The Skeptic's Guide to The Universe

Saturday, October 2, 2010


Recently, Nevada United States Senator John Ensign had a 'consensual affair' with a campaign staffer who was “married to an official Senate staffer,” the statement from his office said.i Ensign who, like me, was a member, of the Christian men's movement Promise Keepers, said that, "I deeply regret and am very sorry for my actions." Somehow when the term consensual affair, I don't really think the woman's husband was consenting to the affair.

Ensign was one of the vocal republican Senators calling for Senator Larry Craig of Idaho to resign after Senator Craig was arrested in a Minneapolis airport men's room sex sting in 2007, which Craig plead guilty to. Ensign also figured prominently in the book The Family, by Jeff Sharlet. ii

Craig was also a vocal Republican . In 1998, he called for the resignation of President Bill Clinton after news of his liaison with Monica Lewinsky was revealed. Ensign has not resigned his senate seat but resigned his leadership position in the Republican party. Ensign's wife, Darlene, is standing with him and has said, "I love my husband," in statements, “and that the affair has made their relationship 'stronger.'”

While the affair is bad enough, one would conclude that it reflects a serious ethics violation in as much as the woman, he had the affair with, was the wife of one of his campaign staff. Yet even with this the biggest issue is the hypocrisy of this man.

The same scandal with a Democrat would still admit the issue, but the career of a Democrat is much less likely to be destroyed. Bill Clinton survived his scandal and ended his term in office with high approval ratings. Other Democrats have similarly been able to overcome the sex scandals and either keep their office, and at times even been reelected. The point, of this example, is to show the hypocrisy of this party that reflects the values of the American religious right. Time and time again they fall prey to their own natural human desire. These people lead the charge for traditional American values yet time and time again are the worse of violating the values that they say they support. Not to mention that traditional American values doesn't really mean anything to begin with. It is a slogan to help polarize and separate one group of Americans from other Americans. So the honest way to look at traditional American values is that these value followers seek to attack and criticize people they see as different from their key talking point.

Getting back to Sen. John Ensign, I do not fault Ensign for being human. I do fault him for not realizing that humans cannot be held to a unrealistic standard of behavior imposed by religious dogma and promoted by political parties. His calls for the resignation of both Bill Clinton and Larry Craig should serve as his own standard of conduct. Anything less shows the continued double standard that the Republican party and its religious right holds for violation of certain ethics.

Non-believers have an advantage over religious adherents in that they can be trusted. Most non-believers are non-violent. They do not wish to fight or kill others. Non-believers also have a desire or quest for facts, or as I call it, truth. Therefore, their motives are usually clearer.

So, I ask, Why would a non-believer be a candidate for someone to be more trusted? Surely this runs counter intuitive to conventional wisdom. Or does it? As I have mentioned through the earlier definition, non-believers do not have a dogma, in which they subscribe to, so they only have the natural world to base their motives and actions on. You will not see an atheist trying to limit the rights of a group based on two or three lines in an ancient book. To be honest,an atheist my actually disagree with a person’s particular view but still be supportive of their right to have the view.

An atheist cannot justify killing , more than 3,000 people in a single day attack, to follow the belief of a religion. They surely wouldn't dream of a gift of several virgins after the attack. And if they survived the attack, they would expect nothing less than to be put persecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

You will not see an atheist sequester scores of followers that feel they are obeying the words of a supernatural being. You will not find an atheist using dogma as an excuse , to have young girls married off to older men just because the men say they have reached “womanhood”. Religion cannot motivate an atheist to blow up trains or buses or strap bombs to their chest, walk into crowed shopping areas and kill innocent people. Any religion that asks its adherents to subject their will to the dogma of religion is not worth following. There is a common good for all people. Society works best when we follow these ideas. These need not be dogma, only rules of social behavior.

