Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Nausea and Religion

Bear with me as this post requires a little bit of back story.

Recently, I have had a conversation about atheism and the feeling of nausea that religion elicits and I thought that I would post the meat of it here. To be specific, an ex-atheist (who recently had an epiphany experience) had as his facebook status something to the effect of "Guy's Name is discovering that the Word means so much more than words". We were chatting on facebook chat and I told him "no offense, but your status makes me want to vomit a little bit". Apparently, my perceived nausea caused him a bit of mental distress or at the least wonderment at what had caused my reaction, so he sent me an excerpt from an article and it reads thus:

"Why spend so much time proving the non-existence of something? Why not do something more constructive with life? I don't believe in unicorns or the tooth fairy but I really do not have the time or the energy to write long books articulating my position and ridiculing those who hold such beliefs. Something else is driving the new atheism.

I believe that what drives this new atheism is the same thing which I also regard as driving the various philosophies collectively known as postmodernism, and also that which drives so much of modern Western culture : taste.
This new atheism dislikes religion because it sees it as distasteful. It was the german philosopher, Nietzsche, who launched an attack on Christianity not from the perspective of the limits of human knowledge but from the perspective of taste.
He regarded Christianity as false not becasue it embodied a set of incoherent and unverifiable beliefs, but becasue it advocated a morality, a "slave morality" as he called it, which exalted everything that turned his stomach : forgiveness, meekness, mercy, obedience, longsiffering. Itwas all just too distateful to him."

So I responded (a bit in haste, so forgive me if my writing is not up to par):

I'm surprised that you couldn't anticipate what the arguments against this article would be, but I'll refute it anyway. First of all, I haven't read Nietzsche, but from what I've heard, he may have had one or two good points, but was utterly over the top with a lot of his viewpoints. To me, Christianity and religion being a matter of taste above all else is ridiculously silly and I don't agree with that assertion in the least.

Anyway, to answer the questions posed in the first paragraph: 1) Not to be pedantic, but is anyone really trying to disprove the existence of God(s)? I thought we (the "new atheists") were trying to prove that the idea of God(s) is not a feasible or statistically likely idea. Also, to be a little more pedantic, unless you are a number 7 on Richard's scale laid out in The God Delusion, you would be perfectly aware that we will probably never be able to disprove God's existence. What we can do instead, is prove lots of things that continually diminish the likelihood that God(s) exist. And now to answer what was intended by that poorly worded question after discussing its poor construction. The reason I and any other atheist is concerned with proving the infeasibility of God(s) (especially as compared to fairies and unicorns) is because we are surrounded by people who believe in God(s) and associated religions and are discriminated against or likely to be discriminated against (at least in the US) because of our position. Also, most of us have come to determine that there most likely is(are) no God(s) by a fairly long process of contemplation and education in multiple disciplines and we feel that we have come to the most reasonable and logical conclusion(s) whereas those who are religious proponents have not done the same kind of contemplation or educated themselves to the same level on this matter and we feel a sort of responsibility to try to educate people about it. 2)And sort of getting into the other question posed, there are many things that multitudes of people need education about and so it isn't as if this is the only thing that I would try to educate people about (or any other atheist, for that matter). But it is one of the main ideas that I and many other atheists want to educate people about since it would lead to less discrimination against us. Anything that's to do with oneself will naturally take precedent over something not so near and dear. For example, fistula is a major problem among women in third world countries and many women who suffer from it are outcasts as a result of the incontinence they suffer from it. It is a fairly easily solved problem. The surgery only costs $300 and things can also be done during labor to reduce the risk of it occuring in the first place. However, the populace of these countries are not educated about it, and the women who suffer this condition are often shunned from society, considered unclean, and even told that there isn't anything that can be done to fix the problems. This is a major injustice. However, it's not happening in our backyards, and it isn't really something that will majorly affect our lives the way it does in these uneducated places. So while we consider it extremely worthwhile to educate the people in these areas about it, it doesn't take precedence because it doesn't directly affect us. Not to mention, the sheer amount of problems like this that there are in the world is insurmountable. You have to pick a handful of issues and concentrate on them, so naturally, we pick something that could or has affected us. That's what people are as a gregarious animal anyway: we're specialists. In order to have a functioning society among our species, we all pick something and specialize in it and contribute to society as a whole by gaining as much knowledge as possible in that area so that we can exchange our expertise for someone else's. It is easy to see how this type of society benefits our odds of successful reproduction as individuals. And finally, isn't it obvious that most atheists do do something more worthwhile than just sit around a refute the ideas surrounding God(s) and religion? All of the most famous atheist writers have other careers that have little to do with atheism. You already know this, but Richard Dawkins is obviously an evolutionary biologist first, atheist second. Sam Harris is a neuroscientist and has said that he never even called himself or even really considered himself an atheist. Daniel Dennett is a professor of philosophy. Christopher Hitchens is a journalist and could probably even be called a political pundit. Aren't all of those things worthy of the title "constructive"?

