Live The Struggle, Don’t Ignore It!

For those of you who don’t know today is my birthday! (Sounds of a cheering crowd). That’s right I’m twenty-seven years old and I’m feeling that weird tension of wanting to be closer to my earlier twenties than I am to my impending thirties! Anyhow, I thought I’d have some fun this morning by making a shout out to one of my favorite thrash metal bands. You guessed it! The infamous Metallica! These guys were a godsend, if I may use that term loosely when I was teenager.

Now, it may be a little controversial even for an Atheist to expose their children to heavy thrash metal at the wrong time. My theory is that mature parenting, when I become one, will be the ability to recognize just when my teens are beginning to feel the weight of the human struggle. It seems to me that many religious homes rarely if ever make room for this in people’s lives and I happen to think it is quite disingenuous to just ignore it.

From experience I can tell you that for my past self and many others when they will have reached their teens it is important to create an outlet for expression. Not violence, that’s not where I’m going with this. Simply the expression of anger and dismay toward an absurd world. This can be done rather creatively in my opinion. Yes, thrash metal is by nature a very aggressive style of music with a good measure of anger spilling through the mic. However, there are some positives to it. The anger within this genre is often highlighting actual injustices within the world. Things that humans of every age find terribly hard to reconcile with goodness as well the messages of religion and politics. Anyone seeing the potential for some great talking points to have in the home?

Though I wouldn’t advocate for every family to expose their teen to this style of music the main point that I want to drive home here is that it is vital to come alongside loved ones and other people when they struggle than it is to provide no outlet at all for anger, sadness, happiness and joy. This can be a folly within highly strict and conservative families. They want to cover up so called depravity so much that there is no room to even breath! It is this kind of treatment of teens that unleashes a whirlwind of fury and violence in many cases. It is a classic knee-jerk reaction and that my friends is bad parenting!

A parent that is understanding and empathetic, a parent that is open and communicative with their children and teens from the start will likely be able to deepen that bond with them when the shit hits the fan! Providing various options for expression and seeking to simply understand what the hell is going on is key. Notice that this is not me advocating a parenting style that doesn’t still operate in an authoritative manner from time to time. Parents simply need to choose their battles wisely otherwise they will likely lose the trust of their son or daughter.

So yeah, this is just one 27 year old’s opinion on the role of certain kinds of music being able to connect deeply to the human struggle. The human struggle starts rather young so let’s be honest about it and face these things head on!

Objective Meaning & Moral Values

To give my readers some context I have a well respected Theist friend that I enjoy debating with to a fault. Some of our debates have been pretty heated in the past especially shortly after I renounced my former faith. I was admittedly pretty upset and disappointed as I did not anticipate that I would ever become an Atheist. As the dust has settled over this past year and a half my hope is that many of my Christian friends will see the seriousness with which I approach Theistic arguments and perspectives. I will always be genuinely interested in this discussion and the path that I am on today is one in which I intend to best acknowledge what I know and do not know in life. Not only for me but I am also deeply interested in the knowledge of others within and outside of religion. How do we best represent the human condition? How do we most effectively speak from what can be known in all areas of life?

Without further ado I am keeping my friend’s identity anonymous but he knows who he is! The other day he presented me with a logical challenge regarding the existence of objective meaning. Objective meaning and morality is rather intimately connected so I have tried to address both of these matters simultaneously. His argument on behalf of Theism goes like this:

1) subjective “meaning to life” (that is “meaning” that is self decided) is wholly delusional.

2) An objective ground is needed for there to possibly be any objective meaning to one’s life.

3) Atheism does not, and can not, provide an objective ground for the meaning of life.

4) Theism can, and in fact is the only worldview that, provides this objective ground.

1) subjective “meaning to life” (that is “meaning” that is self decided) is wholly delusional.

I suppose I should clarify my view for you then. Meaning appears to be derived both individually and collectively. There is a level of self derived meaning that we create simply from existing and interacting within the world. As an example of self derived meaning the color yellow and its association with a feeling of warmth and peace for one person may not translate to another person. For another person the color yellow may be an annoyance. If there’s too much of it in the room it feels overwhelming and kind of weird. That is meaning on an individual level that has different subjective implications.

