Another Stoning Brought To You By Religion

A member of the Taliban's religious police beating an Afghan woman in Kabul on August 26, 2001

A member of the Taliban’s religious police beating an Afghan woman in Kabul on August 26, 2001

While religious folks continue to demand respect for their religion and label anyone who disagrees with their archaic version of ethics ‘Islamophobes’ or ‘God haters’ in an attempt to shut them up, the ‘sacred texts’ that belong to these religions and many of its followers continue to teach people how to hate and stone women.

People are expected to add in the caveat that not all religious people are women-hating, sexist a-holes, and of course that’s true. It’s also true that most religious people ignore large swaths of their ‘holy books’ (or make excuses for it so they can rationalize its barbarity) and peacefully practice their religion without ever hefting a stone or engaging in any other sorts of violence.

However, it’s also true, I think, that these religions teach (or have the ability to easily teach) this sort of behavior. Often, when violent verses are pointed out to believers, they claim that it’s taken out of context, and the non-believer must try to understand the time period, or some other such nonsense.

I’m not aware of any context or time period that makes stoning women, rape or genocide ethically sound. I don’t need to understand some secret context or be a history major to understand that these practices are barbaric and should be opposed at every opportunity.

Yet, because these disgusting passages are religious in nature, we’re told that their teachings are to be endured and we’re angry militants if we point out how bad these ideas are. We’re either shamed or forcefully made to stay silent, while around 1000 women are killed in ‘honor killings’ each year in Pakistan alone. We’re made to pretend (or socially pressured by society into thinking) that these practices and biases have nothing to do with religious teachings, but are solely the responsibility of the evil individual who carries them out.

Of course society, indoctrination and religious teachings contribute to the problem.

There were probably a majority of good Incas when that civilization flourished. Most Incas probably did their best to follow the laws, loved their families and did their best to get by each and every day – just like most people do today.

However, that doesn’t mean they also didn’t sacrifice children sometimes because they believed their gods demanded it. Should we argue that the majority of good Incas excuse the bad ideas of a religion that taught the populace that ritual sacrifice is okay? Should we pretend that the Inca religion played no part in the behavior of its followers?

When religious people do good things, they often credit their religious beliefs or their belief in god, but when someone does something horrendous in the name of their religion, they aren’t ‘true Christians’ or ‘true Muslims’.

They are! They’re just as much a Christian or Muslim as the peaceful people who belong to those religions are. The difference is that they take their scripture literally. When the bible or the Qur’an demand people stone women, these people take it to mean we should stone women. When their holy texts say we should kill apostates or homosexuals, they take it literally and want to follow the will of their God.

Others might ignore the killing part, but they believe such people are abominations or that they’re not following the will of their God. Others ignore it or rationalize it away so that they don’t have to follow their holy texts when it comes to things they find abhorrent.

For example, many Christians fight to put the Ten Commandments on courthouse lawns. They’ll say the country would be better off if we lived by those commandments. What they either don’t know or ignore, is that those commandments violate the constitution and basic human rights by demanding we worship one specific deity. They also don’t know or ignore the consequences for disobeying those commandments – the penalty is often death by stoning.

In the modern era, it baffles me that we continue to support and fund these ancient, mythological, harmful religions. Why do we as a species find it so hard to confront these bad ideas, learn from them what we can, and move on and improve upon them? Why do we continue to excuse these bad ideas and pretend they have no impact on behavior, when they clearly do.

Because there are good people in any given ideological group doesn’t mean the ideology they practice and spread is either true or beneficial to society.

So in Pakistan, another woman was stoned for marrying someone she loved. She was murdered by her own family and she won’t be the last, while the rest of us sit silently by and make excuses for the harmful ideas that make this sort of outrage virtually commonplace. These ancient religions come from a time when women were thought of as property. They were sold by their fathers, and had very few rights. Taken literally, this is often the attitude these religions pass on.