Anyway, obviously I think that the excerpt you have sent me shows nothing more than that the author has completely missed the point. He's also distastefully trivialized our position into ironically enough, a matter of taste.

Also, perhaps my comments about the associated nausea that accompanied reading your facebook status reveal the cultural gap (and perhaps even generational gap). It is quite a common thing to say among young people in the US that something makes them want to vomit. It's some sort of strange trend. You know how these things go. I might have said the same thing about a particularly sappy part of a romantic movie. I've also referred to vomiting in response to an example of really poor grammar. It's just an indication of a negative reaction. But it's not nearly so trendy to say "well, reading your facebook status elicited a rush of negative feelings". ;-)

Friday, May 23, 2008

A Confrontation a Day Keeps the Passive Aggression at Bay

As a forewarning, this blog post is probably more than anyone will ever want to know about the inner-workings of my psyche.

Recently, passive aggression seems to be a theme in my life as I have been both the perpetrator and receiver of some serious passive aggression. For me, I think my passive aggression is about trust. If I am not sure whether or not someone will still love me or be my friend because I confront them about something that bothers me, I will not confront them about it at my expense. This, of course, only causes me to resent the person for a crime they don't even realize that they've committed or don't realize that what they've done bothers me as much as it does. Another unintended consequence of this is that I am probably extra-irritable at the people I do trust to still love me and be my friends. And recently, my fear of expressing my unhappiness with certain actions has resulted in a good bit of unpleasantness in my life. One consequence being an accumulation of unhappiness that led to an emotional explosion and some poor decision-making. The other consequence was that I was on the receiving end of some passive aggression which the other person felt justified in doling out because I failed to report any offensive behavior.

I think it's extremely important as well as difficult to appropriately judge and gauge the correct reaction to something that is irritating, annoying, or otherwise perceived as negative. Is it something that is even worth bringing up? This can be a difficult question to answer. On the one hand, you could simply ask, well, if I don't bring it up, will it continue to bother me? If not, then there isn't any point in risking an argument or any animosity. If it will continue to bother me then bring it up. That seems simple enough, but what if the behavior is something that is inconsequential. For instance, say it bothers you that your roommate always turns the lights on in a particular order.* If you don't say anything, it will continue to bother you, but it really isn't something that you have any reason to be bothered about. So it is your behavior that is bothersome and not theirs. So then there's the task of trying to decide whose behavior is in the wrong. This is where I tend to get into trouble. I tend to err on the side of deciding that my negative reaction to the behavior isn't appropriately proportioned to the action which caused the reaction. Something related to this is my observation of interactions of other people. Some people it seems, especially in romantic relationships, seem to get so comfortable expressing their dislikes that it seems that almost everything the other person does elicits a negative reaction in their partner even when it is completely unreasonable to feel negatively about some arbitrary action. In an effort to avoid this, I have been guilty of under-reporting any behaviors even when they are definitely negative.