Then there is meaning that is transferred from one’s family and cultural experiences. Religion is a big staple here. I call this a combination of collective and individual meaning. With this comes a set of preconceived feelings and attitudes. In other words, the values or lens through which we were raised to see the world.

As a provocative illustration let us consider the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In the minds of the terrorists and those who agree with such a perspective, to fly that plane into a skyscraper was a victory cry for the advancement of radical Islam. It was a joyous self sacrifice against what they perceived to be the forces of evil and rebellion against Allah. It was an opportunity for paradise and celebration beyond the grave.

The perspective of most Americans is quite different for reasons I am quite empathetic about. Now, I know what you want to say. “See, this is why subjective meaning fails and calls for Theism to provide an objective standard!” The only problem here is that epistemically you will still be hard pressed to ground your own argument in reality. Reason being that we lack any viable means through which we can walk up to heaven’s gates and confirm the source of objective meaning and values.

You are free to make a philosophical argument that builds the tension or perceived need for objective moral values and meaning but it is quite another thing to claim definitive knowledge in this regard. Neither you or myself has this definitive knowledge and this creates a problem for your argument. This is the problem with metaphysical argumentation! We can inflate the idea of objective moral values and meaning all we want, but can we actually demonstrate it? Can we actually speak from knowledge in this regard? If we cannot then it seems to me that Theists, Atheists, and Agnostics are all in the same lifeboat. Yes, we are all trying to escape the sinking ship of moral chaos but at the same time we must be painstakingly honest about what is actually known by anyone in this regard!

Here is what I advocate in the midst of moral confusion and the lack of clear objective grounds relating to God. I advocate all religions and cultures to come clean about not being able to demonstrate that God necessitates objective meaning in the world. You can have your religion but what must be done now within Theism is to at least be willing to create a backup morality just in case the metaphysical claims of your religion become unconvincing over time. We all have the capacity to change our minds, right?

So let’s strive to create a morality that must shift from the metaphysical and acknowledge the things that are clear within the world. What is clear within the world is natural cause and effect. There are natural consequences and there are reactionary social consequences among humans and other animals. Nobody is arguing that gravity doesn’t exist. Nobody is arguing that fire doesn’t burn. Nobody is arguing that certain actions and choices don’t affect people physically and emotionally.

Now that we have that in mind let us then consider the value of empathy and compassion. I’m talking about the natural reaction that the majority of people can appear to exude when they see suffering and injustice at face value. We are adept as people to feel the strain in these cases. I abhor father’s raping their daughters just as much as the next guy. I despise the Jeffrey Dahmers and the Hitlers of this world just as much. What makes these kinds of atrocities the most disgusting to us? Arguably it is the cause and effect that unfolds! The wake of these events have scarred us all and it is because we possess such a strong inward feeling of empathy. Objectively we can recognize such clear threats to our survival and wellbeing. To simply let such monsters roam free is by default our own death wish and lack of concern.

Empathy paired with the recognition of natural and social consequences within the world is going to take our species a long way in the area of moral ethics and meaning. It already has! Hence the value of democracy and a secular society. Those who deviate from evaluating the consequences of their actions are either going to have to live far off of the grid or they will be induced with social pressures to conform and/or face corrective punishment. Now don’t get me wrong. If there could exist an overarching standard that intervenes and implements justice similar in the way you are advocating a God to do it could potentially tighten up justice into something that is evenly applied across the board.

If we want to get into the specifics of why I think the Biblical God is not the way to go, we’ll save that for another time. The main thrust of my argument is that you will be hard pressed to demonstrate both the necessity and reality of objective meaning stemming from an inaccessible divine source. We need a viable bridge between faith and knowledge! Until then it is most realistic to join your non believing friends in creating a morality that stems from evaluating the consequences of our actions.

2) An objective ground is needed for there to possibly be any objective meaning to one’s life.

You may or may not find this response to be annoying but I must ask you, “how do you actually know that an objective ground is needed for there to possibly be any objective meaning?” Do you know this or do you just feel this deep down? For you to know would mean that you can reasonably demonstrate to anyone right now that God exists. If you cannot do this then neither can you necessitate objective meaning and its being grounded in God. It would be best for you to argue from what you know and not from the metaphysical.

3) Atheism does not, and can not, provide an objective ground for the meaning of life.

