Sunday, October 14, 2012

How To Talk To A Muslim: The Nature of Allah

It is very rare that I come across an actual believing Muslim that I can debate with in my life, but recently I came across a blog made by an African American Muslim who writes about many hot button issues from the point of view of his Islamic faith. He had advertised his blog on the Non Believer Nation Facebook page, and that's what caught my interest. So I checked out a few of his blog posts, and naturally, as an atheist I had to take issue with many of them. So on several of his blogs, in the comment section, me and him went back and forth debating various topics, including his description of the nature of Allah, the atheistic position, and homosexuality as seen from his 7th century narrow-minded view. 

His name is Gareth Bryant, and he is an unapologetic conservative Muslim. He wrote a blog explaining his enduring love and respect for Allah and the anti-theist in me had to call out some of his brainwashed bullshit. Below is the transcript of our debate going back and forth. His blog post is linked below so you might want to read what he wrote before reading our debate. I start out apologizing to him for bugging him because this comment came after several heated back and forth comments we had on other posts. His words are in bold.

Reality of the Nature of Allah:


Sorry man I gotta bug you again. But you did say you want honest feedback from your readers…

So I have some issues with how you describe Allah. I have a problem with how the god of monotheism is portrayed in general, but in no particular order:

You mentioned that Allah is not created but is eternal. Doesn’t that mean Allah has an eternal past? Many monotheists believe God is timeless, but I don’t see how that is possible. Even the Qur’an says Allah’s day is a certain measurable length of time, whatever that may be. If Allah has an eternal past, wouldn’t it have taken him an eternity to get to the present?
Does Allah have free will since he knows everything he is going to think and do, forever? Isn’t that kind of like being an actor and having to go along with a script forever knowing that you could never deviate from it?

You mentioned that “Allah never plays practical-jokes upon people”. Really? Ever heard of the story of Abraham? Talk about practical joke. Whatever the lessen to be learned there, commanding someone to kill their son, and then saying it was all a test, is one hell of a joke. Can you imagine Abraham’s face when he found out it was all a test? Not to mention the look on his son’s face. This whole story is Allah’s intentional deception.

You said “It is impossible for Allah to be a tyrant”. Excuse me. Allah is the tyrant of tyrants. It’s his way or the highway. He demands to be loved, worshiped and feared. That sounds to be a lot like Stalin and Kim Jung-Il. Nearly every line in the Qur’an mentions this. All the verse you pointed out says is “And thy Lord wrongs not anyone.” But the Qur’an justifies slavery, sexual slavery, and Allah even uses the role of the slave to show their masters how much higher Allah is to them. I don’t think a “perfect” being would justify human slavery, don’t you?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

God Given Rights?

I want to journey back towards the topic of god for a moment, since I've strayed from it in recent posts. I read an article recently in the Washington Post that was linked on the Nonbeliever Nation Facebook page, about secular and atheist organization's attempt to lobby Washington on behalf of atheists. The author, trying to be humorous, poked fun at the irony he saw where the atheists were using their "God-given rights" to petition their government for a redress of grievances to exclude mentions of god on our money, in our pledge, and while taking an oath. Now I have to take issue (naturally) as an atheist, with the whole idea that our rights are god given by pointing out some obvious issues.

If our rights, as described in the Bill of Rights, are god given, then why aren't those same rights simply written in the bible? Why would it have taken thousands of years after god originally revealed himself to us for our rights to be inscribed into law? It would've done the world some great justice over the last few thousand years if we were to have outlined in the bible the universal freedoms that we Americans enjoy. Furthermore, why do the rights outlined in our founding texts differ from the rights outlined in the bible? Did the practice of slavery, that is completely condoned in the bible, only become wrong when the 13th amendment was passed outlawing it? If the bible is the word of god, and it contains what our rights and freedoms are, then the U.S. Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, would be blasphemy.

