10 Questions

On the website todaychristian.net (not to be confused with Christianity Today) an unnamed writer poses 10 Questions for atheists without providing any way for any atheists to answer.  Well I have a blog so I will answer here.  Disclaimer: my answers and views are mine and mine alone.  Other people using similar labels like atheist will have their own opinions and not only can they provide their own answers to these questions, I think they should even if, or perhaps especially if, their answers are different from mine.

 

1.       How Did You Become an Atheist?

 I asked questions and found that religion didn’t actually provide them.  I read the Bible cover to cover twice in my teens and was startled at what I found there and the flimsy excuses for the inconsistencies and the immorality within.  That’s didn’t make me an atheist, though.  First I studied other denominations.  Since I was a professional musician in mostly liberal Christian and Jewish congregations those were a better fit.  I also studied (superficially I’ll admit) Buddhism for awhile and found some interesting ideas there but again, no evidence to support those tenets.  I realize now that I had stopped believing a long time ago, but there were two critical “wake-up” moments for me.  1) A children’s sermon at a liberal church about the story of Jacob stealing Esau’s inheritance and getting away with it?  How is that a moral lesson for children?  I was appalled at the light-heartedness of the presentation and that it didn’t seem to bother anyone else.  2) Reading Dawkin’s The God Delusion.  I avoided the term “atheist” for a good while because it comes with so much baggage.  Personally I prefer “nontheist” but it’s a distinction without a difference.  I do not find there to be any credible evidence for the existence of any supernatural forces.  Not only do I not believe in any gods, but I also don’t believe in ghosts or demons or reincarnation or any of the rest of what comes with religion and superstition.  If you mention to me that your computer crashed because Mercury is in retrograde, expect an eye-roll.

2.       What happens when we die?

 After you die you return to the state you were in before you were born.  Nonexistence.

3.       What if you’re wrong? And there is a Heaven? And there is a HELL!

 I love the “scary” all-caps for HELL!  I don’t believe that either exists.  If I am wrong well then I guess I’m in big trouble.  Or am I?  That would depend on which heaven and hell from which religious tradition it would be.  Perhaps I have enough “good karma” from helping others to not be reincarnated?  To assume a binary in which it’s on particular form of Christian theology or nothing at all is rather entitled.  What if YOU’RE wrong and you picked the wrong denomination or religion?  You’d be a screwed as I am for not believing at all!  What kind of deity would allow this much confusion about religion and then doom all the folks who guessed wrong (or were born into the wrong tradition because truth be told there some cultural bias tied into all of this) to eternal torment?  And for my flippant answer (since I don’t take this that seriously) if heaven is filled with the self-righteous hypocritical bigots who I encounter on a daily basis and hell if full of all the fun people I like, then hell is where I’d rather be.

4.       Without God, where do you get your morality from?

 From empathy and reason the same as everyone else.  Think of how we teach children morality.  A child has just hit another child.  What do you tell them?  “Jesus doesn’t want you to do that.” or “How would you like it if they hit you?”  It’s the second.  That is the basis of our morality.  Yes, the golden rule is found in the Bible (Deuteronomy (?) which Jesus quotes.) but it’s also found in pretty much every other culture.  We can’t have a civilized society if people just do whatever they want without regard for the rights and feelings of other people.

5.       If there is no God, can we do what we want? Are we free to murder and rape? While good deeds are unrewarded?

 People seem to do what they want even if they believe in God.  Prisons are full of religious people.  No we are not “free” to murder and rape.  There are severe penalties for such crimes.  I also know of no case in which someone deconverted and suddenly went on a killing or rape spree.  This is probably to extreme an example since most people have no desire to kill or rape anyone.  Yes, we get angry and we feel lust but enough to risk life (or decades at least) in prison?  No, not even close.  I don’t do those things because I don’t want to.  A better example might be something that is banned by religion but isn’t illegal.  But I’m not going to bother answer questions that it didn’t occur to you to ask.  As for good deeds going unrewarded, they often are.  Sometimes we have to do what is right because it’s right.  Expecting to be rewarded for doing the right thing can only lead to disappointment in most cases.

6.       If there is no god, how does your life have any meaning?

 My life has the meaning that I find for it.  So does yours.

7.       Where did the universe come from?

We don’t know.  If you do and can prove it there’s a Nobel prize in it for you. 

8.       What about miracles? What all the people who claim to have a connection with Jesus? What about those who claim to have seen saints or angels?

