Category Archives: Religion & Philosophy

Atticus and Holden discuss religion and philosophy from a skeptics point of view growing up in the bible belt of America.

In the Moment

Orange, green, and brown leaves. A perfect seventy degrees. There’s a beautiful family walking down the mountain trail as my own family walk up it. The trail is steep and there are a lot of roots and large stones so we move to one side to let the family pass. The Dad, head of his family, marching proud down the trail. He leads his wife and three kids down.

His wife has brown-blonde hair. She also looks happy to be on the trail. Their children following closely behind like young ducklings. A proud momma of a son and two daughters.

But something is different about their children. Their heads are down. They aren’t looking at the beautiful leaves, they do not have the same proud look their parents have, and they are missing it. There is a lack of life in their movement. A lack of interest. Missing the golden leaves, the breeze, nature. Missing all of it. They are out of touch – eyes glazed. The youngest’s nose almost touching the screen of a phone.

That night my wife and I return home and begin to make dinner together. We turn on music, chat about the day, watch our daughter play with her toys and scoot across the floor. I pick her up and throw her up and her head almost touches the ceiling. She laughs and I put her down. She craws across and I am impressed with her speed. We are in the moment and enjoy each other’s company.

The Indoctrination Process

Six children and one women sitting in a circle holding hands. There heads were bowed and the women was mumbling softly. The children paid close attention.  As I jogged by the group one child looked up at me, almost afraid to be caught, with one eye barely squinting open, and immediately returned to the correct posture.

I slowed my jog to a walk so I could see the events unfold in more detail. In the front yard of the old house there was a small television with cartoon characters in the same posture as the women and children. I noticed that the children’s mouths were mumbling at the same cadence and volume as their teacher’s, but I couldn’t make out the words.

It was a vacation bible school camp. One just like the kind I had attended dozens of times as a child too.

In retrospect I remember all of the things I was taught as a child. How I was taught to think and not think. Not to question, to have faith without evidence, and to obey authority. The cost of disobedience was worse than death. Hell. My parents, grandparents, and the rest of my family enforced these ideas too. I believed it all without question.

When I think of it now this seems so unfair. It is such an obvious process of indoctrination that I can barely believe that such an institution, in its present form, exists at all. The use of authority, media, entertainment, and group-think to ingrain a since of loyalty  and respect to an organization and its belief system.

When you think about it, it’s not too different than how any society works. Even here in the land of the free.

“The use of authority, media, entertainment, and group-think to ingrain a since of loyalty  and respect to an organization and its belief system.”

Patriotism enforced by a since of community , unlimited hours of (un)reality TV available for consumption, a media network that pumps ideas into the psyche of the public, and a since that we owe it all to those in charge. We hold our leaders up like infallible idols – as long as they belong to the correct political party. A false since of choice.

This form of indoctrination works. It has been and continues to be used. We just can’t recognize it because we are part of the process. But once you recognize that such a thing exists it’s a lot easier to be yourself. Not what they told you to be.

Sunday Morning Coffee

Sometimes I become very caught up with what I think life is supposed to be and forget what my life really is. Life doesn’t have to be so stressful. Life doesn’t have to be this continuous race – where there is no finish line. Life can be more (or less, rather).

That is what I love most about my Sunday morning coffee. I wake up at no particular time, slowly move down-stairs, carefully grind and prepare a cup of coffee, and enjoy the cool morning air on my front porch. It has been a methodical and almost meditative routine.

I take this time to think about nothing in particular. To enjoy a few squirrels running across my front yard, the birds making noise, and the leaves rustling from time to time. Most of all I enjoy the perfect temperature – before the Georgia heat forces me inside.

I wish I had more of these slow days. Maybe, over time, as I mature and allow myself to do so I will grow wise enough to give up more of my “ambition” and gain the courage to simply be present in each moment. Present on my front porch enjoying the world.  Like right now.