It is well known that the texts in which the U.S. is founded on, were inspired at least in part, by many of the enlightenment philosophers before and during that time, such as Thomas Paine and John Locke, and that many of our founding fathers were weary of religion and its influences, and that's precisely why they created a secular government free of institutional religion at the federal level. So this idea that our rights were "given" by god is at best, an attempt to insert the hand of god where it is certainly not needed.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Ego Driven Life

I feel the tremendous urge to show off on occasion. It's something that I don't acknowledge easily, but I cannot deny its existence. But why do I feel the need to show off and what do I think I am getting accomplished by doing so? By showing off you make others jealous of you, and you make them envy you, and this feeds the ego. And through this a great sense of satisfaction is obtained. Who hasn't had the desire to be envied or imitated by other people? It's one of the most basic aspects of selfishness probably that exists. But how does one reconcile the natural selfishness in human nature with the conscious understanding of its destructive capabilities?

According to Freud, sex was the primary motivation driving humans. It seems that in the modern capitalist world, sex has been equaled by money, along with power. So money, power and sex drive the ego, and generally, the more we have of them, the happier we are. But is this an illusion of happiness? The rich aren't really any happier than the average American is and according to numerous studies having more money can only buy temporary happiness, like the way a drug can. Happiness comes from a multitude of conditions. In the documentary Happy by director Roko Belic, it analyzes several metrics to gauge the happiness of people. First there are extrinsic goals. These would include things like, money, image and social status. These are contrasted with intrinsic goals. These would include things like personal growth, relationships, and the desire to help. Intrinsic goals are said to be in and of themselves rewarding because they relate to intrinsic psychological needs we all have and can thus more easily produce a state of happiness.

With these two types of goals pursued by many people, it's not hard to see how putting too much emphasis on extrinsic goals toward happiness can lead to problems because extrinsic goals are ego driven. For me it hasn't really been money so much, but I've spent quite a lot time obsessing over my image and social status. Getting just the right look, with just the right clothes, and making sure that my social status is high enough up in the hierarchy have all been very important concerns I've had, and I have had many periods of depression when it just doesn't seem to be working out. My last job for example drove me crazy because, I couldn't fit in with the people I worked with and sort of became the social outcast. I hated this social status and it resulted in massive depression, for which massive amounts of alcohol was prescribed.

The kind of happiness that derives from intrinsic goals, is clearly where the emphasis should be put. They can not only produce happiness, they have positive gains for society when put to practice. The pleasure obtained from helping others and bettering one's life and relationships is incredibly rewarding for good reason.

But this leads us back to square one, which is the problem of the ego driven life. How do I reconcile my unhealthy extrinsic goals towards happiness with the more beneficial intrinsic goals when the extrinsic goals are so powerful in their lure? Well for one thing I could squash my ego and pretend it doesn't exist. In Zen the ego is an illusion, it doesn't properly exist. But Zen also teaches of the "middle path". And since there is no dogmatic approach to Buddhism, I am free to interpret Buddhism how I please and where ever I see fit.

So using the middle path analogy that the Buddha is said to have made, whereby he described to some of his early followers who were adapt at extreme austerity measures of self mortification, of how when the string of a guitar is too loose, it becomes flaccid and cannot produce music, and when it is too tight, it snaps. But when it is just right, it makes beautiful music, pleasant to the ear. This middle path, avoiding the extremes at both ends is what we call moderation.

Using the middle way, perhaps a careful check of my ego driven pursuits with in the extrinsic goals is preferred rather than taking such extreme measures as abolishing it altogether. I know that keeping one's ego in check is not an easy task. It requires a constant reminder, and humility. I'm not the kind of person who worships money and materialism so I might have a head start over others wishing a more moderate path towards happiness and fulfillment. I'm not about to give away all my possessions and go meditate in a cave for the rest of my life. I want to live in the modern world, with its amenities and conveniences, and yes I want to look good and have a decent social status. But what I cannot do, is let myself obsess over these things to such a degree that they drive my life. And I must balance them out equally, if not more, with healthy pursuits of trying to be who I really am, building closer relationships with my friends and loved ones, and wanting and committing myself towards the help of others.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Bill Maher's Blog

I've been a long time fan of Bill Maher going back to his days hosting Politically Incorrect. Recently, I've checked out his blog. It's full of funny comments and takes, mostly on politics and he usually gets straight to the point.