Something that only tends to complicate this all the more is guilt. I tend to try to excuse the other person's behavior on the basis of realizing my own imperfections and therefore rationalize not confronting the person about their behaviors whether it's worth confronting them over or not. So once I have rationalized my way out of confronting someone over something they have done, it sits in the back of my mind. Eventually, if the person is someone I interact with often enough, things accumulate to the point where I am constantly irritated by them because they are doing all of these things that elicit a negative reaction and they keep doing them! How dare they! How could they not know that this behavior is just not acceptable? Well, the answer seems obvious, since I've never let them know that what they do bothers me. But the rational mind and the emotional mind never seem to meet up. I know that I haven't told the person that what they do bothers me, but I can't seem to help feeling annoyed that they continue to do it.

Yet another complication is that things that may have caused the slightest twinge of a negative reaction, yet were fairly easily forgotten can suddenly resurface once you are confronted by someone else about your own actions. If you never bring anything that bothers you to someone's attention, then they will assume that there isn't anything that they do that bothers you, go about their merry way, not paying attention to what they do and won't have the slightest clue why you feel indignant when something you do bothers them and they bring it up. I think to myself, "but there were so many times that he/she did x, y, or z and I never said a word and now he's complaining because I did x just once!" The obvious problem here is that person who said quarrel is with has no idea that they've been doing x, y, and z because you never said anything about it! And most people when feeling bothered by another person's actions don't sit down and think first whether or not they've ever done the same. Yet, this isn't the way the mind works. You still feel indignant and suddenly those things that you thought you forgot about are suddenly flooding back into your memory.

The circle of persons I actually freely express my dismay with is extremely small, perhaps only two or three people. So in an effort to lead a more mentally healthy life, I'm going to make an attempt to rid myself of these detrimental passive-aggressive behaviors and confront people more often about the things they do that bother me. This could result in me being unnecessarily bitchy, so please bear with me while I try to adjust to confronting people more often in an attempt to avoid explosive situations in the future.

*I made this up as an example. People can turn the lights on in any order they prefer. :-)

Tuesday, May 6, 2008


*Edit: This post is mainly in reference to the atheists debating one another rather than atheists debating believers and theists, although it could apply to that, too. Quetz's post on the matter is regarding debates between believers and non-believers.

Recently, I've been formulating some opinions. Imagine that! But seriously, recently as I've been hanging out on the sidelines on rather than really engaging in much debate, I've been noticing some trends. Quetzalcoatl (Jonathan) already wrote a blog related to this, but I think it deserves to be expanded upon. If you would like to read Quetz's blog first, here is the one to which I am referring:

Now, Quetz put forward the idea that people have what he calls "Attachment Factors" or AF to certain ideas. This is what I want to expand on and Quetz, I hope you don't mind that I am borrowing your term for this post. I agree that there are AFs that people hold to certain ideas, but as of late when watching people debate on, I've noticed that when someone has a point of contention with an idea one puts forward, it is very likely that the person whose idea has been questioned automatically develops an AF for the idea and feels the need to defend it, even if it were an idea he or she only recently came up with (maybe even as recently as during composing the post). Being that most of the posters on are very intelligent and in some cases (certainly not my own) are skilled debaters, it usually is quite easy for one to defend his or her post in an intelligent manner (especially in matters of opinion) no matter how good or bad (for lack of better words) his or her idea is/was.

What I'm getting at is that as soon as someone's idea is contested, rather than reconsidering his or her position, many times, the person immediately develops an AF for this position and subsequently begins defending it without ever truly considering the other person's opinion on the matter. I think this greatly obscures the purpose of debating in the first place. Debating is about find the truth, not who's wrong or right, correct?

I think part of the reason that this occurs is because whoever it is doing the contesting oftentimes not only criticizes the idea itself, but also the person who is holding the idea simply for the fact that person does hold the idea and it is only natural to have an urge to defend oneself. I think if people were to be more careful not to choose words that are sure to elicit an emotional response, the debates would be more proficient and proceed in a much smoother manner. Understandably, though, everyone has different styles of writing and debating, so perhaps rather than trying to avoid offending someone, people should try to avoid allowing an emotional response to a contention rather than a logical and rational response. Anyway, those are my suggestions for improving the debates. You may take it or leave it.