The Reflections & Ramblings of One Near Agnostic
by: Facts Vs Feelings
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THE REFLECTIONS & RAMBLINGS OF ONE NEAR AGNOSTIC
By: Facts Vs Feelings
I've a question for you. Is religion a serious matter? Perhaps, but not for me even though approximately five of the six billion people in the world today, can be considered `believers'. Serious or not, most everyone seems to have their own unique way of dealing with a philosophy that touches each of our lives in one manner or another. This is my third revision of a subject that has fascinated me for most of my adult life.
Believe it or not this paper is actually intended to be fun, my feeble attempt at taking a controversial subject and poking fun at it as well as at myself And you're fair game, too. If one lives most of their life without laughing, is that truly living? I can't imagine a life of any length without humor. And, if I manage to offend a person or two, all I can say is "Great, at least I got your attention. Now why not loosen up and let your hair down for a bit". All too often I see people in the world around me, taking them and life itself way too seriously. A snippet from my personal philosophy (for what it's worth) is, "If you can't change it, don't stress over it, `cause a peptic ulcer just isn't worth it".
Now what is this synopsis really about? I mean why did I sit down and actually type all this to paper? Two reasons come to mind: to help me to organize my thoughts on this particular subject, and as an attempt to portray to others why I think the way I do, concerning religion. This paper therefore reflects my opinions nothing more, nothing less. I'm not attempting to 'convert' anyone <sly smile> to my way of thinking and consider the odds of such a conversion to be slim at best.
So if you're interested in why one person has rejected organized religion and feels that we as individuals don't have the control over our `believe-ability' that we like to think we do, by all means read on. I've considered the casual study of religion to be a hobby, which has spanned the last thirty or so years. If you belong to an organized religion and are easily offended by humor directed at such, I suggest you stop reading now.
Curious, and still reading? Good. Be further warned that this piece has no definitive structure, and it can't express my every thought on all religious matters. During the discourse of this a paper it may appear that I am `picking' on Christianity. Please, rest assured that I am. Christianity is one of the few of the major religions that claims to be THE one true religion for all humankind, and seeks to convert all (by the `eternal damnation' hook) that come into contact with it. As well as (perhaps most importantly) having the overt and covert backing of many powerful political adherents. Oh by the way, I'm speaking from personal experience. While a large number of Christians may consider this `business as usual', for the many of us that are not Christians it may be more than a simple inconvenience.
Shall we begin? First let me define some terms as I understand and use them. All capitalized words within the definitions are also defined allowing you to see their entwining relationship, as often one word will be used to support another. I feel it is important to understand which definitions I assign to the various words, so it will be clear to you why you may disagree with me. Many misunderstanding can be prevented if both parties are familiar with, and can see the differences in each other's base definitions.
The fact is often EVERYONE plays the semantics game and sometimes without any awareness that such is happening. Many people consider their personal definition of a word to be the only relevant definition (sometimes even innocently), without due consideration that this IS the English language. Oh, and don't forget the reason why law school's exist. Lawyers of course.
In my included short dictionary, please note that I rely on the first definition listed to be my personal choice. comment on any other definition if I feel the need exists. Again please be aware that my definitions will undoubtedly not match your definitions down to a capital "T".
A. Agnostic: 1. one that disclaims both THEISM and ATHEISM, by claiming that the question of a GOD or of GODS is unsolved, and at present insoluble. 2. one who holds that the ultimate cause (God) and the essential nature of things are unknown and unknowable, or that human knowledge is limited to experience.Considering myself an agnostic, I've devised a personal definition that suits myself The second definition is a standard dictionary definition. Rest assured other self proclaimed agnostics have their own definitions, also The first definition is one of the dictionary standards. The second and third definitions are, in my opinion, an attempt to legitimize the concept of being an atheist in the eyes of those atheists wishing to distance themselves from the negative stereotype often associated with the original definition (such as "Communists are all atheists").
B. Atheist: 1. one who denies or disbelieves the existence of God or of gods. B I. Strong Atheist: `absence of BELIEF' in any GOD or GODS. B2. Weak Atheist: 'absence of BELIEF' in a particular GOD or GODS; also see DEIST.
C. Belief: 1. a religious tenet or tenets based on confidence in the TRUTH or existence of something not immediately susceptible to rigorous SCIENTIFIC PROOF. 2. an OPINION or conviction.
D. Bible: 1. the collection of sacred writings of the CHRISTIAN religion comprising the Old and New Testaments, AKA OT and NT. 2. writings, or a collection of writings that represent a RELIGION.
E. Christian: 1. one who BELIEVES that Jesus Christ lived and died for humanities sins, and may BELIEVE in the Trinity, and may also BELIEVE that one of the many versions of the New Testament represents the latest, inspired words of the Christian GOD.Many Christians will not agree with my definition of 'Christian'. Of course many Christians don't agree with each other's definition of 'Christian'.
F. Christianity: 1. the CHRISTIAN RELIGION, including the Catholic, Protestant, Eastern Orthodox churches, and the various CULTS. 2. CHRISTIAN belief or practices and/or CHRISTIAN quality or character.
G. Creationism: 1. the doctrine that matter and all things were created substantially as they exist now, by an OMNIPOTENT Creator, and not gradually EVOLVED or developed. 2. the doctrine that GOD immediately creates out of nothing a new human soul for each individual born.
H. Cult: 1. a particular system of religious worship especially with reference to its rites and ceremonies. 2. a religion that is considered or held to be false or unorthodox, as are its members.
I. Deist: 1. one who believes that a GOD created the universe based on nature and reason, not through a supernatural intervention (rejection of revelation); may also feel that GOD is indifferent to mankind (interesting trivia: history paints Benjamin Franklin as a Deist).
J. Deity: 1. a GOD or goddess
K. Evidence (common): 1. grounds for BELIEF; that which tends to PROVE or disprove something; PROOF.
L. Evidence (Law): 1. data presented to a court or jury in PROOF of the FACTS in issue and which may include the testimony of witnesses, records, documents or objects.
