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Most of my mornings are filled with top 40 hits of pop music as I commute to work, kids in tow. This radio station is a clear favorite for all of us with its variety, and usually I can ignore the music and let the kids enjoy a little be bopping before going to school. Recently though, we discovered that on Sunday mornings there is a half hour of programming starting at 7:30 a.m. that is evangelical in nature. "We are going to tell you how to improve your life." "Through God all things are possible." "Cynics find a way to eliminate all the good in their lives...but I am here to bring Jesus to them." Insert the sound effect of a record being ripped off the player as I heard that last line above being mentioned. Wow, huh? Cynics find a way to eliminate all the good in their lives..but I am here to bring Jesus to them. Being in reference to non believers and doubters, apparently he is confident in the converting power of the Lord and his much celebrated Son. Because, you do know that a skeptic and a cynic are totally the same? That small thirty second sound bit was enough to send my pot of coffee fueled brain into overdrive, and I realized it is important to clear the air yet again about a skeptic's thought process. Even further than that, I think it is high time it is made clear that religious folk, especially Christians, that love to misuse a word's meaning in order to make their case, are truly the cynics here. Probably more so than any other group out there. First off, let's break down blatantly obvious differences between one who is a skeptic, and one who is a cynic. In general terms, a skeptic is one who is willing to question just about anything out there, including accepted opinions. Notice the key word "opinion" at the end of that last sentence. Most skeptics are not going to question facts. We aren't going to call bullshit on the theory of gravity. Falling from a building hurts and has been clearly demonstrated as deadly. Tell us men came from dirt and women from a rib? Well, that is an awfully vague creation account. We might need more information on that. Skeptics do not just immediately doubt everything out there. We are open to the idea that nothing is above questioning. Questioning doesn't mean something is automatically suspect or false. Questioning is essential to the learning process, and without it we would have a difficult time differentiating between fact and fiction or purpose and process. It isn't our fault if religion in particular doesn't hold up to genuine scrutiny. Skeptics don't simply outright deny a belief the first time they are exposed to it only because personal bias wants them to do so. Skepticism requires a certain level of rational knowledge, which we even, at times, have a hard time being sure is truly rational. And philosophically speaking, religious arguments do not accommodate for this type of thought. Still, when confronted with a skeptic, many religious believers like the preacher on the radio, try to turn skepticism into something sinister. A normal human learning process transforms into an unyielding denial. Skepticism turns into a a crusading philosophy laden with allusions to unreasonable suspicions of the intentions of everything in the world. A skeptic is hell bent on the idea that there is no selflessness in the world, and that anyone can have anything if they are willing to only put their own motivations above all else. The skeptic is a cynic. That is what the majority of the religious world have their masses believe about myself and others with agnostic belief sets. After all, they have to be a cynic if they are skeptical of God, creation, and the morality guidelines set out by the Bible. Skeptics are just like cynics is the war cry of the religious clergymen. They can't handle the Christian's desire for eternal ease and pleasure in Heaven. Hell, the skeptics have utter contempt for getting everything easy. Pleasure? Hah! Skeptics only want misery since they clearly want to go to Hell. Skeptics are cynics! The mental contortions that some believers in faith must perform is astounding, isn't it? In reality, this exercise is yet another projection to avoid a long hard look in the mirror. I would postulate that the true cynics, are and always have been, the religious. Rigid in belief. Suspicious of anyone's motives who are not part of the same faith. Shit, one of the biggest characteristics of believers would be their insistence on anything pleasureful, like masturbation for instance, or enjoyment of a Sunday in bed instead of prostrated in church, as too easy and sinful. Apparently, without God and His omnipotently planted morality chip in our being, there is no way skeptics could do anything without a selfish motivation being involved. If we do somehow manage to save a kitten from a tree, breaking a leg in the process? It's because Satan is using us to trick that little girl it belonged to into trusting us so we can blacken her soul and molest her. We are the evil influences of Lucifer's demonic forces, out to poison the faith of others