The Smart Believers

I haven’t posted in a while, but that’s mostly because I’m busy. Busy trying to survive, really. A tough job market when your skills include ‘a craft no one cares about’ and ‘job experience everyone else has too’. No surprise though, and I’ll take it in stride (up until starvation).

I come back a month later with this article that I thought was interesting. 

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It is ‘The False Equation of Atheism and Intellectual Sophistication’.

In it, Emma Green reviews the book ‘The Age of Atheists’, by Peter Watson. I haven’t read it, but it definitely sounds interesting from this article. If that was her plan here, she did an excellent job. She managed to raise a discussion worthy point, and make me want to read something.

What was Green’s point? That Watson draws an unfair connection between intellectualism and atheism. That is, you don’t have to be stupid to believe in god. Which I completely agree with. Most of the smart people I know, doing math, science, programming, and writing well beyond what I am capable of, are religious. This isn’t a surprise, because as Green points out, the vast majority of people on the planet right now believe in some sort of higher power.

A little depressing right? I mean, not for the religious, but for the rest of us. We live in a rather modern world, we are a scant few innovations away from full on cyberpunk, and we live in a world where a majority of the people are prepared to meet a white-bearded guy in the sky after they die. 

Back to the article. Green makes a good point. If Watson does what she says, because I haven’t read the book yet, then this isn’t the age of atheists at all. No matter how many philosophers, scientists, musicians, or artists ended up being atheists, they are still in the minority. We can say that creative minds wrestled with the question and came to atheism, but what about creative minds today which wrestle with it and stop at deism? Which do we say was superior? 

Artists are not a good comparison, because most of Western society is still under the illusion that there is ‘no judging art’. How about two great scientists, both have created new theories that have redefined industries, have made lives better for people worldwide, then one is an atheist and one is a christian. We cannot, would not, claim that the atheist one is some how smarter because of his conclusion, would we? Would be silly, and I wouldn’t expect it. To do the opposite is cruel as well, even in the rare cases where it does happen (especially when atheists are judged morally weak just because they don’t believe in god).

It creates an intriguing point. Can atheism claim a philosophical or intellectual high ground? My stance has always been this: If you examine evidence directly, you’ll at least end up agnostic. You may ask yourself ‘Mr. Black blogger man, what about all your smart friends you mentioned earlier?’

Most people don’t bother examining the evidence. As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, they have no reason to ponder the question beyond a superficial ‘Is there a God?’ and then moving on when their own life experiences calls back with ‘yes’. Green would say that this is wrong, if her article is any clue, because it implies that the average person has examined the question incorrectly, and only these ‘intelligent’ outliers have thought it through right and come to atheism. That isn’t how I see it.

Life is a awful mixture of cultures, personal, friendly, familial, local, etc. The life you live is going to determine your path to answering the question yes or no in the end. I heard about god my whole childhood, there were bibles all around, but my mother wasn’t the sort to go every Sunday. Who knows, I wouldn’t be writing this today if she did go every Sunday. If she did go every Sunday, I might not be writing at all, since my atheism has informed innumerable choices in my life. I think religious Marshall would be somewhere with his dad right now, probably organizing that business to feed people that just got out of prison. Not bad, not bad.

The reason I’m an atheist, and another person smarter than me is not, is because of that trail of variables that is existence. Those moments we brush up against that rewrite us as a human being, crafts us from day to day. When I dropped my religion, it was before I even looked at all the facts, it was turning my back on something I thought of as childish and badly put together. Really, my initial reason for atheism is because the bible story is pretty crappy, it is mother goose level WTFery. I didn’t believe in many other nursery rhymes, and god was one more that could be discarded. I went from being in constant fear that I would meet my maker, to altering my definitions of my maker so I wouldn’t have to fear them (I remember trying to be a Zen Christian in high school after reading one book, oh me), and then discarding the whole thing all together. 

Not easy, mind you, but I don’t remember crying over it. I’ve had anxiety attacks since then, but now I’m a simple human being who will cease to exist upon death, so give me a break.

On the other hand, I know students on their way to doctorates who still believe in god. Are they stupid? Not really. Have they wrestled with the question incorrectly? Possibly. Would it be wrong to say otherwise? If you are say, a medical doctor, you know enough about the basics of human life to put the god question to task. Infinite source of morality? It doesn’t take the experiences of a medical doctor to throw that out the window, it just takes reading about the wildly different moralities across the globe and through time. Humans created from whole cloth? But then people break their ‘tail bone’, and you remember that we have one of those. Automatically, the level of education required of a doctor requires adjusting your personal definitions for god. 

So why are so many nurses and doctors still religious? You don’t have to think about whether there is a god while you study medicine. It isn’t in the curriculum (and shouldn’t be). You can examine the skeletal structure of a human being, then turn around and praise to your heart’s content.