M. Evolution (biologic): 1. the continuous genetic adaptation of organisms or species to the environment by integrating agencies of selection, hybridization, inbreeding and mutation (and this is a provable and scientific FACT).
N. Evolution (human): 1. the THEORY that humans are involved in the ever active process of BIOLOGIC EVOLUTION utilizing random variation, which is then acted upon by natural selection preserving the traits that are favorable to survival (this is a sound scientific THEORY with more evidence mounting every day).
O. Fact: 1. a TRUTH known by actual experience or observation. 2. the quality of existing or being real; actuality. 3. something known to exist or to have happened. 4. something said to be true or is supposed to have happened (applies to theists and lawyers); also see PROOF (law) and PROOF (math).
P. Faith (common): 1. a confidence or trust in a person or thing. 2. BELIEF which is not based on SCIENTIFIC.PROOF.
Q. Faith (religious): 1. a BELIEF in GOD and/or in RELIGIOUS doctrines in which neither are based upon common and/or mathematical PROOF(s).
R. God (Christian): 1. the one OMNIPOTENT ENT Supreme Being, the creator and ruler of the universe based on the CHRISTIAN bible.
S. God(s): 1. one or more DEITIES presiding over all or some portion of worldly affairs.
T. Omnipotent: 1. almighty, infallible, and infinite in power, as the Christian GOD or a deity.
U. Opinion: 1. a personal attitude, view or appraisal based on an individual's random genetic personality, which has been tempered by environment. 2. a BELIEF or judgment that rests on grounds insufficient to produce certainty.
V. Proof (common): 1. an indication or a sign sufficient to establish a thing as TRUE, or to produce BELIEF in its TRUTH. Or anything serving as such evidence. 2. act of testing or making trial of anything. (neither common or law types of proof require physical EVIDENCE or repeatable conclusions; applies to religion and theoretical science); also see FACT.
W. Proof (law): 1. data having probative weight. 2. the effect of EVIDENCE in convincing the mind (applies to religion, law and theoretical science); also see FACT.
X. Proof (scientific): 1. a sequences of steps, statements, or demonstrations that lead to a valid conclusion (applies to the non-religious and to practical science); also see FACT.
Y. Religion: 1. a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observations and often having a moral code for the conduct of human affairs; Also, a specific and institutionalized set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects, i.e. the Christian religion; the Buddhist religion, etc.
Z. Science: 1. a branch of knowledge or study dealing with a body of FACTS or TRUTHS systematically arranged and showing the operation of general laws, all dependent upon a mathematical form of PROOF(S); a systematic knowledge of the material or physical world.
AA. Theism: 1. a belief in the existence of a God or Gods (opposite of atheism). 2. the belief in one God as the creator and ruler of the universe, without rejection of revelation (distinguished from deism)
BB. Theory (science): 1. a coherent group of general propositions used as principles of explanation for a class of phenomena
CC. Theory (religion): 1. a more or less verified or established explanation accounting for known FACTS or phenomena.
DD. Truth (common): 1. a true or actual state of matter or conformity with fact or reality. (I use both common and math definitions of truth).
EE. Truth (math): 1. a verified or indisputable fact, proposition, principle or the like.
FF. Truth (philosophical): 1. (a capitalized word) an ideal or fundamental reality apart from and transcending perceived experience, belief in which may result in an actual mental or even physical change of status.
Well congratulations are in order. First you made it past my obligatory warning, and now you've cleared all my definitions, so I'd like to give you a summary of my beliefs and how they came to be. An explanation of where I've been may help to show you why I am, where I am now. Environment, and all that.
Am I simply an 'agnostic', as defined earlier? Not really. I'm somewhere between agnosticism, deism and soft atheism (depends upon the weather----just kidding). Labels appear to be necessary evils throughout our lives. Although like a favorite pair of shorts bought last year, they may not fit tomorrow or possibly even later on today. Especially at my age. I'm a believer in possibilities. Potentials. Practically anything is possible, but not necessarily probable. Bottom line? I'm a believer in that fantastic quirk of the human condition, known as 'imagination'.
I was fortunate enough not to be pressured into any particular belief system by my parents. And I thank them for that. So pray tell, are they agnostic in their beliefs? No. One was raised a Jew and one was raised a Southern Baptist. How's that for a potential oil and vinegar mixture? And yes, they are still happily married.
I'm sure I'm a disappointment to my dad from a religious viewpoint. As a child I never demonstrated any interest in my Jewish heritage. I never attempted to learn Hebrew, which means I never attempted a bar mitzvah. I also showed no interest in my Christian heritage. I routinely considered all the religious mumbo jumbo I was exposed to, as boring. My parents backed off each time I said, "no".
During this time, I was pretty much left alone by my Jewish grandparents. The Baptist set of grandparents tried a few times to entice me into their world of mysticism. But they could never answer one simple question to my satisfaction. If this being known as God created everything, then where did 'God' come from? Even as a pre-teen I considered the mystical, `...always been there...' answer a bail out.
How did my peers interact with me during my formative years? Can you say "ostracized"? I lived in (as far as I can recall) a predominately Christian neighborhood, so it was probably a pack instinct behavior, which endears me to the fact there were no caged lions or bottomless pits, about. And now you can see how I developed my keen sense of sarcastic wit as I sharpened it on those past peers. We won't delve into the interactions that resulted in bruised knuckles and loose teeth. Naturally this means I didn't have many friends by my late preteen years. Of course back then I didn't fully understand the unspoken anger radiating from others and attempted to ignore it, when given the choice.
When the ability to reason matured within me, I deduced their behavior was learned from their parents. Why else would they automatically dislike someone they never had a chance to know? What's sad is the indoctrinated lack of understanding by those that did the radiating, as to why they radiated. We were children after all. What's even sadder is how often this scenario is repeated on a daily basis, in today's so called 'civilized' society.