Check it out:

Understanding Zen and its Practical Applications Part 3

I would be perfectly fine with never having to work another day in an office, performing work that I cared nothing for. To me, the idea of spending 40 years sitting in an office, is like hell. Sure there are office jobs that I could see myself working in, where the job wasn't that stressful and overbearing, and the people I worked with were decent and we got along. But ultimately, I think that my personality type, is simply not meant to exist for long periods of time within the confines of a florescent-lite cubical.

That being said, where do I belong? I'm actually not quite sure. I know where I feel comfortable. I know that there are three basic conditions to be met that make me content. They are: doing what I like, with people I like, at a place that I like. This is of course assuming that the physiological needs for me to be content are already met, such as having good health, a place to live and food. When it comes to work, I prefer to have a job working for an organization that does good to the world in accordance with my personal morals. Any job where I have to aide giant corporations in their destruction of the Earth for money, is not something that I can take lightly. I have done that in the past and I am not proud of myself for it.

Discovering Zen Buddhism through the teachings of Alan Watts has helped me to see the world from a new perspective. Zen has this mystery to it. Many of the experiences associated with it cannot be put into words adequately, which for me is a part of its appeal. I think that though Zen I have journeyed a bit closer to where I am supposed to be. I don't consider myself a Buddhist but what I aim to take from Buddhism is its practical philosophical aspects, and incorporate them into my existing belief system, that is grounded in atheism and Western philosophy. I would like to keep a foot in both worlds so to speak.

This all being said, I still honestly feel lost as to where I am in this world or where I belong in terms of my profession. I feel almost as if I simply just exist, without a greater purpose being actively implemented by me. I know where I stand in terms of my philosophy and morals, but translating this to an action plan that can support me financially has been an utter failure. Now I am of the mindset, that we each make our own purpose. We each have within us, inherent talents and desires, and from them we can each find the path that  feels right for us. A few years ago, when I started to get very serious about my passion for atheism and humanism I felt as if a light had just gone on. Unfortunately, this light seems to have gone off a bit too late - I was already in college paying thousands of dollars towards a degree in the IT industry just as my interest in it was waning.  This set of events has left me angry, but I don't blame anyone or anything for it, it just happened. I am glad to have found something I am passionate about at all. I do still wish that I could turn the clock back 5 years or so and have gotten my degree in political theory, philosophy, or one of the sciences.

In Zen you don't dwell in the past, because it doesn't exist. The past doesn't determine the present because the present is all that exists. My past miscalculations should not affect my desire and strive for doing something I am really passionate about. But all to often I become controlled by my past, as many of us do, whereby we allow events that have happened to limit our abilities in the present. This is not only harmful to one's potential, it is harmful to one's being. For to dwell too strongly into the past prevents the self from expressing who it truly is, and I struggle greatly with this.

What Zen philosophy means that my past experiences do not determine my potential in the present. Haven't we all succeeded in an assignment when we had no past experience to gauge whether we would be successful? It is shocking sometimes when you realize what you can achieve in certain situations, even when there has been failure in the past. All I can say is that my potential now to achieve what I am passionate for has is not bound with the chains created by past events.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Different Kind of Cool

I remember being a teenager and spending hours looking at myself in the mirror, obsessing over how I looked, obsessing over my hair and skin and nose and how I looked from the side and behind, constantly comparing myself to others. It's all part of being a self-conscious adolescent in a culture obsessed with image. As I've grown older, my interest in how I look has waned a bit, but recently, there has seen a slight resurgence, I think, primarily due to the fact that I am getting older and I fear that I will lose touch with what is cool and trendy.