That doesn't excuse bad behavior or non-believers from violent acts. People's motives that are not directly dogma-based can cause violence and oppression. Clearly, as I viewed the smoke coming up April 19, 1995, at the Murrah bombing that killed 168 Americans, I could not have believed it was directly, religiously motivated. Terry Nichols and Timothy McVeigh were, however, ideologically motivated by a segment of belief, which is dogmatic. Just seven years before that April day, I took my oath of enlistment into the United States Army by a former Air Force officer roommate, after going through the MEPS processing in the Murrah building. I have seen first hand the vile poison that comes from the radicals from the right of political thought. Not to say that left political radicalism is any good either but the idea is that the right seems much more indoctrinated into the idea that violence is a action that is a viable option. Taking up arms against the “enemies” of freedom can even result in patriotic pride and the previously mentioned polarization and separation from mainstream society.

When a group removes oneself away from opinions that can calm, challenge provoke, educate, and moderate their points of view, they will soon find that the path that their thoughts lead them too is one of self destruction and possibly harm to others.

The same can be said about the April 20, 2000 , Columbine School shootings in Lakewood, CO. I was not in Colorado, when that happened. The same deeply held belief and distortion of reality motivated the shooters in that tragedy. The point is that the belief in a supernatural dogma adds to the likelihood that otherwise “good” people will do bad things. If one is not willing to question what they believe, then they can be manipulated into doing things they cannot believe they would otherwise do.

Every atheist I have talked to feels strongly that we, as humans, must do what we can to better ourselves and help our fellow man. If there was anything like dogma for an atheist, this would be the one and only thing I think that would qualify. Oddly enough, most of the religions that support the right to life would be surprised to find that abortion is really a non-issue to most atheists. By that, I mean that it is a split topic among atheists. The main idea is that if abortion is legal, it should be safe and accessible. People, like admitted murderer, Scott Roeder, arrested and convicted for shooting Dr. George Tiller, act as if the law was insufficient to deal with his preferred issues and he took the law into his own hands. This is another example of how removal from socializing and moderation of different points of view can lead to radical and deadly actions.

One point of view on abortion is, is that is that since humans have one time to go around in this life. A woman should not have an abortion since that is a life that can add to the advancement of humanity. Another point of view, is that as humans (women) have the means and the right to decide what happens to their bodies. I find both points valid. The main difference is that as non-adherents, we do not have to satisfy a religious dogma to deal with the situations of issues. We can do what serves the best result in the situation. Of course this can be viewed as self serving. But, it can also let a person act best for the situation, instead of relying on a dogma. If a woman is raped, should she be punished? This is the dogmatic view of some religions and right leaning politicians. Are you “sinning” if you speed? Some think this is a sin against God and that an incentive to not get a speeding ticket is not enough. Is having an intimate relationship with someone of the same opposite sex any persons business, but the two adults involved? Many religions have strong views, although I would contend they are based upon prejudice and false information. There are millions of people having sex everyday all day long and not only do I not know about, other than by understanding about statistics, I really could careless as long as it doesn't endanger my health or safety.

If one can understand this , then you can get insight as to what being a non-believer is all about. Dan Barker, of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, said,in his biography that near the end of his time as a Christian pastor he was going through the motions. Ostensibly, since announcing he was an atheist would basically end his occupation. After giving even, what he felt, was a half hearted message, people would still come up to him and tell him that the Holy Spirit moved them through his message. When I heard this, I understood what he was talking about. I found the same hypocrisy in religion as well. Barker said that he now could understand how religion worked. It was not only him, as the preacher, that helped set up the false world of religion but also the followers, who were party to supporting the messages they heard. It is a truly self-fulfilling prophecy.iii It was a seed planted many years ago, when my friend Dave, as mentioned earlier, told me that you could use the Bible for any purpose you wished. In our society we certainly do that.

