The Skeptic's Guide to The Universe

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Chapter Five; WHAT GOOD ARE NON-BELIEVERS? part seventeen

After the discussion of the church does good, let’s to follow with the good, non-believers. It seems there would be less to say in this area, than the prior one. I actually had to force myself to move on, as the topic is a bit unending and likewise, unnerving to tackle.
To begin, it is important to define what I view as a non-believer. This has been attempted many times, by both adherents and non-adherents. For discussion purposes, I will simply say that a non-believer is someone that does not believe in, either passively or actively, any religious dogma or believes in any supernatural beings, such as ghost, trolls, elves, demons, giants, fairies, griffins and so forth. Non-believers, also, do not acknowledge make-believe lands, such as Heaven, Hell, Krypton, Atlantis, Xanadu, El Dorado, Shambhala, Santa's North Pole, Nirvana, Shangri-La and so forth.
Anything beyond this , I prefer not to group or include in the definition. Basically, non-believers do not share any one set of world views. There is no dogma for non-believers. As it has been said by many more intelligent people than I, everyone is an atheist about most gods. Atheists and non-believers take it further one more god, than most. One final point, it will be a hard and long search find an atheist that says “categorically” there is no god. The point is that any evidence or proof put forth, falls short of convincing proof of a divine or supernatural. A strong atheist, like me, says there is a logical or reasonable explanation for whatever happens; no appeal to a supernatural is needed.
Now that we know what I mean by non-believer, let's see what good non-believers are. It is not that adherents of other religions are not good. By no means, the view that is common in much of the United States is that atheists cannot be trusted. Since becoming a non-believer in the late 1990's, I have made two observations. First, non-believers, for the most part, are more truthful and honest than believers. I guess I have a somewhat unique perspective, having the last name True. I always felt that it was something to live up to. Most non-believers I have talked to agree with the idea that lying should be avoided, if at all possible.
However, when as a Christian, I would lie, mislead, embellish and so forth, I never worried much about it. I knew that I had the Lord on my side and His great pink eraser in the sky to clean up the missteps. How great it is to know that whatever you do, can be erased with a few whispered words. That is an offer that is hard to refuse. Christian believers, with a smile on their face, can lie to a person without any regret, whatsoever. This is not the case with non-believers. We have one time to get it right. If we wrong someone, we have only that person to deal with, to make it right. That means, we have to deal with them face to face or at least admit to them, through writing. I notice that honesty is a much more common policy with non-believers, based upon personal experience. I have seen some recent polls supporting this view.
When believers surveyed about their personal behavior, they are more likely to say what they “should” say. Non-believers reveal a more realistic view of their morals and honesty. A non-adherent doesn't have a “goal” to reach as far as their personal integrity. They just have to decided what works best in society and for themselves. I have heard and seen this through a variety of sources, dealing with different surveys over the years. In a way, it makes sense that an atheist would be “the least trusted group” in America, because we are more likely to be honest. There may indeed be a commandment that tells the believers not to bare a false witness, but the believers would be hard pressed to have it apply to them in their daily life. Maybe if they were killed for a violation of breaking the truth, then there would be more people willing to adhere to the truth. But, the truth is the enemy of religion and faith.
It is said that, “the truth will set you free” . In religion, the truth will get you in trouble. That is why there is so much secrecy in the upper echelons of churches. Many ministries try to hide their meetings behind councils or boards to advise the ministers or spiritual leaders. Misdirection and subterfuge are the tools of many churches, and works well most.
Many adherents admit that they are not perfect but they are forgiven. The truth of the matter is that they are indeed forgiven. The person doing the forgiving is themselves. So as long as they go “genuflect” then they have received the forgiveness that they think that they deserve. By genuflect I mean any traditional process that one can do that is said to produce a desired effect though it really is vestigial in reality. It shows it self in more as a traditional process instead of a faith based reality when one asks a person to actually help and there is no action on that person part.
I was told one time that you can judge a person by the actions that they take with their life and that their actions speak louder than their words. Based upon this I would have to conclude that most of the faithful do not even know much less believe in the religion that they adhere to. Anyone that says they love God and has hate or ill will toward their fellow man is a liar and doesn't know what the Bible teaches. Even those that hide behind the current phrase about God hating the sin but loving the sinner fail to take into consideration that Jesus was the one that reached out to and spent most of his time with the poor, homeless the outcasts of his society. I am sure that most of the atheist that I have meet had Christians show the love they profess in their lives when they were searching for the truth that most of them would still be adherents Today. By this I say, believers are to blame for most people leaving the faith.