When I say "cool and trendy" I don't mean the stupid shit that teenagers care about today - I couldn't care less about most of that shit. I mean having a sense of coolness in the aesthetic and intellectual sense. I mean "cool" like my literary hero Christopher Hitchens, who'd sip a cocktail at all hours of the day with a cigarette in the other hand, quoting writers and philosophers from memory and telling anecdotes about humorous encounters with various public figures. The "trendy" aspect means taking care of my appearance in the sense that it will be apparent from someone looking at me that I've taken some consideration into how I look. It's not that I have to be the most stylish trend-setter in the room, but I don't want to be seen as some loser douche-bag who looks like he stepped right out of the 90s.

There's a different kind of cool that I like. It's the kind of cool that requires intellectual discourse with like minded people, over drinks at a dinner party or lounge. It's the kind of cool Sinatra had. What I want to help grow is a public understanding of the important issues in politics, and to let people know that it is cool to be well informed and have an opinion about things. There aren't enough "cool" youngish people in the media deeply concerned with politics, although it seems to be increasing. Since Barack Obama, there has been an uptick in interest in politics, but the American people are largely ignorant of the issues at stake today and are even more ignorant of the history behind them.

As I get older I care less and less about the pop culture world and what goes on in it and I care more and more about the realm of politics and science. These two areas have long been associated by those in the pop culture world as being lame, boring or generally uncool. And sure you have popular comedians like Bill Maher, John Stewart, and Steven Colbert making politics and the issues fun, but their fans fill a small niche that is not exactly by mainstream standards, "cool". There are high profile scientists that have become in a way, niche celebrities in a sense, but their message rarely penetrates the bubble they live in.

Maybe I'm getting in over my head here. Perhaps the number of people into politics and science will always be limited, just like the number of people into Death Metal or Swing Dancing will be. Perhaps that's just the way it is, or perhaps it should be that way. Because if stupid, ill-informed, pop culture drones start "engaging" in civil debate about politics, we might be awash with Sarah Palins and Herman Cain types.

..And that wouldn't be too good.

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Threat from Corporate Greed

My blog is almost entirely devoted towards my atheism and dissent of religion, but it recently occurred to me that although threats from religious zealots do pose a real problem for a free, open and democratic society, perhaps the larger threat is the one posed by the seemingly unstoppable greed of corporations. It is my contention, that corporations for decades have had far too much power and influence in governments, and that they've used this influence to better themselves too often at the expense of people, animals and the environment. It is from corporate greed that we get millions in the third world exploited daily for their cheap labor. It is from corporate greed that we get various toxic elements polluting our environment. It is from corporate greed that we do not have labels on our food indicating their country of origin in the U.S. Corporations will always care more about their bottom line than they will anything else, and this lack of the most basic ethical considerations leads to so much unnecessary harm.

In other words, from an ethical standpoint, corporate entities put profit over people, profit over the environment, profit over everything. Many modern day corporations will stop at absolutely nothing to increase their bottom line, regardless of the long term impacts that they may be causing. It seems to me that the greed driven, no holds-barred approach to capitalism, is like a mild form of insanity. Are we really willing as a society to let our future become jeopardized from the unquenchable greed of the corporatists? Are we willing to let corporate interests dictate government policy from the inside? Are we willing to let energy corporations continue to pollute our Earth so that the polar ice caps melt from global warming? Are we willing to let wage and labor standards diminish in the face of the downward pressure imposed by corporate greed? Are we willing to really sit back and let this happen while a small group of people gets rich off of it? I wonder, how we can call our great nation a democracy anymore when corporations have most if not all of our politicians in their back pocket.

"From an ethical standpoint, corporate entities put profit over people, profit over the environment, profit over everything."