While most of the other lads were building model cars I was on my own, building model space ships and the like. Usually just the three of us at any one time, my imagination a model and I. And I still love science fiction. What better place to escape to, than a hopeful future? I really did like that scale model of the saucer from " The Invaders" T.V show. Do you remember that show starring Roy Thinnes? And do you remember the flying saucer featured during the intro? If yes to the preceding questions, well boy are you showing your age.
I never sought any real companionship until high school. And when my high school friends were planning on buying their first car, I was saving up to buy my first laser. Seriously. One day a large box arrived. Everything was in it except...you guessed it, the laser. Out of stock. After three months of waiting I returned what I had, received a refund and bought a car. I got into the usual small cliques at that time. After comparing myself to others, not too unusual a childhood.
Let's move toward serious again, and let me say something about communication, a subject I've touched on already (my definitions). 'Lack of communication' is not just a common cliché. Well maybe it is, but it's also the reason many misunderstanding occur, which invariably leads to arguments and may even progress to an all out war. Language can be a difficult beast to grasp.
A single word or phrase on paper can have an entirely different meaning not only from one person to next, but when people are face to face, may also depend on vocalization, intonation and facial expression. Growling, "Let's have sex", said with a sneer and a glint in ones eye could be paramount to rape. Saying the same in a sexy voice with a twinkle in ones eye (and today with a condom in ones hand), well, perhaps she might have her way tonight, since she's being so nice about it. Al Bundy not withstanding.
And now on to what I consider to be the main thrust of this paper, and that's how a human develops a personality, which is courtesy of environment and genetics. I certainly believe that personalities are a product shaped a good deal from environment. BUT, think about this for a second, how genetics randomly combine to form the 'blank slate' (future personality), determines how one reacts to their environment. So combine environment with these randomly formed factors: personality, our inherent intellect, our ambition, and you have an individual. Occasionally the random personality factor dominates in a socially unacceptable manner. Or, better known as a 'psycho'.
For example, from what I've read, Charles Manson had typical parents. I bet they never even considered the purchase of the (also never) invented, Mattel's-Maniac-in-Hollywood Play Set, for little Chuckie. Well now.., did that last sentence make any sense? Never mind. My point is that Manson, Jeffrey Dahmer and others of their ilk are very twisted. Their collective parents probably did their best to no avail, attempting to change a seriously damaged but randomly generated genetic trait, or perhaps a set of genetic traits. The first time this trait(s) may have been noticed was during the mysterious disappearances of many neighborhood pets and the consequential rediscovery of those small treasures in not so pristine conditions. Yuck.
Do such people have a chemical imbalance in their brain? Perhaps that's part of their problem, but even that is still genetically determined by both the random combination of genetic material formed before and during `that' nine months, as well as external environmental influences such as smoking cigarettes and swilling beer. Or (all joking aside for a moment) being hit by an abusive significant other.
Combine the preceding with possible future childhood environmental factors such as, lets say, one too many ingested lead based paint chips, and who knows? And no, I'm not a proponent of the dreaded `TwinIcie defense'. If one commits a heinous crime, one should be punished for it, to the full extent of the law. As this will hopefully stop the cycle of violence. We must protect mom and little sister, after all.
Do you remember my old friend, the Bell Curve? This statistical tool can be used to represent just about anything, including the above behavior. On the positive side of this particular Bell Curve are people like Harriet Tubman, Agnes Bojaxhiu, and Courtney-Thorne Smith ...Oops, go ahead and forget about C-TS. Yes, she's a personal favorite, probably having little in common with the type of supreme, perceived `goodness' I'm alluring to in this paragraph. Although I could be wrong (well I guess you can see how easily my mind wanders).
Anyway you, Courtney, and I are probably somewhere in the middle of this Bell Curve of social virtue. Yet why does it appear that the section of the curve, relegated to Manson clones, is more densely populated (and it isn't, statistically or otherwise) then it should be? Is it because murder and mayhem are a bit more attractive to the majority of 'civilized' society, and therefore what the various news agencies concentrate on? They are, after all in the business to attract an audience and would soon file for bankruptcy if they didn't. So what does that say about civilization? Are we at 'heart', mere animals? Yes we are (not in heart but in mind), and I'll elaborate more on this later.
Back to business. As a very young adult (18-23 years old or so) and possessing a slightly less opinionated frame of mind then I have now, I visited a fair representation of Christian denominations. I've also been to a Synagogue or two. Lets see I've been to at least one Catholic, Baptist, and Pentecostal church as well as a Jehovah's Witness hall. And I've put a bit of study time into other religions. Native American, Chinese, Buddhist, I-findu, Pagan, Muslim, Confucianism, Jainism, Satanism and Sikhism, are most of what I've researched. Also each of these religions has their own divisions and subdivisions, similar to those of Christianity.
Now how can I feel that as a teen/post-teen I was fairly objective, considering my childhood? Simple, I'd suffered no mind shattering, debilitating events during my youth (such as my entire family being slaughtered at the local McDonalds) or anything later in life (such as my home going up in flames, a financial disaster, etc), to warrant the cosmic buoy known as religion being tossed my way. Of course we'll conveniently ignore the community-imposed isolation of my early kid-hood, OK? Sniff. Hey at least I don't fear lions, well no more so then the next sane individual.
And my point is, although fascinated with the concept of a God(s), and other's apparent need for such; I've never 'felt' such a need. Quite the opposite, as I was ostracized by questioning the status quo, which I feel I did so in a reasonable manner. But why didn't I cave in to peer- (and adult) pressure? Is environment the main determining factor for embracing the concept of a god? And even if I had been 'turned', why would I embrace one particular version of a fantasy any more then one centered on, let's say... the tooth fairy. Of course over the years I've gotten quite a few quarters from the tooth Fairy (thanks mom). So how much of a role does genetics play?
