Monday, September 24, 2007

Thoughts on Religion in the World

Today I've been thinking about religion again and what it's all about. Religion is like the epitome of "The lady doth protest too much, methinks." Not only do the religious (particularly the fundamentalists) repeatedly say their beliefs in church and talk about it to their religious friends and continually re-read/study the Bible, but their lives are completely immersed in it because in order to convince themselves that it's all true, they must surround themselves with it. If this is the case, those who are more fundamentalist in their beliefs could actually be the real fence-sitters, at least in thought. Then again, those who are fundamentalists would be harder to convince that their religion is a sham because in many cases, they've built their lives around their religion and it would be extremely difficult to say all of a sudden that they no longer believed in everything that their lives had always revolved around. Or to put it more succinctly, if they admit their religion is a sham, they essentially admit that their life is a sham. I think it would be more than difficult for some and I am most empathetic to this. I think someone admitting that they no longer believe could also feel like escaping incarceration (mental incarceration, in most cases) and being exonerated. Either way, the emotions resulting from sudden disbelief would be extreme and extreme emotions are difficult to deal with. And even if one had the feeling of exoneration on some level, he or she would still feel a sense of loss and most certainly would lose some of the people in his or her life. I think a more appropriate approach would be a gradual one where, say a person went from being fundamentalist to more moderate and so on and so on.

I started thinking about all of this because I read an article from a British newspaper that asserted that there had been a recent rise in religion and that the Richard-Dawkins-esque atheists and scientists only had themselves to blame because they lumped the moderates and fundamentalists into one large group and ostracized them all. Incidentally, I do think that advances in science may have caused people to cling tighter to their religion, but I don't think it has anything to do with atheists trying to get people to use reason and use their brains. It is also a misrepresentation to say that Dawkins or anyone Dawkins-esque lumps those who are religious all in one big group of enmity. I believe it was the Bible that said something to the effect of "You're either with me or your against me", not Richard Dawkins. I also think it would be a misrepresentation to insinuate that Dawkins views the religious (moderate or fundamentalist) as his enemies, despite how heated any debate may have become. I think the source of the heat is the frustration he and any free thinker feels when confronted with circular arguments which are so often used by the religious and theologians.

I think part of the recent rise in religion (if there truly is a rise) could also go back to what I was asserting about religion earlier. Some people (fundamentalists) have to immerse themselves in their religion in order to keep believing and part of that immersion is to try and convince other people to believe. I think that would be a very powerful way to maintain faith. "If I can convince this other person that it's true, then it must be true," and not only that, but they must maintain the faith so as not to let the converted person down.

I think I have decided, though, that I could live happily in this world with the religious if there were no fundamentalists (especially those who want creationism taught in science class) and the religious left me alone and respected my non-religious lifestyle and considered me equal. That is, of course, entirely too idealistic. It will never happen. There are many things in the world that are this way; that would be great, but will never happen. World peace, for example, will never happen. Why can't we all just get along?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Expanding on Some Thoughts

I may not have time to finish all that I want to say, so if I don't, I'll expound more later. So recently I've had some fervent responses to my suggestion that there be a federally mandated science curriculum in the schools. This is mostly in response to that. The reason I think this to be necessary is that if something is not done, creationism will continue to be taught in science classes and this is inappropriate. It is inappropriate because creationism is not science. This is a very simple matter. There is no scientific evidence to support it and there is nothing scientific about the theory. If people continue to insist on creationism being taught, then it should be taught in a religion or theology class where it belongs. If we allow creationism to be taught in science classes then we have to allow whatever other strange theories that have been postulated to be taught there as well such as theories from the church of the flying spaghetti monster This is why religious theories should be kept in their place and scientific theories can be kept in theirs. Furthermore, evolution should most definitely be taught in science classes and not banned because it is a valid theory with a lot of evidence to support it. Everyday new strains of bacteria evolve that are resistant to antibiotics. More recently fleas have started to evolve and are now resistant to some of the pet flea and tick medicines. Not to mention fossil records that are evidence. What people also don't realize is that once an idea or hypothesis makes is to theory state, it is mostly definite. Gravity, for example, is a theory. And science is always changing. The textbooks for science have many editions because people are making new discoveries daily. If science finds proof for creationism that completely demolishes evolution, then it can be taught in science classes, but only then should it be taught.