with our mere presence in the same office space. I hate to break it to you believers out there who think about skeptics like this, though I do enjoy supposedly being in Satan's upper management team, but that type of thinking about skeptical people is a cynic's school of thought. We aren't out here trying to poison your belief, we just want you to keep it to yourself. Quit forcing it on others. We aren't going to convert, and you shouldn't be try to force us to sign up either. You have to understand we just want everyone to have the right to decide on his/her own if religion is a good program to base an entire lifetime on. If you get to apply pressure to convert via legislation, in classrooms, in the media, and in your home, how is this allowing for a fair discussion? To automatically call disbelief misguided, an easy way out, an avoidance of accountability, a clear sign of evil in one's life? That is cynicism. And it's abusive at that. One has to understand what skepticism ultimately provides that cynicism does not. To be a skeptic is more than just exploration of thought. It is examining of authority. Skepticism does not demand that a guilty verdict be handed down. It isn't a judgment process, it is a learning process. It allows for the final conclusion that everyone was right after all to stand. See, falling off a building will probably kill you. But it also allows for disagreement on whether Justin Timberlake really had his dick in that box. Cynicism doesn't care if anyone was right or not, or if that singer's penis really held that box up. Cynicism says that there is only one answer, and that answer has to be what you want it to be no matter what anyone else says because disagreement means there is a selfish motivation behind it, and people cannot be trusted on their own merits anyway. Cynicism eliminates the exploration of further explanation and understanding, instead happy to just keep following a path blindly because it fits whatever agenda that is in mind and doesn't deviate from it. To be a cynic is to automatically treat everyone in the world as a guilty party to a selfish plot. It is true that both of the words skeptic and cynic involve questioning. The first questions how a belief/practice/opinion is accurate and true, and then determines the veracity of the claim, the latter questions a person's motivations only and subsequently makes a judgement based on personal biases. As I have come to understand it, religion has become about questioning motivation of yourself and others, automatically handing everyone a guilty verdict to madly spend a lifetime expunging from their Heavenly records so they don't burn in Hell. That's a very cycnical world view if I ever saw one, and just one more reason I am glad to not spend time in organized religious environs anymore. You've gotta be a die hard cynic to keep rationalizing such thought processes within organized doctrine.
Let's talk about a past time I thoroughly enjoy now and then. LARP. For those unfamiliar, LARP is an acronym for Live Action Role Play. Essentially, a bunch of similarly minded folks get together and collaborate to have fun pretending scenes out of their favorite movies, books, comics, etc. This is strictly pretending, of course, but with rules involved. The basic goal of LARPing (yes, you can make the acronym a verb, how cool!) is to create a desired fantasy environment where participants interact in a way that produces an environment they enjoy being a part of. These participants follow set out guidelines in order to properly take part in events of their community they are playing a part in. This usually requires a posted rule book of sorts to study, follow, and enforce amongst themselves to help maintain the desired fantasy environs. Additionally, it isn't unusual for some type of hierarchal authority to be put in place to further interpret and lead others to appropriately follow the outlined rules. Now, take this very basic understanding for LARP and overlay a religion on top of it. Do we have a fantasy based environment? Check. Do we have a set of rules and etiquette in place so members can participate appropriately? Check. Do we have participants that work together to maintain not just the fantasy, but enforce the rules? Check. Do we have leaders to guide, encourage, and teach participants how to be a part of the fantasy? Check. Yes, religious ceremony matches with the basis of LARPing, just substitute Creflo Dollar for Gandalf the Gray, and Pat Robertson as Smeagol. Instead of polished leather Dwarven armor, picture a double breasted suit with complimenting tie and shined shoes. Scratch the orb holding staff, and imagine a rosary being clutched instead. No more Orcs chasing your party through the Haunted Wood of Candle Reach, it's just the Catholic priests rounding up choir boys in downtown Chicago. The foretold times of war with Zeus' children has become the battle for Earth between the arch angels of Heaven and the legions of Satan's hordes in the under realms. The fate of all mankind still hangs in the balance though, and it is on us pitiful humans