This all said, great minds have come to the atheist conclusion when wrestling with the question. Many others have gone agnostic. Usually, the more book smart you get, the more liberal your religious interpretations become until they break away. You go from praising for every meal, to realizing that god is probably just some distant clock maker, to realizing that maybe god is just what we call consciousness and true thought, to realizing that there isn’t a need for a god in there at all. It happens, or it doesn’t happen.

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No Being Nice Is Not Enough

I’ve penciled in some time to be angry.

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So have I told you that I’m on G+? No one cares, that isn’t the point, but I use social media. The problem with social media these days is that it is always trying to read you, find out what you want to see, and usually it is well off the mark. Especially if your posts usually include talking about religious gods, but not in a positive light.

G+, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, they see the word ‘god’ in a post you responded to, or a video you watched, and they think ‘this guy wants to hear about jesus’. So when I go to the internet, I’m inundated with sponsored posts with quotes about loving the lord. You can imagine how that makes me feel (the answer is: meh).

The worst of these come from what I think is a vital misunderstanding between atheists and theists of different sorts. These are the ‘We love you too, atheists’ posts. Don’t get me wrong, I have a lot of love to give, and I’m not one to turn away positive feelings. It is just hard to accept. 

You know how in recent years churches have been loud and proud about their acceptance of gays? Then we realized most of it was just the terrible ‘hate the sin not the sinner’ bull that has probably driven countless gay people to self-hated and possibly suicide? Yeah, this feels a lot like that. 

I don’t need your acceptance, I don’t want your internet faith hugs if you are only paying lip service. There are reasons that theists aren’t atheists, and for a lot of them it is a genuine faith in their religion. There are reasons that atheists aren’t theists, and usually it is the opposite of the previous. Being nice is not going to make everything magically fall together. Christians, I’m sorry, but that dream of spreading the word to everyone just ain’t going to happen, please, cut it out. We’re not just pretending to not like it, it is turning into psychological molestation. 

Even worse, and don’t mind me as I go down this dark metaphorical road for a second, some people have been or still are abused by religion. Whether that abuse is the relatively rare physical case, or the common psychological abuse, religions are on the global sex offender list. Excuse me if I keep my metaphorical psychic babies clear of your creepy smile and beckoning fingers.

No, I’m not saying that all christians, or all religions are full of abuse. I’m just saying, the ball is in your court religion. Let me spell out the passing of the ball, because I know not everyone has experience with the handling of said balls.

Atheism had the ball, and was like, ‘If you keep your odd rituals and archaic beliefs as laws for your life only, we will let you come to the neighborhood barbecue.’

Then atheism handed the ball over, physically put it into the hands of religion. 

Then the religious dropped the ball, and put their arms out for a hug. Which is great, except you haven’t accepted the deal. We can see right behind you the countless attempts to enshrine religious beliefs into law, the shaming of homosexuals, the regulation of sex, all of it is right over your shoulder and you’re looking at us with this stupid grin on your face as if a hug is going to make it all go away.

We can eat hot dogs without you, more for the rest of us.

The Unknown and Spirituality

Back when I was a religious person, I considered me and my family spiritual. This was, and still is, a sort of an out. It is that last ditch effort by the liberal minded to escape a lot of the stuff we just don’t like about religion. Turns out I fell the rest of the way out, but there are a lot of people out there who have taken on this ‘spiritual’ point of view.

It isn’t bad when you really consider it. I mean, most of us are not science minded. I grew up taking only a few science classes, and then my time at university was spent nose-deep in books about fantastical gods and witty Brits insulting each other. Even though I believe I understand evolution, anti-theist arguments, string theory, I really don’t. I take what I can, and I draw connections for the rest. It would be just as easy for me to drop those concepts and live my life without ‘atheism’ or religion.

Religion is hard. It is an easy mental escape, but it requires a ton of mental space to remember rituals, sayings, mythology. On top of that there are the social obligations that are nearly impossible for someone like me. No, I don’t want to go to the church BBQ, there have been four of those this month, stop! 

On the other hand, atheism is a mental struggle with little to no social obligations. It takes on the opposite space within our culture. Atheism requires first and foremost the admittance of mortality and oblivion. There is no do over, no second life, no after-party. 

Why deal with either of them? The world is full of so much in between. We have believed in gods, spirits, aliens, karma, mojo, curses, hexes, magic, all without needing the overbearing religions we have today. Some of these things feel good to think about, the idea that doing good will echo good in your life, that a terrible accident wasn’t your fault but instead a curse from some harmless action. It is all the mental escape of religion without the social weight. These terms and ideas have become so ubiquitous that you can mention them without any follow up questions.

“That must have been bad karma.”

“That is some good mojo.”

“Thank god we made it.”

Done, no background needed, everyone understands what you mean. Whether you truly believe in the details or not, that isn’t important to the conversation. 

This sort of ‘spiritualism’ doesn’t mean the person doesn’t consider themselves Christian, or any other faith. Far from that, it allows them to mix their knowledge of their faith with other concepts that they come across. The christian that believes in karma has an easy answer to the problem that doesn’t require questioning the motivation and frequency of divine intervention. 

