Friday, June 29, 2007

Thoughts on Atheism, Theism and Agnosticism, Part III

Here is a question, is it possible for there to be an atheistic religion?

I think first off there needs to be a definition of religion established here. Many people will say they are spiritual, but do not consider themselves religious, and if we look at their behavior and beliefs, what does this amount to?

Basically a religion is a set of established, communal behaviors and worldview that flow from the beliefs of the practitioners. In theory, one could be a Christian and read the Bible all by themselves, and I don;t think this makes them religious. They can believe in the "Good News" but if they do not attend a church or celebrate holidays with other people, or partake in events like communion or collective prayer, they are not religiously Christian. Certainly there are many people who are probably religiously Christian, but not spiritually so. This is what many Evangelicals believe is the case for most Christians.

So then, is it possible to have an atheistic religion, that is a series of communally held rituals that arise from set of likewise communally held beliefs? I think it is, but I do not think such an institutionalized Atheism will have too many followers, nor will it be able to prevent itself from constantly dividing. (I base this assumption off any meeting of an Atheists, Agnostics, and Freethinkers club, where the only unity present is often in a shared dislike of religion and theism).

Marxism offers a good example. I think one could argue that it functioned as an Atheistic religion (technically Marx himself was an igtheist. It had a holy writ, it had mass rituals, sacred words and language, and a priesthood in the form of Communist Party officials. Now personally, I think Marxism, though it has many flaws, still makes more sense than most of the theistic religions, but there is no escaping the fact that it had as much pomp and pageantry (and dogma) as the Catholic Church.

But looking at Marxism one sees what happens with an attempt to create an atheistic religion. Number one, it caused its followers to become like sheep and commit horrific crimes they otherwise never would have considered doing. Number two, since it celebrates reason and science, Marxists constantly fought amongst themselves and split up into smaller and smaller groups, worse than the Christians ever were.

So it is possible to create an institution that effectively functions like a religion, but has no God. It can replace that God with some other great concept like Revolution or the march of science, or establishing contact with aliens, but it will have the practical problems of both theism in its dogmatism, and atheism, in its tendency towards individual strife.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Another Poem Published!

Success! This morning I checked my e-mails before going out to take the kids out for breakfast, and lo and behold I recieved a message from Perigee Magazine, an online publication. Back in May I sent out a bunch of poems and some prose pieces to several online publications. Some have been rejected and so I was expecting this one to be the same. But it wasn't. Instead I am pleased to announce that in their upcoming issue (#17 out on July 15th), I am going to have a poem appear. It is called Flyer Guy and was written by me in response to the people who are constantly passing out flyers to me in New York City.


Now I'm working at the good ole' Summer Enrichment Program at the University of Virginia. I have seven eighth grade boys that are personally under my supervision, but I get to deal with all kinds of kids between the 5th and 8th grade. They are all gifted in one way or another and they sometimes manage to surprise me with what they can do. Sunday was field day for the camp and before we got them sweaty and wet (along with some of the counselors)they had a pep rally where the suites were paired up. My suite is the 320s (we live in the dorms at UVA), and we were with a corresponding suite in the girl's quarters. Most counselors created team names around alliteration and unusual animals and let the kids do a cheer or song based on a pop tune or the old standby "We Will Rock You" by Queen.

However because I like to be different, engaged, and a rebel, I had my kids and the kids from the other suite come together under the theme of Paraguay. They created a banner celebrating the country's rich history and traditions, opening with a skit of one of my campers wearing a German general's hat and wondering where he could go since his country had just lost WWII. Another camper came out and told the beleaguered German that Paraguay was waiting to offer him a home and he was overjoyed. Then the banner was unfurled and a cheer was led by another one of my boys, John, who wrote the thing himself (though no one believed it):

Alright Paraguayans, raise a din,
'Cause this land-locked beauty is here to win!

We'll stomp you, kick you, shoot you in the knees,
Your puny lands with sea access, we'll seize.

From the canopies of Asuncion,
When we bomb you with artichokes,
You will be gone!

Look out Uruguayans, you're going down,
Upon your patheticness we do frown!

Your demise we'll weave upon a loom,
Upon you we'll spread the tablecloth of doom

Go Paraguay!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Thoughts on Atheism, Theism and Agnosticism, Part II

Alright. First I would like to begin by discussing my own personal beliefs. I do not consider myself a theist. I lean towards weak atheism in practical terms. I believe in a Being with a capital "B" but mostly for philosophical reasons. In my mind Being is everything. It is everything we may not be able to experience as well. All things dwell within it, including human beings. That said, Being is not God. Some have remarked that such an idea, of an all encompassing Being is secretly a belief in a deity. I do not think that it is. I do not hold that Being is all loving, that Being answers our prayers, or that it interacts with us on a daily basis.