that the futile struggle for divine acknowledgment resides in order to save us. Sounds all so eerily alike, doesn't it? That's because it is. The fantasies of Allah's masses, Krishna's orgy laden temples, and a charismatic Pentecostal church are drenched in the tell tale hallmarks of role playing fantasy. Fantastic tales of man's conquering evil supernatural forces set out to punish us. Inspiring songs of self determination and victory against Lucifer's meddling influence. Sorrowful recognition of imperfections that are bringing us closer to the sulfuric acid filled pools of Hell. And the always popular prophecy of untold wealth and fortune on the golden paved roads to Heaven never cease to be retold. Be wary of such adventures, readers. Not all who play the divinity RPG are truly welcoming. Much like the Borg, you must be assimilated to join their ranks of play, and like them, you might find yourself so lost in prophetic tales of exploring supernatural pleasures that you won't be able to tell reality from the game anymore. You could lose friends, and maybe some family, when you begin to incessantly play your role in the religious fantasy realms. It should be said that loss of long time friends and close family members will be by your own doing. When one takes LARPing to the extreme like religious ceremony does, you will find that you only want to be around fellow members of your congregation as you are too uncomfortable to face reality anymore. Being addicted to the fantasy games and role play assigned to you by the local priest, mullah, or rabbi will feel more real than your actual life. Psychologically speaking, role playing has been shown to be extremely addictive. The enticement of escaping who you are for a few hours a week is hard to resist. How about having the opportunity to completely set aside all the responsibilities, aggravations, pressures of your everyday life? This is what role playing offers - a momentary escape from your personal reality. Religion offers this environment at least twice a day Sunday, and at least during one evening mid week. This doesn't include all the extra curricular activities as well, like a Tuesday Word of Power walking group., and more. During these myriad of events, players get to drop their everyday pressure and assume roles in their fantasy filled communities. Some are the clerics, offering console and understanding for the weeping sinner cast players during an altar call during Sunday mass. Some are psychic and directly connect with their God, prophesier visions of approaching dark days in a mysterious lost dialect. During all this LARP style worship, there is no worry of being laughed at, judged, or ignored, because everyone else follows the same environment rules as you do. Unless you try to change or contest said regulations of play. Then you face possible banishment, prejudicial treatment, and mean spirited humiliation in front of your peers. So long as you observe the rules, everyone has to accept you. I've tried to have a conversation with a pastor at a local non denominational church (name rhymes with wine), about the similarities between LARP events and religious services. Naturally, I tried to not us Lord of the Ring references or anything based on Dungeons and Dragons, since these franchises do not sit well in most of these kinds of churches. The pastor eagerly followed along, but as soon as I equivocated prophecy and speaking in tongues with some kind of fantasy role play, he shut down his listening skills and began to challenge. Unable, or unwilling, to recognize the similarities I pointed out between speaking Elvish and speaking in tongues. Both are clearly in the realm of pure fantasy. "Of course Elvish is fantasy. It isn't based on anything real." Yes, he totally went there. Greg continued to insist that while predictions of dragons razing the world to dust were clearly ideas propagated by ancient mythology, I had "zero basis for dismissing personal experiences with God's awesome knowledge of space and time." Needless to say, I thanked him for his time and the conversations was over. He wouldn't even entertain the idea that at least some, not all but just a bit, of religious fan fare was pure show and fantasy to keep the crowd coming back for more. He did acknowledge there is definitely a community rules aspect,"But an individual is still an individual of their own choosing, as long as they stick to the basic doctrine of our church, anyway." Greg also agreed that most Christians tend to take their belief more seriously while at church events. "Birds of a feather," he told me, and then another awkward silence. So I pressed even harder, politely asking why he thought that was the case. "Sheep need their shepherd so they don't wander too far off from the pasture." I shit you not, this was his exact reply. My reply? "So, you are the dungeon master who enforces or as you say teaches the rules and lays out the map to follow so adventurers stay on course with the games end goal." "Kind of, but this isn't role playing. It's a life choice." This pastor pretty much convinced me of what I had suspected, that LARP and religious ceremony or one and the same. Whether one truly believes the story line takes little difference when comparing the two. LARPers understand the collaboration they work so hard to create, and participate in isn't actually real.I know some who wish it could be their reality. Religion's participants seem determined to make the prophecies come true, and they don't care how much of society they alienate to achieve their goal. Religious ceremony can be fun. No dice needed, just a prayer mat and a submissive personality is all you need to qualify!
