so firmly stacked against it.

There was a recent thread on his blog written by Zack Beauchamp, entitled Arguments Against God. To his credit (and sanity, I think) Andrew often allows his blog to be a platform for other writers.  In the follow up to the original piece, Zack shares the comments from a number of readers.  Zack seems to be an atheist himself, but his says the following which troubles me:

this is precisely why I don’t think agnosticism is meaningfully different from atheism.

And I could not disagree more.  Agnosticism relates to knowledge of god.  Theism/atheism relates to ones belief in god. In a perfect world, knowledge would lead to belief.  For many theists, the beliefs to which they have been indoctrinated for their entire lives leads them to believe that they have knowledge.  The fact is they have belief and hope.

When it comes to god I am happy to say “I don’t know”.  I have no knowledge, no evidence outside of my existence.  And what does that tell me? The universe is a strange and interesting place, full of mystery to be sure.  But this does not force me to believe in a deity.  There may be a reality beyond the grave, but nothing I have seen or read leads me to believe that gods exist, except in the minds of men.

An Atheist’s Sermon

One of my favorite podcasts is Reasonable Doubts.  They bill themselves as ‘your skeptical guide to religion’, and they provide well reasoned analysis of topics related to dogma and belief.  They focus mostly on Christianity, but they also have regular segments about other gods and god stories.

Late last year, host Jeremy Beahan gave “An Atheist’s Sermon” at a local church in Grand Rapids, Michigan (where the podcast originates).  It is so well presented, and so well expressed I just have to share it here.  I hope you have a chance to listen to Jeremy’s presentation, as he does an excellent job.  He expresses ideas that align perfectly with my thoughts and feelings.  Even if you are not an atheist, I would hope you would listen or read the transcript to gain some insight into why we do not believe.

A Final Shot in the War on Christmas…

Western Pennsylvania has had some history in the war.  It was a creche at the Allegheny Courthouse that led to the court ruling finding such displays violate the Establishment Clause of the US Constitution.  Another small city in the area had chosen to continue the tradition, and after a threat of a lawsuit announced that it would no longer host the nativity scene on city property.  Of course this brings howls of outrage from many who take this loss of religious privilege so personally.  I had to weigh in with the local newspaper.

About America

A friend and family member recently posted a comment of Facebook that was critical of the President of the United States.  I have no objection to that, as I have many criticisms of our current President also, but reading it encouraged me to go to the website where the original comment was posted in order to learn more about the author.  On that website, the mission of the organization (whose name i choose to withhold) is given:

[Name redacted]  mission is to reinvigorate the American people with the principles of American exceptionalism: personal freedom, personal responsibility, a commitment to Judeo-Christian values, and a strong national defense. We believe in limited government with Constitutionally-enumerated powers only. We believe that the size of the federal government should be dramatically reduced and that government’s regulatory stranglehold on the free enterprise system should be lifted. We believe in freedom.

Well, freedom is high on the list.  Are our personal freedoms being eroded? Are churches being closed?  Are people being arrested for writing or speaking against the government? Is my freedom to travel being curtailed?  No, no, no and no.  Our personal freedom has never been greater.

Personal responsibility?  Well this one is certainly complicated, but I do see our legal system being overrun with way too many lawsuits seeking to abdicate personal responsibility and find someone else to blame.  When baby strollers have to have labels advising you not to fold up the stroller with your baby in it, it is time to advocate for personal responsibility.

A commitment to Judeo-Christian values.  First of all I would never make any call to abolish religion or close churches or arrest anyone for praying to their deity of choice.  But let us be clear: those who founded the United States were theists in the tradition of Christianity, but they saw what happens when church and state combine (it was/is called the Church of England).  And they wanted no part of it.  In the Constitution they forbade two things: the establishment of a state religion and the requirement of a religious test for any government office.  It was clear they wanted religious rule and government rule to be separate.

Which brings me back to personal freedom, and why a commitment to Judeo-Christian values sometimes rubs me the wrong way.  Case in point: same-sex marriage.  There is in my mind no good moral reason to prohibit same sex marriage.  Those who oppose it usually cite their religious scriptures.  But if we believe in personal freedom, why do we allow one person to choose to marry ‘Person A’ but prohibit another person?  There is no good moral reasoning to support that position.  Unless you use your “Judeo-Christian” values to support oppression.

The last ideal cited is a strong national defense.  Because we all know our Judeo-Christian values tell us that when someone slaps our cheek we should turn and let them have it with an AK-47.  That irony aside, I guess I would need to know the exact definition of a strong national defense.  I don’t believe we need a large imperial force of soldiers deployed around the world. It costs too much money, and instead of enhancing our position in the world it makes other countries suspicious and resentful.  In the long run I think that hurts us much more than it helps us.

In closing, I am very suspicious of the ideals of this web site.  Eliminating government regulation sounds great, until you remember it government regulation that has resulted in clean air and clean water, the elimination of child labor and the creation of workplaces where a man does not have to fear that he might lose an eye or an arm or a life.  Sure, government gets carried away and it is far from perfect.  But I am afraid that the personal freedom espoused by this site is the personal freedom to oppress me.