The previously mentioned JW Hall that I visited a few times was due to a friend whose mom had died and whose dad was home infrequently. This was during high school (we played tennis together) and he embraced a previously introduced theology which eased him through his grief. Not to mention landed him a wife (and no, I'm not kidding). This appears to be an environmental element.
Soon after his, ah, enlightenment I discovered that I'd probably become his lifelong project, to convert to what he considered to be the side of the one true God. He was always very pleasant about it and never even threatened me with eternal damnation. If what he believes about the 144,000 turns out to be true, then I hope he'll be one of them. All I will say is 'good luck'. Although one day he confided in me that he was aspiring to the 'Heaven on earth' designation, which isn't as lofty a goal as the 144,000 Heaven bound. I've lost track of him over the years, and hopefully he has found another project to soothe his 'soul' (as well as the ambition of his Elders).
So in the discussion of religion I can say, to a limited degree, that I've 'been there and done that'. Can you, if you're a religious person that's critical of others beliefs (or lack of beliefs) say the same? Have you at the minimum done any basic, objective research on other religions? Have you talked to others about their beliefs and simply listened, attempting objectivity, without being condescending? Have you visited another denomination of the same religion that you cherish so much? If you've said `no' to most or all these questions, then you are apparently one that relies solely on 'faith' (please refer to Q. Faith (religious) in the definitions). Your mind is made up. But again, why?
Well, you certainly aren't going to change my mind either. I've probably heard most of the arguments based around the oxymoron of 'religious science' by now. Some are: Pascal's Wager, the argument from design, Cartesian Proof, second law of thermodynamics, incomplete fossil record, missing links, and other assorted arguments by Christian Apologists including: America was founded on Christianity, mystical manipulation, atheist-less-ness in foxholes, historical accuracy of the Bible, Hitler was an atheist... (Whew, fingers need to catch their collective breaths), and the list goes on.
I feel that religion can't be approached from either a logical stance or from a purely rational perspective. The foundation supporting the religious premise of a deity is faith. Not scientific thinking, rational thinking, critical thinking, logical thinking (or any independent thinking at all, come to think of it). Word of mouth facts rationalized by faith. What 'feels right'. Hence my Internet nickname, Facts Vs Feelings. Oh, and while I'm somewhat near the subject, in my opinion so called 'moral thinking', is highly subjective.
Once again, what is the ultimate base (that I've deduced) these various religions apparently rest upon? Faith. You can trace each of the arguments I've personally debated with all religionists back to this mortar free foundation. Blind faith, often 'reinforced' by a self claimed personally perceived divine experience. As mentioned before (out of the six billion) there are approximately one billion non-believers worldwide. About two and three quarters of the remaining five billion are not Christians. What do these numbers represent? Perhaps the Truth (please refer to FF. Truth (philosophical) in the definitions)? Well there are more Christians than any other single theological mindset. But no, this Truth or any truth is not a popularity contest.
Many of the Christians that I've talked to can't get past their Bible. Nor can they get around, over, or even through it. When reason and logic fail EARLY in their argument, the Bible is the 'trump card' they pull forth. There will be more information on this so-called Christian 'resource' later.
So now, let's say I concede that a Bible is similar to what it claims to be (the recorded thoughts of a god). These very same Christians can't discuss reasonably why they feel their Bible may be a better representation of the Truth. That is, more so than the Koran, the Vadas, the Tripitika, Mahavira's doctrines, the Tao-teching, and this list also goes on.
Why can't these self-proclaimed "real" religionists discuss the specifics of other faiths with reason and calm? From personal experience I've found most are simply ignorant of those mentioned faiths. Once I mentioned to a VERY devout Christian, a specific person and their non-Christian religion, and I was almost instantly chastised that poor _______________ (fill in name), who believes ______________________ (fill in religion) after being exposed to the mere concept of Christianity, hasn't converted without pause or thought! And I was told, well, by God give _________ (same name) to _______ (crackerjack Christian) and that oversight would be corrected straight away! Well let's dust off the thumbscrews, and polish the nails in the iron maiden, Igor! We got souls to save (oh well, too bad crackerjack, wrong century)!
What oversight I'd asked? I was told the Christian Bible is THE TRUTH. The ultimate mystical Truth, that is. And why is this particular Bible the one and only Truth? It was suggested, if I'd just read it...OK, OK so parts of it I have. And that's something the above and most others of this type of critic (how about hypo-critic) probably haven't done themselves, concerning the aforementioned religious documents. And most probably can't place more than one of the above competing documents with its corresponding faith.
Please remember all this is derived from personal experience. Also in their innocent arrogance, these same Christians may not realize the gross insult they're relaying with their so-called message of love and salvation. They're 'magnanimously' (so they think) telling non-believers how stupid they are for not seeing what only they can see. Go figure.
As for the few that have demonstrated a knowledge beyond their personal Bible, most of these tend to project elaborate periphrastic smoke screens stemming from the dogmatic indoctrination that, in my opinion, has formed their opinions for them. Unlike myself of course <wink>. And further more, not a one has ever offered anything more tangible to me then the thoughts from his/her mind, often presented with sincere and deep feelings (there's that word again).
Ultimately it's faith that's taken on faith. Rarely, but occasionally, a Christian will own up to the fact that what they have is blind faith. They believe, well, just because. They don't know why, but they're comfortable with it. I find that unnerving although understandable. How is it understandable? Patience, we're almost there.
Please don't misunderstand me any more then you are probably going to. I'm not saying that any of the other documents of religious dogma are particularly better than the Christian versions. BUT most of the others are tolerant of different beliefs (minus the Muslims) and don't threaten an eternal damnation if one does not accept their version of the Truth.
Christianity revolves around the New Testament, and a strong argument can be made that the NT points out, often painfully, that there is only one road to the only true heaven. And that is Christianity. However I do feel (again from personal experience) this is not the mindset of the average mainstream Christian. Devout traditional Catholics, possibly. David Duke, his fellow clansmen, and Pat Robertson types, without a doubt.
