Moving Closer To The Edge

Posted on October 20th, 2012 in Religion | No Comments »

For many years I have considered myself an agnostic. While I had little or no doubt that religion is a waste of time, I still carried around a nagging ‘possible’ belief in God. But I couldn’t anthropomorphize ‘him’ as an individual. I focused on the idea of ‘All That Is’ from the Seth books by Jane Roberts. Here, God is seen as a gestalt of everything that exists. Energy is God and Energy is Consciousness, no matter how inert something appeared to be. Even rocks had a rudimentary awareness since they possessed energy. As for an afterlife, I grew to embrace the idea that there is either nothing, or something far beyond what most people would conceive of. Here again, the Jane Roberts/Seth material seemed to offer the best potential.

But there were flaws in this  worldview that I was never comfortable with.  The concept of Atlantis for example, and how the natives would use sound waves to move large rocks around. There’s clearly no evidence for any of this, and while I found much to admire, details like this always made me squirm in my seat. But for a long while I was content to stick with it in lieu of anything better. Eventually however, I stumbled upon the British Humanist Association. It was a revelation to find an organization with like-minded individuals who had deep-seated reservations about God. I quickly joined the BHA as a member, and I’m proud to be associated with it. I have since taken part in many letter-writing campaigns, to add my voice to the calls for a more secular society.

Also, I have a child, and living in a country without a separation between church and state, I intensely disliked having my child coming home from school singing about how ‘God is great’.

These experiences led to me buying and reading Richard Dawkin’s bestselling book The God Delusion. I found this to be a polarizing experience, and while there are parts of the book that I think are somewhat obtuse, it began a process of ‘politicizing’ me in regards to religious belief. I turned to YouTube for videos of Dawkins engaging with believers. This led to my introduction to Christopher Hitchens, and his in-your-face method of slamming those who insist of pushing their faith on other people. Some who don’t like this call it new atheism. My feeling is that after all these years of having Christian values pushed on me (and others), it’s time we stood up and starting fighting back (in a peaceful method – religious warfare has an extremely bloody history, and I don’t intend on contributing to the carnage).

This in turn, led to the Austin, Texas cable show The Atheist Experience:

And the excellent series of videos from AronRa regarding the nonsense of creationism:

What these videos (and others) do is help show and explain the arguments regarding atheism and the claims used by those who espouse God as the creator of the Universe. It’s also a great comfort to know that other people think along similar lines to myself. On a recent trip back to my hometown (and country), I was dismayed to see the strident jingoism and holy fervor on evidence throughout the media, as well as made concrete (literally) by the number of churches lining the boulevards. It was all very depressing. The work of the Atheist Experience and AronRa helps balance the scales back towards reason and logic.

So where am I now? I’m still learning, still absorbing. I feel less inclined to stay silent, and more and more able to state my position if pressed. I am encouraged to stand up for my lack of belief. I don’t have any trouble stating that I am a Humanist. Am I able to say that I am an atheist? My viewpoint certainly is in line with atheism, but I’m still not quite ready to cross that Rubicon, at least in my mind, and declare myself one. At least not yet. I certainly do not believe in religion, and most emphatically not organized religion. I believe there is no convincing proof of God’s existence. Could God exist in a method that we have not been able to ascertain? Obviously I can’t answer that. It’s certainly a possibility, but I concede that the window on that possibility is getting smaller all the time.

I have moved closer to the edge of atheism, but am I caught in a Zeno-like paradox, never quite able to get all the way there? Maybe applying a label to myself isn’t that important. Rejecting a worldview is a big step, and one not to be taken lightly, for whatever reason. In my case it means having to admit that there really is no afterlife; my loved ones are gone forever, and one day I too will simply cease to exist. It’s tough to just give all that up, but if that’s the price for accepting reality over superstition, then it has to be. Perhaps I just need more time to dress myself up in the garb of an atheist, and eventually I’ll feel comfortable in those clothes. I know in my heart that I’m nearly there now. Maybe I’ve been closer than I would have admitted all along. Maybe resolving my paradox means going over that edge instead of just drawing nearer. It’s scary, but also liberating at the same time.

I’m almost an atheist. Almost.

God Is A Concept

Posted on February 22nd, 2011 in Religion | 2 Comments »

I suppose, in the words of Stephen Fry, it’s time I nailed my colours to the mast. I am a card-carrying member of the British Humanist Association (BHA), and I am at a point in my life where I have totally rejected religion. Probably no surprise to anyone (anyone?) who’s read through this online collection of musings. But I never came out and really said it before. Altho I have said that religion is one of the most dangerous evils we face today.

