Have you ever noticed that there has never been a massacre between atheists and agnostics. And no pantheist has ever gunned down a pandeist because of a theological dispute. That kind of behavior is reserved for people of religious passions, and especially those of the Abrahamic tradition: Christians, Muslims and Jews. Christians murder Muslims and Muslims murder Christians. Historically, just about everyone has murdered the Jews. Now, with the creation of the state of Israel, the Jews are finally returning fire. It’s not just the main branches of the Abrahamic faiths that murder each other; within the main branches there is more internecine warfare, with Catholics murdering Protestants and Protestants murdering Catholics, Sunnis murdering Shiites and Shiites murdering Sunnis. Non-believers, we don’t murder anyone. At least not for their lack of belief.1
Depending on the day or the time of year or my mood, I could alternatively be described as an atheist, an agnostic, a pantheist, a pandeist, an antitheist, an apatheist, a nontheist, a freethinker, a secular humanist, or a scientific rationalist.
I can bifurcate my belief system into questions about the God of Abraham, other mythical Gods, and alternative conceptions of Gods.
- With respect to the God of Abraham, I am an atheist. I do not believe in Yahweh, the traditional war god of the Isrealites (who morphed into the one true God of the Christian tradition and Allah in the Muslim tradition). I do not believe that God exists.
- With respect to the Gods of the Hindu religion or the Gods of Greek and Roman philosophy, or any of the many Pagan Gods, I am also an atheist. I don’t believe any of those Gods exist (other than in mythology).
- With respect to alternative conceptions of God — that God and the Universe are coterminous, for example — I am an agnostic. I have no reason to believe in any particular alternative conception of God, but there are definitions of God that I would consider. But for the most part, these definitions are not particularly useful and don’t contribute meaningfully to my spiritual life. 2
But what most people, certainly most Americans mean when they talk about God is the God of Abraham. It is the God of the Jews, and of Jesus, and of the Muslims, who animates their faith.
For the purposes of this essay, let’s just call me an atheist. I recognize that “believing” in the big bang is an answer that begs a question. What caused the big bang? All I know about God and the Universe is that, whatever they are, they are much too complex for my tiny brain to comprehend. That’s what I know about God and the Universe. And that’s about all.
The Structure of the Blog
The way this blog is structured is that it begins with a series of 11 essays (or chapters) that make an argument for rational thinking in public discourse. The argument also involves a discussion of religion and the various forms of magical thinking that religion in particular and discussions of spirituality in general beget. Magical thinking is not, I’m arguing, consonant with issues of politics and especially public policy.
The eleven essays, of which this is the first, are set forth as follows:
- Purpose of the Blog, the current essay, which sets forth my aims in general.
- On Our State of Affairs, a short discussion of where we are culturally and politically.
- On Biblical Literalism, an argument against taking the Bible literally.
- On the Historical Jesus, a discussion of what we know of the historical Jesus.
- On Not Being a Christian, an essay on why I’m not a Christian.
- On Other Religions, a cursory examination of non-Abrahamic and other esoteric belief systems.
- On the New Age & Self Help, a cursory examination of new age and self help belief systems.
- On Arguments about Divinity, some argument relative to the existence of God.
- On Cognitive Biases, a cursory examination of cognitive biases, and how they influence our belief systems,
- On Politics and Religion, a discussion of why religious beliefs should not be the basis for public policy choices.
- On the Wizard of Oz, an argument against magical thinking and propaganda, and for rationality in public policy choices.
The other parts of the Blog, contained in the menu system, include separate sections with separate pages, as follows:
- A Skeptic Goes, which is a series about my personal experiences relative to attending various kinds of events or workshops, most of which could generally be categorized under the “New Age” rubric.2
- Full Length Articles, which is a series where I generally look in depth at certain public policy issues or historical events, and make an attempt to bring a “rational” (or at least informed) discussion to the issues.
- Responses by Religious Leaders, which is a forum where I give certain selected religious leaders (with whom I happen to have a personal relationship) to respond to and challenge the arguments in my eleven essay series.