This is fueled by our history, and the power of the unknown. There are things that we don’t question because it allows us to pad what we just don’t know. If you don’t know how probability functions, recurring bad luck can seem like fate instead of odds that just didn’t go your way. All of my knowledge of probability comes from rolling 1s when I need my little plastic soldiers to win me battles against other nerds. I know the sting of probability, and even I cry out in anguish to the dice gods. It is that easy to get swept up in what seems hard to explain, even if it actually is simple.

Even with education on the topic, it is easy for people to still believe in the supernatural solution. Knowledge of evolution hasn’t stopped millions from believing in a god, they just rewrite god’s process. That is good though. I would rather have someone rewrite their idea of mojo to account for odds, than have to deal with someone who thinks god plays dice.

Polite Society

I’ve been being a jerk over the last few days. Not by choice, but because the cheer of the season is forcing everyone into accomadationist mode. This isn’t the worst thing, but by the nature of social media, it means we have to see the same things posted over and over. Here is the one that has been making the circles of atheist communities the most.

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I like it. I mean, I disagree with it (it is never okay to be a reindeer), but I get what they are trying to say. When I saw it the first time, I probably gave it a +1 (because I’m on G+ often, screw you, it is still better than facebook). Then the 20th time I saw it reposted, and the same sentiments reposted, I got tired of it. 

So now, I’m going to talk about it (big surprise). 

You know when you have that feeling in the back of your head that says, ‘everyone can think what they want, you shouldn’t make fun of them, that is bullying’? That is the voice of a school teacher. That was someone training you for polite society

What is this ‘polite society’, you may ask, and ‘how can you teach me about it using lots of silly internet words?’ 

Why should I teach you about it, dickcheese? You learned all about it in school. That was the whole reason you were there. They taught you not to make fun of people who were short, ugly, stupid, or even girls (gross). You wouldn’t want someone making fun of you because you were shorter than them, uglier than them, or even more of a girl than them (double gross). It disrupts the work environment, it hampers your productivity. You would get so busy arguing about IQ points and cup-sizes that you would never get anything done.

This ‘polite society’ that was created in school is also used, for the same reason, in most work environments. The reason you don’t go calling someone an idiot at work is because when you go to work the next day, that guy is still going to be there. He is probably going to come right back to work, and sit in that same darn seat, and you are going to have to live with the fact that you called him stupid the day before. What if when he came back, he had proof that in fact, YOU were the stupid one. What if he came back less stupid. You would have to deal with that, this change in stupidity levels would weigh heavily on your brain, and it would make it hard for you to use the Pushomax 5000 to move that paper from right here, to slightly over there. 

So instead, we have created a society to punish you when you go out making fun of someone for being ugly, or stupid, or even a girl. Don’t do it, that makes you a bad person, and you will probably come back to work to find you have no job. Which means you will just be standing outside, which will be awkward for everyone involved.

So what does this have to do with the picture up at the top? Well, you may have noticed, but the internet is NOT polite society. Instead, it is a sort of raw human society. Because when we don’t have to be, humans aren’t always polite. Because one of the most powerful tools we have in our society, used hand in hand with authority, is shame. 

I remember once I was told, and I have no idea how legit this is as it was told as an anecdote, that in some countries the laws for drinking are extremely lenient. Which, you might assume, would lead to a lot of drunk people on the street. Except, it doesn’t, because being drunk in public is a matter of great shame. If someone saw you drunk, they would tell your cousin, who would tell your brother, who would tell your mom, and tell all of your neighbors. Sure you legally can get as drunk as you want, but the shame from being drunk in public isn’t worth the chance to do it. 

When someone says something like, I dunno, gay people are “insolent, arrogant God-haters”, this is considered by a majority of the populace as a shameful thing to say. So while you are free to say it, and most authority will not stop you from saying it, our shaming society will make sure that everyone knows you are 110% a butt. 

Sometimes, we forget that. We hear people say buttworthy thing, say things of great shame, and we go ‘well it is their right to say them.’

I remember a teacher back in High School. I don’t know why we were talking, or what we were talking about, but I must have regurgitated that old line “Well it isn’t my place to judge.” He stopped me, and in my memory he did so with fervor. He told me, “No, you have every right to judge. You should judge everything.”

We should judge everything, even when we do not have the authority to act on our judgments. We have opinions, and even though you may have to hold your tongue at work, or you may choose to hold your tongue at the dinner table, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t ‘care what someone says’. 

When we hear ridiculous statements, when we see things that can damage our society because they are so terrible, when we feel strongly, we should judge. Because polite society exists where you want it to, when the consequences of silence do not outweigh what that polite society creates (like a paycheck). Don’t be surprised when others speak up, their scales may weigh the consequences differently.

 

The Questions We Should Always Ask (But Can’t)

Like a lot of people on the internet, I can’t just ignore arguments on the internet. The older I get, the less I get mixed up in these things. Not for any lack of conviction, but because I see the same conversations recycled day after day.