But this is apparently one of the core teachings of the Christian Bible, and touted so by the mighty (but tiny) conservative right. The one and only true God. Whether mainstream Christians acknowledge this quirk or not, it is the legacy of the religion they have chosen to embrace. If an infidel turns the other cheek, that same maniacal right will slap it with even more vigor then they did the previous (and still stinging) cheek.
Now one question that has fascinated me these many years is why do so MANY people seem to need a religion? Perhaps all, a combination of the following, one, or none may apply to any individual. Remember these are my opinions. And my foremost thought centers on genetics. How about a 'believe in God' gene?
OK, before laughing yourself into a coma, please hear me out. If one has this as an expressed trait several things may occur. Degree of belief will depend on how pronounced the trait is (similar to how blue are blue eyes). At times an individual may deny belief violently, sort of a 'rebel without a pause'. There are certainly more than a few people on the Internet at any one time that fit this description. Of course there is no proof that this is the reason for their campaign of hate. So perhaps they merely suffer from lactose intolerance yet can't stay away from dairy products. Phew.
Others (after rejecting their native theology) may continuously search for their Truth, while switching back and forth between the various world dogmas, and/or may eventually return to their original indoctrination. If one with this trait (fed up with all the theological contradictions) claims atheism, they will have to continuously battle against that 'need to believe', in order to feel comfortable throughout their entire life. And some may do so with varying degrees of success, allowing reason to triumph over mysticism. And this may also be the basis for the so-called 'choice' I see that fundamentalists claim for a gay lifestyle. Same sex couples may also be able to resist their genetic nature, but how happy will they be?Now, to get even further off the beaten path for a point, do I advocate the gay lifestyle? No more so than I actively advocate a straight lifestyle. I simply advocate freedom for the individual. The right of consenting adults to do what they will in their own home and behind closed doors. I feel I understand why gays are gay, and it's none of my business as long as we are talking about mature, consenting and responsible adults.
Why, shouldn't the same apply to all heterosexuals? I certainly think it should. Anyway I feel this subject is a thinly veiled 'morality' (remember I feel morality is subjective) issue presented by the organized ultra right-wingers, as a so-called 'common sense' problem. What does it truly represent to me? Personal freedom versus religious intolerance.
Back to our topic. Is my notion of a definitive 'believe in God gene' still too much for you, dear reader? Does your 'well it just feels wrong' feelings kick up and make you want to stick your tongue out at me? Then lets delve back into some science. There's a branch of science that studies brain and behavior from an evolutionary perspective. The scientists themselves are known as evolutionary psychologists. These scientists have noted two important traits that have been displayed by humans throughout our checkered history. We are pattern-seekers and storytellers.
On the pattern-seeking side, we search for meaning in a complex, interactive and often seemingly chaotic universe. An example could be that out of all our potential primitive ancestors, the ones that survived to pass down their genetic traits were the ones that recognized the pattern of staying down wind (instead of up wind) from their prey, and therefore they actually bagged some game during the hunt. The potential ancestors.that didn't 'catch on' to that particular pattern, probably wound up fertilizing a number of primitive ferns.
On the well-documented trait of storytelling, humanities myths and religions have calmed our fears throughout the ages, with stories containing supposedly meaningful patterns, which contains the all-important social hierarchy, from God (heaven) Earth Devil (hell). With stories of gods and God, of miracles and magic, good and evil, all serving the function of assigning meaning to most every event, including severe catastrophic events (such as from earthquakes and tornadoes), which apparently occur at random, or at least within patterns we just starting to understand. As well as attempting to explain the why, for severe personal tragedies (such as a relative dying in an auto accident or even of old age). But now how did these particular thought patterns, known to the above scientists as 'magical thinking' (in this case relating to the usual esoteric religious explanations), come to be viewed as meaningful patterns?
Consider the reasonable argument that the brain (mind and behavior) evolved over a period of about TWO MILLION years from the fist-sized brain of Australopithecine to the melon-sized brain of today's Homo sapiens. And modern humanity has existed for a couple of HUNDRED THOUSAND years. Yet civilization (domestication of plants and animals) arose only THIRTEEN THOUSAND (or so) years ago. Hence, 99.99% of human evolution took place in that two million-year period prior to 'civilization', and not during the last 13,000 years of human development. Combine all this with the additional fact that our modern scientific way of thinking is merely a couple of HUNDRED years old, and this becomes the paragraph, which explains my earlier statement that mentally we are very much instinctive animals.
How about a statistic or two to help back this up this claim. From Discover Magazine, Volume 21 Number I, January 2000. "About 80% of all scientific discoveries ever made occurred in the last 100 years, and more than half of the scientists who have ever lived are still walking the earth". Which means the remaining 20% of all scientific discoveries were made during the previous 1,000,900 years (or so). The organic evolution of our minds has had no chance to catch up with the technological evolution of our ...well, technology.
So what am I saying? We've evolved to be skilled, pattern-seeking, casual-finding creatures, yet all but .01% of this evolution occurred before civilization even existed. And only .00001% (or so) of this evolution has coexisted with a scientific method type of mindset, complete with scientific tools. Is it truly any mystery why the majority of humanity (remember 5 out of 6 are believers) rely on magical thinking? Still the true problem in seeking and finding patterns is not within the patterns themselves, as we're hardwired to identify patterns; it is that we have a hard time distinguishing between meaningful and meaningless patterns. And why might that be?
Perhaps it's because many meaningless patterns although harmless may positively effect the outcome of the situation being considered, but not due to the original pattern imagined. As an example, the painting of animals on a cave wall before a hunt probably did nothing to evoke the blessings of any particular deity yet may have helped to decrease pre-hunting stress while assisting our original 'cave-clubbers' with their ability to focus on their upcoming task. There is after all, psychological evidence that this type of magical thinking helps reduce anxiety in today's society. Such as the medical evidence that prayer, meditation, and worship may lead to greater physical and mental health. But then so does the ownership of a house cat. Hmm.