On to the part about federal involvement: The reason that I think federal involvement is necessary is because many times people refuse to do the right thing. This has been demonstrated in the past and it is being demonstrated currently. Examples include slavery and segregation. On occasion people are so stubborn and prejudiced that they will not do the right thing without being forced. This is when the federal government needs to step in and intervene. Such is the case with things today such as evolution and creationism and gay civil unions. People seem to have such a hard time with whether or not these things are right are wrong, but I guess I don't. To me, it is clear that gay people should be able to be in the same kind of relationships as straight people and have the same kind of rights associated with civil unions such as insurance, etc. It is also very clear to me that children should be exposed to important scientific theories such as the big bang and evolution because denying them that is denying them the right to learn which defeats the purpose of going to school. I'm going to have to finish this later.

Friday, September 7, 2007

On Becoming an Atheist III

I was reading a story of deconversion on "converts corner" on Richard Dawkins' site and also received a comment from a friend on a previous blog and have decided to write my own version of deconversion.

I was raised in the Lutheran Church. Everyone was pretty liberal with their Christianity, but they still attended church, sang in the choir, and sent their children to Catechism in 7th and 8th grades. Catechism was where I began to have my doubts. We were taught that Christians were God's chosen ones who would be admitted to heaven and that all others were pretty much screwed. At that point, I was very troubled. I thought to myself that since heaven was the most wonderful place imaginable, that there had to be a fair way to get into heaven and that it wasn't fair for the people of other faiths. These people of other faiths were brought up to have that different faith and being brought up in a faith was the way you came by having a particular faith. It just wasn't fair and I just refused to believe that all of these other people were going to hell just for believing something different. I even asked our pastor about it during one of our classes. I don't remember what he said, but I feel sure he most likely just shrugged his shoulders. At that point I decided that I was still Christian, but that as long as you believed in just one God, you could still get into heaven. I even asked my Mom about it and she agreed that it wasn't fair and that belief in God was sufficient. I remained "Christian" throughout high school.

I then went off to college and decided on Biology for my major. At one point I changed my major to dance, but eventually found my way back to Biology. At some point early in my scientific study in college I decided that I just couldn't believe in the "Jesus Story" anymore. We were taught about the scientific method and shown how so many miracles could be explained by science and it just became impossible for me to know all this and still believe that the miracles surrounding Jesus were true. I remained in this agnostic purgatory for the next couple of years and neither accepted nor rejected any of the other tenets of faith besides the "Jesus Story".

I then was finally forced to take history as a required core class. This class changed my life. The course covered pre-history up until the Roman Empire. I had a most wonderful professor who was head of the history department and just knew so much about history. I drank every word he spoke and never missed a single class (well, except on a test day during the Nutcracker performance which I told my professor about in advance). I wrote down EVERYTHING and the more I learned the more apparent it was that all of the religions in the world fed off of each other and were founded in similar places and beliefs and that none of them were true. Each was just as mythical as the next.

Somewhere during this time I returned to thinking about heaven and hell and decided that I just couldn't believe in either. I decided that no God that I believed in would be so childish as to send someone to hell for a minor "sin" (as I had no other word for it, I suppose you could call it a moral indiscretion) and that the only way you could go to hell was to commit a major "sin" (i.e. murder, rape, etc.). The problem arose when thinking about that because I thought that the only people who had the capacity to commit such heinous sins were people who had true mental imbalances and God certainly wouldn't send someone to hell for a mental imbalance that the person had no control over and was a biological condition. I also thought that the amount of suffering that some of these people went through that caused their mental imbalances should more than make up for their random heinous acts. It has been shown that many people who turn out to be murderers and rapists are horribly abused as children and such grief can trigger a mental condition, such as schizophrenia, that might lead them to commit a heinous "sin". Others, who weren't subjected to abuse, but still committed the sins were psychopaths who have no conscience and are suffering from a mental imbalance as well. Therefore, I just didn't believe that there was a hell, because I ruled out all of the people who could be sent there. I then decided that there was no method to the madness, so to speak, and that if there were no hell, then there wasn't a heaven, either.

Some of my friends used to say jokingly that I was Jewish since I didn't believe that Jesus really existed, but after my history class and decision about heaven and hell, I decided that I couldn't believe a single word from the Bible (Old Testament or New Testament) and after all the science I'd had, a Messiah coming to Earth seemed no more likely now than it did during Jesus's time. The only thing I hadn't dismissed was the idea of God.