From XKCD

Bet you’ve never seen someone link an XKCD comic before, have you?

Now I’ve taken to picking my conversations. When it comes to speaking to theist (Christians in particular), I have to make sure I know what brand of Christian I am speaking to before I even start stating points.

Why is that? Well, while my Christian brothers and sisters might think it is obvious to everyone what they believe, that is not the case. There is only one thing you know about a Christian from them stating they are a Christian, they are a follower of Jesus Christ. Everything else is up in the air.

This isn’t a crisis, but this ambiguity leads to the sort of arguments I would rather sit on a spike than have. I mean, nothing says ‘I’m really enjoying this talk, really’ like being yelled at for ‘not understanding the bible at all’ for the millionth time.

If I could have it my way, every Christian would answer a quiz before they entered conversations. Without the quiz present, they can’t make any theological statements. What sort of quiz? Well, I found it right here in my brainbox.

We should start at section 1, remember to write your name in the top right corner.

1 God

1.A: Do you believe in god?

Yes or No

1.B: Do you believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ?

Yes or No

1.C: Do you believe in the trinity? (God the father, God the son, and God the holy ghost.)

Yes or No

1.D: Do you believe that god is Omniscient, Omnipresent, Omnipotent?

Yes or No

1.E: Do you believe god is Omnibenevolent (Always good)?

Yes or No

You would imagine these questions are obvious, but they are not. Some Christians are so liberal, that they just believe in the message of Jesus, but don’t believe in his divinity, so it is good to get that one out of the way. Some Christians don’t believe in the holy ghost, others think God and Jesus are two different dudes (instead of being the three in one). Not everyone agrees that God is omnibenevolent, which gives the big guy a pass on that whole justifying wars thing, or killing everyone in that flood. Plus, he promised not to do it again, so we should give him a break.

2 The Bible

2.A: Do you believe the bible is the word of god?

Yes, No, Some of it

2.B: Do you believe the bible is without errors?

Yes, No, Some of it

2.C: Do you believe the bible has ever been purposefully edited? (has had its meaning changed)

Yes or No

2.D: Do you believe in Revelation?

Yes or No

This section is simple, but it saves you a lot of grief. If you point out a contradiction in the bible (like god saying he will not do something, then immediately saying he will do something), you want to know if your Christian pal is going to bite you on the nose, or put their fingers in their ears (yes, these are the two choices. Sorry for all of those who don’t like the taste of noses).

3 The Universe

3.A: Do you believe in ghosts?

Yes or No

3.B: Do you believe in demons?

Yes or No

3.C: Do you believe in magic?

Yes, No, Only divine occurrences

3.D: Do you believe in miracles?

Yes or No

3. E: Do you believe there are other gods?

Yes, No, Maybe

3.F: Do you believe in karma?

Yes or No

3.G: Do you believe in reincarnation?

Yes or No

Some Christians are what we call, ‘open minded’, in that they allow for other spooky stuff to also exist. I’m pretty sure god was supposed to put a stop to magic at some point in the old testament, but I haven’t double checked that one recently. Also, if the Bible is true, there shouldn’t be any ghosts. That doesn’t stop many Christians from believing in them, but I’ve gone over that in the past. The point is, sometimes people (Christians or not) hang on to beliefs even older than the Bible. Demons fall into the same category, with the Bible almost having nothing to say about them (unless you get into non-canon texts), but it won’t stop your average Christian from believing in them.

4 Sin, Heaven, and Evil

4.A: Do you believe sinners can get to heaven?

Yes or No

4.B: Do you believe we are born sinners?

Yes or No

4.C: Does purgatory exist?

Yes, No, Maybe

4.D: Can you be forgiven of your sins?

Yes or No

4.E: Who is ultimately responsible for evil?

The Devil, God, or Man

4.F: Is god aware of your choices before you make them?

Yes or No

“I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil. I am Jehovah, that doeth all these things.” – Isaiah 45:7

But god still outsources some of the evil to the devil, sometimes, maybe. Also, no one ever seems able to agree what it takes to get into Heaven. Well, except no one seems willing to drop babies into hell, even if they believe we are born with sin. Babies always get a free pass (those crafty bastards).

5 The Rest

5.A: Do you believe there were dinosaurs?

Yes or No

5.B: How old do you think the Earth is?

Many billions of years old, Around 6000 years old, No idea.

5.C: Do you believe prayer works?

Yes or No

 Meh, this is the easy stuff. I won’t bore you with it.

So how did your Christian do? Sometimes you realize that you are barely talking to a ‘Christian’ at all. Instead of some conservative bible thumper, you’ve found a free-loving yoga spiritual who think Jesus was just another incarnation of the Buddha. Still, he thinks YHWH is the one true god, and f*** you for saying otherwise.

Other times you find out you’re talking to a hardcore Christian who thinks the bible is perfect, but also thinks that people are living their third lives, and people get bad grades because the devil spends his time oppressing Black youth in the ghetto.