Now back to some specifics. We are a collection of genes and chromosomes patterned from our lineage. Male pattern baldness, diabetes, Alzheimer's, breast cancer, osteoporosis, bunions, height, build, eye color, longevity, obesity, practically any feature one can express, is itself expressed in a strand (or combination) of DNA. Have you heard of the discovered ties between alcoholism and genetics? And, as an example, here is a list of diseases discovered in 1996 associated with specific genes: Treacher Collins Syndrome, Retinitis Pigmentosa, Anhidrotic Ectodermal Dysplasia, Astrotacin, Williams Syndrome, Basal Cell Carcimona, Famconi Anemia, Hethochromatosis, and Progressive Myoclonus Epilepsy. In the near future scientists may be able to block the expression of these nasty critters, or eliminate them entirely. But that's a whole new controversial subject.
Sooner or later I'll read about another scientist, working in a biohazard lab, who will find the gay sequence, and/or perhaps the God sequence. All a matter of time. And I see time as the greatest enemy of organized religion. Each new discovery in genetics, space science, archeology, earth science, and so on takes the reasonable one step farther away from the feel-good dependence associated with blind mysticism, and toward enlightenment with its associated system of responsible education. But we're only talking about my opinion, of course.
Bottom line? If one is a genetically predisposed believer, the most freedom in choice one will have may be the decision of which philosophy to follow. If one is defective like me, without expression of this 'need to believe', one can simply live life to the fullest by living a common sense and socially acceptable version of morality. And without the guilt associated with religion. While sitting back and watching the various religions duke it out, hoping the duking doesn't turn to nuking.
NOW you can go ahead and laugh. That's O.K. Galileo was laughed at when he stated that the earth was not the center of the universe. Then they placed him under house arrest for life. Hmm again.
Also, being the social animals that we are, well, every pack has to have its leader. Which means some may need to think there is the ultimate 'father figure' up 'there', ready to reward or punish, thus giving one a reason to behave. After all, they claim God knows everything. And many people may be experiencing a 'hell on earth' existence now, so they may need to believe there is something better to look forward to, after death. These poor souls are inculcated with the need to earn their heavenly slot while on earth, so they struggle through life, living a humble existence while groveling before God and His priesthood, and consequently, without practicing birth control.
Others may need a life preserver at a critical time in their life, like my NI friend. Some merely feel lost, and have a void to fill, which this form of magical thinking does nicely. Still for others it's a matter of ego. Humans are SO important to this vast universe; especially the faithful that feel the universe was created just for them. So there's this omnipotent being that requires human adulation in order to feel, what, whole? Satiated? Uh huh. This type of person does not see humanity as part of nature. Nature was created for humanity to do with, as they will. And the common sense conclusion on my part? Pure egomaniacal thinking. Take that, Rush L.
I have a number of friends who consider themselves Christian. They don't usually talk to me about religion, and it probably has nothing to do with my attitude <wink>. They know I'm comfortable with my lack of belief and they know better then to try to convert me. At least with no more than one attempt. We all get along just fine now, thank you. Most of them (those that appear to respect my right to disbelieve) also practice a personal form of Christianity, which may or may not involve any particular church. They may feel that a church isn't necessary to have their version of God in their lives. This type of religion I have no problem with. Still, most of them probably do feel that the final judgment for all humanity will be from their God, yet it isn't their decision to overtly judge. I'm almost certain they still pray for me though. Sigh.
I've frequently been reminded, during religious debates, that many people have had a 'personal experience' that leads them to a life of piety. A one on one with a God. Evidence only they seem to know. And in my opinion only they can know. So they must be very special, right? Better then those of us who were not `blessed' with the ability to know what they (feel) they know. Some of these people have also had a personal experience that led them down a different path, to a different sort of life. One between six thickened, puffy white walls complete with a tight white jacket. Or the electric chair.
Does one necessarily lead to the other? Depends. If during one of these 'personal experiences' they hear something like, "...to be saved... someone needs to be shot... holy mission..." such as a doctor at one of the woman's clinics, a rival religious leader, an agnostic sap expressing himself on the Internet, etc. You probably get the visuals. Darn, I wonder if I left my bulletproof vest in the bathroom...?
In my mind, people that view religion as a way of life are fine as long as they keep it to themselves. Spirituality is personal and should remain within the family, home or religious establishment of their choice. When these people attempt to get their religious claptrap (so called absolute moral laws) rammed through the court system and then passed off as human laws in a country that we all share, I view that as a threat.
And if they try to bring their religion over to my house without being invited, searching for a donation, a conversion, or some spiritual support, well look out! We may have to scrape the sarcasm off of them with a warm putty knife. Now that is a stressor I CAN directly change, and won't hesitate to do so. They want to share, do they? Well they can write their own deep and dour paper. Those that want to hear their opinions will read it. So there.
I'll now mention the so-called 'laws' of nature. Do such exist? Not in the form that many people accept. These 'laws' were derived by humans via scientific research (most within the last 100 years as compared to the whole of eternity-so how much can we really know?) and seem to work when applied. At least in this minuscule mote of the universe, and at the present time. The future? Who knows? One million years (or ten minutes) from now, these so-called 'laws' may surprise science.
For example take present weather patterns. The last few years have displayed more severe weather across the US than the previous several decades. Is it global warming induced by humanity? Or is it just a natural weather pattern with such a long cycle, we haven't been around long enough to see it? How about a combination of both with the possibility of even more factors we haven't thought of yet? I vote for choice number three. We may be hastening a natural weather pattern. Life and nature is anything but simple. And we ARE affecting this planet. To what degree, who can honestly say? No, I said honestly, Rush.
