Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Nature of God

Who is this "god" fella?  Why are so many people so concerned with him... or her... or it?

I don't care which euphemism you use.  Supreme being.  Creator.  First cause.  Prime mover.  Higher power.  Greater intelligence.  Spirit of nature, life force, big cheese in the sky, invisible pink unicorn...  None of these actually describe much about the thing they refer to, so I think most of them can be used interchangeably, and are by religious persons.

I guess, if we aggregate the qualities of all of these names for god (at least the serious ones), we find we are talking about something that is smarter and more powerful than human beings, existed before anything else (and is responsible for the existence of everything else), and is not subject to the laws of nature as we understand them.

This leaves a lot of fudge room.  Consider the following gods:

Jehova -- God of the Bible, with an affinity for certain Semitic peoples.  His main purpose seems to be to make sure all of his creations do what he tells them to do.  Is extremely nervous about sex, can be contacted via some sort of telepathy.  Sent/is Jesus, who had to die horribly so that he could forgive us of all of the bad things that we do because of how he made us.  Generally human...ish.

Mork the Incinerator -- God I just made up, lives on the moon.  Did not always live on the moon, because she had to create it first.  Her main purpose is to get her creations to do her work for her.  The human race was created so that we could perfect maple syrup.  Visited earth in the form of Agatha Christie for unknown reasons.  Can be contacted via invisible laser phone to the moon, which is built into the cells of all living creatures.

Both of these fit the basic criteria, as far as I can tell.  As a side comment, I'd like to say that I prefer Mork.

So when someone asks me if I believe in god, what am I supposed to say?  I mean, I say no, but then sometimes people will go off on this whole thing about where did the universe come from and science can't explain the beginning of all things!  Sure.  I agree.  Then they say "So you believe in god!"

Okay... so I guess before I answer their question, I should ask them to clarify what they mean by "god."  For all I know, god is a toaster in a bed-and-breakfast in South Dakota.  And sure, if by "god" you mean "the abstract concept that human science is inherently deficient and can't account of the existence of something rather than nothing," sure, I believe in god!  But that does not mean that I believe in a bearded busybody who gets really upset when people eat pigs or talk smack about him.
I won't even grant that it must be intelligent!

But Dave!  The universe must be designed, because if certain physical constants were only slightly different, matter could not exist as atoms!
Yeah, big whoop.  I bet there are quark-gluon plasma people out in some universe saying the same thing, except they believe in their strange charm god because they are so lucky that things aren't just different enough for quarks to combine into hadrons.  (Among which are protons and neutrons, essential for our existence.)

Okay, I know I'm getting a little snarky.  But frankly, if the universe were incapable of supporting life, who would notice?
And regardless, why be grateful that you exist?  It's not like you'd care if you didn't.

The thing is, individual religions each have a reasonably well-defined description of god, but there are a lot of religions, and they all differ in their views.

If there is an intelligent god, is he really messing around with us?  Homo sapiens has existed for less than a million years, out of the 13.75 or so billion years the universe has probably existed.  That's less than 0.007%.
Assuming that humanity regularly travels anywhere from any point on the earth's surface to the orbit of geosynchronous satellites (which are quite far out), there are approximately 18 billion cubic kilometers of area that has anything to do with us.  The observable universe is about 134 followed by 117 zeroes cubic kilometers in volume.  The part that mankind get around in is is about the same percentage as the percent chance of you getting struck by lightning... twenty time... in one given year.

How much could we possibly matter?  We have existed as a species for 0.007% of the universe's existence, and even then we've (at maximum!) only occupied such a small percentage that I gave it to you in lightning strikes.  It's somewhere around 4*10^-107, if you want the numbers.

If we are the apex of creation, god sure took his sweet time getting around to making us!  I think the creationists aren't scared of what science will do to god's image... I think they are afraid of just how insignificant we are as a species.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Absolute Morality 'n' Me

Certain things seem to be largely considered universally wrong.  Other things have a lesser wrongness, a subjective wrongness, it seems.

Absolute Moral:  Killing children is bad.  We regard anyone who does it deliberately as sick and unfit for our society.  It is appalling on a pretty deep level.

Subjective Moral:  Living together before marriage.  All of the arguments about this one involve assumptions that are not expected to be universally accepted, usually an appeal to some theology.  This seems to be an intellectual sort of moral judgment rather than an intuitive one.

Absolute Moral:  It is good to be kind to people.  We feel that this is right by virtue of the pleasure we derive not only by having it done for us, but also by doing it for others.

Subjective Moral:  It is good to read the Bible every day.  Once again, an intellectual sort of judgment dependent upon one's personal opinions and worldview.

