Let’s Talk About Religion

I hate religion.

Okay, that’s not true.  And I should probably rephrase that before an angry mob of Christians armed with torches and pitchforks shows up at my door.  I don’t hate religion.  I hate organized religion.  And hate is probably too strong a word for how I feel about it.

But hey, it got your attention didn’t it?  Ruffled a few feathers?  Sparked some fires?  I’ll admit to being inflammatory, but that was kind of the point.  In a country that’s supposedly about freedom of speech and freedom of religion, saying something like that is generally considered taboo.  Which is funny, because some of the same people who would consider that off-limits to say are also the ones who flocked to the defense of a Minnesota restaurant owner after he posted a “Muslims get out” sign.

 

“But guys, it’s not directed at ALL Muslims. Just the extremist ones.”
“Yeah sure…whatever man.”

 

A little over two years ago, I wrote a post about growing up as a non-religious person.  In it, I talked a little about how frustrating it was to always run into that “you have to believe in God” sentiment from kids my age.  I also mentioned how atheists are almost always seen as antagonistic and angry people, which in a self-fulfilling way made me a little antagonistic and angry toward religion during my high school years.  And the stigma against atheists is no joke.  Eight states in our country have laws on the books which state that non-believers can’t hold public office, although the laws are thankfully unenforceable now due to a 1960’s Supreme Court decision.

But regardless, the stigma persists.  I remember seeing a video a long time ago about a billboard espousing atheist views that said something similar to “take the myth out of Christmas” with a picture of Jesus on it.  I couldn’t find that video again, but I remember it had the format of someone walking up and asking people what they thought of it.  One woman stuck out to me in particular, because she said something to the effect of “they shouldn’t be allowed to post stuff like that”.  And I remember wondering why.  Why shouldn’t they be allowed to post things like that?  Isn’t that what freedom of speech is about?

That restaurant owner who posted the “Muslims get out” sign?  Totally tactless.  Totally idiotic.  And even if his excuse of “well I couldn’t fit the word ‘extremists’ on the sign” is true…he apparently never considered not posting the sign.  Because somehow it never popped into his head that maybe…just maybe…people might construe it to mean all Muslims.  In the end though, it was totally his right to post it.  That I do not deny.

But I digress.  I make the drive from Duluth to my parent’s home around once every month or two.  And every time I see the same anti-abortion billboards, over half a dozen in all.  And almost every single one has some kind of Christian theme to it.

“God knew my soul before I was even born,” one proudly reads with a picture of a smiling baby.  Yeah…he knew you were going to be a peeing, pooping, screaming nightmare for the first few years of your life.  Anyways, I see these kind of signs all the time.

But when the group known as American Atheists puts up a billboard?  Suddenly it’s a war on Christmas.

Now, I will admit, their tactic isn’t exactly the nicest thing in the world.  That is kind of their point, to ruffle a few feathers.  But it does speak to a certain stigma against atheist viewpoints.  A shocking amount of people in the world think that a belief in God is necessary to be moral.  It’s ridiculous, really.  A decent number of those very same, “moral” Christians also want to keep Muslims out of this country.  A decent number of those very same Christians won’t lift a finger to help refugees.  A decent number of those people also have an almost fetishistic love of firearms.

And that’s the thing that bothers me about organized religion.  It’s full of people constantly complaining about their religious freedom, yet those same people never stop to think about the religious freedoms of others.  For all their haughty outrage about Christianity being called a “myth”, they never stop to think about the face that to them, every other religious system that exists, has existed, or will exist is basically a myth to them.

The Greeks?  The Egyptians?  The Romans?  All myths.  Even Hinduism could be called a myth from the Christian perspective.

But somehow, that doesn’t track with a lot of people.  Because for them, of course other belief systems are a myth because theirs is the only right one.  Their god is the only real god.  And very few of them ever stop to think that “hey…maybe that other guy from that other religion thinks the same way.”  Because, to them, it doesn’t matter.  They’ve been told from the very beginning that they’re right and everyone else is wrong.

See, I’ve always felt that religion is a personal thing.  It’s why I don’t shout “I’m an atheist” in someone’s face immediately upon meeting them.  Because it shouldn’t matter.  But a lot of people out there seem to think that they have the right to run roughshod over other people’s beliefs while not allowing their own to be questioned.  Whenever I have a debate with a religious person over the origin of the universe, the conversation usually goes like this:

“The Big Bang theory is so stupid!  Something can’t come from nothing!”