Which is fine, believe your religion however you want. Just don’t get mad at me when I don’t realize that in YOUR version of Christianity, God has a 4th incarnation that is an impossibly fluffy teddy bear.

Putting the big B in Believe

Language sucks.

 

I love it, I love it as much as possible. As my linguistics teacher put it, what makes language amazing is that it has infinite creative capacity. That is to say, a new thing is being said every day, we are always creating new meaning just by running our big fat mouths.

 

That said, sometimes we use that infinite creative capacity to recycle the same trash over and over.

 

Recently I’ve had this feeling about the word “Believe.” If you’ve had enough conversations about humanism and religion, you may know the problem I’m talking about already.

 

When you speak with a ‘Believer’ (big B) about their Belief (big B), you find yourself confronted about your belief (little B) in science. Example:

 

“I truly think atheism is its own religion now, they just Believe in science.”

 

I could write a book about all the reasons that is ridiculous, but I’m pretty sure Carl Sagan and Richard Dawkins beat me to it.

 

For most people, that is non-crazy-internet-people, there is no confusion here. When I say, “I believe that works.” That doesn’t mean that I’ve built a church around it, and I want to have my child’s foreskin removed in reverence of its divine law. When I say, “I Believe in god.” That is a different statement, with unrelated baggage and weight.

 

See, ‘I believe’, as a package, has gained definitions that stand so far apart from each other, they can’t even call each other without an international calling package.

 

I believe (little B), is a tentative statement. It says, “I am pretty sure, but don’t hold me to that if I’m wrong. I mean, totally run with it for right now, but feel free to call me a dick if someone contradicts me immediately.”

 

I Believe (big B), is a definitive statement. It says, “I know this for a fact, to the point that I’m willing to waste a large amount of life resources on it, ostracize others socially over it, and if my holy book is any indication I’m even willing to kill children over it. But only if my god is totally pranking me.”

 

I believe in science, until a piece of science is proven wrong, then I’ll go with the new prevailing theory. It isn’t really that big of a deal, except those times where it is (like when someone dies a terrible death because a theory is wrong). But the wonderful thing about science, is that it admits it was wrong. Oops, turns out that gives you cancer, sorry about that, someone forgot a 1 in the equation.

 

It is easy to see how someone would consider the two similar, would imagine that humanists/scientists/skeptics are somehow worshipping science like some deity. The men in labcoats as infallible priests, with some vague equation god as the head. Personally, I don’t care about scientists, and if you ever see scientists go at each other in scientific journals, you would see that scientists don’t care about scientists. What is important is being right, and they wouldn’t miss the chance to rip a well known scientist to shreds if their theory turned out to be wrong, that’s how you make it on the mean streets of science.

 

That is something I can Believe in, humans motivated by being dicks.

 

Carl Sagan and Proving a Negative

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I’m in Canada today for Thanksgiving (the Canadian version), so I don’t have a lot of time to do my usual vomit of atheist thoughts. So instead, I wanted to link something that Jerry Coyne brought up a few days ago on his awesome blog, Carl Sagan’s Parable of The Dragon In My Garage. 

People who grew up with Sagan love the man, his wonder at the natural world around him, and his love for science, speaks to a lot of people whether they are atheist or not. He has a book that is often recommended to ex-theists, The Demon Haunted World (my reading plate gets full), and I still haven’t had a chance to give it a read. 

In that book he brings up the story of a man who says he has a dragon in his garage, but every time the skeptic asks for proof of this dragon, it turns out the dragon has some nature to it that makes it impossible to detect. 

“A fire-breathing dragon lives in my garage”

Suppose (I’m following a group therapy approach by the psychologist Richard Franklin) I seriously make such an assertion to you.  Surely you’d want to check it out, see for yourself.  There have been innumerable stories of dragons over the centuries, but no real evidence. What an opportunity!

“Show me,” you say.  I lead you to my garage.  You look inside and see a ladder, empty paint cans, an old tricycle — but no dragon.

“Where’s the dragon?” you ask.

“Oh, she’s right here,” I reply, waving vaguely.  “I neglected to mention that she’s an invisible dragon.”

You propose spreading flour on the floor of the garage to capture the dragon’s footprints.

“Good idea,” I say, “but this dragon floats in the air.”

Then you’ll use an infrared sensor to detect the invisible fire.

“Good idea, but the invisible fire is also heatless.”

You’ll spray-paint the dragon and make her visible.

“Good idea, but she’s an incorporeal dragon and the paint won’t stick.”  And so on.  I counter every physical test you propose with a special explanation of why it won’t work.

The rest of the story is available here, and was also linked on Coyne’s blog. The story is important, I think, because it speaks to a truth that we often forget to realize. Sure, if you are just talking about the general idea of an entity that we don’t know about, it is hard to say that it doesn’t exist, but when we are talking about a creature that should leave great heaps of evidence in its wake, it takes a lot of work (and back-pedaling) to justify saying that it exists without any proof of it.

