Monday, September 22, 2014

The Myth of Atheist

The notable figure, Atheist, is said to have originated sometime pre-Enlightenment Era, though many claim that Atheist, like the divine Super-Deities in the sky and elsewhere, has always been. Often confused with Grendel of the epic poem Beowulf, Atheist has, to this day, baffled many. Developing a presence in science and philosophy as well as literature, Atheist has been found to move among disciplines with no clear identity aside from its name.

Part of the consternation surrounding Atheist has to do with that fluid nature, but the rest stems from the fact that no one can directly pinpoint when Atheist first emerged in popular culture or when Atheist was, well, Atheist, just as no one can easily surmise what Atheist might have looked like then (or how it may be perceived in a modern context).

Common allegories about Atheist suggest a diet rife with ‘human infants’ and basic vegetation, although other stories have presented evidence that has led some to believe Atheist was actually an omnivore on the fence about vegetarianism. Scholarly debate on this matter has led many to think, “Perhaps Atheist was a vegetarian in the sense that it only ate human infant flesh? Does cannibalism really even count as carnivore behavior?” Erudite individuals across the world still disagree on what Atheist’s eating habits could have been, but many academics will cite placentophagy and placenta-based medicine practices as potential explanations for this myth. 

 +  +  = ???
Experts believe Atheist may have looked like a combination of these three figures, but our population today seems to show no DNA evidence of such an evolutionary lineage.

Current psycholinguists and historiographers working together for decades posit that, according to their studies tracking Atheist’s travels from East Africa to Europe and onward toward North America, the Atheist’s diet was more likely comprised of whatever could be found. In coastal regions, shellfish, and in plains regions, whatever mammalian creatures were available (like bison, antelope, and so on).

Anthropologists in North America and Eastern Europe today feel strongly that Atheist would have dined upon Pizza Rolls, diet Coke, and paltry side salads while working toward a bachelor’s degree likely to be useless without further specialization.

Regarding Atheist’s social behavior and interests, some say it was an avid reader and reclusive, but that Atheist fancied collecting rocks. Others propose the contrary: that Atheist was outgoing, dynamic, not very book-driven, and lacking in hobbies. A few journalists have tried to support the idea that Atheist never truly existed, but that theory arose from a growing discontent at Atheist’s complicated plurality. Some have even gone so far as to conjecture that sightings have increased in the last thirty years. But then again, if sightings of Atheist really were increasing and Atheist proved extant, wouldn't we already know? 

Perhaps the discord is fueled in part because Atheist has no particular gender or orientation, no definitive ethnic genealogy, and no religion. Atheist has no particular style or image, and yet, Atheist is all at once resonant of something.

What is that something?

Perhaps simply, humanity; but, perhaps Atheist is even more elusive and confounding than we can conceive. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

No atheists allowed

Anyone who pays any attention to politics knows that politicians say some pretty shitty things.  It seems like every week brings a new politician who makes an outrageous statement that makes me wonder how such a person could get so far in government.
This past summer, Tea Party candidate Scott Esk advocated stoning gay people and “punish[ing] abortionists severely for their committing of murder”. Esk looks forward to applying Biblical principles to Oklahoma law, according to his website. In 2012, Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock claimed that when a woman gets pregnant from rape, it’s because it was part of God’s plan.
This week, former head of South Carolina’s Republican party Todd Kincannon tweeted about Janay Rice, “I hope the dumb bitch who initiated physical violence with her NFL player fiancĂ© learned a good lesson when he justifiably beat her ass.”
            When reports of politicians saying awful things like this come out, people tend to be angry for a while, and then forget about it. We have way more sleazy elected officials than people want to admit. And yet, we keep electing them. It’s also no coincidence that the majority of politicians who say such offensive things happen to be Republican. The GOP has a reputation for making tactless, insensitive statements. 
While many statements politicians have made can be considered terrible and extremely offensive, public opinion seems to think that there’s one statement more horrendous and unacceptable than any other. That is the statement, “I don’t believe in God.” 
Even though about twenty percent of the population now identifies as nonreligious, atheists are the most distrusted minority in America. Psychologists recently conducted a study that showed atheists are just as distrusted as rapists. As of now, we have no openly atheist members of Congress, and seven states’ constitutions have even banned atheists from holding office.
Every time I read about a politician claiming women shouldn’t vote or that being gay is a crime that should be punishable by death, I am extremely bothered that we allow these people into our government and forgive them when they say and do incredibly offensive things, while at the same time, people are completely unwilling to tolerate an atheist in government. People are so scared that an atheist will ruin our country with their “immorality”, when really, the politicians making horribly offensive statements usually justify them with their religion.
This bias against the nonreligious comes from the widespread belief that lack of god is equivalent to immorality. I think as more people come out nonreligious and people realize that others they know don’t believe in a god, this misconception won’t be as widely accepted, but for now, atheists are put on the same level as rapists. Once people start realizing that morality is not connected to any sort of belief or lack thereof, it may be acceptable for a candidate to run for office as an atheist.
Though we don’t have any openly atheist members of Congress at the moment, atheist Democrat James Wood is running for Congress in the 5th Congressional District of Arizona. In an interview in April, James Wood stated “I am running as an atheist, because I believe in honesty and disclosure; being open and honest about who you are and what you believe, I think, is vital to the democratic process.” Though I’m not optimistic about the outcome of the election (mainly because his district is primarily Republican, and he’s not a popular candidate) I applaud Wood and I think what he’s doing is fantastic. Other nonreligious politicians should follow suit and maybe it would defeat the stigma of running for government as an atheist.

In my opinion, the most religious politicians are the ones who act with the least morality and hurt our country the most. I look forward to the day that people are open-minded enough to elect an open atheist into office and stop forgiving politicians with harmful religious agendas and offensive attitudes.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Stop misusing the word "purpose"!