Coming next time: GOD IN CHAOS: 

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Chapter Five; PLAYING THE GAME part sixteen

Now, one youth pastor I recently talked to, used religion purely as an occupation. He calls himself an “intellectual agnostic.” I found this to be quite amazing, as this pastor works at a pentecostal or fundamental church. I wonder how many men and woman in the churches are working in a religion just to make a living.
Dan Barker, with the Freedom from Religion Foundation, was very involved with the fundamental part of Christianity , according to what he has said on his podcasts. He was only doing the religious thing just to keep his income. I would like to see a PEW research study on this question.

Another use for religion is to set up a motivation center , to rally like minded persons to support or fight a cause that the group has taken up. School prayer, HGH in milk, abortion views, separation of church and state, same sex marriage, fluoride in the water, autism and MMR shots, school vouchers, gay marriage and just about any other issue you can think of. A leader in the church can motivate adherents to actions, telling them that according to their book of blarney and earnest and according to his view, this issue is right or wrong. Without much more thought, the issue is resolved for followers because their leader has conveniently thought for them. Click, the answer has been provided. It is fast food faith; made in bite sized servings and easy to swallow, every Sunday morning, just for your convenience.

Joining in this chorus of confusion are national , religious leaders of mind shrinking chatter, such as: James Dobson, Chuck Swindoll, Joyce Meyer, Benny Hinn, Fred Phelps and the list goes on and on. Other groups, such as Campus Crusade, Right to Life, The Navigators, and Fellowship of Christian Athletes, add to the self delusion.

Soon , you have a fully motivated group, ready to act, to assert the point of view on those that have opposing views. Many of these people have a national stage, in which they can abuse, for their personal religious view. Regardless that the view may have no other merit than a theologically based idea, the motivated followers will lead a charge whatever the cause du jour. The idea my not even be one mentioned in the Bible at all, such as the virgin birth, the trinity, purgatory, stem cell research, same sex marriage and other post biblical concepts.

While still a follower of Christ , I went to visit a friend, Dave, in his dorm room. I was in the Air Force at this time. He was one of my close Christian friends. After a night of drinking I came back to the dorm and stopped by to visit him. In a very polite way, he asked me how and why I was drinking. I was trying to explain, using scripture, that I was able to ask for forgiveness from God, because he died for all my sins, even the ones I didn't know about yet. Dave told me that I was wrong. He said, “Thomas, I know the Bible well and have memorized many scriptures. I could use verses from the Bible to justify just about anything I want to do. But, the purpose of being a Christian,” according to Dave, “is to rightly divide the Word of God.” II Tim 2:15

This taught me two very important things. One, the Bible's words can be used or misused for one’s own needs. Two, there is more than one way to apply the meaning of “divinely” inspired words.

A recent example come s to mind. It may be intimidating to hold up a Bible and ask a person if they believe everything that written in “this book”, such as what occurred during the 2008 Republican Presidential debates. But, if the person that asked the question were to be held to the same standard as their question for proof, (s)he would have to admit that there is no way the Bible is literal or can be interpreted as so.

We have the basic breakdown of just one of the more than 8,000 religions in human history. There are nearly 5,000 different Christian groups in The United States itself. It is not far from amazing to see how each group will discard dogma when it becomes clear that it will no longer stand up to the reality of the world. Such examples include the view that the Earth is at the center of The Universe, that the Earth is round or flat instead of a sphere, cell theory, germ theory, medical advancements and other scientific and social standards of the modern world. One of the most bizarre ones still held on to is that people get sick because they sin. A statement as this has two major problems; one, people get sick because people get sick and there is no sin. Not too mention that it is clearly ludicrous.

Where does religion do good? Many say the good is in their charity and benevolent acts. Providing housing, clothing and food to the poor, in addition to caring for the sick and dying are often quickly shared by adherents. I do agree, to a point. I have been the beneficiary of the charity of churches.

One area, that the devout provides for the faithless to adhere to faith, is happiness and joy. The devout do have a way to promote joy and happiness, which appears secure. Come together with like-minded people. Share a song or two and hear a message, in which you have no opportunity to discuss or counter. Then, go out to lunch with family and friends. Sounds like a great day.

The counter is that nonbelievers are not happy people. While it is true no one can truly know how another person feels, I can tell you for certain that there are many things that make me feel happy, even as a nonbeliever. I enjoy spending time with my daughter and finding out what is on her mind. It is like opening a gift each time I have a conversation with her. Other things that bring joy, are doing a good job and observing rare or unique items in a museum.