From the point of view of ethics, it seems to me that a small group of very rich people who run corporations, who care only for their own selfish interests, and who continually want more and more and are never satisfied, are deplorable in character. This brings up the whole collectivism versus individualism debate I wrote about. The corporatist is certainly not a utilitarian, nor is he a deontologist. He instead is subscribing to Ayn Rand's objectivism of rational self interest. It is individualism gone crazy. The irony here with my objections to corporate greed, is that many religious leaders in the Catholic church and within Islam, are on the same page as I am. Although my blog is a non-stop rant against religion, that doesn't mean that I disagree entirely with what all religions say. I agree with Islam's prohibition on usury, and Catholic doctrines against excessive self interest, from which greed is a result. I would certainly be willing to work with religious leaders to help put an end to the corporate domination of our entire world.

The current existence of the world's economy is completely unsustainable. We are using up the Earth's finite resources at an alarming rate and producing as a result, ever increasing levels of waste. The sanctity of humanity and the environment is literally at stake here and billions of people either don't care or don't know of the severity of this situation. This is primarily because most people are either working too hard in order to survive, so they can extend their wretched existence a little longer, or they are wrapped up in their own bubbles of pop culture and mindless self indulgence to be bothered. To know and care about this 800 pound gorilla in the room, requires one to think. I can imagine a world in the not too distant future, where giant corporations run the world through shadow governments whom they use to create wars on behalf of their corporate self interests, where they send brainwashed masses to die, who control the media to influence public opinion through a scripted, pseudo reality, and where every stream, drop of water, glaciated tundra and deciduous forest, cannot escape the suffocating ugly hands of a corporation, looking to own and privatize it. Oh wait, that's today.

We need nothing less than a revolution in how we live. If public opinion can sway in my favor, if enough consumers were educated we could bring about the type of change we need to get back on a sustainable future. It will be going up against man's natural tendency for short term happiness and greed, and this is no easy task. I don't have kids, so after I die, I have no personal vested interests in the fate of humanity centuries from now. But many of the corporatists in charge of the rape and pillage of the Earth's finite resources and the abuse of the labor used to turn them into products do have kids, and I wonder where or what they think they will do when the shit hits the fan and we deplete what the Earth can provide us because we hesitated making realistic steps towards renewable resources. Will they use their wealth to build lavish underground bunkers or floating cities while the rest of us turn to savagery on what little habitable land is left? Who knows.

Our entire monetary system is a gigantic ponzi scheme, perhaps the largest ever created. Our money is printed out of thin air by the private Federal Reserve and loaned to the U.S. Government, to be payed back with interest. Since the U.S. Government can't make its own money, this means that the only way the U.S. can pay down this debt is by borrowing more money from the Federal Reserve. And so our entire economy is built upon and endless cycle of debt that is completely unsustainable. The abolishment of the Federal Reserve is paramount to the first step towards a sustainable economy.

Campaign finance reform, though much talked about, is the only way to get most of the money from corporate special interests out of Washington. We also need real ethics in practice in the business world. There was a time when many more corporations were known for treating and paying their workers fairly with decent livable salaries and benefits. This grew and nurtured our middle class. Over the decades this has gone by the wayside as greed lead many corporations to reduce or freeze worker's wages and benefits, or move jobs overseas to cheap labor markets. There was a time when CEOs cared about their workers because they knew they were all part of an extended family. This kept many communities alive for generations. We must put an end to the exploitation of cheap labor because it is abusive and unethical.

The only thing that can truly be done is if enough leaders in the corporate world come to their senses, realize the detriment their enterprises are having on the world, and care enough about it to sacrifice some of their increasing wealth to turn the tide back. CEOs must turn profit for the corporations they run or else they will be removed by the board of directors. This means that the whole system must be changed. Society at large must have a mindset free of the extremes of greed through the a deeper moral understanding of its consequences and its motives. Critical thinking and ethics should be taught in every public school, as well as a solid financial education. But greedy corporations running Washington will never allow it. This influence must be broken.


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