This distinction is known to most people.  I mean... as a child, a Mormon may condemn anyone who drinks coffee or alcohol.  Adults will find this amusing, because they know better:  this little piece of morality is subject to assumptions that people do not have to make in order to still be considered moral.  Even if those people are wrong wrong wrong, they are simply misled, not bad.
If you happen to belong to a cult that regards random murder as awesome, very few people are probably going to give you the same benefit of the doubt.

This whole idea occurred to me recently while I read part of a talk by Boyd Packer.  He was talking about the sanctity of marriage.  Nothing he said was what would be considered an appeal to absolute morality... it was all subjective, all dependent on Mormon theology.  No one who didn't belong to the minority he belongs to could be persuaded in the least by his arguments.

I don't know that there is something innate or biological about this "absolute" morality.. I'm sure it's subject to culture as well.  However, even if these rules are not technically "absolute," it seems that they are absolute as far as anyone from the society we inhabit is concerned.  They certainly seem absolute relative to the "subjective" rules accepted only by this minority or that.

And so we get the following:

Atheist:  Homosexuality = Okay, Killing = Not Okay
Mormon:  Homosexuality = Not Okay, Killing = Not Okay
Can you think of a group that finds homosexuality okay and killing okay?  If there is such a group, they will not be accepted as even roughly moral people by society.  They will be locked away or killed.

"Absolute" morals ought to be reflected in law.  "Subjective" morals probably shouldn't be in most cases.

Not to say that the prevailing morality is necessarily right, but it certainly is widely-held, and what else do we have?

Friday, March 25, 2011

I Am Sucks!

That's how my Japanese companions would have said it.

Normally, I stick to issues in this blog, but occasionally I just complain about life.
This is one of those times!

I used to pull a 4.0 almost every semester, and not in super easy classes, either.  At the same time, I was working one or two jobs, and always taking at least 14 credits (as stipulated by the scholarship I once had...)

I was freaking good!  I even managed to be social and pursue a few of my hobbies during that time!

Now?  I can't do jack-shit.  I'm already in school half-time, and I'm totally failing my classes.  I suck at both of my current jobs, and I know at least one of my supervisors is a little frustrated by me.  I avoid people a lot of days.  I've been skipping class several times in a row recently.  And these are classes I should like!
I don't help my wife around the house enough, either.

So maybe it's been a rough year, losing my religious beliefs and all.  I'm still working on forming opinions and reconstructing my life plan based on this new information.  I have no idea where my place is.
I'm on two drugs for depression to keep me from offing myself.  I'm on one more drug to lessen the awful insomnia that has come along with everything else, and it makes me really groggy for the first part of the day.

I have no motivation, no dreams, really.  Life is boring, a constant stress and anxiety but not interesting.  The pills keep the edge off of the most horrible bits of depression, but they do nothing for my motivation.  They just numb me, I guess.  Which is still preferable to the alternative.

And I just know that if my more pious acquaintances read this, they would tell me that it is a direct result of my rejecting the gospel.
To anyone who might think that way:  Yeah, my depression got really bad and I started sucking at life about the same time I finally started giving up on those beliefs.
BUT!  There are lots of people who don't accept your precious gospel that do just fine in life.  In fact, most happy people are probably not Mormon!  Correlation is not causation, my friends.
And if this can be regarded as god's "punishment" for "betraying" him, god sucks.  That god could have been a character in Mean Girls.  I tried damn hard to contact this dude, and nothing meaningful came of it.

I think that religion is partially responsible for my becoming  a complete basket case;  I was raised with a firm belief in a worldview that I can no longer accept.  My life plan, opinions, and actions were all made to fit this worldview and its supposed "truth."  This huge chunk of what defined me is now completely, utterly gone.
Had I grown up learning, I don't know, that I should take what anyone sets up as absolute truth with a grain of salt, maybe I wouldn't have to go through this ongoing crisis.  But I guess there's no use trying to shut that barn door now.

It was all a freaking lie!  I mean, the people who told it to me almost certainly believed it, but the whole thing is a crock.  I spent so much of my life on a freaking mythology.  I bothered thousands of people in Japan, trying to persuade them to accept something for no good reason at all.  I was a self-righteous little bastard as a kid, an adolescent, and even a young adult.  Because I thought that I had the truth.


I spent two years in my prime and a lot of money on a DEAD GUY!

And now I have to suffer just because I happen to be interested in truth.  Like my RELIGION freaking TAUGHT ME TO BE!

I don't intend to be a lifelong opponent of the church or anything... not my bag.  Sure, I'll be a critic, and I'll be there in a blink for anyone is the process of becoming disillusioned.  But I can sure as hell understand why so many ex-Mormons "can't leave the church alone."
The church sucked me dry!  The church has helped ruin a good deal of my life!  And they are doing the same to young people who might end up like me some day!