This is why we have things like Russel’s Teapot, and the Flying Spaghetti monster, these are entities that show the ridiculousness of the ‘you can’t prove it doesn’t exist’ stance. My personal favorite is the Galactic Space Fish, which is so large that we can’t detect it, but it swims through space. Sure it could exist, but why posit for its existence? There are two easy answers, you were already told that Galactic Space Fishes exist, or you really want Galactic Space Fishes exist.

All we can do is leave out some Galactic bait and see what happens, but in the meantime, I think it is safe to say that fishy smell is coming from somewhere else.  

Popewatch 2013: Still don’t like him

Digging for nose gold

Digging for nose gold

Popewatch 2013: Still don’t like him

I get it people, the Pope hasn’t gone out of his way to call gay people horrible for a few months straight, that is pretty impressive. That doesn’t mean everyone needs to line up to give him a blowjob.

Here, Timothy Egan writes in the times how the Pope’s liberal theology may be what it takes to stymie the tide lapsing Catholics. As he notes, Christopher Hitchens informed him that ‘Nones’ were the fastest rising category of religion in the world. Hitchens is right, with 1 in 5 claiming no religion in the US, and 1 in 3 youths claiming the same, atheism is on the rise. The idea that the Pope would slow this terrifies me. Not because it would be less people joining my ‘team’, as it were, but because of the reason people just love Pope Francis.

The media has been paying attention to ‘millennials’ and their impressive atheist stats, blog posts aplenty seek to understand why so many young people are turning away from religion. For Egan here, who doesn’t touch on this issue directly, the push against the church comes from people not wanting to stand behind the Catholic Church’s archaic views on social issues. The Catholic Church, sometimes considered a home for scientific thought and consideration, also has a history of hiding behind old hierarchical stances on abortion, divorce, homosexuality, and other social issues that are now at the center of people’s political identities. To put it another way, who the hell wants to identify as the gay-hating religion when they probably have gay friends at school? Even if you take a more liberal Catholic stance, as most Americans do, everyone knows you are Catholic, and until you explain your own personal view it will be assumed that you stand where your church stands.

So the Pope doesn’t hate gays, so everything is okay forever now, right?

Pope Francis has shown himself to be a free spirit and a free thinker. He loves the music of Mozart, the paintings of Chagall, the films of Fellini. He tweets. He talks to atheists. He stays out of politics. He calls for the faithful to “mess up the church.” He doesn’t moralize or sermonize, and famously said, when asked about gays, “Who am I to judge?” Is this pope Catholic?

No, screw you. We can see through this stuff, right vague personification of the Western world?

It’s long been known that most North American and European Catholics ignore church teachings on gays, contraception and abortion. These teachings range from absurd to unscientific to outright hateful. Without specifically changing the official line, Francis prompted millions of Catholics to give the church a second look when he criticized the hierarchy for being “obsessed” with those issues. Amen, said nearly 70 percent American Catholics who agreed with him in a Quinnipiac poll.

Well, ****.

No wait, this isn’t really people saying the Pope is awesome, just them agreeing that the church is obsessed. The problem is, since this is about all the access we get to the Pope, him saying things that people agree with, that makes them less ashamed to be related to organized religion, it does mean something. People may not jump back into their altar boy clothes, not until those sex scandals are resolved, but it does soften what is a general distrust among liberals of organized religion.

I should have seen this coming. In a world where Kony 2012 happened, I should have known that the Pope could get away with armchair equality.

In this article about a week earlier, Gutting looks at how the Pope is a lot of talk, but little difference. At the end of the day, the Pope has turned to the oldest trick in the theists ‘I want to be religious, but not lose my friends’ playbook.

“Hate the sin, not the sinner.”

Nevertheless the pope, unlike many Catholics, seems still to accept the hierarchy’s official views on abortion, contraception and homosexuality: “The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear, and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.” Presumably, then, he agrees with the official line that these actions are seriously immoral.

So great, the Pope isn’t going to judge homosexuals, or the divorced, or those who get an abortion, except he still thinks you are immoral. It is that pat on the head you get as a child when someone doesn’t want to say they think you’re a dumb ass, but only because Child Protection Services has been sniffing around lately.

Let me reiterate, the Pope is no friend to modern social issues, he has not done one thing to change the stances of his church of millions, his greatest achievements include tweeting (which my Justin Bieber obsessed sister can do, with just as much zeal), and telling people to worry about ‘immoral’ people less.

If this is what it takes to be Pope, I can elect myself for Super-Pope, and I’ll wear two hats.

Maybe I’m just in too many places at once, maybe I’m just hearing everyone’s first admittance of appreciating the Pope not being an asshat and it is starting to wear on me. I just don’t get it, is it this easy to impress people? “I hate everything about you, but I won’t condemn you to hell.” Is this what being religious truly feels like? Have I forgotten that fast?