I am personally agnostic as to whether Atheism sufficiently provides objective grounds but my short response to you is that neither can Theism based upon my argument above. On a separate note I do not view Atheism as a worldview or set of beliefs. It is the answer to one question. Does God exist? I don’t think so, but if viable means can convince me otherwise I’m open to it. I’m interested in knowledge that I can take to the bank.

4) Theism can, and in fact is the only worldview that, provides this objective ground.

If God was an objective and undisputed reality that we could access at this time I would be inclined to agree with you. In that world God would at least be a clear reality to fear and acknowledge. In such a case I would have to take into consideration everything that this being commands. If human beings are unable to verify the source (God’s existence) in the present then your whole argument loses its flavor. It simply floats in the realm of Philosophical possibilities but it isn’t moving and manipulating matter in my world. It isn’t intersecting with my humanity and the present set of conditions that I find myself in. My present conditions indicate that God is either silent and utterly inactive within my conscious experiences, or there is likely no God that I am able to confirm within this existence.

Thank you for considering my counter-arguments! Take care my friend!

As a further clarification to my whole argument what I am attempting to demonstrate is a measure of objectivity that can be gained through evaluating and acknowledging cause and effect. In other words, via understanding the consequences of our actions within the world as well as with other conscious human beings. I told you that I am agnostic as to whether sufficient grounds have been established but I would consider an objectivity about the natural world to be a more reliable place to start this endeavor. Theism is unable to bridge the gap between faith and knowledge which leaves you with a metaphysical claim only. This does not illustrate the necessity of objective meaning having to stem from a God. I hope this makes sense. Thanks again!

First Cause?

It is far more absurd for me to presume that a God can simply exist uncaused because one is then saying that an immense amount of power and design that is said to reside in the very nature of that being came from nothing. No source! It is absurd to posit an untold amount of complexity that is somehow uncaused or self-existent. I find no pattern or basis for that within this universe.

I find it far more palatable to objectively deduce that this universe started from simplicity and gradually became more complex. There is some kind of pattern here that is not found within Theism. I think it is because Theism deviates from trying to attain the prize. Instead of continuing down this path that observes complexity reverting back to simplicity, a singularity if you will, suddenly an immensely knowledgeable, powerful, and internally designed God is posited to be responsible without out any need for verification and careful consideration of the facts.

The more careful and admittedly difficult position to take is one of uncertainty. Uncertainty is uncomfortable. We don’t like it! Especially in the face of impending death. However, uncertainty is a catalyst to not give up on objectivity. To always work at attaining the prize. The prize is reality itself! We want to speak from knowledge rather than ignorance. It is better to suspend judgement in the case of insufficient knowledge rather than positing what is not yet known.

Thinking Differently

Ladies and gentlemen rev up your calculators because Atheism is neither a set of affirmed beliefs and nor is it a worldview! Atheism is simply a category where many differing minds unite on the same question. We lack belief in a God or gods.

The avenues that many of us have gone down to ultimately acknowledge this lack of belief are rather varied as well. We live and speak as if there are no gods because this is what present reality impresses upon us. Some believers in God may feel threatened when they see their beliefs being put under intense scrutiny. The fact of the matter is, this is what everyone should be doing!

A critical thinking Theist is at least willing to admit that they could be wrong and that they are open to other conclusions. I think I know a few of these folks and though I may not agree on their conclusions, I respect their willingness to question authority.

I respect anyone that does not cower away in fear that they may be labeled a heretic or a deluded person just for thinking differently. Thinking differently is valuable as well as very costly. It’s not a very popular road to travel down because many other authoritative teachers and leaders view this as threatening. If a different trend of thinking catches on enough it could very well dethrone those who are in power.

I personally am not looking to dethrone the tyrannical powers that be. At least not politically speaking. If this happens in the world of ideas then so be it! The world of ideas invites criticism. This kind of free exchange is key. I rather enjoy the democratic society that I find myself in and it is my hope to continue to protect everyone’s right to think and believe differently from one another. I am also interested in creating harmony and friendship wherever it can be found.

Thoughts have consequences across the board. Regardless of one’s creed or cultural lens. If one dies for being honest about what they think, they will have died in honor. An added caveat is that not all honor is good. We need to do our best to discern what kind of ideas are most rational and in line with reality. We will have otherwise honored the wrong things.