 There are also people who believe they were abducted by aliens, contacted by spirits and all sorts of other things I don’t believe.  Just because someone believes something doesn’t make it so.  Obviously they had some sort of experience but unless I can verify that objectively I don’t have any way of knowing if what they experienced was real or imagined.  If your personal relationship with Jesus has to be accepted as evidence, then so does the evidence of everyone who believes they have had a supernatural experience and there are plenty of those that I also don’t accept as true.

9.       What’s your view of Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris?

 I have the same opinion of all three.  Good on some thing, right on others.  I’ll take them one at a time because they are all different.  Dawkins: when talking about his own field (evolutionary biology) he’s brilliant.  On the social sciences he’s out of his depth and it sometimes shows. Often I think he’s just tweeting or saying things to get a conversation going.  That may be useful but it often means I think he’s said things that he either didn’t think through very well or doesn’t actually even believe himself.  I have disagreed with him many times and occasionally said so.  Hitchens: a great writer.  Perhaps the greatest social critic since Mark Twain.  He’s also often wrong.  I believe he was wrong about Iraq.  But I still respect him.  Few people in our time have written or spoken so well.  I certainly would never want to be on the receiving end of one of his diatribes.  I most respect him for taking down the critics of the knighthood for Salman Rushdie. Sam Harris is my least favorite of the three.  I do enjoy hearing him speak but find a lot of his ideas easily exploitable by religious fanatatics who want to use his statements as an excuse to persecute Muslims. I really wish he’d be more careful in what he has to say.  And some of his books, especially the early ones were a bit caustic for my taste.  I think he did that on purpose to get a reaction from Christians and it obviously worked.

10.   If there is no God, then why does every society have a religion?

Yes, and we reject most of those, don’t we?  These are odd arguments from a website called Christian Today.  Are you claiming that all religious claims are of equal validity?  In that case I’ll pick Thor because he’s cool and has that big hammer thingie.  Oh, is that one not real?  So why is that one not real while yours is?  Where is the evidence to prove or disprove any of it.  I reject it all.  If you don’t believe in the other gods then you are an atheist except for yours.  I don’t believe in your god just like you don’t believe in Odin or Vishnu or Cthullu or the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

 

This was fun.  I think the writer probably thought there were some “gotcha” questions in there.  Believe it or not those of us that don’t believe have thought about most of these things quite a bit.  

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No gay friends

It seems this morning Mary Matalin invoked her imaginary gay friends on This Week. All right wingers seem to have gay “friends”.  We’re supposed to take their word for these friendships since no one seems to know of such people.  Matalin has claimed to have gay friends going back at least to the 90s, but that was before she worked tireless on Bush’s 2004 gay-bashing extravaganza of a re-election campaign.  No self-respecting gay person has spoken to her since early 2004.  If they had she’d know of the endless discussions about vodka boycotts and whether or not the US should pull out of the Olympics.  Yes, there were a few memes on gay blogs about Putin’s shirtless pics back in 2007 (you can do your own search).  SEVEN YEARS AGO.  If that’s as often as you talk to someone, the word friend only applies in the most superficial Facebook sense.  And bless her heart no gay friends would have let her go on tv in that outfit.  I call bullshit on Ms Matalin, her botched facelift and her imaginary gay friends.

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What an interesting 48 hours!

While everyone was fighting with people they barely know on Facebook about something some old guy from a show no one I know watches (it seems Duck Dynasty features neither ducks for anyone from the cast of the 80s nighttime soap!), New Mexico and Utah have both seen gay marriage bans lifted!  So let the religious right continue have their little faux-reality show.  We’re winning!  Priorities, people!

P.S. My own Facebook feed has been rather pleasant because I deleted all the right wing nutjobs following “Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day” a couple of years ago.  Unfriending is the best thing on the internet.  It’s quick and painless.  If only we could block such people from contacting us in the rest of our lives!

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New Rule

Yesterday I saw a twitter exchange that reminded me of a proposal I’ve been thinking about for quite some time.

On Twitter someone posted something nasty about a celebrity.  Celebrity retweeted it and followers of the celebrity posted slightly less nasty things about the original tweeter.  Then the original tweeter had a pity party about how mean liberals are.  The lack of irony was both hilarious and (stereo)typical.

