Saturday, November 26, 2011

A Declaration of Independence from Religion

I am an atheist. Not only do I not believe in god, I derive great pleasure from arguing against it. I was thinking recently of writing a declaration of independence from god, or religion. What would it be like to declare independence from religion and its oppression? Just as how the founding fathers of this great secular country declared their independence from the clench of the British empire, atheists and rationalists such as myself, should declare our independence against the totalitarian grip that religion holds.

Then I begin to ponder whether this declaration should be for just the U.S. or should it be for human kind as a whole? Surely, I would like this to be extended to all nations and to all people, especially how in light of the humanist movement, it is becoming less and less politically correct to be nationalistic when speaking of rights. I suppose it is religion that is the main oppressor, and not god. It is religion after all, that give us these outdated, unpractical, fatuous rules and regulations that one must live by. God in this case is a mere figurehead, the enforcer of these rules. A deistic god doesn't sit on the throne and take perverted pleasure in this way. It is the religion itself that is the culprit for so much of our conscious imprisonment. I shall for now focus on a declaration of independence from religion.

Rather than start from scratch, since original Declaration of Independence is so beautiful in form, I decided to basically retool the document as a fight against religion and all its forms of tyranny in place of British style despotism. The declaration then goes as follows:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for all people to dissolve the religious bands which have connected them with one another, and against one another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of humankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all people are created equal, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness, and that Religion has for so long, been the primary hindrance of mankind achieving such an objective.

That to secure these rights, Religious institutions among Men and Women, are not to infringe them with coercion, force, capital, subversion, theocracy or any other power they have at their disposal.

That whenever any Form of Religion becomes destructive by infringing upon these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new forms of organization and policy, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Religions long established should indeed be changed for enlightenment and humanist causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that if no attempt at modernity be assembled, that humankind are more disposed to suffer, and it is hence better to right themselves by abolishing the religious forms to which they are accustomed.

But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Theocratic Despotism or totalitarianism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such a Religion and its authorities, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Such has been the patient sufferance of humankind; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Religion. The history of religion is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the mind, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over belief and consciousness. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

Religious tyranny of all forms needs to be oppressed. I sincerely believe that it is for the good of the future of all mankind. I make this no secret in my writings. The original Declaration of Independence gave us our great freedoms that the much of humanity comes to recognize as the template for a modern society. Gone were kings and queens, and their supposed divine rights. Gone were state religions that all had to fund through taxation.

With the Declaration of Independence from Religion, let there be no despots, or religious ruler of any kind, or state sponsored religion, or creationism in the classroom, or ten commandments in front of the courtroom, or tax dollars to print holy books, or religiously inspired laws, or freedom of speech muted out of religious sensitivity. Let there instead be a rational, secular society that promotes free, scientific inquiry as a means of finding truth about our natural world, and to guide us to creating the just society.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Logically Implausible God (Part 2)

If you are reading this for the first time, please first read part 1 of the The Logically Implausible God where I introduce the contradictions in the traditional concept of the monotheistic god being timeless.

For part 2 of The Logically Implausible God, I will focus on the belief by many that god is morally perfect. As I mentioned in part 1, there are so many differences in the characteristics of god between faiths and even among individuals of the same religious sect, that it will be impossible for me to address all these concepts. I cannot stress this enough. Rather, what I will do instead, is conflate the many concepts of god into one single entity that is an all powerful, omniscient, omnipotent, morally perfect, timeless being, who is essentially kind and compassionate, and who is the "first cause" in the creation of, at the very least, our universe.
That being said, I want to focus on the idea of the "morally perfect" god and how I think that this is not a characteristic of the god of Judaism, Christianity or Islam. I'm not even sure that a morally perfect being could exist in the first place.

The Euthyphro Dilemma

First of all, where does morality come from? Theists disagree tremendously on this concept. We are told by some theists that god is morally perfect, and that morality comes from him. If god is morally perfect, then his very nature must therefore also be morally perfect. Now this brings us to The Euthyphro Dilemma, from Plato's dialogue Euthyphro. It asks the question, "Is what is morally good commanded by God because it is morally good, or is it morally good because it is commanded by God?" I love this brilliant wisdom of the the ancient Greeks. Let's analyze this a little deeper. If god says stealing is wrong, is stealing wrong because god commanded it, or is it wrong independently of god's will and god agrees with it because so? If stealing is wrong only because god commands it, then morality is simply just determined by the opinion of god and can be arbitrarily decided, in other words, might makes right. But, if god said stealing is right, then it would therefore be right. I think the Islamic viewpoint has the biggest problem with this part of the Euthyphro dilemma, since it is a religion that is so dependent on gods commandments to believe what is right or wrong.

The Logically Implausible God

Although it is true that no human being, atheist or believer, can disprove the existence of god with empirical evidence, this is not a requirement for the Atheist position. I'm not in any way, going to make the claim that I will be the first homosapien to disprove the existence of god, but my doubt in god's existence relies in large part due to some logical contradictions that I think exist.