The Roswell Science and Art Center displays an acrylic, encased moon rock from our closest neighbor in space, more than 230,000 miles away. This moon rock was brought back to earth by Harrison “Jack” Schmitt, the Apollo XVII commander. Schimtt also became a U.S. Senator from New Mexico.

On a visit to Roswell, New Mexico , I stopped by the Roswell Science and Art Center to view Robert H. Goddard's workshop, used to make his rudimentary rockets. In this same museum, I saw a spacesuit worn by astronaut Harrison “Jack” Schmitt, of Apollo XVII. Included with the exhibit was a piece of moon rock that Schmitt brought back with him. The idea of seeing this item, which returned from a round trip of more than 230,000 miles from Earth, not to mention the people, time and sacrifice that went into having that piece of rock for all to see. It moved me to tears. Some could call it an religious experience, although I would call it a moment of clarity and amazement.

This is the exposed portion of the National Solar Observatory. The total complex is extended about two-thirds further into the mountain top. The top portion of the complex is the solar collector and the light is shot down vacuum tubes then used to do experiments observing the Sun. The top portion is 41 meters above ground and about 67 meters under ground. On the next peak, at Apache Point, the telescopes views the stars at night. One peak looks at the sun all day. The other looks at the stars all night.

Later that month , I went to the National Solar Observatory at Sunspot, New Mexico. I talked to one of the scientist from Spain. He was a graduate student. He said it was a bad time to visit because the sun was currently at a low time for sunspot activity. He was doing research on the sunspots and their effects. The NSO complex is atop the Sacrmento Peak near Cloudcraft, New Mexico. Close to the NSO, another observatory was at Apache point. The view down to the valley floor was beautiful. I wish I could have taken some views through the telescopes, while I was there. It was amazing to see so much hard, scientific research going on. I was totally unaware of this work and felt lucky to learn an idea of what goes on there. That experience also made me happy.

These experiences bring me joy, in addition to spending time with friends and family that most people share in day to day interaction. Nonbeliever's children also look forward to many things in their day to day lives and goals to achieve. They look forward to milestones such as becoming 16, 18 or 21 years old events such as graduation, getting a driver license, proms ans other goals of youth. As far as happiness, I would say that for the most part, absent the religious influence, most mentally healthy people respond the same to events that make most of us happy. So having a religious belief isn't needed to experience happiness as many religious adherents may think.

Thousands of churches and religious organizations across the country do countless acts of kindness in their communities and even across the globe. Of course some of these include Al-Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, the Taliban and most religious based charity groups worldwide.

I find this to be one of the more effective ways that the religious groups help to ease the suffering of the people of the world. As atheists, agnostics, non-believers and other non-adherents, we really have the disadvantage of not having a huge umbrella organization that can speak on our behalf. So this is a strength that organized religion has in it's favor. These groups can serve these needs because , ultimately, we all have the same needs. Regardless of religious belief, we all need the same things and the same things generally make us happy. It may be true, that unless you’re attending a scientific conference or hear a well known atheist speaker at an event, rarely will you come across more than a handful of atheists at a time. This advantage, of keeping the “flock” close to the “shepherd”, is a way that religion can do some good, good for itself.

However, I would have to exert that this is not different from the desires of the non-believers. Quite the opposite. Many non-believers do their own charity work for many of the same causes. Among these are Doctors Without Borders, Kiva - small loans to developing nations, Feeding America, blood drives, food drives, and the Red Cross just to name a few of the many hundreds. It would not proof to say that the good done locally , by a church or religion, has anything to do with the reality of a god or supernatural claim they believe in, but the reality that there is a real world that needs help. xxii, xxiii

Some adherents will point to artful works as a reflection of God's beauty and power. Which is a more spiritual place? A mosque covered in gold, fine material and design work? A Church made of gold, stained glass, fine art and statues and modern designs? Or the beauty of White Sands, NM or the Appalachians Mountains, the Flint Hills of Kansas or the mighty Mississippi River, not to mention many, many more natural wonders of Earth, in addition we have the wonders of the rest of The Universe. I am not saying that many good works of art have been created by believers or at least people working for the church, but is that the best use of money and time? It is not bad or wrong in of itself, but the process should be examined and the results judged by the greater good.

Imagine the amount of people religious groups could help , if they didn't have to spend time and money pleasing their make-believe god. What a more true expression of empathy toward your fellow man than to provide education, food, clothing and shelter for the ones in need.

Other groups throughout the world , included the Taliban, Hezballah, and I know there are many more organization that do the same acts of charity for those in their communities. Throughout history, factions have sought to help the less fortunate and provide for community needs. Again, it is that religion has such a close relationship to the people they live with and are more commonly accessible than the groups that are not religious-based. The church is closer to the people that the adherents intend to “minister”. By that fact alone, the church does good. The closer you are, to someone in need, the more likely you are to help them.