I noticed lately that on various sites that I visit, there have been multitudes of posts about individual struggles dealing with proselytizing fanatics and businesses pushing particular religious beliefs. Within these conversations, it never fails that replies involve the phrase "we are guaranteed freedom FROM religion" and the word "illegal". As if to imply it is illegal for someone to walk up to you on the street and start screaming about God in your face. I hate to break it to you, but even though here in the US we are guaranteed that our government will not support one particular religion, and that this government does not have the right to force a belief upon you, it doesn't guarantee you will not deal with a ton of peer pressure on the civilian level. Being an atheist, I still do not have the right to demand to walk down a public street and not be approached by fanatical idol worshippers. I have the right to pick a different street to walk down, but technically, if they see me, and want to continue following me, well, they can. The same goes for private businesses. They don't have to serve gays, muslims, atheists, or immigrants if they do not want to. Discrimination isn't illegal on that level yet. That's where cease and desist laws come in to play and you have to file a restraining order. Freedom of religion doesn't mean you are legally entitled to never encounter religion, its believers, or views. It won't prevent people handing out tracts, building churches, or even overhearing people discussing religion at work. It only has two perspectives to be observed and that is on the federal and social levels. Socially you cannot be forced to join any sect. Federally, as I said above, the government cannot dictate or cater to religion. Though I think they have indeed crossed the line on the latter. This gaping hole we perceive in our ability to pursue happiness can be a frustrating one. When I hear friends and thread posters bring up this subject, and relate how they are having their right to be free from religion abused, I can't help but feel like the bad guy for putting it in perspective. BUT, if I can get them to listen long enough to the perspective on the situation, usually they then see the flipside, and play it to their advantage. Noone is stopping me from approaching churches about their beliefs. Just like witnesses can tread on my property to share their message, I can tread on their property and share mine. No one is stopping me from passive-aggressively displaying a bumper sticker telling them they are idiots for worshipping idols. The federal government cannot stop the religious from pursuing your soul, but the federal government cannot stop you from trying to deconvert the religious either. If you are having problems with witnesses coming on to your private property. Get their name and information (if possible), or at least contact the church they represent in writing, telling them to cease and desist. Make it clear they will be prosecuted the next time they step on to your property. You are well within your rights to deny them access to your PRIVATE property. When out in public, it is up to you to pick your battles. A great example I have would be my local fleamarket. There are two religious booths inside. One is a pantry that offers Jesus Loves You balloons for every loaf of bread you take. You don't even have to look at the booth and get problems. Yeah, you can imagine the pressure you get from the little kiddies when they see the balloons as you walk by. And a sweet old woman never fails to walk over and ask my son, not me, if he would like a balloon, and I look like Satan for vocally saying,"No thank you." I also make sure while she is kindly arguing with me that he ought to have a balloon to say, quite loudly, "We don't support this kind of nonsense. You are just giving him a balloon to put me in a position to have to listen to your garbage or deny him the balloon and have an upset child as a punishment." I usually add an expletive afterwards. And then vocally tell my child how bad these people are and to stay away from them. The scientology booth is even more fun. My ten year old is usually with me in that aisle because the Native American store is his favorite and I take him there everytime. Well, they of course have the Dianetics books EVERYWHERE in sight and are offering stress tests. We kindly tell them no, and then I am vocally asking my son if he really wants to get a stress test from people who believe in a science fiction book about spaceships being destroyed by a nuclear blast in a volcano. We get several laughs from other shoppers around us as we go. Eventually, they will remember my face because we are regulars. I pick my battles as carefully as possible. Watching an ignorant mother of 2 walk through the grocery store wearing a shirt that says the Constitution only guarantees freedom OF religion, not FROM it, is a wonderful troll, but not worth taking. It is her right to wear that shirt, just as it is my right to ignore her, engage her, or wear something equally as delusional if I wish. It's America, and I think our most valuable right is our speech. Use it! But use it wisely!