And by that, I mean that religion is a force that has always divided people, and been the cause of a great deal of suffering and death. The rising up of different sects, on through the Crusades, the Reformation, the Troubles in Northern Ireland, 9/11, 7/7 and so on. We have killed the Jews, killed the Christians, killed the infidels, the non-believers, the unfaithful, etc., and so on, and so on. Children in many religious schools throughout the world today are taught to hate people who do not believe the same things they are taught; science and evolution are “wrong”, and outmoded religious texts are all they need.

At one time, religion was important; when human understanding of the world was insufficient to explain the workings of nature, religion offered a framework that people of those eras could fathom. Today we use fairy tales to explain concepts like sharing, manners, and basic scientific concepts. However, civilization has grown up in the past few thousand years, and we should no longer rely on fairy tales to explain to adults how the world works. Our technology is sophisticated enough to delve deeply into natural phenomena, and dispense with a god who hides behind supernatural magic and demands constant devotion.

Let’s briefly mention god here. I consider myself more agnostic than atheist. I feel that it comes down to one of two possibilities – either nothing, or something beyond what most people consider god. If nothing, then you die, and that’s it. Your consciousness is gone forever. Brutal, but possibly true. In which case the whole idea of religion is a useless waste of precious time.

If there is a god, then it is totally unlike the standard idea of god, i.e. an old man in the sky. A real god would be the total sum of all things in existence; galaxies to subatomic particles, including you and me. We would all be part of god, no more or less divine than any savior or prophet. Experiences after physical death would be more, much more than just going to Heaven or Valhalla or even Nirvana. The Bible, Koran or Bhagvhad-Gita could no more explain it than you could explain the Star Wars saga on a grain of rice.

So whichever way it is, religion is a remnant of our collective childhood that we cannot bear to dispense with. But now it no longer helps us deal with existence, it hinders our ability to comprehend the true nature of reality. The Universe is a fascinating place, and each of us truly precious and unique. Religion suffocates us, and blinds us to the real wonders of the Cosmos. We do not need the illusion of god to shield us from what’s out there, or divide us from each other in our lonely journey on this planet.

The ‘true believers’ always condemn such talk, and try to find fault with ‘proof’ of solid theories, like evolution. “Where’s the proof we evolved from apes?” is one popular cry. “How can you prove the Earth is as old as you say? is another. It becomes a pointless exercise, since people like this will not admit the proof when it stares them in the face. I was involved in a discussion like this once with a very religious co-worker. “What’s the proof?” he would ask.

“What about the fossils?”, I replied.

“What fossils?”

It’s very clear that we have a good overall record of how humans evolved. There may be quibbles over the details, but the proof is in the fossil record. For other animals, such as horses, the fossils are nearly complete and tell the story very well. But if you don’t believe in the proof when it’s shown to you, what will it take? My co-worker had no knowledge whatsoever about the details of the obvious evolution of Homo left behind in the rocks. If you don’t know how your supermarket shelves are restocked each night, you might as well believe elves do it.

And there’s certainly more proof for things like evolution than a garden of Eden. It strikes me as odd that people who are willing to believe superstition on faith will always demand ‘proof’ of any evidence to the contrary.

They will also try to point out that our moral codes, the rules that govern our societies, were fashioned by god and given to us so that we might lead ‘good’ lives. Anyone who rejects this is ‘bad’, ‘immoral’ or ‘anarchic’. This is of course, utter nonsense. Morality was devised by human beings, not a supreme being. I don’t need god to live a moral life. I’m not worried about divine retribution.

It may be asking too much that people who are raised not to think for themselves suddenly have a blinding flash of insight and reject the beliefs of their family and immediate society. But it does happen, nearly every day. Will religion ever really go away? I don’t know. At various points in the past, concepts like slavery, the oppression of women, the ridicule of homosexuals were all firmly entrenched. While they all still exist today, their standings are decidedly less sure, if not outright wobbly. It is my hope as a Humanist that one day the notion of religion is discarded as an outmoded archaic way of thinking. One that’s no longer relevant in the modern world. Standing up to religion, seeing it for the pack of lies it really is, and raising our children to be good members of society without all the mumbo-jumbo is of the utmost urgency.

Of Palestrina, Cathedrals, and God

Posted on September 26th, 2009 in Religion | No Comments »

Tonight I was listening to some masses by Palestrina, whom I was turned on to recently by a show on sacred music. Palestrina (d. 1594) was in service to the Pope for most of his career, singing in the Sistine Chapel choir, and writing great polyphonic choral music for church services.