“Well then where did God come from?”

“God always was.  He was always there.”

“What?  But you just said that something can’t come from noth-”

“I don’t want to talk about this anymore.”

It’s frustrating, because it just doesn’t make sense to me.  They believe in an omnipotent god who was always there and can do anything he wants at any time.  And yet, something coming from nothing is just “impossible”.

I’ll stop here, because I could go on forever about this.  For all the pandering and complaining about Christians being “victimized”, most of them truly don’t understand the meaning of the word.  I don’t either.  I’ve never lived under a totalitarian religious state, so I can’t even conceive of what that must be like.  But if you’re a Christian, next time you start complaining out loud or to yourself about how underrepresented or oppressed you are, take a step back for a second and reevaluate the situation.  You’re in the majority.  Not just in the United States, but in the world at large.

Remember that next time you want to whine about being “so oppressed”.  There are plenty of people who can hardly get a word in edgewise.

 

Thanks for reading!  Check back next Wednesday for a new post, and as always, have a wonderful week.

You can like the Rumination on the Lake Facebook page here or follow me on Twitter here.

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Would They Believe? Religion and First Contact with Extraterrestrial Beings.

So a friend of mine from work read me this headline:

“NASA gives $1 million grant to a theological organization to study the religious implications of extraterrestrial life.”

And my reaction to this was along the lines of “oh no…”.  Because whenever religion and science get mixed up together, things have a habit of getting murky and confusing.  And then people get mad.

Now, the blog post I just linked you to isn’t a big fan of this idea.  The author believes it is a waste of money as well as a violation of the First Amendment, “for it is an unnecessary entanglement of church and state.”  On some level, I do agree with this.  However, I also think that the subject is worth discussing.

Humans have been fascinated with the idea of alien life for centuries.  Whether it is in literature, art, or conspiracy theories our ideas of what alien life could be range from the intimately familiar to the terrifyingly bizarre.  We can’t help but think of it.  The universe is so large that it seems unfathomable that it would just be empty and devoid of life aside from our little planet in our lonely corner of existence.

Have you ever heard of the Fermi Paradox?  The basic gist of it is that there are so many stars and so many planets that some of them would have to give arise to Earth-like conditions.  And these conditions would give rise to intelligent life that would eventually seek out a way to cross the interstellar void.  Enrico Fermi, one of the authors of the argument, came to the conclusion that Earth should have already been visited by intelligent extra-terrestrial life, leading him to ask “where is everybody” and give rise to the paradox in question.  The paradox has been answered in many different ways, but here are just a few: that evolutionary life is rare or non-existent, that other intelligent life lacks the advanced technology, that it is the nature of intelligent life to destroy itself, or that Earth is specifically avoided or isolated (which reminds me of the story “They’re made out of meat” by Terry Bisson…it’s a very short read but a good one).

But say that one day humans did encounter intelligent life?  What would we do then?

First off, let’s backtrack a little.  A long time ago, someone posted a chart to my Facebook wall which proposed what you should do if you end up being the first human to interact with intelligent aliens.  I remember this specifically because at one point it suggests leaving religion out of the equation and choosing instead to show these creatures the concept of our evolutionary history.  Some of my more religious Facebook friends took issue with this, wondering “well why can’t we present them with religion?”

 

Here's the chart for your viewing pleasure.

Here’s the chart for your viewing pleasure.

 

The first problem that arises with presenting aliens with religion is the question “what religion do we start with” or “what religion do we present to them that best represents humanity?”  If we were to go on a cold, logical level, we would say Christianity.  According to the Pew Research Center, as of 2010 Christians are still the majority around the globe.  But by the time we make contact with alien life, things might be different.  Pew estimates that by 2050, the number of Muslims and Christians around the world will be nearly equal because Islam is the fastest growing global religion.  So even on a pure logical level things may get murky in a few decades.

But from my perspective, none of this matters.  I see two possible outcomes when aliens are presented with our religion or religions.

 

Outcome 1

The aliens have no religion anymore or never had any concept of religion in the first place, in which case they would find our steadfast belief in a creator being that we cannot see or even know for certain exists baffling and possibly primitive.