Coming next time: GOD IN CHAOS Chapter Five;

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Chapter Five; WHAT GOOD IS CHURCH THEN? part fifteen

Many skeptics, including atheists, agnostics or other non-believers , have found themselves asking, if God is not real, what is the purpose for churches in the natural world. Some non-believers don't really care. But, it is a question that must be addressed. Churches do exist and have a purpose, as I discussed earlier.

One of the most compelling uses for a church is a s an indoctrination center for the children. A church community can help form like experiences, to draw on for spirit de corps and motivation to adhere to certain mores and conditions. It also provides a point of communal identity. I am a Lutheran, I am a Methodist, I am a Pentecostal, I am Catholic, so on and so forth. It provides a sense of identity among other believers and the community at large.

Recently, I took a tour of the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, North Carolina and the Graham family home. It was a nice facility and set on the Billy Graham Parkway as one would make ones way to the airport in Charlotte. As one drives into the area a security guard greets you and hands you a parking pass and says, “We've been expecting you.” which of course I find odd as I didn't even know I would actually be going there for sure. But what can you say about a gimmick.

I drove in and parked near the front. Most of the day and during the week, the weather was misty, so not many people were visiting. I took a brief, outside tour to look at the different signs. I also took a short walk to his wife Ruth Graham's graveside. It was at the graveside that I discovered that she was born in China. I found that interesting. At the time she was born, her parents were missionaries to China.

At the main entrance, a vast atrium inside the building welcomes the visitor and it was built to resemble a barn. It did indeed have a big ceiling. A gentleman greeted me and asks if I had been to the library before. I told him I had not. He said I should watch a short video, and then follow the automatic doors for the rest of the tour. Before the video, I encountered a talking cow. I just had to get a picture. A talking cow was in line with the impossible things that religious adherents seem to believe. As I slowly perused around the library, I noticed recreations of Graham’s work; a tent revival in the late 1940s to his early work on the radio and then television. There was also an area dedicated to his wife and her participation in his work. The Library was much more a museum than a library as it had many items on display and the rooms were set up like exhibitions I really doubt that an average person could come in and handle an item much less check something out to take and return with them.

Finally, the depictions progressed to the world wide tours and crusades that were more well known. Television increased Graham’s visibility in the world. By this time, Graham was spending time with celebrities, and presidents. He grew in popularity and prominence. One room held awards that he received, such as: the Presidential Medal of Freedom; the Congressional Medal of Honor, not to mention a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II. I found these particular items most distressing, since Graham had done little to help people, but become more self deluded with a fairy story of the sand people of the Middle East. I couldn't image what he had possibly done for my country or for the United Kingdom to deserve such awards. I did, of course, read the citations. The awards really did nothing other say show Graham made a contribution to improving the nation or human condition. I guess you don't turn down such honors, even if you don't deserve them.

We see that from President Obama and his Nobel Peace Prize. At least President Obama is in the position to be able to make effective change to earn his award. I would say, Billy Graham should have to spend the rest of his days taking care of the needy or helping to encourage educational opportunities for those that are in need. And leave the work of God, to God.

With Billy Graham being one of the most respected persons in the Christian realm one would think that his focus would have been upon the needs of the people instead of the growth of his "empire." If the people that follow Jesus do not even "Feed my sheep" as Jesus says, What good is the church anyway? It shows no reason for purpose other that to self perpetuate their own venial agenda.  What purpose would a none believer have to turn toward this religion if the only thing they are concerned about is their own religious perpetuation? When the human good versus the self serving efforts, there is little room for doubt that churches and religious adherents do little to serve the good of humanity. Without the tangible proof of the existence of any supernatural being, the agenda of the adherents should be to show this proof, conclusively and to care for humanity, regardless of their beliefs.

When I think about what good church is I see wasted opportunities, the teaching of ignorance as fact and the immoral indoctrination of children for starters. Religious person are intolerant and blame their dogma, they are exclusionary and blame their faith, they are vindictive and blame their ignorance of their own spiritual text. By blame I mean they rather say they are tolerant yet say God doesn't want this or the Bible says that about persons that do not share their dogmatic belief.

These feelings are encouraged by popular speakers such as Sarah Palin, Glen Beck, Dick Armey, Michelle Bachman and others that continue to spray their ignorance and intolerance about people that they have no concern with yet turn their backs on their fellow American and human. This mix of politics and religion has always proved to be a dangerous mix throughout human history.