TheBluegrassSkeptic posted a blog entry in The Bluegrass SkepticFirst of all, welcome new readers! Was terrific hearing from several of you this week and sharing your thoughts! A quick introduction might be in order since there are so many new faces around here. I'm an Atheist who used to be a fundamentalist Christian. I enjoy discussing matters of science, religion, quackery and sometimes philosophy so that's what you'll find here on this blog. With that said, let's get on with today's discussion: Atheism, is it really a moral cop out? No, by far, it is the ultimate in taking responsibility for your life! It is an understanding that YOU are solely responsible for your actions and the consequences thereof, good or bad. It is an acceptance that there are things in life you cannot control, and you have to either move on from them or let them rule your life. It is understanding YOU are the architect of your life, not a supreme being that will either reward or punish you later on when you die. Still, many theists try to say that if you are atheist, you are immoral. Why? Well, because theists are taught early on that if it weren't for God, there wouldn't be morality. Therefore, if there isn't God in your life, you must be immoral. Kind of a quacky attitude isn't it? Especially if all the atheists were to be deported, we would account for 94% of the National Council of Science, and only 1% of the prison population. Hmmmnn...morality huh? I think what disturbs me the most about the whole morality question is simply stating that if it weren't for God, we wouldn't know right from wrong. Innately, humanity is compassionate for its own kind. Just like other mammals for that matter. Theists really are stretching themselves thin on this one again. Simply because it calls in to the argument that their opinion is strictly based on their belief in God, and again there isn't any proof. Why do we as atheists have to simply believe what is said by hundreds of different authors over the course of at least 300 centuries of writing, rewriting, ommittance, and recantations, as proof of a divine being? Basing a whole religion on "faith"? Seems kind of shady don't you think? I might as well go and buy that gallon of gasoline and drink it to cure cancer on "faith", right? Absolutely not! Why? Because we know gasoline is harmful! I wonder how we figured that one out. Couldn't have had anything to do with science? If God sends another prophet to earth and says there are new commandments, including one that says it is okay to steal another's wife, murder your neighbors and totally disrespect your parents, you would have to do it? Or would you say wait a minute! Where's your proof our God said this? A lot of the Bible's testimony are from "private" encounters with the Lord. No proof necessary because they wrote it in with a collection of other "private" encounters? Get off the crack pipe people! I find that living in the now, and accepting that where I am in life are because of choices I made is a true way to be divine. God is YOU. God is your conscience telling you,"Jack ass! What did you do that for! Now you have to repair this relationship!" or "Man, that felt good! I think we should work here at the soup kitchen next Christmas!" Why do you need to have a supreme being give you rewards or punishment when it is obvious you deal with that here on earth everyday? I've been abused by a Christian, and because he had the Lord's forgiveness, he doesn't need mine. THAT sounds rather immoral to me. I have hurt two very important people close to me, and for the last 7 years I have been trying to get my shit together so I can be there for them like I am supposed to be. NOT because God is going to punish me later for it. Fuck God, he isn't my family that I have to spend my lifetime with. He isn't my peers next door seeing and judging what I do. And please spare me the whole "we don't judge because we're Christian" argument. History has very well shown the opposite of that. Ultimately, RELIGION is the cop out. You pray for forgiveness, you kinda sorta make things right with people you fuck over, but as long as you are forgiven by God, it doesn't matter anyway. It would seem that the whole atheism is a cop out argument is simply a projected denial on the part of the theists. As usual, faced with hard truths, theists try to find a way to avoid the reality of consequences, relationships, and death. Or basically, LIFE.