Five Signs Of Growing Apostasy

1) You sense a clear disconnect between your stated faith and the nature of reality. This happens in a few different ways.

a) The Bible portrays a relational God that intervenes in the world and confirms His presence in our lives. If you’re feeling lonely, unconfirmed, and unguided, it’s probably because you are!

b) Over time it becomes increasingly clear how little you actually know in this regard. This is when you must reluctantly admit that your knowledge of God and supernatural worlds may actually be insufficient.

c) Since insufficient knowledge exists then you are now more willing and open to admit uncertainty.

2) You suspect that prayer has little to no correlation whatsoever with the events that actually unfold in your life. You rightly discern that to not pray carries the same degree of pattern confirmation and/or disconfirmation.

3) As you are confronted with the massive variety of thought that exists within your own religion as well as within all religions you start to recognize how astonishing it is to think you are right while all or many others are wrong! Particularly in the area of special knowledge that God is said to give to the faithful. If many other religions claim to have special knowledge of their gods then your own position tends to diminish in its own perceived uniqueness.

4) When well intentioned obedience to a holy book becomes harmful or destructive in its application you realize that something doesn’t seem right. For instance: The New Testament contains warnings about eternal punishment for not conforming to its mold of righteous thoughts and actions. It is therefore considered essential for believers to pronounce impending doom upon the world. All that one needs is a Bible and a platform to speak. Nothing else is required so as to distinguish this set of warnings from what is contained in other holy books.

This also sets up a dichotomy between those who follow God and those who don’t. There is an in group and an out group. This becomes very tribal in the end. If you don’t join our tribe you are defective and deserving of punishment and death. The believer says, “I don’t wish any harm on you, this is your opportunity to see the love of God. I warn you because I love you.” I think there are two things that prey on the believer’s mind in this instance. 1) The believer is filled with actual fear that to not conform to such and such a God’s desires will in fact incite wrath and eternal judgement. 2) The other factor that comes into play here is self-deception. The believer actually thinks that he or she has an inside scoop into the mind of God. My holy book is the perfect inspired message of God. I recognize this and can therefore speak with some measure of authority on this matter.

5) As you consider the universe and our world you come to see that there is more than one way to understand design. Design need not imply a God in the sense that natural processes appear to be unguided and unconcerned with regard to harboring life. Over billions of years galaxies would come and go. Supernova after supernova. Collision after collision. Stardust and their particals unassembling and reassembling slowly yet constantly. Millennia after millennia multiplied of galaxies having no tolerance for life at all. Another possibility being that some galaxies would begin to form life at its most vulnerable stage only for it to be extinguished by another heat death. After an untold amount of time and chaotic fluctuation of almost every condition imaginable carbon based life finally found a foothold. Earth may not be the only place where this has occurred or is still occurring but what we do know is that even a world with the right set of ingredients is still not benevolent or concerned about life in the slightest. Afterall, something like ninety-nine percent of all species that have ever lived on earth have gone extinct! Some designer! Some purpose! How humbling it is to know that we have even been given this small window of time to enjoy a universe that otherwise doesn’t appear to care whether we remain or go away forever.

Atheism Defined

Atheism is not meant to function like a worldview or a religion. It is better understood as a thought process that reflects one’s honest assessment about knowledge as well as probability based upon evidence for a claim. Pertaining to knowledge I will not presume to know what is vague and closed off to me personally as well as for humans collectively.

The God question is undoubtedly the least agreed upon subject in history as well as in the present. It is the weightiest claim with the weakest set of criteria from which to discern from and make a basic decision about. Subjective explanations simply fail at making God a reality that is readily identifiable for all. If there is not a process that can effectively bring one into the uncontested presence of a God then uncertainty and doubt is justified. The mass variety of contradictory answers that are given across the board is reason enough to suspend judgement on this matter.

The probability of miracles is low enough as it is, but even if we grant strange phenomena that appears to be supernatural in nature it is still a far cry to even attempt narrowing down on which God to believe based upon such claims. The fact of the matter is that miraculous claims are inherently self defeating even when we allow the possibility! Competing religions write off the claims of one another as a rule and people are rightly skeptical of such tall claims from the onset. Why would a wise and all knowing God choose miracle claims as a reliable way to conclude what is true in the world? Soak in that question for a while.

What Are My Intentions?