I do not hold that there is any sort of afterlife and that this existence is the only one we have. If there is any possible life after death, I would go with reincarnation, but even then, since memories do not survive one's demise, and neither does ones body or personality, reincarnation cannot bring about any sort of meaningful afterlife. If you "wake up" in someone else's body, so be it. But you can't remember where you were before. So what good is it?

I was raised a Catholic and left the church in my mid-teens because I disliked the corruption in the organization and the hypocrisy of most American Catholics. After that for a while I was a generic Humanist Christian, but eventually I came to disbelieve in the Bible and saw Buddhism and existentialism as giving better insight into the human condition. I suppose I left the faith because I found a better alternative.

That said, I would like to offer up a defense of the Theist's position in sympathetic terms. All to often I see these sorts of debates revolving around what I would like to call "psychological arguments." These are arguments that are thinly veiled ad hominem attacks (that also commit the fallacy of argument from consequences). They center around accusing supporters of the other side for believing what they want in order to make them happy. Atheists often accuse theists of having faith in God because it makes them happier and they fear death. I think there are two problems with this line of reasoning.

First is that there are many unhappy Christians. One might argue that they would be even unhappier if they lacked faith in God and the afterlife, but I feel that in certain cases faith in God did not equal much happiness. After all, when you become a theist, particularly a member of an organized religion, you become worried about avoiding eternal hellfire. You may suffer more and actually be more unhappy because you are constantly delaying gratification. You may be happier as well.

Second is that there are also unhappy Atheists. Most Atheists are satisfied with their lives, but many are not. In some cases I'm sure feeling estranged from others and the universe and its purposes and despair over death and no afterlife and cause grief to certain atheists. This group I am sure is a minority, one which in the theist's mind often represents the whole of the non-theistic community. Yet they do exist, these individuals who suffer and whose lives are filled with anguish, possibly because they lack a belief in something greater than themselves, though one cannot be sure. What is certain is that happiness is not guaranteed by adopting either position, nor becoming an agnostic.

Belief in God can be very satisfying and this is why the majority of the world's theists are religious. This is why they refrain from doing things, giving money to certain groups, fighting against others, building holy shrines, making pilgrimages, and the like. God knows everything, has chosen everything, and all one has to do is trust in God's guiding spirit. God gives reason and shape to the universe and consequently people's lives and around God one can build a system of morals and ethics.

The communal aspect of religion is what I think is most appealing. It creates a sense of community for people, it gives them support when they need it, and an organized religion provides children with moral education. For individuals, belief in God acts to dispel their anxieties and fears about the world and the afterlife. Any critique of religion or belief in God must take this into account, the practical side of theism and why people believe. It is not because they have been overtaken by a virus, a genetic or nutritional defect, or are simply not as "bright." People look at their options and since we live in a country that is not a theocracy, they know disbelief is an option. Theists are not becoming atheists in droves, and in fact many atheists become committed theists. Something more powerful or more intimate than abstract reasoning must be driving this, since we know that logic tends to favor the atheist and agnostic in the debate.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Thoughts on Atheism, Theism and Agnosticism, Part I

For the past several months I have been reading posts by one Jack Rivall, who I became friends with for some reason on facebook. I suspect he saw my religious listing as a Pastafarian and then contacted me because I would be interested in analysis of God and religion from a skeptical point of view. I am, but it is daunting how much stuff this guy writes and posts. I am not a fan of churches or religious groups in general and dislike Evangelical Christianity immensely, but this guy seems obsessed with it, operating as a one man watch dog group.
Fine for him, but the notes that get posted and link attached become repetitive and take up most of my home page whenever I log into facebook. When I scroll down, its usually post after post, telling me about some facet of Atheism and overcoming a common criticism.
I guess I've been spurned on to do some of my own thinking on the matter and to analyze the way the debate is going and where the atheist side is failing to make its case stronger. I am not displeased with the debate in general. I believe that it is necessary. I am not one of those who thinks we simply shouldn't discuss religion. To ignore the fundamental beliefs people have about the universe, beliefs that shape their values and their actions, is irresponsible to say the least. Of course there is a time and place for such debates. An atheist shouldn't yell at someone in an elevator who says "God Bless You" when he sneezes. There is a likelihood that person could be an atheist as well, since such things are said out of concern and habit, not out of conviction mist of the time.

Idea for a Band Name

I saw a good name for a band, it was part of a quote by Thomas Jefferson that I have had the pleasure to read many, many times since it has been attached to the stall door in the dorms I have stayed at during the summer at UVA.

The name of the would be band is "Moral Monotony"

I think it has a good ring to it. It sounds like Moral Majority, and maybe slightly pokes fun at it. The aliteration will probably lead people to that association.