 

Outcome 2

The aliens already have their own religion, and so ours would be incorrect in their eyes.  They would likely brush off our beliefs the way modern Christians brush off the beliefs of, say, the ancient Egyptians.

 

Both of these circumstances hold the possibly for a violent outcome, whether due to our fault or theirs.  But then again, any first contact situation could result in this, regardless of the presence of religion.  But I stand by my point.  Our religions would likely be of no consequence to extraterrestrial beings.

Now, is it possible that these beings would find our concept of a god/creator so fascinating that they would want to learn more and maybe even be converted?  Yes, but I don’t see that really happening.  If their thinking process is anything at all like ours, they will hold steadfastly to their own system of beliefs and philosophies.  As it stands, the two outcomes I listed above are far more likely.  The third is based on this faulty assumption that the “truths” in religion are self-evident and would be immediately obvious to anyone intelligent enough (which is not to say that religious people aren’t intelligent…I know some people out there will take it that way even though that is not my intent at all).

But then, this isn’t the question the group NASA granted money to is looking to answer.  They’re more concerned with a question along the lines of “what impact would the revelation of other intelligent life in the universe have on US and OUR religions?”  Because humanity is sort of self-centered like that.

Again, the way I see it, there are two likely outcomes to this:

 

Outcome 1

Contact with other life leads to a drastic re-evaluation of religious texts in an effort to discover any meaning to the existence of alien life which either leads to the collapse of the current religions and the start of new ones or with the consolidation of current religions with the new knowledge.

 

Outcome 2

Religion will remain largely unchanged.

 

There will of course be other outcomes, like fringe sections of the religious community possibly associating the aliens with devils and demons.  But they would be a small voice in a large crowd, a tiny fraction and not representative of the entire human race.

Regardless, it’s an interesting thing to think about.  And it is indeed very difficult to say what would happen in the event of first contact.  It is possible that none of the outcomes I listed would even happen.  I could be entirely wrong in my assumptions.  To err is human, after all.

I’m sure others would have their own opinions on what might happen if and when we run into aliens out in the universe.  It is a part of our nature to theorize and hypothesize, analyze and criticize.  We’ve been doing it for thousands of years.  It is a part of our process.  It is how we adapt, how we change.  It is how we progress as a civilization, as a race.  Change is inevitable.  It may not always be good, but it will come.  There is no avoiding it.

So with that, let’s look to the future with bright eyes and curious minds.

 

That’s all I have for this time.  Check back next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.

It’s the Way We’ve Always Done it: The Dark Side of Tradition

If you took a poll of people around the world on what they think of tradition, I think more often than not they would say it’s a good thing.  Thanksgiving dinners, church ceremonies, Christmas…it’s all a way to bring people together and strengthen ties between family and friends.

Or it’s a way to slaughter over eight hundred pilot whales every single year.

But wait…I’m getting ahead of myself.  Let’s start at the beginning.

Google defines tradition as “the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation, or the fact of being passed on in this way.”  And these traditions don’t have to be on a cultural scale or a city-wide scale.  They can just be the little things you and your family do every year: getting together for the holidays, going on an annual vacation, or even just celebrating birthdays.  And this is a good thing.  It keeps you in touch with the people in your family or community.  It gives you a tether, a way of remembering that you are a part of something.  Because no matter how far away in the world you are, these things stay with you.  They in part define who you are.

But there are times when traditions become outdated, or even harmful, but people cling to them for the sake of tradition itself.  And that’s not a good thing.

Back to that comment on pilot whales.  Have you ever heard of something called “the grind”?  Well basically, it’s a tradition in the Faroe Islands.  During the months of July and August the islanders use small boats to herd dolphins and pilot whales into a shallow lagoon.  And then they proceed to stab them to death.  No joke.  And this occurs every single year, and has for the past three centuries.  According to Cracked.com supporters of this act argue that it strengthens community relations and provides them with food.  But the article goes on to state that almost a thousand whales are being killed every single time this takes place.  And even this pales in comparison to the coastal Japanese town of Taiji, where local fishermen are allowed to hunt nearly two thousand dolphins every year.

Thankfully, pilot whales and dolphins as a whole are not endangered species.  But I have to wonder, would that even stop tradition?  Or would tradition only stop once there’s nothing left?

The bad side of tradition is not limited exclusively to how we deal with animals.  Tradition impacts how we deal with other humans as well.  Take India for example.