Dismissing the idea of God only came to me more recently. I teeter-tottered for a while between believing in God and believing that there was no way to tell, so no reason to believe one way or another. I then decided to read Stephen Hawking's The Universe in a Nutshell. It was in reading about the universe, that I had never really studied about before, that I found that, for me, there was just no room for God in the fabric of the universe. I have since decided that I am an atheist. I think I had lingered around it for a while, but I was afraid because the word carries such a negative connotation. I now know, though, that you can be an atheist and still be a very moral, honest person and lead a very fulfilled life by helping others. I am not scared of death because I know that by the time I die I will have done enough to be satisfied with myself. I have also been reading Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion and find that there are many other ideas that comfort me. I don't really think that there is a God, but I won't dismiss it 100% and I feel certain that since I have led a pretty decent life and intend on helping and have helped others, that if there is a God he/she/it would still accept me because of my good deeds and rational thinking.

I'll leave you with a quote from the deconversion story I was reading about what the author would like to ask God if he decided to reveal himself:

I'd want to ask him: "Why did you wait so long to make your existence
indisputable, to display your awesome powers, and to deal definitively with the
problems of disease, disaster and suffering to the solution of which compassionate
mortals have dedicated their lives through the centuries?"

Forward Thinking

So recently, I've been thinking about my anger towards the Christian religion and I think that I have mostly resolved it. I was really angry that people just believed the things they were taught in Sunday school when it's so obvious to me that those things are just myths. After thinking about it a good bit, though, I've decided that I can't really be angry about it for several reasons. One reason being that if people aren't exposed to science and to the things that would make them question their faith, it isn't necessarily their fault and it doesn't make them bad people. I am of the opinion that you should question everything and research everything, but some people just aren't brought up to think like that or taught to think like that in school and it's really hard for these people to break these acceptance habits. Anyway, my point is, that without higher education, particularly in science, it would be really easy to just accept the Christian religion and maybe even be angry at science for trying to debunk it. And as much as I love science and biology, it's not for everyone and the world would be quite a mess if it were only populated by biologists. There's a place for people of all different interests. So rather than being angry at the Christians, I think a more appropriate place for my anger would be at the schools in this country. The school system should be run by people who are educated enough to make sure children are exposed to the amount of science and the kind of science that would equip them with the knowledge to form their own opinions, but it is not. The schools are run by people whose minds are still polluted with religion to the point where they want to teach something completely non-scientific (like creationism or intelligent design) in a science class where it has no business being. It is not founded on scientific research, so whether you believe or not, I think it should be agreeable that it has no place in a science class. This would be the equivalent of teaching a mathematical proof in a literature class. It can't be put there because it can't be analyzed in the way a work of literature would. Apples and oranges so to speak.

This is where it gets tricky though. What do you do about the people who are so fundamentally religious that they want to home school their children or send them to a private school where all of the subjects have some correlation with the Bible or Koran or whatever religious text the particular religion refers to? I don't know. Do you force all schools, even private schools and home schools, to teach a federally mandated science program? I know there are many who are opposed to anymore federal involvement on the local level, but how else do you make sure that kids, whose minds are so impressionable, are exposed to the things they need to be exposed to? I think this is the only way.

Some people who are done with school and are religious can be persuaded and educated out of their myth-believing, but many will never let go of their faith. I think the only way to work our way out of this religion dominated world is to work on the children. Realistically speaking, I think the only way is federal intervention. Of course, this may never happen since politicians are just as pervaded by religion as the rest of the population especially on certain sides of the spectrum. It's very frustrating not to be able to affect the masses. I wish that I could.

My only other option is to try to be as tolerant as possible and not put myself in positions where I wouldn't be able to bite my tongue. The situation I'm in now is definitely teaching me patience and tolerance. I've recently met a lot of fundamentalist Christians who are all very nice people and I'm pretty sure that they think I'm nice as well. I wonder what they would say if they knew I am an atheist? Would they still think I'm nice or would they call me a Jezebel and condemn me to hell? I felt very awkward when the conversation started to wander into the Christian direction (which it did quite often). I'm sure that my opinions would have fallen on deaf ears. I don't know exactly how to deal with it since it is important to me that these people like me. It's definitely not a situation I'm used to dealing with. I'm used to dealing with people who consider themselves Christian, but who are a little more laid back about it. It's not fun pretending to be something you're not, though, but I fear that this is the only way to keep everything calm. I guess the only way to do it is to convince them all that I am a nice person and keep religion separate from that and then "come out" when the time is right. I still fear that they would just dismiss me no matter how many acts of kindness I had shown them. But I guess that's something that's out of my control and that I can't spend too much time worrying about. I don't know how else to deal with it. I don't want to lose someone from my life because of this, though. That's my biggest fear about all of this and motivation for faking it indefinitely. Anyway, this is getting too heavy.