In addition, the blog features regular entries, which are not part and parcel of the more formal series represented in the menu structure. These entries are mostly political and topical, and are not a part of the formal argument that I’m trying to make. My bias is clearly on the left (or “progressive”) side of the political spectrum, which is reflected in my individual posts.3
If You Have a Personal Relationship to God.
If you have a personal relationship with God, this series of essays is not intended to sway you from that position. It would be silly if it were. I can’t even persuade my Republican friends that the overheated rhetoric of right-wing talk wing radio is not conducive to a national conversation on important policy issues. Not only don’t I want to dissuade you from your belief, but a part of me envies you and the comfort that it brings you. I just can’t join you there.4
There are many people these days who describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious.” I’m not one of those people. It’s not that I don’t feel things, sometimes very deeply, or that don’t I don’t occasionally have a connection to the “mystery,” mostly when I’m in the full flight of piano improvisation.5 Personally, I have a lot of affection for Christmas and the meaning that it has for my family. I admire some of the ideals that Christ represents, or is alleged to represent. I respect the tradition of charity and social activism within Christianity and especially the Catholic Church. Some good works have been done in the name of Christ. And then, some really bad things have been done in His name. We can begin with the Crusades and the Edict of Expulsion and continue from there. The list of crimes that have been conducted in Jesus’ name are too numerous to recount.
Christianity is famously a proselytizing religion. The word itself literally derives from the Greek language and the efforts of early Christians to convert Jews to their new religion. It has it’s origins in the “Great Commission,” recorded in the final verses of the Gospel of Matthew, in which Jesus commanded his disciples to spread his teachings to all the nations of the world. Non-Christians may not realize how much our entire Western culture is permeated not only with Christian values, but also Christian iconography. If you don’t believe me, go ask a Jew.
An Argument for Critical Thinking
This blog is an attempted argument for critical thinking, both in the arena of political and religious thought. Religion and politics — the two bête noires of dinner table conversation — are tied together whenever possible. It is also an attempt to expose propaganda, especially by agencies such as the Fox News Channel, whose “fair and balanced” tag-line would be completely laughable if there were not so many people who actually believed in it.
To reiterate, this blog is not is an attempt to unenroll people from their belief systems. While people may, on occasion, be enrollable in new belief systems, they are notoriously hard to unenroll from beliefs that they already have. If, on the other hand, you’re unsure of your own belief system or have come to question it, for whatever reason, there may be things of interest for you here. And whatever your disposition, you may find discussions or arguments on these pages that will, at least, make you think.
For the most part, this blog is likely to be an exercise in preaching to the choir. I know that. My hope is that people will find examples and arguments here that will be useful in some way, and maybe that will get a little bit of “traction.” One can always hope.
|Continue to a discussion of our State of Affairs|
- This does not mean that atheists have never murdered anyone. Some critics have noted that Joseph Stalin was an atheist, which is true. But Stalin did not murder people in order to promote atheism, he murdered people to promote his conception of communism and to defend the Soviet state. The same is true for other communists who engaged in mass murder, including Pol Pot or Mao Zedong.
- Many of these events I attended with a former partner of mine, who was into these sort of things, and wanted my accompaniment. A few of them I attended on my own initiative, as kind of a journalistic exercise.
- Personally, I’m not a fan of the term “liberal,” which for my tastes is tied up too much with “big government” solutions, which I am not necessarily a fan of. What I am a fan of is the “what works” question, which is often more complicated than it appears at first glance. I will note however that the demise of the term “liberal” is a good example of successful branding from the conservative side of the political spectrum, who managed to make “liberal” a dirty word. In general, conservatives are much better at branding than progressives, and are much more disciplined in their messaging.
- There are two very powerful things that people can get from religious belief, and which they cannot get from atheism: a sense of community and the experience of ecstasy. Jia Tolentino, in an article published in the New Yorker in May of 2019, writes about her own experience of ecstasy, both in the religion that her immigrant Filipino parents adopted after moving to Houston and joining an area mega-church, and in the drug actually named ecstasy.
- I happen to be a musician on the side, and free-form improvisation is what I specialize in. I read somewhere that nothing lights the brain up more than free-form improvisation. It’s my form of meditation, and the most non-verbal thing that I do. When I’m deep in an improvisation, it’s the closest that I tend to get to any form of “mystery.”