Anyone who has studied the religion of Hinduism has heard of the caste system.  In broad strokes the caste system is a hierarchy that determines an individual’s placement in society.  It starts with the “Brahmins”, priests and teachers, and ends with the “Outcasts” or “Untouchables”, people who were relegated to cleaning latrines and other such dirty jobs.  The caste system is intertwined with the Hindu concept of reincarnation, where the spirit of someone who died will be reborn as another human being or animal.  What this means is that your place in the caste system was due to how you did in your past life?  Did you stick within your caste and not fight the system?  Well good, you’ve likely moved up in the world with this new life.  But if you disobeyed and tried to take more than your share, then you are placed lower in the caste system on your next life.

It’s essentially the Hindu way of saying “if you’re poor, you deserve it.”  And you would think that the caste system being outlawed in 1950 would do away with it completely, but no.  Tradition never dies easily.

Now, I have a sneaking suspicion some of you out there are probably soothing yourselves right now by saying “well thank god I live in an enlightened and progressive country.  These kinds of things would never happen here.”  And then you laugh to yourself, saying “Ha ha these places are so behind the times ha ha ha nothing so heinous or backwards would ever happen here ha ha ha ha ha ha-”

It’s legal to drug and sexually assault your spouse in the state of Ohio.

Let that sink in for a moment…yes, it’s true.  If the victim is married to the perpetrator, sexual assault can be legal under the law.  It’s something known as “marital rape”, and Ohio isn’t the only state with strange, backwards laws separating marital rape and other kinds of rape.  South Carolina even goes so far as to require the threat of a weapon or aggravated violence before it can prosecute cases of marital rape.  To top it off, you only have thirty days to report the rape.  And even then the person who raped you will only face up to ten years in prison at the max.

And if you think this kind of thing is only endemic to the United States, hold on a second there.  According to that same Cracked.com article from earlier, Germany has basically no laws preventing sexual assault.  That is, as long as it doesn’t pose immediate danger to “life and limb”.  And in Norway, a poll found that around nine percent of Norwegian women in Norwegian relationships were the victims of sexual assault, but approximately sixty percent of them never pressed charges.

But we’re not done yet.  For our last topic of the day, let’s turn to corporal punishment.

I’ve heard a lot of people over the years say “I was spanked and I turned out just fine.”  Well great!  That obviously means spanking has no harmful effects whatsoever and is a great method for teaching kids discipline.  I’m glad we cleared this up.  Now we can all go and-

Wait, what’s that science?  You say that’s not true?  Oh science, always ruining everything for everybody…

It’s true, studies have shown that spanking can have a harmful impact on a child’s brain development and affect how they react to certain situations.  Now, to be fair, statistics and correlations only go so far.  But this isn’t just one or two studies.  There are over hundreds of studies on the effects of corporal punishment and as far as I can tell none of them have found a positive to its effects.  This is where people tend to get dismissive and say “whatever…I turned out just fine…people are just too sensitive these days.”  Well you know what?  I wasn’t spanked and I turned out just fine.

But here’s the problem: my experience and their experiences are merely anecdotal.  They are but droplets of water in the ocean of humanity.  We cannot assume that our own childhood experiences would be perfect for everyone.

Besides, spanking always struck me as an almost lazy tactic.  It always seemed like something people resort to when the child misbehaves either because they don’t want to take the time to punish the child some other way or because they’re stressed out and their child becomes an easy way to vent that frustration.  It’s not a popular opinion (often people against spanking get raked over the coals by those who support it…which ironically adds more credence to the idea that spanking increases aggressive behavior in children), but it is my opinion.  Perhaps that’s a little unfair, but that’s just how I see it.

And simply holding on to the idea of spanking because it worked “back then” is not the way to do things.  That kind of thinking is why it took until 2014 for a school in Wilcox County, Georgia to host a racially integrated prom.

Whether or not you subscribe to or even like Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution you have to accept that the world changes over time.  And clinging to outdated ideas of how things should function is not a healthy way to live.  Sure, sometimes the older way of doing things might be better, but in a world that is constantly innovating and evolving, we have to acknowledge that things are going to be different in the future.

Tradition or not, sometimes they just have to go.

 

Well that’s all I have for you this time.  Tune in next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.