Get Right With Me – A Short Story Part 1

 I’ve wanted to do a story that was the opposite of a Christian Romance for a while now. So I decided to start taking a crack at it.prayingman

“You don’t really believe in that whole religion thing,” Beth said, “do you?”

Beth looked at Shawn with one eyebrow up, and her whole body tilted away from. If there was ever a sign that you were supposed to lie to someone’s face, Shawn hadn’t seen it.

His hands were out, cupped upwards in that ‘I just got done spilling my guts to you’ pose, and now he was stuck there. His mouth hung open, his eyes seeking someplace to look that didn’t include her patronizing stare.

“Well no,” Shawn began, “I don’t think so.”

He did, or had. Just saying otherwise made his stomach burn, and a nervous grin spread across his face.

“I was raised that way though,” He continued, “Is what I was getting at.”

Beth chuckled, and Shawn felt something he imagined was supposed to be relief. Instead, his stomach was still in a knot, and he was afraid she was going to hit him any moment. They came outside to get away from the little party inside, and now Shawn found himself looking back to see how the party was going.

“Who isn’t raised that way?” Beth said, kicking one of her long legs at the dirt in front of them, “We were Catholic for awhile, then my dad switched for some reason. Same bullshit though.”

She smiled at him, gave him a wink, and Shawn’s only coherent thought was how beautiful blasphemy sounded coming out of her lips.

“Which were you?” She asked.

Shawn sat up, hands going to grip the brick outcropping they were sitting on, “Presbyterian, you know, normal.”

She rolled her eyes, “Nothing normal about it.”

He looked at the ground. In all the time he had known Beth, he had never seen this side of her. She always seemed like such a nice girl, wore a cross to school every day, helped on campus and even volunteered. He was excited to talk to her, and lets be honest, get a chance to kiss her. Beth was his dream girl, spunky, but in control of herself, right without being self-righteous.

“You okay?” She asked, her eyes looking him over.

It sent a chill through his spine, and he swallowed hard. He could feel himself getting closer to her, his face reaching for hers.

“Mmmhmm,” He mumbled.

She leaned back again, “Confused. You didn’t think I was a little church girl, did you?”

Shawn sat up, shook his head, “No, hell no. I mean, why would I?”

Beth dug into the front of her button up blouse, and pulled out a silver cross. She bat her eyes at him.

“Who doesn’t wear a cross,” He said, feeling his face getting hot, “Like, a majority of the country claims to be Christian right?”

Her face went plain, and she stared him in the eyes. His heart thumped, and he didn’t know where to look. Was that her kiss face? Was that her angry face? He didn’t know,

“You do believe, don’t you?” She said, “Admit it.”

Shawn rolled his eyes, “I don’t know what you mean, you were just saying…”

Beth put a finger to his lips, and Shawn sucked in air through his nose.

“Should a good Christian boy be lying?”

He squeezed his lips shut, closed his eyes, “Shit.”

“I can’t believe you,” She yelled, “To think I was going to kiss you.”

“You were?” Shawn gasped, “Well what does this have to do with it?”

She bobbed her head, “Besides lying to my face?”

His mouth opened, but he had no defense for that part. That didn’t stop him from saying, “You were leading me.”

He tried to laugh, to lighten the mood, but she looked genuinely hurt. Her lips flattened, and her brow furrowed.

“What’s wrong?” He asked, “What is the big deal?”

“Are you on the prowl for a wife?” Beth asked.

There were a lot of questions you usually didn’t have to answer in highschool, that was one of them. A wife was the last thing on his mind. Sure, he thought Beth was nice enough that maybe he could take her home to his family, a girlfriend he would be proud to show to everyone. That didn’t mean he wanted a wife.

“No,” Shawn said while shaking his head, “Of course not.”

“Then what do you want from me?” She shrugged, “Some first fuck and a story to tell your inevitable grandkids?”

“Why would you even say that?” He said, “Now Christians can’t date?”

“No,” She snapped, “Christian boys don’t date, they search for servants.”

While Shawn was willing to put up with a lot, there was a limit. He turned and faced off toward the yard, trying to hurt the boiling sensation he felt in his gut.

“Who even says that?” He replied, “Your parents were Christians, their parents before them.”

Beth laughed, “My mother never read more of the bible than she needed to prop up her high horse.”

“You would call your mother a servant?” Shawn asked.

“Have you seen my mom? She can’t take two steps without looking to my dad for approval for the second,” She began, “My mom wants me to find some nice boy, so he can help me settle down, so he can bring me closer to the lord. As if I want to be close to someone who requires a man for him to love me.”

Shawn shook his head, “That is,” He stopped himself, tried to figure out how to phrase what he was saying, “That isn’t the way most people see it. My parents are devout, and they love each other.”

She shrugged, “I know Christians can love each other. I’ve seen it. I just don’t want that kind of love.”

“They just want to be right with the lord,” Shawn said, “You get right with god, love god first, and your relationship will be stronger than any other.”