First of all, what do I mean by god? There are a myriad of different concepts of what god is, between religions and even within religious sects themselves. For instance, ask two believing Christians what they think is the nature of god, and you will get two totally different (and even contradictory) answers. With all these apparent differences in beliefs, I will try to focus on the general concept of the monotheistic god believed by Jews, Christians and Muslims.

To the three monotheistic traditions, god is an all powerful, omniscient, omnipotent, morally perfect, timeless being, who is essentially kind and compassionate, and who is the "first cause" in the creation of, at the very least, our universe. Now these properties of god all have slight variations in the beliefs among Jews, Christians and Muslims (as well all the other religions) and we all know this has led to centuries of bickering and bloodshed (praise be to god!). I am not here to argue these differences, but rather I am here to make a case for how a simplified, conflated view of these beliefs in god comes across some logical contradictions, just as the religions themselves do.

Part 1: The Logical Implausibility of a Timeless God

We are told that god is timeless, but what does this mean? Believers say that god exists outside of time, but how is this really possible? If god created the universe, then there was a moment when god existed alone, before he created the universe, and then there was a moment when god exists with the universe, after he created it. But you cannot have concepts of "before" and "after" without time. In order for god to do anything, there must be a time before, and a time after he does it. Therefore, it is logically impossible for god to exist outside of time.

Now if god exists inside of time, then that brings up other problems. For example, believers say that everything that begins to exist must have a first cause, except god (how convenient). But if god does not have a first cause, and exists in time, then he must have an infinite regression of time in his past. To have an infinite regression of time in one’s past, also means that there are an infinite number of events in their past as well. To quote an argument made by the Christian theist William Lane Craig in his debate on the existence of god with Christopher Hitchens, Craig states that "mathematicians recognize that the existence of an actually infinite number of things, leads to self contradictions. For example, what is infinity, minus infinity? Well mathematically, you get self contradictory answers." Craig is on the right page on infinity’s impractical implications and is using this logical contradiction in defense of god, however he is failing to realize that the very same argument he is trying to make for god, is better applied against god. In other words, if god exists in time and therefore has an infinite past, then it would take an infinite amount of time for god to get to the present, and thus he would never have enough time get here.

The Thinker's Social Dilemma

My very own mind is often my own worst enemy. In social situations, I can sometimes think of everything that can go wrong, even when there are really no outward signs of them independent of my mind. For example, I know that I'm the kind of person that doesn't easily get along with most others. It is something that I've learned to accept, although it took many long years. My interests and passions are topics that for the most part, are enjoyed by a tiny minority of the populace. For instance, I have no fucking interests in sports whatsoever. I don't care for stupid reality shows, and pop culture has never seem so dis-interesting to me.

That being said, when I am put in a social situation, such as getting a new job or meeting a bunch new friends of friends, my mind starts having these thoughts. Thoughts that I will not get along with them because the chances that they are into the kind of stuff that I'm into, are so rare. My mind is usually, actually often right that I won't get along, however I don't necessarily need someone to be interested in my passions for me to get along with them. I can chat about some off-hand interests at length, sometimes. However, without another person having interest in what I really love, there is no hope for a real close friendship. And this is why I have not really made friends with anyone at work at all. Sure I can chit chat with them, but actually hanging out and becoming real friends is impossible since the only thing they really care about is sports.

So where does that leave me? I can't change who I am. I can't get into the other shit that most guys are into. Sure I can brush up and refine my social skills and small talk, but at work at least, I don't even have the motivation to do that. I'd rather not even engage at all.

And so I am very picky about who I keep as my friends. I have a small inner circle of people who I can hold real conversations with. They are mostly atheists and thinkers. We do not agree at all about our views on god, religion, morality, politics and economics, but that doesn't necessarily matter. What matters is our interest in the topics themselves, and our ability to have stimulating and passionate conversations about them. And it's this, aside from loyalty, that is all I pretty much all I ask for in a friend.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Occupy Wall Street

Dear Occupy Wall Street Protesters,

You have my utmost support in taking our country back from the corporate fascists that have taken over our country, and have destroyed the very fabric of who we are: the 99 percent.

For the past month the Occupy Wall Street movement has grown from Zucotti Park, in downtown Manhattan to a world wide movement. Although I haven't been down there, I support their cause. Many critics of OWS, especially the Fox News assholes, say the protesters have no central focus. Let me explain that the main principle at the source of the rage coming from OWS is the unequal distribution of wealth in the United States, due to the long cozy relationship between our elected officials, and big business. OWS has giving voice to many of us who are disgusted by the practices of the wealthiest and most powerful individuals and corporations that are controlling our political system and thus are controlling the national agenda.

For example, most, if not all of our congressmen, senators, mayors, governors and presidents are bought and sold by corporations. The corporations are funding their elections, and therefore once these politicians are in office, they are beholden to the corporations and not the voters, even though it was the voters who elected the politician. This is why legislation often contains within it loopholes that corporations use to escape whatever practices the regulations were intended to stop.

But you already know this right? What corporations get away with today, is some of the most disgusting immoral behavior in the world. It makes me sick. It's just unbelievable what the state of American politics is today. Will it ever end? Can anything really be done to divorce this grotesque relationship between big money, and government?