Which leads me to my proposed new rule.  I’m calling it the “platinum rule” as it serves as a corollary to the “golden rule”.  We should all be familiar with the version of the golden rule found in the Bible where Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy: “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”  Okay it’s not a perfect rule since other people may be seriously annoyed if I do things to them that I wouldn’t mind if they do to me.  Everyone has different boundaries, but as general rules go it’s a pretty good one.  The platinum rule goes like this: “You have no right to expect to be treated any better than you treat others.”  It’s kind of the golden rule in reverse.  You can’t tweet nasty things about people and then get your underoos in a twist when someone smacks you in a similar fashion.  Except that people do it all the time.  I think we need to call them on it.  If you wanted to be treated with respect, then you have to give respect to everyone.  Otherwise, quite your bitchin’.

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My comment about last night’s The Sound of Music

My cable and internet were down for several hours last night, so I didn’t watch NBC’s production of The Sound of Music starring Carrie Underwood.  I will, therefore, not comment on any particular performance.  My comment is people’s outrage that anyone would do a new version of the musical.  As much as I enjoy the film version of this show, it’s not the original version.  The film was rewritten to showcase Julie Andrews just as the stage musical had been written to showcase the talents of Mary Martin.  The “Lonely Goatherd” number is only there because Martin had taken yodeling lessons as a youngster. Most live versions I have seen have been a mash-up of both versions and this seems to be common because the orchestrations of all the songs, even songs that appear in only the stage or film versions originally, are available in both the soprano and mezzo keys.

What bothers me, aside from the obvious ignorance on my twitter feed that this show exists outside the film version, is the idea that only Julie Andrews could perform the role of Maria.  Having seen some fine stage productions of this show, I can inform you that as good as Andrews was in this role, she is not the only performer who sang and acting the crap out of it. I wish they had cast someone with more singing and acting training that Ms. Underwood, but clearly they were shooting for a younger audience who wouldn’t know the Broadway stars who would have knocked this out of the park.  I will say that singers who want to act should take serious acting training and then take small roles in very good productions to gain some experience.  Underwood had never so much been in a high school play so anything short of a disaster is probably amazing under the circumstances.  it’s not too late to undo the damage.  Mariah Carey seems to have learned from the mistake of her ill-fated Glitter project and now takes small but showy parts in movies like Precious and The Butler. I don’t know if Carey took acting classes or coachings prior to those parts but it wouldn’t surprise me as she gave solid performances in both that any actor would have been proud of.

I think live performances of musicals and plays on TV is a great idea.  I’d like to see more of them.  From the controversy over this one it seems people watched.  Perhaps next time they should pick a popular show without such an iconic film version.  And find people who have experience both as singers and actors.  But chastising NBC for doing it at all gives me the sadz.  No play, musical or opera should be frozen forever in a single performance.  To suggest so negates the entire point of live theater and music.  There can be no definitive Sound of Music any more than there can be a definitive performance of Swan Lake, La Boheme or Death of a Salesman.  If that is so, we should just quit now and stay home and watch DVDs.  No.  I look forward to fresh takes on classical material and will continue to do so.

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A few comments about humor

Today I witnessed an unfortunately exchange.  In an effort to learn from what an awkward moment I have codified a few rules that I plan to follow so I do not come off like a person who shall remain nameless.

1. If you say something and no one laughs, it wasn’t a joke.  Jokes are funny.  When something is funny, people laugh.  Therefore, if there is no laughter it wasn’t a joke.  It was just an obnoxious comment. 

2. Explaining a joke has never made it funny.  In fact explaining the joke almost always makes it unfunny.  (Exception: Louis CK once explained to Jon Stewart why fart jokes are funny.  The explanation was hilarious.  There’s always an exception.  If you think you are the exception, please see rule #1.)

3. When someone is offended by your joke, telling it again and/or explaining why it is funny is probably a bad idea.  This is even more true if people like the person who was offended and aren’t that fond of you.  When in doubt, assume this is the case.  Apologizing may or may not be necessary.  Sometimes it’s best to drop it and hope the offended person forgets about it.  Retelling the offensive “joke” will probably make things worse.

4. Doing any of this in a situation where you have authority over others makes you a jerk. 

5. Doing any of this moments before you are asking people to evaluate your effectiveness as a boss or a teacher is stupid and/or crazy.

I didn’t really need to learn this lesson.  I would never stand in front of people and tell a joke involving religion.  I am not stupid or crazy.  Well not stupid anyway.

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Liz Cheney stoops to a new low

It’s one thing to throw your own sister under the bus to win an election, but Liz Cheney has no reasonable hope of taking the Wyoming Senate seat away from Mike Enzi.  So basically she’s willing to stab her own sister in the back to appeal to voters who aren’t going to vote for her anyway?  What kind of sociopath do you have to be to sell out your own family for zero return?

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