So what are my intentions when I criticize my former Christian faith and other religious ideas? My honest desire is to be a refiner’s fire with regard to words and beliefs. I don’t want to take what is most precious to people and tear it apart as some kind of ego boost, or as a way of saying, “Ha, I’m right and you’re wrong!”

I really don’t have to be right, as in have such an attitude that will never accept correction or a different way of thinking. What I have to be is serious and this is a big burden that I lay on myself due to my lack of critical thinking in the past. I have to be serious and I have to come down hard on what things lead to knowledge. Knowledge that won’t crumble in the midst of scrutiny.

So I’m looking for that happy medium. I could be wrong but I desire to be right. Since I desire to be right and since I can’t help but thinking that I may be onto something in this evaluation about knowledge and belief I am hoping that my friends and readers feel ready and welcome to engage. There is value to putting everything we hold dear into the furnace of reason. There is value in being willing to change our minds!

I can happily say that there is a community of believers and skeptics of all stripes that are actively doing this. We view this as a valuable exercise. A tool if you will that serves to sharpen our thinking!

P.S. If you are a believer in a God or gods I am going to attempt to persuade you to think differently. To employ skepticism and intense scrutiny to your beliefs. The motivation behind this is not to quickly pressure you out of your religion for good, it is to press you to do what you should have been doing all along!

I recognize that I am speaking to a large spectrum of people so many believers in God are doing this already. Many believers do this and they happily maintain that belief in God can stand scrutiny. I have a profound respect for anyone that is striving to be honest in this regard. As a community of critical thinkers we all, I hope, are willing to change our minds and take the position that seems to best match reality.

I think it falls on the side of Atheism but your own application of skepticism may lead you to a different answer! Have fun, struggle a little bit and make your own decision my friends!

#I#N#C#O#N#C#E#I#V#A#B#L#E#!

Five things the religious mindset finds to be inconceivable:

1. It is seemingly inconceivable to deviate from a faith position. The Abrahamic religions contain very clear punishments for apostasy. The Old Testament and the Quran explicitly teach that idolatry and/or unbelief is a capital offense that deserves the death penalty. The New Testament transfers this authority to Christ and God at the end of the age. Anyone that is not found in the book of life according to the book of Revelation will be thrown into the Lake of Fire.

2. It is seemingly inconceivable for there to not be an ultimate authority that transcends and rules over the human race. Tied within this mindset is an unfounded fear that to not have this authority in place is to fall into moral chaos. This ignores the basic human instinct to estimate the drawbacks and benefits of our choices. Are there irrational minds that delve into psychopathy in this area? Yes, but these people by no means represent the majority. It is unfair to assume that human beings are so inherently depraved that to not have such overarching authority is the equivalence of complete moral degradation.

3. On a related note many find it seemingly inconceivable for life to contain any meaning apart from God. It is thought that if God has not instilled meaning into his creatures then there is no meaning by default! This is just silly. The very fact that we exist infuses our lives with meaning. Our meaning comes from other people, from interacting with reality, and from recognizing the things that bring joy and comfort. A defeated mindset is one that cannot find meaning outside of religion. A mindset that values the little truth that we can savor in this life is one that easily finds meaning in spite of faith.

4. It is seemingly inconceivable to content ourselves in this one existence. Many people of faith openly state that if this life is all that there really is, then everything is hopeless. If there is no consummation of ultimate justice and reward then it is pointless to live a good life. This kind of mindset just goes to show the actual weakness that exists within their faith position. It is an indirect admission that religion, for them, is the only thing that is keeping them from descending into apathy and moral chaos. Is this good? Shouldn’t people of faith strive to have a backup morality? You know, just in case the whole God thing doesn’t work out? I find such a mindset rather sad and pathetic. I’m just being honest. By the way, not all people of faith think like this. I am simply highlighting certain common objections that I have encountered throughout the years.

5. It is seemingly inconceivable to love other people without the example of Jesus or other respected prophets. Well, no one is saying that Jesus and other respected teachers didn’t sometimes advocate very good principles. In example: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” By all means we ought to emulate goodness wherever it is found! It is also important to realize that these principles are not unique to just one religion. Other religions and even nonreligious philosophies advocate many of these same core ideas.

What Do You Expect?