I feel I should be down there protesting. Although I have a job and have benefited well from my college education, I am very passionate about the movement. We need Wall Street to hear our voice. Their greed cannot go unpunished. What is at stake here is nothing less than the future of the middle class, which in turn is the future of the United States. Should we raise taxes of the rich to pay for our debt? Of course!

OWS is all about:

1. Ending the influence that corporations and banks have on our elections and legislation.
2. Protect the middle class; stop the increasing economic disparity between the rich and everyone else, by
3. Making the economy work for everyone (especially the 99%).

Why is this so controversial? Because the banks and corporations who control the government and a large percentage of our media, are using their money and power to mischaracterize the OWS movement and are actively trying to frame it so that OWS looks like a socialist revolution. They are very good at using fear mongering, a la Fox News, to scare Americans into thinking that OWS wants to destroy capitalism and replace it with a communist-style socialist market. OWS protesters don't want a handout, they want jobs. They want good paying jobs with benefits. They want to work and earn a living and to be productive. They don't want the 1 percenters taking the lion's share of wealth and leaving everyone else to gnaw at the tiny pieces of meat left of the bones. Who can blame them when the wages for middle income people has been virtually flat for 30 years and the richest 1 in the U.S. soared 275 percent from 1979 to 2007.

Revolution is inevitable under such circumstances.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Does Free Will Exist?

This is one of the hardest questions to answer: The notion of human free will. Does it exist? Do we have free will? Christopher Hitchens sarcastically says we have free will because we have no choice. I say we have free will, but, and this is a very big but, it is conditional. We do not have the free will to choose whether we are born male or female, how tall or how short we are, what race we are, what language, culture and geographic area of the world we are born into, how rich or how poor we are, and what year we are born. Not of this is willed by us. These decisions are made by forces and circumstances outside which we can control. As such, many of us might want to have been born as different people or at a different time all together.

Considering how conditional our experiences are, how can any of us say we have free will at all? Well, although we do not control the origin of our life circumstances, we do have control in how we react to them. And therein lies our free will. Even when you are forced to reckon with an instinct and personality that is not of your own choice either, your rational mind allows you to make decisions. Being human is being rational. We can control our rage, conquer our fears and forgo our selfishness. This of course doesn't mean that we always do.

So I essentially believe we have free will that is conditional to a sort of happenstance that we have no control over. The idea that god gives us free will is ridiculous because we we are given free will, that takes away the whole point. Meaning we didn't will to have free will, it was decided for us.

Lastly, our free will is constrained by what is physically and logically possible. If I am sitting at a bar and have a choice of 10 different beers on draft to choose from, then I am free to choose any one of them. But my choices (at least at that bar) are limited to what is available to me. Life is full of "you can't always get what you want" situations. And if I will to have powers like a super-hero, I obviously am out of luck due to the laws of physics.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Ethical Dilemmas and Principles

Suppose two men agreed they they are going to collaborate on getting a job done. Working together will make the task at hand much easier than if they were to each undertake it alone. The job requires an investment of capital, weeks of planing, time and effort to be put into it in order to be successful. Suddenly, one of the men backs out of the agreement just as all their hard work was going to materialize. Now the other man is left in a situation where he can not finish the job by himself and he has now wasted money, time and hard work. Was it wrong for the man to back out of the agreement so late in the game where by him doing so, it jeopardized the success of the job?

Think about your answer. What is the moral duty to uphold a social agreement? If one agrees upon a "social contract", does one have the obligation to uphold it? Most people would say that both parties have committed themselves into a social contract, while not necessary legally binding, does contain within it, levels of trust and dependency that if broken would be damaging to the parties involved. It is you can say a "socially binding" contract.

Now let's say that the man backed out of the agreement because he suddenly caught a sense of moral contemplation. The job they were doing was to go out and kidnap a young girl for the purposes of raping and killing her. He backed out of the deal because he just couldn't bare to go through with it. Now was he wrong for backing out? Or, was he right for backing out of an agreement to kill someone solely for its pleasure?

The moral idea of honoring one's contractual and social agreements, and of being an honest broker in business clearly has its exceptions. But therefore, the question begs to be asked: Does all morality depend on situational, and relative circumstances? Is, in other words, all morality relative? When Sam Harris outlines the idea of principle, standing firm even when one can find exceptions, he is talking in a way about having rigid morals that do not necessarily have to be absolute in every situation. For example, in chess there is a good principle to adhere to: Don't loose your Queen. But there are situations when sacrificing your Queen is the best strategic option to make, and there are other times where you will have no other choice but to sacrifice your Queen. These exceptions do not have the ability to erode away the solidity of the principle at heart. No one is going to say that because a single exception can be found to the principle of not loosing your Queen in chess, that we must therefore throw out the entire principle or that the principle is erroneous.

One argument theists make about morality absence of god, is that without the absolutism of morality from divine command theory, you cannot have moral principle. My initial example above on the relativism of a moral proposition, shows how morality, while not always absolute in its nature can still have a principle behind it. In principle, I might say, it is morally right to honor those you conduct business with whether contractually or socially, but there are exceptions.


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