I hate religion.  Normally I'm pretty level-headed about my atheism, but right now I'm obviously ranting and raving because all this shit has been building up inside me for a while.  And right now I freaking HATE religion.  And if there is a conscious omnipotent being who is basically human and actually pays attention to the world, he can go to hell (unless I'm there, then he can stay the hell out).  Seriously... if the Christian god exists, he SUCKS.  And he can go boil his holy head.

Okay, I took a minute and calmed down.  Woof... I didn't really mean for this to turn into a rage-fest.

In any case, depression sucks, religion sucks, and life sucks.  Do not pass go.  Do not collect 200 happiness.  Reality is your jail, and you can't roll doubles in life.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Irate Letter

I know this is the third post I'm putting up today, but I finally got around to sending an anonymous email to the Honor Code office.
It read as follows:

I am a current student at BYU.  I am technically LDS.  I have lost my faith, but I am still required to attend church and keep my true feelings hidden.  I am not engaged in any Honor Code violations, but there is no way for me to change my religious status and maintain my enrollment because I am LDS.  Were I officially of any other persuasion, I know for a fact that I could easily change my religious status.

I am not the only one in this situation.  We feel that this situation is unjust.

You should know that there are students among the student body who cannot speak their minds in class.
You had better tell your bishops to start "discerning" a little better, because we are among you, spreading our evil and subversive atheist ideas among the student body.  If we could openly be atheist, no religious person would take us seriously, but as we must pose as LDS, we may be damaging to the faith-promoting atmosphere of the University.

Don't bother trying to respond, the email address is a fake.  I just wanted to express my frustration with you.

So that's how it went down.  Hopefully they read it...

I realized recently that my temple recommend expires soon.  Not that I ever go anymore, but this is probably the last time I will be a "current temple recommend holder."  I looked up the questions just for kicks, and I would fail around half of them... all the ones that involve believing in stuff, plus the one about associating with people whose teachings or practices are not in harmony with the gospel.  The other ones I'm more or less pretty solid in, except maybe the one about striving to attend meetings... I couldn't honestly say I "strive" when I read books in my car every week during Elder's Quorum.

What America Needs to Get Over

1)  Evolution happened, and still happens.  Sorry guys.  You can't reject it without rejecting the scientific method as a source of truth.

2) Bill O'Reilly is a moron who doesn't understand anything.  Stop listening to him.

3) Glenn Beck is a dangerous moron.  I'd prefer that you listen to Bill.

4) Abstinence education raises the incidence of STDs.  That's why the USA has 100 times the incidence of venereal disease of European nations that educate about safe sex.

5) America basically sucks in every regard compared to other first-world nations.  We are no longer the leaders in science, industry, or culture.  In a matter of years, we will not be the leaders in terms of economic power or military strength.  Soon, our space program will be surpassed by India and China.  Pax Americana is over, get over it or look like a fool.

The Holey Babble

The Bible is the WORD OF GOD!

So you know how Jesus' divinity is declared in the Bible?  Those parts were added to the gospels later.  As were the accounts of the resurrection.  Really, it was likely Paul who helped Jesus evolve from great reformer to god.
"But Dave, how likely is that?  It sounds like a conspiracy theory to me!"
I'd like to point out that many, many great teachers have been deified by supersticious peasants and power-hungry preachers.  Buddha?  Not originally a deity, in fact he took great care to make the fact explicit.  Now?  Pretty much most buddhists regard him as a deity.  The founder of Taoism?  Same thing.  Even Mohammad has a quasi-deity status in Islam, which is the most adamantly-monotheistic religion in recorded history.

Why do we ignore the archeology behind the civilizations in the Bible?  It's a great mythology, parts of it are somewhat historical, but the Bible is just not a good source of accurate information.  What?  The stringent standards of sexual morality espoused by the Old Testament were actually something that evolved through time with the onset of venereal disease?  What?  The Israelite were originally polytheistic?  What?  The account of the flood is a Babylonian myth?  Naaaahhhh....

Religion just doesn't seem... credible.  Or likely.  Or trustworthy.
I'm excited for the day when I can be openly atheist.

For anyone who has a Kindle, by the way, there is a great book that I am reading called Germs, Genes, & Civilization: How Epidemics Shaped Who We Are Today.  I got it for free, but now it's $10, apparently.  But if you are someone who knows me, I could lend it to you.  In any case, it is a fascinating analysis of how epidemics shaped history, how modern diseases came to be, and even how religions like Christianity came to dominance because of disease.  I pretty much can't put it down.

Brief sidetrack... what the hell is up with the History Channel?  When did it turn from "cool documentaries all the time" to "shows about hicks?"  And when there are documentaries, they're all about the abominable snowman and how aliens built the pyramids.  Actually, I thought that this was a really great sum-up of what it has become.
Basically, American are becoming increasingly credulous, self-centered, uneducated, and proud of all three.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Where the Hell is Hell?