We humans are obsessed with "purpose"; we instinctively view things as having a purpose, and we tend to think of "purpose" as an inherent quality of an object, much like its weight, shape, or texture. It seems natural to ask, "What is the purpose of this thing?" whether the question is appropriate or not.

What I'd like to do here is to explain, to atheists and theists alike, that the "purpose" of an object has nothing to do with the object itself: the purpose of an object is simply what conscious beings intend for the object. I say this because many people, religious or not, speak about an object's purpose as if there is an objective fact of the matter.

As an example of atheists misusing the word "purpose", I've often heard atheists say that, realistically the purpose of life is to reproduce. However, this is not the purpose of life; this is not what life is "for". This is simply what most life automatically does. I will unpack this distinction below in my "light box analogy" and explain why this is an incorrect use of the word "purpose".

My first piece of evidence for "purpose" being a state of mind, rather than a quality of an object, is Webster.

This definition, and the synonyms listed, indicate that the purpose of an object is simply what is intended or desired for that object (intended or desired by a conscious being), and has nothing to do with the object itself.

To illustrate this further, and to explain why the "purpose" of life is not only to reproduce, as I've heard many atheists argue, I will talk about my hypothetical "light box". Imagine that I am building a "light box", and I tell you that its purpose is to light up. However, as I haven't finished it yet, it doesn't actually light up, not yet, anyway. Furthermore, I also tell you that this box was originally manufactured as a paper weight, and I am now turning it into a "light box". Still, I maintain that its purpose is to light up, and I think we could all agree that its purpose is indeed to light up, even if it doesn't currently light up, and even if it used to do something different. This demonstrates that an object's purpose has nothing to do with what it currently does, nor with what it did in the past: it's all down to what I intend for it.

In this same way, life (as in, every living thing) doesn't have a purpose, unless you, the reader, intend to use every last living thing on this planet for something. Your life, however, can have a purpose: it's whatever your life goals are: it's whatever you (Bill, Jill, Kelly) are "for". You, as a conscious being, can give yourself a purpose.

Another illustration that may help is what I call the "doorstop" thought experiment. Imagine I open my front door and enter my house, and as the door begins to swing shut behind me, the wind blows a rock underneath the door, jamming it open. At this moment, is the purpose of the rock to hold the door open? No, that's just what it happens to be doing. However, if I come back to the door and say, "Oh! Perfect! I needed something to hold the door open so I can bring a table inside," now the rock has a purpose: now the rock is  for holding the door open. Notice that while the rock suddenly has a purpose, nothing about the rock itself has changed. The reason it has a purpose (to hold open the door) is because I, a conscious being, gave it one: I now have an intention for it. Thus, purpose is simply the product of a mind (in this case, my mind). This also means that there is no such thing as "objective purpose" by definition: purpose is necessarily subjective because it requires a mind (a subject) to generate it.

The point of this blog post has been made before, but I still think it deserves more publicity in atheist circles, as I still hear the word "purpose" being misused. This point has most notably been made by Richard Dawkins in the context of evolution and the apparent purpose of evolved features of plants and animals.
Dawkins discussing the question of "purpose"

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Growing Up in the Christian Mecca

Colorado Springs, Colorado. From the outside, it is a seemingly innocuous city nestled into the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. The sights alone attract a billion visitors to the area every year and most people think the main attraction is the scenery. For those who live there, the city is known for something else entirely: Christians.

Aerial View of New Life Church

Colorado Springs is home to the headquarters of 81 religious institutions, including the likes of Focus on the Family, Young Life, and the Navigators. Naturally, the city was dubbed the “Christian Mecca”, a title that remains today. The city also has a large Mormon population, adding to the mix of Evangelical Christians, Catholics, and other denominations.

When I was a little kid, my family moved across this country to Colorado Springs. We joined a new church and that became a fixture of our family life. As I started going to school, I realized that people were identified by their church and religious denominations more than anything else. It was natural to ask people about their faith within minutes of meeting them. Everyone had their own church to call home and they were all very proud of it. I had friends who were Greek Orthodox, Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, Baptist, and a myriad of other religions. The only group absent from my religious friends were atheists. 

I realized that I was a skeptic at a young age (around twelve or thirteen). I remember leaving my church one day after a discussion about my confirmation. I refused because I viewed the system as exploiting the young members of the church into doing "community service" that included running the soundboard during services and working at the church thrift store. I thought that church was merely a facade for money making.

As I grew into a young teen and started questioning my beliefs, I was able to rely on this culture to truly discover everything that Christianity had to offer. I went to services at a megachurch, a Mormon temple, and other similar denominations. This pushed me even farther into skepticism. I wondered how all of these people could coexist in one city without ever thinking about how it is possible for everyone to not be worshiping the “true” religion. 

Throughout high school, I had to hide my atheism from everyone because this “Mecca” changed the entire dynamic of the school. For my freshman year English project, we had to read portions of the Bible (which no one even raised an eyebrow at). The popular kids were all in Young Life. The Mormons attended seminary every day during school hours across the street in a small building to strengthen their faith in the church. There was no outlet for secular students and the idea of a group was too blasphemous for some people to consider. It was so strange for me to think that a community as religiously diverse as Colorado Springs would shun and shame people who were non-religious.

Most of the people I grew up with still don’t know. I still pretend that I am a good Christian girl when I go home. I always go to Christmas Eve service with my family and sing the hymns along with everyone else. With the exception of one or two individuals, I have told the people who matter that I am an atheist. It sucks that I have to lie about my beliefs every time that I go home, but my town just is not ready to deal with people who do not believe.