Spirituality, God, and Self-Delusion

I used to talk to God all the time. I would pray for God to help me succeed. To help me accomplish goals, to help me get over problems, and for comfort. It was an excellent feeling knowing that something bigger and more powerful than myself would take care of me. Sometimes I miss that feeling. I wish I could get it back.

Sometimes, just out of habit, I find myself talking to God. When I realize what I’m doing I pause and reflect on the fact that no one is listening. Damn. I kind of wish there was someone listening. Maybe it’s a healthy delusion.

When I examine God I sometimes wonder if I could convince myself it’s real. Could I revert back to my adolescence and start believing again? This time it wouldn’t be the Christian God. It couldn’t be. There are just too many gaps on that front. But what about a deity? Just some higher power. Even then, I don’t think I could ever believe that this higher power is involved in my personal life.

Many of the founding fathers were deists. They believed there was something out there. Somewhere. Not an “it” but a “something”. At least they seemed to believe that. I’d like to believe that too. The comfort in such a thought is almost too appealing to ignore. Maybe there is some energy, some common and unseen force that connects all of the Universe. Maybe I can buy into that.

I really don’t know, but I do think spirituality is important. It is important for mental health, I think. But being spiritual doesn’t give you that sense of community traditional religion does – so what’s the alternative? I don’t know. Maybe it is just a common appreciation of everything.

I’d like to be more spiritual, but I can’t compromise truth to do so. I can’t lie to myself just to feel better. If there be such a deity self-delusion is not doubt the greatest sin. I guess I’ll just keep searching for my own truth – if there be such a thing. That’s all I can do.

Futility and Power

I just finished a book called “War is a Racket” written by a Major General Smedley Butler in 1935. The book is a short critique of war and war profiteering in the years during and after World War I.

War is a Racket. It always has been.

It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.

A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of people. Only a small ‘inside’ group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes”

This was a conversation going on almost 100 years ago. A conversation brought to the public by the most decorated marine in United States History. Still nothing changed.

Truth be told I am sure these same conversations were happening 1000 years ago.  I see this pattern again in again in almost every philosophical or political subject I take the time to study. History, it seems, is an unstoppable and constantly repeating cycle. We have no control.

Without Control: Finding Happiness With Self

It seems like the only sure thing we can do is to find happiness and justice within ourselves. To live life by our own code. To focus on the self, internally, rather than those things outside our own control. We have to make a conscious decision to live life and pursue our own paths of justice and righteousness.

Mankind taken as a whole is an average. A powerful combination of humanity’s natural inertia that cannot be stopped. That average tumbles along through the years and becomes history and is our future. A timeline of humanity constantly repeating and never straying far from a standard deviation. Repeated again and again, to some degree, in a never ending cycle. Some men rule, some are ruled, some people are good, others are bad. Ad infinitum.

Ultimately, we are the helpless subjects to the king of the inevitable force of history, but the rulers of our own state of mind. Futility and power.

On Purpose

Most of us would like to believe that we are here for a reason. That our life has meaning. Others have come to the realization that there is no such reason. That we are here by chance. Our consciousness a blessing of mother nature and infinite time.

And even if some of us are reasonable enough to admit that we have no supernaturally assigned destiny we still tend to believe that we make our own destiny – if we be so conceited to believe in such a thing. We believe, even if subconsciously, that our reason for existing is somehow of different value than our neighbors.

But if we are truly the creation of mother nature – star dust miraculously combined over billions of years – we must admit to ourselves there is no supernatural meaning behind it all. And if there is meaning, or purpose, it is only because we defined it ourselves.

If we are to conclude, rationally, that all meaning has been defined directly by other humans we must also conclude that each individual has the right to define their own purpose. And furthermore, in a cosmic sense, no one person’s purpose is any more correct or valuable than another person’s.

One person may chase money and fame. Another may dream after women and fancy cars. Yet another may dedicate himself to the cause of morality and the betterment of mankind. And while we, as humans, may arbitrarily define one better than the other it is all ultimately meaningless – until we decide for ourselves to give it meaning.