Mostly I liked that title.  I actually want to write about: where is god?

So... it doesn't seem that god has done anything in a while.
Sure, there are anecdotal stories about god's intervention.  But I've written before about how god's interventions does not happen to come along in the majority of cases.

And, of course, we're told that bad things are all god's wrath.  Seriously, Japan, god has tolerated your low crime rates and refusal to engage in warfare long enough!

I think god's greatest show of power must be his amazing ability to influence events without ever leaving a statistical fingerprint.  Run an analysis on earthquakes, and they seem to occur randomly along stressed fault-lines.  God sure is clever to kill a lot of nice people, and occasionally hit barren wilderness.  We'll never be able to tell that the earthquakes were related to him at all!

In addition, god sure is sneaky when he miraculously saves as many heathens as Chrisitians, while allowing most Christians who have contracted terrible diseases to die, just like everyone else.  The fact that he conceals his hand in all of this is incredible... you'd think there would be some kind of pattern if these things were deliberate.

You know what one of the most fun passages of the Bible is?  1 Kings 18:26-27
The priests of Baal and Elijah have a mountain-top showdown to settle once and for all who's god is the real one.  The Baal guys dance and sing and cut themselves, and nothing at all happens.  Elijah makes fun of them while they do this:
"Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked."

After this, Elijah douses the sacrifices and prays, and the fire of god comes down and burns up not only the animals, but all of the water and the stone altar.  Pretty persuasive, no?

But wait!  Where the heck is that god now?  Hunting?  Sleeping?
Or maybe we need to get with the times:  he spends all his time on World of Warcraft! 
Or Minecraft (if that's the case, I'm very Christ-like).

Seriously, where is the guy?  Remember how the Mormon church started on the principle of "God is not silent?"  The whole continuing-revelation thing?
And yet, nothing significant has been said for decades by modern-day "prophets."  It's all basically the same as it was, doctrinally, as the way Brigham Young left it.  Sure, we get a couple more tiny bits of D&C after this, but it's really nothing new.

Pretty much, god is dead.  He does nothing.  He can't even get the "faithful" to all be on the same page!

I think it's time to stop waiting for god to fix things for us.  Maybe we should give up on the jerk until he decides he'll start being consistent (or even just apparent).

Damn, I get sick of the self-righteous we-know-everything attitude of some of the religious folks around.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Bad Analogies

My wife and I were discussing this last night, and I thought I'd write a bit of it down:

Have you ever noticed that confusing religious doctrines are often "explained" using poor analogies?

Example 1:  The Trinity is like water.  It has three different states, but is still water.
-The "three states" are just a matter of convenience, water molecules in any given state are the same, just have different kinetic energy.  In addition, there are multiple types of ice, all taking on different crystalline stuctures.
-If we actually apply this analogy, we conclude that god behaves differently based on his energy, but can only exist in one state at a time.
-The analogy is unhelpful... the trinity makes no sense whether is has a vague linguistic reflection in a description of the physical world or not.

Example 2:  We all have faith every day, otherwise why would we think the sun will come up in the morning?
-We understand the mechanism behind the sun's "rising" quite well, as opposed to whatever we are being asked to accept on faith.
-We do not anxiously await the rising of the sun every morning, instead we take for granted that it will rise.  This is not faith or hope, it is simply acclimation.
-Someday the sun will not come up.  Until that happens, however, the overwhelmingly-regular pattern of the rising of the sun is obvious to our pattern-seeking minds.  If such overwhelmingly obvious patterns existed in relation with faith, there probably wouldn't be a whole bunch of religions.  (Very few people would argue that the sun will not probably come up tomorrow.)
-Ironically, the sun has only departed from its regularly-scheduled routine in the Bible itself (Joshua 10:12-13), never in legitimately-recorded history.
-Once again, the analogy is unhelpful.  Faith is still nothing other than the decision to believe in something in which there is no reason to believe.

Perhaps these "parables" are hidden from me because of my lack of belief?

This is not an uncommon trend in theology.  A comprehensible definition is not available for the strange abstraction that the would-be believer is asked to accept (I ranted about that in another post), so they make up an analogy base on common human experience that jabs in the general direction of the glorious, self-contradictory truth that is ultimately meant to be conveyed.

I am not attacking analogies as a teaching tool; they are often incredibly helpful and relevant.  Human beings run on similarities.  However, analogies that make no sense and are ultimately irrelevant to all but the barest shadow of the concept are simply obfuscation.  They are engineered to make doctrine seem plausible until it is satisfactorily situated in the believer's mind with a healthy shield of cognitive dissonance.  Milk before meat.