Disbelief: Common Things to Hear as a Non-Religious Person

I’d like to preface this entire thing by saying that I have no intention of making this a “woe is me, my life is so hard” kind of post.  This is more a way to express my own perspective on something that I have had to deal with many times in my life.

Almost a year ago now, I wrote a post about the fact that I am not a religious person.  It’s not really something I keep a secret, but nor is it something I bring up all the time.  But it has definitely had an impact on my interactions with other people.

I wanted to frame this post in a way similar to my post on common reactions to a Muslim terrorist attack, in that I’m going to address some common things I’ve heard in reaction to my non-religiosity.  So here we go.

 

“You just don’t understand.”

This usually crops up after a debate over religion, in which the religious person will attempt to brush off the entire thing by saying “oh you just don’t understand religion.  That’s why you don’t believe in it.”

The intention of this statement may not be malicious in nature, but the implication is rather condescending.  Basically what this is saying is that the only reason someone wouldn’t be religious is because they haven’t taken the time to examine it, that they haven’t truly given religion a chance.

But I don’t think that’s an accurate assessment of the situation.

It’s well-known that there are a great number of Christians out there who openly profess their belief in God, but haven’t actually read the Bible on their own.  In fact, more often than not, the people I know who have read the Bible are actually atheists who grew up Christian.  At some point in their lives they encounter a “crisis of faith” for lack of a better phrase, and so they spend their time researching, examining, and generally absorbing knowledge on the subject to help make up their minds.  If they find what they encounter irreconcilable with the tenets of their faith, it usually results in a loss of it.

One could argue that the people who used to believe are more “in the know” than most of the people who do believe.

 

“Why do you hate something that you don’t believe exists?”

Once upon a time I ran into an image shared on Facebook that went like this: a child sitting in the grass was holding a notebook in front of him.  The image was shot over his shoulder and there was text photoshopped onto the paper (poorly I might add) which said something akin to the following:

“Dear atheists, why do you hate God if you don’t believe he exists?”

And this was, of course, followed by a smug little smiley face drawn in the bottom corner.

Now, there are multiple things wrong with this, the first of course being that not all atheists hate God.  This is an over-generalization that is sadly used more often than I’d like.  There is this preconception among some religious people that atheists or non-believers are all angry and bitter because they, of course, believe in nothing (which is also a misconception…people who believe in nothing or that nothing matters are more often referred to as Nihilists.  Atheists are people who don’t believe in the existence of a god or deity).

The second thing wrong with this is that of course you can hate fictional characters.  We do it all the time.  We hate Villain X in Movie Y.  We hate Character A in Book B.  Whether or not something or someone is real isn’t the sole criteria for being allowed to hate that particular thing or person.  If that were the case, “liking” something that was fictional wouldn’t make any sense either.

But the final thing about this image is how outright condescending and pretentious it is.  By placing the child in the image, the author implies that the voice of the person writing the message is a child’s voice.  And the implication of that is of course that the argument being made is so obvious that a child could make it, which then brings forth the assertion that all atheists are just childish and stupid.  This would understandably make a non-religious person rather angry.

I think that was the point.

These kinds of images are generally shared as something called “flame-bait” on the internet.  What this means is that the intention is to start an argument for the sake of starting an argument.  It isn’t meant to create any kind of meaningful discussion.  It’s just meant to piss people off and that’s it.

 

“It’s just my personal beliefs.”

I’ve heard many a religious person argue that “something can’t come from nothing” when referring to the Big Bang theory.  The common counter-argument is to say “well you believe in God…so where did he come from?”  The reply to such a question is usually “God just is…he always was.”  I’ve pointed out to people before that such a response is at the very least slightly hypocritical.  They’ve just claimed that “something can’t come from nothing” but then they espouse belief in a being that literally came from nothing, who “always was”.

That’s usually when people start getting defensive.

They usually say something like “it’s just my personal beliefs man…no need to get so angry about it.”  And the more you push back against it, the more you look like the aggressor even if they’re the ones who started the whole thing in the first place.

I have no problem with people believing what they want to believe.  However, I’ve always thought that if you’re truly secure in what you believe, then it should stand up to scrutiny.  But too often I see people falling back on the victim card, claiming that they’re being personally attacked.  And when that card is played, it’s all over.  There’s no way to win against it.  The more you fight, the more you lose.