We have a series of marketed religions in the United States, since the state doesn't sponsor, support of endorse a religion. [Or so we try to keep it from doing.] Basically, for any perspective one has, there is a church already in place in America to serve that view. If not, one can easily be made to fit that image. An example of this ranges from churches that allow multiple wives, such as the Yearning for Zion cult in Texas, to Unitarian Universalist congregations found in many cities throughout the county.iv The UUs, as they call themselves, say you can believe any dogma or none at all. It is as close to an atheist church with a remnant of dogma as I have heard of. Of course, a totally non-religious church would be The Ethical Society.v They call their Sunday morning gatherings platforms instead of a service or sermon.

To go on , I have met very liberal, non-believers and very conservative non-believers. One of the more famous atheists is Christopher Hitchens. He has many views that I disagree with. It is interesting to listen to him on a talk show and be in total agreement with what he is saying about how religion ruins everything. Next, he is defending President George W. Bush. But, that is the point I want to make. It isn't a dogma that an atheist has, it is the lack of dogma that makes us the people that we are. I also have the feeling that I could convince Hitchens to the validity of the points we disagree on. While he has reason that can be disputed, he would likewise listen to logical arguments. If he felt I made a valid point he would accept it. Like me, he has no dogma to defend. It doesn't change his strength of character, to admit he is wrong or to adopt another point of view. I do not lose my faith if something I currently believe in is show to be false. I just adapt a more accurate point of view. But faith is so manically that if a tentacles of faith is shown to be wrong that the person can see this is a valid reason to doubt their entire system of viewing the Universe. It can truly be quite disturbing and even dangerous for someone to face the fact that a thing they believe may not be as true as their faith as assigned meaning to it. This all by itself is a strong enough reason to take a stand against religion.

This helps explain the motivation of non-believers. Non-believers do not have to “spread the word” to every human on the planet , for a heavenly fireworks display to take place and we can do the inverse bungee jump to heaven. We do not have to make a long distance journey to walk around a rock in a black box. We do not need to have a messianic cartographer make our map for us. Then kill those that he says are on our “promised land.” We can be happy on any suitable piece of land as long as it provides what we need. It is more likely that a non-believer will act in his or her own self interest or the interest of something tangible, than the delusional dogma of a religious adherent.

The religious adherents often have to remind themselves of what it is they believe and why. It is not at all uncommon to find a Christian bookstore in a small town with many books on a variety of subjects and other items of interest to the believer. They will buy books, t-shirts, music, paintings, stickers, rings, and other items to help them remain blinded as much as possible to the possible “evil” influence of the “world.” But, it is hard for me, or other like minded people, to walk into a store and find books on the subjects of disbelief and fighting the influence of religious dogma. To be quite honest, most major authors on these subjects range from preeminent scientists, to former pastors, to journalists, to doctors and other career fields. Due to the approach of being a secularist, the diversity of topics can range from dealing with medical aspects of homeopathy and psychic surgery, to aspects of the nature of life and The Universe , to political ramifications of a religious groups’ actions. This can cause the books written by such people to be in many different sections of a mainstream bookstore. Quite different from a Christian bookstore indeed.

Walk into a Christian book store , the theological thinking has been done for you. Rarely will you find any book that will challenge the faith that brought you into the business, initially. The thing is a Christian bookstore is very deceptive. They are not really Christian at all but they are actually denominational book stores. This means it is easy to be immersed in the familiar and friendly ideas that do not threaten your way of thinking. But try looking for topics that do not fit their dogmatic point of view and you will be looked at as if you just stepped off the mother-ship. But if you go to a secualr bookstore you will have the ability to find books that might actually challenge your knowledge and help you to become a more intelligent person. I am glad I have to look for books and items that I wish to read. It certainly can be eye-opening. But of course many adherents seeking out a book on a topic are not so much interested in seeking an opposing view as they are to shoring up the view that they think shores up the view they think the Bible hold already. After all there is no reason to challenge a faith that is well grown and well entrenched.

Coming next time: Chapter Six; 
HERE IS YOUR SIGN part nineteen

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