In the far future, perhaps this section of space will naturally convert (hallelujah! [Sorry, I couldn't resist]) to antimatter, creating such a massive explosion that it will open a gate to a new universe. Who knows, stranger things have happened, I bet. Probably. Well, maybe not. Am I letting my imagination run wild? Sure I am. But imagination is why we have computers, color television, space travel, and VCRs. True, it's also responsible for bungle cord jumping, body piercing, and Gilligan's Island, but hey, nothing is perfect (especially the concept of organized religion).
Now back to my tangent. Would it be wise to err on the side of possibly preserving the future of life on this planet, or should we just sit back, produce massive amounts of waste, and see what happens? Most likely our present generation will not be affected, if the human spoilage makes the determining factor. Something else to pass to the future with the buck. Can one breathe a balanced budget? Both are important, and I bet both can be achieved. And if there are people that can't see that, it is probably because they don't want to.
Not to mention their ratings might sag, if they don't continue to sing the blues (another Rush dig if you didn't notice).
Science is not stagnant. It can't afford to be. Several of these so-called discovered 'laws' have changed or have been modified as the mounting evidence to support them change, usually by increasing in complexity. For example, let's compare Newtonian gravity to general relativity. The latter is relegated to not so dense matter and short distances (relatively speaking [don't laugh too loud, people will stare]). For measurements around neutron stars, black holes and the measuring of massive cosmological distances, workable numbers come from general relativity. Newtonian measurements just aren't accurate enough.
Now can you spell 'stagnant'? With religion, what has been presented to me as religious evidence is unchanging. The Bible has been written. The 'evidence' offered. The same evidence over and over repackaged into many new and colorful incarnations. For example it's been, pardon the pun, 'revealed' to us that God (Christian version) literally revealed himself to various people, "way back when". But why too only very specific peoples? Was He angry at ALL the Aborigines? Bored with ALL the Buddhists? Harried with EVERY I-Endu? 'Yet in our modern world, nearly every major Christian leader today, swears that Christianity is for everyone, today.
So what changed? That is besides the Christian power base. Influenced in part by the present massive explosion of varied information available to the masses, and helped in part by the increased capabilities of worldwide communications (such as the Internet). I could go on but I won't. Suffice it to say when one can't be a bully anymore, one must change one's tactics. Which is why self styled 'moral compasses' such as Rush L. and 'Dr' Laura will watch in horror, as their respective slack-jawed choirs, diminish in numbers.
What's that you ask you want another example? Sure. I'd also mentioned earlier that we'd get to that pillar of Christian faith, The Bible (New Testament). The only 'book' that represents the Truth. But is there only one New Testament? Nope. There are over twenty modern versions of the NT. And that's after they were translated into Modern English. Prior to that you ask? From the 'original' Greek and Hebrew texts into Old Latin MSS, into Latin, into Middle English, and into English.
Yes, yes I know. Many of you reading this will question my source of info on the Bible. That's fine. Now, how about questioning YOUR sources for the Bible. Where did you get your info? Why is it more accurate? What did your religious leader(s) do, or say, that has convinced you their version of the Truth is the correct one, and all other versions are false at the least, or a sin against your god at the most.
My advice, Cogita tute! –Think for yourself!
So, ARE the Greek and Hebrew texts the original versions? Perhaps.But in 1957 there appeared for the first time a translation of Old and New Testaments into English from the Aramaic, Semitic Peshitte Texts, also known as the Lamsa translation. The translator, Dr. George M. Lamsa, claimed there are about ten to twelve thousand outstanding differences between these ASP manuscripts and those of the Hebrew and Greek texts of the Bible. Since these versions were created about the same time in history, since the ASP Texts includes Hebrew, well, which IS the 'correct original correct' version? Mental food for free thinkers.
Furthermore, I consider so called predictions heralded from the Bible to be as useful as a tarot reading, or as the psychic networks that are springing up with those 1-900 numbers. The three that are one. Now there is a 'Trinity' I can understand. Also, new minor miracles are supposedly occurring all the time yet none of these can be attributed to a particular deity, without having a simpler and a more reasonable explanation (Occam's Razor). After all, I've seen David Copperfield make a jet disappear before my very eyes. Was that actually a miracle? Some may argue that a clever manipulation is a clever manipulation, be it related to the mystery of religious dogma or a magician's slight of hand, both being examples of humans manipulating humans. And both receiving a generous monetary compensation for doing so.
At this point I'm going to mention atheism. I have few problems with atheists and they're usually reasonable during a discussion. And like me, they tend to mind their own business. Occasionally a vocal, strong atheist will curse his/her way up and down my backside, wondering how I can NOT totally side with him/her. I wonder about his/her attitude. A problem with drugs? A failing relationship? Burning hemorrhoids? Or perhaps they're bucking the earlier mentioned genetic lottery? I just hope that the individual finds the answer they are looking for, or at least the question, before they hurt themselves or their hapless computer.
Comparing atheism with theism, I personally see atheists as extremists on the opposite side. Religionists BELIEVE while atheists DON'T BELIEVE, and that leaves the agnostics as imaginative REALISTS <grin>. Some atheist's state there is no need to disprove something that isn't there to begin with. And to a certain degree, I can understand that. An example could be there is no need to disprove that some invisible silicon based life form is circling the Empire State Building. Yet because something hasn't been physically discovered and accepted by the majority, does this mean it can't exist? It now exists as a thought. Very highly improbable, but not impossible.
Didn't the majority of the world accept slavery as a civilized behavior, until a certain point in time was reached? And then what about other concepts without definitive proof? There are people that still believe the various moon landings were staged. Does this mean they never happened? What kind of empirical proof, other than going to the moon themselves, can convince these people that the many trips occurred?
Neither atheists nor religionists appear to have the freedom of imagination required to see the others' point of view. And now you know why I think that's so, genetics tempered by environment. And I'm referring to reasonable religionists, those that follow a personal religion, or those organized religions that allow for spirituality outside their organization. The extremists have no imagination at all, so on them the above point is moot.