 

“There is faith in science just like there’s faith in religion.”

Oh boy…this is the big one.  People of religious faith sometimes suggest that science requires faith in much the same way as religion.  But is that really a true statement?

First of all, let’s take a look at the Google definition of faith.  It lists two of them:

  1. Complete trust or confidence in someone or something.
  2. Strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.

The first one is simple enough.  You can have faith in pretty much anything in the world: humanity, nature, society, and so on.  But it is the second one I really want to focus on, specifically the part that says “based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof”.

You see, the difference between science and religion comes down to their method of application.  Religion, as many often say, is a spiritual and personal thing.  Science however, is more impersonal.  It relies on experimentation and observation rather than scripture.  It all boils down to the scientific method, which begins with a question.  This question generates a hypothesis, or possible answer to that question.  Then, an experiment is designed and carried out as a way to see if that hypothesis is correct.  After the experiment is done, conclusions are drawn from its results.  If the results confirm the original hypothesis, then all is well.  If the hypothesis is proven wrong, then it’s back to the drawing board to come up with a new hypothesis.

Religion, however, has no such method.  To put it simply, there’s a reason they call it a “leap of faith”.

The thing that irks me and gets under my skin is that the same people who assert that science and religion both require faith also gleefully try to poke holes in science every chance they get.  These are the people who claim that the second law of thermodynamics disproves evolution, even though that’s totally false and based on a flawed understanding of the law.  These are the people who claim that “something can’t come from nothing” when talking about the Big Bang theory.

This would all be fine if these people were open to discussion, but they’re usually not.  I’ve already talked about how sometimes people get defensive (“it’s just my beliefs man”), but that’s only the tip of it.  Often, people will get outright furious if you dare to disagree with them (and this isn’t confined to the religious either…there are non-religious people out there who can be just as arrogant and close-minded).

Science isn’t perfect.  It is constantly changing, constantly evolving.  Albert Einstein hated the idea of quantum physics when it was first proposed, saying quote “God does not play dice with the universe” (a quote commonly misinterpreted as meaning he was a religious man…Einstein was using God as a metaphor).  And now, quantum physics is a widely accepted realm of science.  Evidence is always being gathered and interpreted, whether it falls in line with an already established theory or not.  The scientific view of the world is not absolute, and those that practice within its various fields generally understand that.

In the end, I think we all have to find our own ways of interpreting and understanding the world.

 

Well that’s all I have for this time.  Again, I would like to reinforce the idea that I am totally fine with whatever you decide you want to believe.  The world is an incredibly complex place, and part of being human is coming to grips with that.  I hope I didn’t come across as angry or bitter.  I try my best not to, especially since I know I was a little angry with religion in my younger years.  In any case, thanks for reading my rambling thoughts.

Check back next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.

After Life: People’s Desire to Believe in Ghosts and the Paranormal

It has almost been two years since I started this blog.  My very first post (aside from the introductory post) was a post about ghosts.  I talked about how, while I don’t believe in ghosts and the paranormal, I find the idea rather fascinating.  Briefly, I mentioned that I believe that ghosts represent a certain desire of people to understand what happens to them after death.  Some people want to believe that the human spirit somehow endures, whether it be in ghostly form or in some other version of an afterlife (the Christian idea of Heaven, for example).  But the question becomes “why”.  Why do people want to believe this so badly?

Death is a scary thing.  The human mind can’t truly grasp the concept.  Even with the concept of an afterlife, the very idea of death is bizarre.  It’s especially strange to those of us who do not believe in an afterlife.  The simple idea of just not being, not existing someday is an impossible thing to comprehend.  The very thought of not being able to talk to our families, our loved ones is a terrifying one.

I believe this is where ghosts come in.

Ghosts are a way to explain what happens to the very consciousness of the human body when one dies.  There is no real scientific basis for it.  There is no logical basis for it.  And yet, it is an idea that has persisted for centuries.  To some, it is a comforting idea.  It is a way to reach into the past.  It is a way to comfort ourselves, to assure ourselves that death is not simply an end.  I am always amazed by the obsession with death that some people have.  It is an interesting thing to think about, but some people go to far, becoming completely enveloped by it.  Perhaps out of fear, they turn to ideas like these, paranormal ideas that give them a reason to believe in life after death.