So it follows – if we define our own purpose and all purposes are cosmically equal – we can and should learn to be satisfied with any pursuit we so choose as long as it increases happiness and decreases suffering.

The ultimate goal: to maximize happiness and to minimize suffering. And the path for achieving this is no doubt different for every individual.

This should be comforting. Knowing that whatever we choose to do is equally as important as what anyone else chooses to do. Regardless of one person’s arbitrary assignment of one thing being more valuable than another.

We can happily work on model planes, write a silly blog, dedicate ourselves to family, or travel the world – and as long as our purpose ultimately increases happiness and decreases suffering – you have been successful.

On Contentment

I’ve always tried to live life with a purpose.  How I interpret what my purpose is changes from time to time, but I adjust and continue pursuing whatever goal I have in mind. That goal always existing on some distant horizon.

I define myself based on that never ending quest to fulfill my purpose. Sometimes I call it passion, preventing complacency, or just zeal for life. An unquenchable desire to learn and grow. Restlessness. Pride.

But another part of me knows that this feeling is directly opposed to true contentment. That I can never be truly satisfied unless I give up this type of passion, ego, and my lust for consumption (of knowledge and of things). This is difficult to accomplish since so much of how I define myself is linked to these desires.

So how does one balance being content without the guilty feeling of stagnation? Maybe it’s all just in your state of mind.

Enjoying life and living in the present

Dennis Potter is not a particularly memorable man and before watching this video I had never heard of him. He had some fame from television series and as a screenwriter, but never won many awards or earned world-wide fame. Toward the end of his life, mere weeks before his death, he recorded this interview where he reflected on the shortness of life and how to live in the “vividness” of the present. I think it is a good lesson for the rest of us – from a man who recognized his ow mortality.

Why does religion exist and why does it matter?

If religion, that is to say the existence of a personal God, is a fabrication of the human mind then a logical question might be: Why does religion exist at all? I’d like to discuss a few reasons I believe, based on my own experience and observations, that religion exists and thrives.

1. The Victors of War, Justification, and The Persistence of Myth

The conquest of men by other men, by all religions and creeds, have been vast and well documented. However, justification by God is a uniquely religious invasion.

1a. Kings and Crusades

During the Crusader’s invasion of South America the Spanish called upon God to justify their pillage of native villages. Their purpose was power, greed, and glory, but their excuse was conversion. Religion has always been an excellent excuse to do evils, but ironically these evils also serve to spread and preserve the institution.

Today, for example, South America remains one of the most religious nations on Earth (90% Christian). The very religion that their conquerors practiced hundreds of years ago. There is a common phrase among historians that “the victors write the history books” and it seems no coincidence to me that powerful Christian nations have been so successful at preserving the ideology that justifies their imperialism.

1b. America: A religious colony

And it should be no surprise that the United States remains a religious country seeing as the first inhabitants fled here to escape religious persecution. It seems obvious why America is predominately protestant and not Catholic or Church of England. These traditions have been carefully handed down from generation to generation slowly perpetuation religion in our very culture.  Were they handed down because the believes are accurate or because they are part of the culture? The answer seems clear.

So perhaps it seems obvious how and why religion spreads across the world, but why does it exist in the first place?

2. Religion provides answers to hard questions.

One of the greatest comforts of religion, even today, is that it answers some of the hardest philosophical and scientific questions our human minds can devise.  Questions about the creation of the Universe, why bad things happen to good people, and so on are addressed in the form of an all powerful entity we have named God.

When early man gazed at the Sun and the Stars and were unable to fathom their existence a supernatural answer seemed logical.  Over time the supernatural answer to difficult questions became stories that village elders passed down from generation to generation. Soon those stories became modern religion.