I personally don't buy the spiritually with a god, concept. But do acknowledge that I may be wrong, and feel that people need to do what they will to be happy (such as satisfy that need to believe), as long as what they do doesn't interfere with my (and your) rights and freedom. Which is the same courtesy you (I hope) and I show them. I do feel that humanity knows next to nothing about everything, and there just may be a more intimate connection with nature that we have yet to discover.
Now if you are an atheist, please consider this. During the 1800's, if an entire village became ill, blame was usually placed on evil, and/or poisonous vapors, and/or punishment for misdeeds. What, you say there are invisible microbes that travel through the air? So prove it. They simply didn't have the necessary tools to identify the microbes. How does that compare to a Truth? The physical condition of an entire village changed. Many villagers died.
In today's society I've seen physical change in individuals I've personally known. In addition to seeing a friend find peace (good change), I've seen many people lie, cheat, kill and sometimes sacrifice everything up to and including their own lives (as well as lives not their own), for their religions (bad changes). So is religion a result of some massive mental illness or is it caused by an undiscovered viral disease? Five out of six billion people have been served. But don't drink out of their soda can. Just in case.
The point above is that perhaps it is the agnostics and the atheists who are the genetic misfits. It's possible (not necessarily probable) that believers can sense that special Truth or a truth. Be that a God, gods, a cosmic opium, a genetic memory, or a parallel universe that powers all existence. And we haven't the mechanical tools yet to identify what most can feel with their hearts (genetics) and transform with their minds into 'God' or 'Nature".
I don't pretend to know which mindset, if any (including my own) is correct. And apparently I lack whatever twist of the imagination is required to see how a strong atheist can say there is no reason to believe in the potential for a God, period. As well as how any particular organized religionist can say his/her god is the only 'true' God, period.
Again I admit if these were the only two choices, I would have to lean toward the atheists. Atheists aren't out to change the world to reflect their beliefs. But, from up on top of this cold agnostic fence, I see a group of fanatics that can't get past their genetic blockade to grant opposing viewpoints the same dignity, which they demand. And many of them DO wish to recreate the world in their perceived god's image.
There may never be any distinctive physical proof for a deity or deities, but all humans (minus the fundies of any religious sect) do have an imagination to one degree or another. And I feel that anything we can imagine has a potential for existence. Again, something possible or potential is not necessarily due to a thought based in what we currently consider reality. Just never say never (like I just did). The untapped power of the mind may be as endless as distance measured across the universe. Or maybe I'm just a romantic (just don't ask my wife).
Whether our imagination is granted by a god or is simply a matter of evolution, it should be utilized. To think that the imagination is a sin, which fundamentalists apparently do, is ludicrous. I see a nice car; fundamentalist says "material wealth, sin"! I read a book on alternative religions; fundamentalist says, "false gods, a sin"! I see a picture of Courtney Thorne-Smith; fundamentalist says, "SHAME, YOU'RE MARRIED"! Hey, calm down, it's only my imagination.
A civilized society and common sense both demand that I control my actions (not to mention a potential wicked right from my wife, closely followed by divorce papers). And it isn't as if I'd ever have a chance (in the real world) with C-TS, as imagination has definite limits. So living in constant fear of their thoughts, wondering if their Satan taints every book, movie, and stranger (or whatever), what contribution to the world at large can such people make?
Yes I probably have at least as much of an ego as anyone. I feel that my opinions are correct. Although I feel my opinions are correct for ME, and only me. My wife is an atheist. She thinks I'm nuts for spending lots of time at the computer, going on and on about religion. Perhaps she just wants more time with her hubby. She does concede that this 'keeps me off the streets', whatever that means.
Again, I'm not out to change others' opinions. And now you know why I feel that it isn't very likely to happen, even if I was of a mind to try. I would simply like for others to try and understand the how and why of my own opinions. And to respect me enough as an intelligent human being who knows my own mind. I think this paper may have at least helped ME in that regard. And it may have helped those of you patient enough to wade through it to see where and why, I'm where I'm at (or perhaps you just don't not have a life either <wink>).
Humans are notorious socialites and we do so like to share. Indeed, I hope at least one other person does read through this whole mess. But I won't be knocking door to door, handing out copies (only to those I feel have an imagination as well as a sense of humor) of my opinions. Or threatening people with eternal damnation if they don't share my lack of belief in a personal Truth.
So let people live their own lives, without you casting the first stone. And if you must throw, be wary of your target, as I've learned over the years how to throw those stones back, accurately. And twice as hard.
"There is something pagan in me that I cannot shake off. In short, I deny nothing, but doubt everything."
– Lord Byron (1788-1824), English poet.
"We enter church, and we have to say, 'We have erred and strayed from thy like lost sheep," when what we want to say is, "Why are we made to err and stray like lost sheep?'
– Thomas Hardy (1840-1928), English novelist, poet.
- 1820-1913, US abolitionist and rescuer of slaves.
- 1910-1997, Mother Teresa, Missionary, born in India, Nobel peace prize recipient.
- And most important of the three, portrays the character "Georgia" on the TV show Alley McBeal.
- Discover Magazine, January 1997. The Top 100 Science Stories of 1996.
- A Brief History Of The English Bible, by Rocco A. Errico, PhD, lecturer, author, ordained minister, and Bible scholar whose approach emphasizes Eastern sources and customs, especially the Aramaic language.
- Northwest Semitic language from 300 BC to -AD 650 for nearly all of SW Asia and was the everyday speech of Syria, Mesopotamia, and Palestine.
- Subfamily of Afro-Asiatic languages including Akkadian, Arabic, Aramaic, Hebrew and Phoenician the principle Syriac version of the Bible, Syriac being a form of Aramaic used by various Eastern Churches.
"Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time", by Michael Shermer, 1997, Freeman Press, ISBN 0-7167-3387-0
"How To Think About Weird Things, Critical Thinking For a New Age", by Theodore Schick, Jr & Lewis Vaughn, 1999, 2nd Edition, Mayfield Publishing Company, ISBN 0-7674-0013-5
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