Listening to music like this, the mind can’t help but wander back to the great cathedrals these pieces were meant to be heard in. I’ve been to quite a few fantastic cathedrals in my time – Westminster, St. Pauls (both in London), Salisbury, Lincoln, York Minster, Beverly Minster, and one of the greatest of them all, Canterbury, to name a few. I find them fascinating buildings, living reminders of a time and a people long gone to us now. How many generations of pilgrims have I followed in who have stood at the spot of the Martyrdom, or viewed the crooked tower of Lincoln? I gaze in awe at the English coronation throne, used by nearly every British king and queen since the 1300’s. Yes, covered in carved schoolboy graffiti now, but there sat Henry the Eighth; his daughter Elizabeth (at whose tomb I still genuflect); Edward IV, winner of the Wars of the Roses; Henry VI, who lost those wars (and his life); George III, the ‘tyrant’ of the American colonies, and so on. All of them sat in that nasty little chair.

The whole point of these giant churches, with their soaring naves and acres of stained glass, was to worship and glorify God. The music of Palestrina, its effortless grace and stirring complexity, was also created to celebrate a creator who returned to Earth in human form, and will supposedly return at the end of days.

But I venerate these lovely old piles and beautiful voices blended in harmony for a different reason. These are fantastic objects created by the mind and reason of man. The builders, authors, architects and musicians may be worshiping a deity, but I worship the ability of the human beings who left us these monuments in stone and song. The talent and creativity of those people reach across the centuries to us, and on into the future. How simply, utterly wonderful.

In some cathedrals you can take tours up into hidden parts, to see things that most tourists don’t get to see. Things like the walkway over the roof of the nave in Lincoln; it’s like walking over great piles of rubbish, except those are the arches towering 80ft. or more above the ground. The great chain Wren wound around the inner dome of St. Paul’s, to make sure it would be strong enough to resist the weight of the outer dome it has to bear forever. Towers with their endless tiny spiral staircases lined with rough-hewn rope banisters, or the narrow walkways, with openings cut into the columns, far up above the gentry below, threading through the church walls like stone blood vessels. I’d love to spend the night in Westminster, with a set of keys to all these little doors barring me from the exciting bits.

While the aim of the creators of these hulking emissaries from another time may have been to remind themselves (or us) of God, the message I hear from them loud and clear instead is, “Remember Us”. And so I think not of some supernatural being who may or may not exist at all, but of the flesh and blood stone masons, or woodcarvers, glassblowers, painters, composers, and all the rest.  I know they existed. Sir Christopher Wren, the designer and builder of St. Paul’s, is buried in a very nondescript little corner of the crypt of that great palace of religion. The Latin inscription over his tomb slab would suffice for all the builders of the great cathedrals:  “If you seek his monument, look around”.

God Help Us?

Posted on October 2nd, 2007 in Religion | No Comments »

I’m starting to come around to the idea that religion is more of a curse than a blessing, if you’ll pardon the pun. The whole point of religion in the first place was to answer some basic questions of humanity, with “Will I survive death?” being the biggest one. Things like moral codes (“How should I live my life?”) grew out of preparation for an after-death experience. Along the way, dislike of people who had different beliefs made a mockery out of religion in general.

As an aside, it should be noted that unlike advances in systems of thought concerning nearly every other sphere of our lives, religion is virtually the only one still untouched for hundreds (or in some cases, thousands) of years. We no longer believe the sun revolves around the earth, or in the four humours of the body, or even Newtonian classical physics; why do we insist on carrying the same ideas about an afterlife that ignorant peasants had a millennia ago?

Anyway, it strikes me that more people today are afraid of other religions than are comforted by their own. Catholics are afraid of Islamic fundamentalists, Christian Orthodox are afraid of Catholics, Islamic fundamentalists are afraid of Jews, Jews are afraid of Muslims, and so on. The 21st century is supposed to be the opening of wisdom and equality for all people; instead it’s an ongoing series of pre-emptive strikes against other faiths. The Buddhists perhaps, are the only ones who don’t give a shit. They must be ripe for taking over.

It’s hard to keep any faith in the goodness of man when teenage boys are blowing themselves up on crowded buses with women and children. Sometimes I wish religion was true; it would be hard not to smirk with self-righteous glee to see Jesus, Mohammad, Buddha, Krishna and a few others show up one day and turn white with mortification at what’s been done in their collective names.

And let’s get back to the central question – Has religion offered up any hope for life eternal? After all this time, do we have any more proof than before? Of course not. The faithful would say that proof is not required. Of course when dismissing other belief systems, they scream for “proof” the competition is better, wiser, greater, etc., then sneer with triumph when none is produced. My personal opinion is that there is either nothing after you die, and it’s all been a sham perpetuated out of fear for centuries, or there’s something much more wonderful and sacred than the tiny little sand castle scenarios each religion offers up. Either way, it’s not something to be slaughtering the innocent over. If you believe otherwise, then you’re stupider than I’m giving you credit for.