2a. Why being settling for mythical answers to difficult questions is a weakness of religion:

My problem with accepting the mythical as fact in the modern day is a practical one: It hinders progress. Where would we be if modern man accepted the Sun as a God, or ceased to find answers to evolution, DNA, and history because they believed that all of the answers lay in the literal interpretation of the Bible or Koran? We would probably be dying of plague and accepting it as God’s will.

Furthermore, I think of all the great minds that are engulfed in Religion. I myself know more than a few intelligent people who reject good science on the grounds that it conflict with the Bible. Where would we be if all the great minds today and in the past dedicated themselves to the progress of the human condition and rid themselves of the hindrances of religious mythology?

3. Religion provides a sense of community.

One compliment I will give many practitioners of religion is their sense of community. I have seen, on more than one occasion, a man consumed by vices change his life for the better thanks to the support and love of the religious community. And isn’t everyone searching for one such place or another?

Every human being wishes to belong. To be a member of something larger than oneself, bonded by a common goal and ideology. Whether that be a sports club or a religious institution all men desire such a thing – and most churches, mosks, and temples fill that role. These institutions are free and readily available.

But why do we rely on such institutions as the primary source of community? Why do we send our most vulnerable in society (the poor and uneducated) and question why religion is such an ingrained institution? Is there a better way?

3a. Why finding community among the religious can be detrimental to progress:

The danger of utilizing religious organizations as our main source of community is the advantage such an organization has in maintaining and building a society that believe their mythologies. How can we expect great minds to abandon the very institution they were raised on, or that accepted them in their darkest hour? We can’t. How can we expect society to generate great ideas, solve complex problems, and utilize reason when we are indoctrinated by an institution that promotes feel good mythology over truth? Again, we can’t.

Rather, those of use in the community who find reason, kindness, and truth to be our only form of religion should form similar such institutions to provide alternative sources of community and human service. What good would we do society if such institution promoted values based on logic, reason, and justice rather than pretend?

4. Religion makes us okay with perceived injustices and failure.

My life has been plagued with individuals who are completely satisfied with societal injustices and personal failure. I have family members who are plagued with vices (laziness, alcoholism, drug abuse, ignorance) that will proclaim with pride that “As long as I am right with God everything will be alright in the end.” This line of thinking is illogical, even to most religious scholars, but none-the-less a favorite among the religious.

What type of society do we promote when such a number of our inhabitants believe, even if subconsciously, that ultimate justice and happiness is yet to come – in another life! How can we earnestly expect to improve upon the land of the living when so many are anxiously awaiting to die?

4a. Why accepting injustice and failure is problematic:

We cannot accept injustice and failure in this life, thus we cannot promote an organization that passively does so itself. We create a society that believes, even if they will not admit it, that their shortcomings in this life are okay because they will be resolved in the next.

This line of thinking is immoral and unjust in itself. How can we justify regression to our children, and to our children’s children, and their children? If you are a conservative, which most religious claim to be, isn’t such an ideological fallacy a liberty-stealing one for future generations?

Instead we should demand organizations that promote morality, reason, and justice. Such an organization that tolerates all ideas and creeds, but forces one to examine them reasonably. One that teaches one to think – rather than what to think.

Thomas Paine on God and Religion

Thomas Paine was perhaps the most important “call to action” author to have ever existed. His pamphlets are almost single-handedly credited for sparking the American and French revolution. A great writer, politician, and philosopher Paine, above all, was concerned for the rights of his fellow man, their liberty, and freedom.

It is in this context that we look to Paine for his thoughts on Religion and God as written in “Age of Reason”.

1. Was Thomas Paine an Atheist or a Christian?

First, I believe it is fair to immediately present, as Paine himself did in “Age of Reason”, his beliefs on God. Paine made it very clear that he was neither an Atheist nor a Christian, but rather a Deist.

“I believe in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life. I believe in the equality of man, and I believe that religious duties consist of doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our fellow creatures happy….I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church.”

2. Thomas Paine on the Bible

Overall, Thomas Paine argued that the idea that God would communicate to mankind in the form of speech or writing is highly unlikely. Especially due to verbal and written communication’s tendency to change over time, vary widely between humans, and subject to alterations.

