Thursday, April 25, 2013

I Would be a Better God than God

One common theme I've come across in my discussions with Christians about things like the nature of God is this attempt to paint a picture of Him as beleaguered father, who has made the difficult but responsible decision to cut his children loose, allow them to make their mistakes, but still strive patiently with them and provide a way back to grace when they come and see my ways.

This metaphor of "God the father" of course is very well known, but I don't think people generally have an adequate appreciation of how literally this concept is understood. God the father has a relatable, emotional dilemma and is forced - just as you or I would - to do the right thing by us (his children) and just as anyone parent would understand, that right thing always comes with trade offs. 

This sort of personification possesses an incredible power. The sense of comradery and understanding from an all powerful being is one of the many tactics used from the pulpit that bring the ever malleable concept of the Judeo-Christian God to fit the emotional needs of a congregation. 

But it is a tactic that comes with baggage. 

Any time the notion of God made more accessible and is brought down from some abstract concept that is beyond our ability to perceive to a very human or physical basis, that concep is immediately brought down to a place where he can be scrutinized, questioned, criticized and yes, disproven.

If God didn't have an incorrect opinion on how the world began, or the timeline of certain historical milestones, then we would be oblivious to his failings on the matter. If God didn't behave exactly as you would expect the god of a violent Bronze Age tribe to behave, then maybe we would be more inclined to take him seriously in the 21st century. 

So how about fatherhood? What about the metaphor of God being a responsible father places his now relatable, human attributes under criticism. 

I was asked this question in a slightly different manner recently when a friend asked me how, as a hypothetical all powerful being, I would go about creating a world in which free will is possible and be loving at the same time? Clearly God, who is now brought down to relatable human terms, couldn't have possibly done anything different and his extension of free will is the only loving course of action for him. Right? 

So what would I do? It's simple really:

I would make it so that sin was not hereditary. 

As the creator of all living things and the rules we play by, God must have at some point decided to make it so that the sin of one man can render all of his descendants worthy of eternal damnation regardless of their personal decisions. 

Of course my main criticism against this is simply that it is unfair and very clearly not loving, but more importantly it is extremely unnecessary. I've asked a few theists this question, and no one hs ever even gandered a guess as to why it is either necessary or good. 

That is how I would be a more responsible God than God. I would not arbitrarily condemn every subsequent generation. I would respect free choice. 

How would you be a better God? 

Saturday, April 20, 2013

CNN Covers the Boston Marathon Bombings like a Football Game

Maybe it's the gimmicky hologram, or maybe it's the oddly enthusiastic presentation from the commentator, but cable news sure does feel like a spectator sport these days. It's mostly harmless, but it's definitely not the best way to handle a national tragedy. I fear that treating it like a spectator sport just gets in the way of properly approaching the issue with the gravity and respect it deserves. 

A Boston Marathon and a Common Humanity

If you can suffer through a half hour of international coverage on any of the major news networks, odds are you will encounter footage of some Muslim individuals angrily decrying US imperialism en masse. Whether by design or not, this footage typically has the effect of scaring us and just contributing to the general sense that the non-Western world is a very scary, and very different place with a whole lot more barbarism than us sensible Americans would ever allow in our civilized culture.

The most effective snippets from this genre actually display celebration. Showing a large group of people with brown skin and a foreign tongue jumping up and down in ecstasy over some inevitable mishap in US foreign policy - whether it is a downed helicopter, an imprisoned CIA agent, or a successful terrorist attack - the image of jubilee over the desecration of something that we hold dear is particularly horrifying to us and it adds considerably to our mistrust of all things Muslim.

After all, how could a culture that celebrates our deepest pains ever be an ally? How can the hate that drives a population to behave in such a manner ever allow for coexistence?

These are legitimate concerns and questions that reflect significant obstacles to progress. Perhaps the sub-human fanfare seen this footage is only marketable and does not represent a majority of the present population. Maybe it does reflect widespread sentiments, but cultural education and understanding will correct that fact.


But what if it is completely understandable? What if it is an extremely logical reaction to conditions on the ground? How would we react under similar circumstances?

Complete congruence is impossible, of course, but there are enough interesting parallels between your run of the mill successful-suicide-bombing party in Afghanistan or Iraq and the way we respond to events such as the killing Osama Bin Laden or, say, the capture of those responsible for the Boston Marathon Bombing to take notice.

Perhaps it is understandable to feel a sense of unity in the presence of a threat. Perhaps it is completely normal to celebrate when that threat has been dealt some justice. Maybe we get the occasional taste of what it is like to be a Muslim who is celebrating some violence against the United States.

Events such as the killing of Osama Bin Laden or the capture and killing of Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, respectively, give a reasonable answer to these questions. Just as we can go on the internet or watch the news and come across footage of foreigners celebrating violence against us, so too can Muslims find footage of us celebrating violence against them. I suspect that such images elicit the same feelings of anger, vengeance and distance in certain populations that similar footage elicits in us here at home - and regardless of who is right, that is a bad thing.