Beth looked at Shawn, “My parents divorced 2 years ago.”

He took a deep breath, held it.

“Are you going to tell me now that they weren’t right with god? That all their praying and sundays spent at church was done to the wrong beat? Maybe you’ll say it was god’s plan? Fuck your fairytale, I would rather have someone who loves me first.”

Shawn dug his feet into the dirt. He wasn’t a pro at proselytizing, he knew enough scripture for his own relationship with god. He knew that it wasn’t his job to fix her parent’s relationship, but between him and Beth, that was something different.

“I like you,” Beth said, “I like you a lot. But if you want to get right with me, you have to get rid of your invisible boyfriend first.”

She stood up, and walked back into the party. Shawn sat in the cold, trying to figure out when high school got so complicated.

Memetic Fitness, Faith, and Yorkshire Teacups

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I was watching some Dan Dennett the other night, he is sometimes called one of the Four Horsemen of Atheism along with Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and the now passed Christopher Hitchens. The video was about his book, now a few years old, called ‘Breaking the Spell’.

(I will link the video at a future date. Right now, my internet is on the fritz.)

The idea, and I’m sure philosophy lovers won’t consider it a new one, is that of memetic fitness. That is, the evolutionary history of ideas, how they go from a pure thought to something that is global, and what that means for religion. Considering religion is often called a virus of the mind, the implications are interesting. 

There are aspects of what he says that despite the strength of the whole theory, ring true. For instance, the birth of an idea often comes from a snap reaction. We see a shadow, something passes by us, we hear a noise, and our brain jumps to a conclusion. That conclusion, no matter how ridiculous, from it being a person to it being the end of existence as we know it, is a new life in our brain. That life may pass in seconds, we may forget we ever thought anything, or we could repeat the idea, reinforce it, that meme having generations of ‘life’ inside of our mind until new instances and thoughts help it mutate and grow into something new. 

As a writer, I am willing to run with that theory. Basic thoughts are born, and soon they mutate into grand ideas that merge with others in our minds, become complicated memetic lifeforms. They can spread to other minds through simple transfer, being told to someone else, being read in a book, seen on screen. It doesn’t take much more than that for an idea to spread.

So what about memetic fitness? That idea would be that just like the fitness of evolution, not every change in an idea helps it. Sometimes an idea doesn’t change enough, and it becomes boring, useless, and left behind. A meme is fit when it can occupy a mind, when a brain has enough use to keep it around. Do you call on it often? Does it amuse you? Does it make you want to smile or dance? Has it protected you? Relieved you? 

So when you first heard the macarena, it might not have struck you as useful. Another tune? The beat is ‘meh’, there are other catchy tunes like it. Then the dance was introduced to you, a new version, a stronger and more violent strain of that terrifying virus known as the Macarena. Now it has a purpose in your brain, now it occupies it, lives there and grows. Eeeh Macarena!

When writing, when creating art, memetic fitness could be useful. What story can you create that is powerful enough to take up space in someone’s mind? Will powerful characters do the trick? Maybe sayings and lines that are beautiful enough to be recalled and spread? Does already identifiable memes help the memetic fitness of a work? Is the Red Crosse Knight more memorable because of the Christian elements attached? King Arthur? I bet it is, but those elements allow it to tell a larger story with elements that require deep examination.

As for religion itself, if religion was ever a wild meme, that time was thousands upon thousands of years ago. Once they are born from the gremlins and demons of individuals, combined to form folktales and legends, they grow from there. Dan speaks about some of the possible uses religion could have had for a mind, even in this tribal state. My favorite is ‘super-duper coin flipper’. When you want to make a decision, or a choice is hard, who better to ask than imaginary figures? Rattle some bones, look into tea leaves, and if you see an answer there you have made your choice, and you have someone to blame if things go wrong. Why not just flip a coin? Who would flip a coin for a really important decision? That is just silly.

Now though, once a religion has matured (and many religions have matured and died off over time), they are no longer wild, but domesticated. Unlike the wild things of the past, mutating when a farmer sees a new demon, growing when a king has a new law to set down, a domesticated religion is being forced to breed like a modern cow. We breed for strength, for survivability, for usefulness. In this way you take the strong breeding stock of the Christian Labrador, and it will continue to work for society, protect those who need it, comfort children, and look beautiful. If you want, you could also try to force another breed, like the Mormon yorkshire teacup. They couldn’t survive long in the wild, but they don’t have to, society has good uses for them.

The important note is while useful, memetic fitness implies that the organism (in this case a thought) is in it for itself. Not to imply it is alive, but that only ideas that are built to spread themselves can compete in similar fields. If you’ve ever wondered why Christianity is so dominant, you don’t need to wonder. It breeds well, as does its cousin Islam. In comparison, faiths like Jainism or the tribal faiths of Australian Aboriginals, they cannot keep up. They haven’t had the time to adapt, they don’t have as many shepherds, as many fields, and they are not designed to spread like a rodent.