Today I would like to talk about expectations. We all have them right? We expect that people will generally follow the rules of traffic for their safety and ours. We expect that our coworkers will do their fair share of the work so that things keep running smoothly. We expect that our family members and friends will be supportive rather than manipulative. Every one of these cases will sometimes go awry with actual people. My question is: Are we expecting too much from a God that likely isn’t there? Also, what are the potential consequences?

An Atheist really hasn’t fallen far off of the tree of belief and expectation. You see, another way to think about a lack of belief in gods is to simply level out our expectations to match reality. We do this to the best of our ability. This is not some kind of willful or manipulative ploy to shove God out of our lives, that would imply that this is done knowingly. Rather, it is an intellectual acknowledgement that not enough appears to be on the table to make a proper judgement call. I credit the Bible for being a very interesting piece of ancient literature. It drew me in for a long time but the honest assessment I would one day come to, kicking and screaming if you will, is that my present reality does not seem to coincide with ancient expectations.

What are some of these ancient expectations?

1) The belief that justice is best displayed by understanding the Judeo-Christian idea of atonement for sin. Hebrews 9:22 bridges this Old Testament idea with the crucifixion of Jesus by saying, “Without the shedding of blood there is no remission for sin.” In other words, atonement is the only way to be forgiven. For some reason it never even occurred to this God that forgiveness doesn’t have to include death and torture as a requirement. The alternative is that sin or wrongdoing could just be forgiven freely by this being. Simply as an act of mercy and love. An exoneration from debt could be treasured just as much! Instead the Bible explicitly says, “It was necessary for the Christ to suffer.” If one does not accept that Christ is their sin-bearer then the only alternative is that the wages of sin is death, punishment, and eternal separation.

2) The belief that God is somehow knowable. At the most basic level I don’t think I’d even be making this point if God was in fact a being that can be known and confirmed within this world. There would be no dispute across the spectrum of human experience. The fact of the matter is that the question of how to understand and perceive God is the most controversial and widely disputed subject in the world! This raises a red flag for me, what about you? This is what happens in the absence of knowledge. If we are understanding this question in terms of its plausibility and internal consistency I think it is clear that varying cultures are simply projecting an ancient expectation concerning the question of origins. The question of God is tied directly into the most ancient attempts to understand this world and how the universe really works. Science has done quite well with not injecting God into the equation as of yet.

3) The belief that authoritative divine claims speak for themselves. What I mean is that religions across the board think that an argument from authority and inspiration is adequate for bringing one into an acknowledgement of God. Nothing else is needed! The rest is the work of the spirit. I must contend that there is nothing more vague and controversial than this. Even within one religion! The range of perspectives on this matter is evidence in itself that people are unable to speak from knowledge of the texts that they hold so dear.

I personally have had many experiences in the past that fed my own bias about God. I was moved very deeply during times of worship and prayer. At times it felt electric! As if energy was moving from the top of my head to the tip of my toes. It made me feel connected to the divine. It seemed like the very presence of God to me. If you are a Christian that has a similar bias about these kinds of experiences I have to warn you that it is necessary to evaluate these things and really consider whether it is God or your own self?

I don’t deny that such experiences are pretty amazing to have. What I contend is that these things are not unique to religion. These things are not unique to your own perceived relationship with God. As an Atheist I still enjoy these moments of euphoria when I’m reflecting on very meaningful truths, during a good song, or simply by the charisma of an amazing speaker. Be careful about your own personal expectations. Be willing to reconsider life’s most precious moments! Why? This is the endeavor of the truth seeker. This is the project of anyone that actually values knowledge and what that really is.

So what does this all mean in the end? What are the consequences of expecting too much from what is neither known or confirmed within the world? Well, it can lead to a pretty devastating fall if one is not willing to accept reality gradually. Sometimes unexpected tragedies and life events can lead one to reconsider everything rather suddenly. My encouragement to others who may be in the process of questioning their own faith is to start this pursuit gradually. Take time to evaluate your own knowledge because believe it or not, I actually don’t advocate for people to leave their religion if they are convinced that God is truly relatable and knowable in the world. If you are a rare individual that possesses special knowledge that the the majority of humanity appears to lack then by all means I have nothing to say to you. I would simply hope that somehow I can acknowledge the same facts, if indeed they are facts?

At the end of the day the bravest thing to do is to think for ourselves!