Please understand that this is not a comparison between the actions of terrorists who strike on US soil and soldiers who protect US interests abroad. I am not trying to make that judgement call. I am just trying to point out that responses to these types of events are extremely visceral and that we are not better than anyone who participate in such moments.

More specifically, I am trying to point out that such events create a distance between the two cultures that does not reflect reality or necessity.

Maybe we'd be better off not celebrating the defeat of enemies in ways that could be perceived as disrespectful.

Maybe it is advantageous to minimize the number of reasons they have to celebrate our sufferings.

I'm just asking

Saturday, April 6, 2013

On Godzilla and Epistemological Certainty

To all my homies who tell me that I can't disprove God:

You are an a-godzilla-ist and that is entirely a practical concession to the fact that you can't really afford giant monster insurance considering recent statistics for giant lizard attacks and indeed going through life avoiding Tokyo at all costs is just kinda a bummer - imagine all the fresh sushi you could miss out on.

You can't actually prove that there never was a Godzilla or that there never will be a Godzilla and you can only assume (not demonstrate) that there is not a Godzilla planet orbiting one of the stars a few galaxies down the way.

All you can really say is that Tokyo is still standing and that all the various accounts of Godzilla's antics across the myriad of B-movies and hollywood blockbusters that feature him as a character seem to have no basis in reality for various reasons. You move on with your day, smile a bit and never really bother to duck for cover.

And that's all we're saying about God. To my knowledge, that is the bleeding edge of audacious claims being made by anyone who is even vaguely respected in the atheist community - simply that we can't take religious claims seriously any more, so we are going to move on with our lives, only dealing with religion directly when it decides to be a bit too influential for our tastes.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Religion at its Darkest

Priests and children; Osama Bin Laden and the Twin Towers; the Spanish Inquisition, Hitler, Stalin, and so on - these are all obviously terrible and claiming these events or individuals as evidence for the superiority of whichever world view did not happen to take part in the related atrocities is dumb for two obvious reasons. Firstly, individual interpretations of ideas have little bearing on the validity of ideas and secondly, these individual interpretations are generally complex and contradictory which makes it essentially impossible to draw relevant parallels to present approaches to similar questions.

But still, polemicists on all sides of every aisle make a living trying to claim the virtuous for their side and pin those that are evil on others. Any such discussion is boring at best, and misleading at its worst.

I prefer to limit my anti-theistic ramblings, therefore, to things that are necessary qualities of a particular world view. As an argument against a world view, it holds a bit more weight because even adherents are forced to advocate its implications, and furthermore as best as I can tell there are only a few such traits. I find that these two facts simplify the debate, somewhat.

As far as I can tell, every single religion ever conceived has one trait in common: that this physical world is somehow inferior to whatever theistic dimension is described by tha try stem of beliefs. In many traditions this is simply a matter of influence, where the higher dimension simply has authority over ours. Dissatisfaction with this reality doesn't really come into play here just because that other, authoritative dimension is simply inaccessible. Tradition does not indicate that any better options are available. I suppose there is less harm in this, though as science seems to indicate it is inaccurate.

Most of the prominent religions, however, have innovated on this point by adding a path of access. The superior dimension typically retains its authority over ours, but the carrot of a lucky few gaining access to the superior dimension is wagged in the face of us mere mortals.

Of course to convince those lucky few to care enough to dedicate their lives to acheiving whatever specifications are deemed necessary, that superior dimension inevitably takes on some form that increases the intensity of things we enjoy, eliminates things we don't, and frequently invents new things that we wish we could experience. It literally encompasses every imaginable improvement: Are you sick? well guess what, there is no sickness. Are you going to die? Well guess what, there is no death. Are you uncertain? Well guess what, there is absolute knowledge.

I'm trying to define these things as generally as possible to point out commonalities, and to create a picture that is agreeable to everyone. Of course the religiously minded individual would not agree with where I am going here, but more often than not he or she must agree that their religion states the existence of some superior dimension they would like to experience.

And this brings us to the most vile characteristic of religion: it seeds discontent. Everything in this experience is just a little less shiny, and at a young age children are forced to rely on escapism. Rather than take joy in the accomplishments of mankind, they pale in comparison to a hypothetical perfection we have no right to expect. Rather than to preserve and cherish the beauty of our precarious world, they take solace in the existence of a tidy world somewhere beyond that renders the richness around us as ash. Rather than being fascinated by and well prepared for the challenge of discovering a moral compass that functions well in society, the believer is driven towards a dark fear of such uncertainty and a hope for the false safety of edicts.

I'll be the first to admit that this world is confusing, uncertain, unfair and at times uncomfortable. But it is what we have and I'll do everything I can to make the best of it, to do my best within it. By definition, religion does not.