 

White Lady of Worstead Church

White Lady of Worstead Church

 

The world is a very strange and confusing place.  The human desire to explain everything around us is what I believe leads to ideas such as ghosts.  We have an insatiable need to know everything, to understand everything.  And we are not patient people.  We want to know and we want to know now.  We’re not always willing to wait and thoroughly study something to understand it.  So sometimes, we speculate.  We try to interpret the world around us, even if we don’t have anything to support our reasoning.  And you know what?

That’s okay.  In fact, that’s human.

Maybe the paranormal believers will someday turn out to be right.  Maybe they’ll eventually provide us with some evidence that will concretely prove the existence of ghosts.  And maybe someday they’ll be proven wrong.  This is the reason why I ascribe to the scientific method.  It works.  And if theories are proven wrong, science moves past that to come up with a better hypothesis, a better theory to explain the world around us.

But until then, we’ll just have to keep searching.

 

Well that’s all I have this time.  Tune in next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week!

 

Guiding and Influencing: Where Does Morality Come From?

So this past weekend I stumbled upon this article in The Guardian.  For those who just want the short story, it talks about a study that found that children with religious upbringings (specifically Christian and Muslim) tend to be more mean than their non-religious counterparts.  Essentially, religious children tended to be less altruistic and more judgmental of their peers, which seems to fly in the face of the common belief that our morality comes from religion itself.  If this study can be reproduced, it would go a long way toward squashing that myth.

Now why is this important?  Well when I was young, I was often told I was going to hell and that I was a bad person because I didn’t believe in God.  If this study is accurate, it could help other non-religious children growing up to not feel so bad about their beliefs (or lack thereof) and not become bitterly antagonistic toward religion.  We don’t need more hate in the world.  There’s already more than enough.

It got me thinking.  Where does our morality come from exactly?  I think the answer is more complicated than I can probably address in a simple blog post, but I’ll do my best.

A lot of it comes from society in general.  We are raised to think and act a certain way, not just by our parents but by what we see in society at large.  If we see society as being hateful toward a certain group, we tend to grow up with similar feelings.  If a certain thought or belief is praised, we grow up with positive thoughts about it.

This goes in many different directions as well.  If a child is taken to a church and told that this particular school of thought is right and all others are wrong, they tend to grow up not understanding why other people think differently.  The same goes for any non-religious children who are raised the same way.  If you as a parent display hostile feelings toward a particular group, philosophy, religion or so on, then your children will take after that.

Never underestimate the power of the parental and societal influence.  It shapes us in far more ways than we often want to admit.

But I don’t think this is the only source for our morality.  Have you ever seen a child cry over killing a bug?  They play with it because they’re curious or bored, and then when they realize that they killed it they start bawling their eyes out.  Why is this?  Why does a child cry over something as insignificant as that?  A bug is a bug right?  The life of one mosquito doesn’t really matter in the long run.

Maybe.  Maybe not.  It’s all a matter of perspective after all.  And to a child, a bug’s life might mean more than you think.

As human beings, we have something within ourselves that gives us perspective on things that we might not have otherwise.  We are able to put ourselves in another’s shoes, to think as they would think and to feel as they would feel.  We have the capacity to see other points of view, if we just allow ourselves to do it.  It’s an incredibly powerful tool.

And it goes by the name of “empathy”.

Empathy is defined simply as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.”  We have all used empathy at some point in our lives, even if we don’t realize it.  Often, our feelings of regret come from our understanding that our actions might have negatively impacted the life of another.

This is, I argue, where a lot of our base morality comes from.

We can create complex systems of thoughts and beliefs.  We can debate over whether or not there is a divine being of some form or another that willed the universe into existence.  We can debate whether or not human beings evolved from apes or whether they were created by that same divine being.  But in the end, I don’t think it all really matters.  Because all we really need is empathy.

Empathy asks us “hey, would you like it if that was done to you?”  It’s the natural version of the Golden Rule, the innate instinctual process by which we weigh our actions.  This is why, I think, a child begins to cry when he/she realizes that they killed another living being, no matter how insignificant it is.  They haven’t matured yet.  They don’t distinguish between lower and higher life forms.  To them, a life is a life.  And when it dawns on them what they did, it brings them sadness.  Because on some fundamental level, they know pain is bad.  And to bring pain unto another creature is a terrible thing to them.