“…the idea or belief of a word of God existing in print, or in writing, or in speech, is inconsistent in itself for the reasons already assigned. These reasons, among many others, are the want of an universal language; the mutability of language, the errors to which translations are subject; the possibility of totally suppressing such a word; the probability of altering it, or of fabrication the whole, and imposing it upon the world.”

2a. The problem with Miracles

The problem with miracles, even if they are witnessed personally, is that we cannot conclude with certainty that we have not witnessed something that we just do not understand. For example, for ages people of the world found the Sun and stars to be miraculous. Today we understand them as Science. In 1794 Thomas Paine recognized the facts of human ignorance as well:

“Mankind have conceived to themselves certain laws by which they call nature is supposed to act; and that a miracle is something contrary to the operation and effect of those laws. But unless we know the whole extent of those laws, and of what are commonly called, the powers of nature, we are not able to judge whether any thing that may appear to us wonderful or miraculous, be within, or beyond, or be contrary to, her natural power of acting.”

Furthermore, if we do not witness the miracle ourselves and are told of it second-hand is it more likely a fabrication, an error, or a true miracle?

“[if a person says they saw a miracle] it raises the question in the mind very easily decided, which is, is it more probable that nature should go out of her course, or that a man should tell a lie? We have never seen, in our time, nature go out her course; but we have good reason to believe that millions of lies have been told in the same time; it is, therefore, at least millions to one, that the reporter of a miracle tells a lie.”

2b. Prophecy’s weakness

Prophecy, even if it were real, would not be sufficient evidence of God due to the very nature of prophecy. If it has not happened yet then it is to come in the future. If something like the prophecy happens than it cannot be proven that it was not a coincidence. Therefore, prophecy by its very nature lacks the ingredients necessary to convince a skeptic of a Christian God. Thomas Pain put it this way:

“[Prophecy] could not answer the purpose [of proving a Christian God] even if it were real. Those to whom a prophecy should be told could not tell whether the man a prophesied or lied, or whether it had been revealed to him or whether he conceited it; and if the thing that he prophesied, or pretended to prophesy, should happen, or something like it, among the multitude of things that are daily happening, nobody could again know whether he foreknew it, or guessed at it, or whether it was accidental.”

2c. The Problem with Revelation

The problem with revelation, Thomas Paine argues, is that revelation is only revealed to the person who hears it. To everyone else revelation becomes hearsay.

“No one will deny or dispute the power of the Almighty to make such a communication if he pleases. But admitting, for the sake of a case, that something has been revealed to a certain person, and not revealed to any other person, it is revelation to that person only. When he tells it to a second person, a second to a third, a third to a fourth , and so on, it ceases to be a revelation to all those persons. It is hearsay to every other, and consequently, they are not obliged to believe it.”

3. Examining the timing and length of “Age of Reason”

The timing and length of “Age of Reason”, I believe, is important. For one, Paine was careful to publish “Age of Reason” toward the end of his political and writing career. He was no doubt aware that his rejection of Christianity would hinder his ability to broadcast political ideas that were, by themselves, controversial.

“Age of Reason” (1794) was published almost two decades after his call for American revolution in the pamphlet “Common Sense” (1776) and French Revolution in “Rights of Man” (1791). Paine even admits in the opening paragraph that he waited “several years” before publishing his thoughts on Religion. It seems that Paine had his priorities in line when it came to religion versus that of human rights.

Secondly, I believe the length of “Age of Reason” – which is roughly 1/3rd or less the length of this other famous works – demonstrate the importance (or lack there of) religion had in his life compared to the other important issues of his time (i.e., rights of mankind, liberty). That is to say about 1/3rd as important as everything else.

I think that it is in this context we should evaluate the overall importance of religion in our own life.  Philosophically, perhaps it is important to put first things first (improving life for our fellow man) and worry about mythology  and religion a little less.