I realize that this might not apply to all children.  Some children actually take joy out of frying an anthill with a magnifying glass (like the stereotypical bully in an animated movie).  But they are usually older kids.  At a certain age, I believe that all children are naively innocent.  They’re just coming into the world and are still trying to understand how it all works.  Empathy is one of the few tools they instinctively know how to use.  And understanding the importance of empathy is crucial (especially in a world where people are getting angry over something as silly as coffee cups).

I may be a little naive myself in believing that this is the way the world works, but honestly?  I want to believe that it works like that.  And in some way, I need to believe that.  Because if I didn’t, if I no longer had any hope for the human race, there would be nothing stopping me from throwing up my hands and saying “I give up completely”.  It keeps me driven.  It keeps me sane.  Hope tells me that someday, things can change for the better.

Because without hope, what’s left that pushes us forward?

 

That’s all I have for you this time.  Thanks for sticking with me on this little philosophical rambling.  Tune in next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.

Innovating the Future: Why Science is Important

Once upon a time we had a dream that we could fly like the birds.  And we realized that dream.  Then, we had a dream that we could ascend beyond the clouds and even beyond our world.  We realized that dream in April of 1961 when Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space and the first man to orbit the Earth.  Later on, we dreamed that we could send a man to the moon, and President Kennedy even promised that we would before the 1960s were out.  He was right.  On July 21st, 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first human to set foot on the moon.

All of these things were made possible through science.

But there are a lot of people who don’t like science.  They say that scientific theories haven’t been proven, all while reading a two-thousand year old holy book with little to no historical backing.  They claim that science classes are brainwashing the kids, yet are comfortable taking a four-year old to church and telling them that their god is the only god.  They hold up faith as some unassailable idea, angrily asserting that questioning it is an attack on religious freedom.  And yet they claim that non-believers are the arrogant ones.

 

But I digress.  I don’t want to turn this post into an anti-religious rant.  I understand that the people I described above are not indicative of all religious folk.  But there is a point to be made in all this.  Science is still important today, and even if you are religious there’s no reason to fear or hate science.  There is nothing in science that says God does not exist.  The theory of evolution is not an attack on God or necessarily even a competing theory.  The issue does not come from science.  The issue seems to come from those who take a literal interpretation of the Bible.

Anyways, even if you don’t follow science or believe what it says, there’s no denying that it has given us many things.  Let’s look at NASA as an example.  NASA, through partnerships and experimentation, has actually been responsible for many different innovations and inventions that we use today.  Do you sleep on a memory foam mattress?  That material was originally used to insulate aircraft seats and absorb the energy of crashes, courtesy of NASA.  Do you have a cordless drill?  The cordless drill originally came from a partnership between NASA and Black & Decker.  Have you ever gotten an MRI?  NASA invented the digital imaging technique that eventually went into the creation of MRIs.

Smoke detectors, cameras, water filters, cochlear implants (for people with hearing loss), and so much more have come either directly or indirectly from the actions NASA has taken.  “Wow,” you might say, “NASA must get a lot of money from the federal budget if they’ve produced so much.”  You wouldn’t be alone in that line of thinking either.  Polls have shown that some people in the United States believe the NASA gets an inordinate amount of money from the federal budget, sometimes as high as twenty-five percent.  But that’s simply not true.  Usually the figure hovers around a measly one percent.  It was at its highest during the space race in the ’60s, and even then it was only around four and a half percent.  By contrast, our defense budget is much larger.  In 2011, defense spending accounted for twenty percent of the entire federal budget.

The point is that science experimentation and innovation has led to practical applications in our daily lives.  You may not agree with the scientific worldview, but you have still benefited from it even if you don’t realize it.  Some people attack science daily while benefiting from it at the same time, which is such a strange concept to me.  I don’t agree with religion, and yet I admire the artwork it inspired.  It seems to me that some people see science and religion as exclusionary worldviews when they’re simply not.  There’s no scientific theory that says all religious texts are invalid, nor is there any scripture (as far as I know) that says science is incontrovertibly wrong.  There is sometimes an intersection between the two ways of looking at the world that people tend to overlook.

It just seems hypocritical to be claiming that science is false while it makes your life easier and more convenient, you know?

 

Well that’s all I have for you this time.  Tune in next Wednesday for another post and as always, have a wonderful week!