Women aren’t property. They are human beings. Despite what religions often teach, women have every bit as much right to freedom as a male. Women aren’t worth any less than a male. Women don’t deserve to be raped or killed. Women don’t have to submit to being baby factories, and they shouldn’t have to submit to their father or husband.

Let’s work towards those ideals instead of these ones:

Her father, two brothers and former fiance were among the attackers, he said. Iqbal suffered severe head injuries and was pronounced dead in hospital, police said.

All the suspects except her father escaped. He admitted killing his daughter, Cheema said, and explained it was a matter of honor. Many Pakistani families think a woman marrying her own choice of man brings dishonor on the family.

Iqbal had been engaged to her cousin but married another man, Cheema said. Her family registered a kidnapping case against him but Iqbal had come to court to argue that she had married of her own free will, he said.

If the video below doesn’t spark some outrage inside you, I don’t know what will.

 

Christian Charity At Work

A lot of times, Christians or other faith groups will point to the charity their organizations are responsible for to deflect away any questioning their faith may encounter. I don’t know how many times I’ve asked a Catholic why they continue to put their money in a Catholic collection plate, knowing that the church covered up for and moved around pedophile priests, only to have them deflect by bringing up how many charities the Catholic Church is responsible for. It’s as if they think the charities make the rest of it okay.

I also wonder if they think charities would disappear without religion. Would the people who contribute to these religious charities not support them if it wasn’t for their faith?

Maybe I’m an idealist, but I like to think that they’d support secular charities because they’re good people who want to help, even if they suddenly lost their faith in a supernatural God.

Netflix has a new documentary called, God Loves Uganda, that shows how dangerous faith tied to charity can be. The documentary exposes how American Evangelicals have invaded and infected Uganda with Christian based homophobia. It alleges that American Evangelicals have been so successful at it, that they are the primary cause of Uganda’s ‘Kill The Gays’ law.

According to one article:

And as another missionary explains, Uganda is the perfect place: “50 percent of the population is under 15 years old. … What [we] can do is limited, but we can multiply ourselves in these young people.” Add that to the strategy of tying aid and charity work to values exportation in order to ensure a captive audience, and it’s easy to see why many Ugandans so readily accept the evangelical message.

So what has been the cost for this ‘aid’?

Well, that and the fact that Lively and his ilk have done a great job convincing Ugandan parents that homosexuals are out to get their children. This “recruiting” notion is as old as time and should have been discredited by now, but it seems to work particularly well in a culture that has not had much experience with sexual minorities. Of course, the irony is that it’s the radical evangelicals who are doing the recruiting here, literally whispering their lifestyle into the ears of kids—as a poignant scene at the funeral of slain activist David Kato shows, actual LGBTQ people are struggling just to stay alive.

The selling of religion under the guise of charity is an old story, and one that continues on to this day. For some religious organizations, it’s not enough to just help people in need – they must also attempt to indoctrinate their captive audience and sell them iron-age myths. Along with those myths comes their dogma, which clearly doesn’t favor some minority groups such as homosexuals.

The consequences are proving to be disastrous.

 

How The Fear Of Death Works In Favor Of Religion

death_with_angel_wings_by_darkisatoI got some very interesting comments on my last blog post about what I think happens after death. Almost as if by fate, yesterday I was browsing YouTube and I found a supremely interesting video about stories we tell ourselves about death.

Philosopher Stephen Cave breaks down the four narratives that seem to reoccur throughout history. Christians who responded to my last post will instantly recognize one of those recurring themes, which is the resurrection myth. Jesus is the latest actor on the stage, but he was far from being the first.

The three others are the elixir story, which has recently been reincarnated using science, where a scientific or magical elixir will be discovered that can prevent death, reverse the aging process or halt time. If that sounds confusing, just think about the numerous fountain of youth stories that have popped up throughout history.

Christians will be very familiar with another of the stories we tell ourselves, which is about a soul that is independent of the body. This got me to thinking about how some religions (Christianity is a primary one) are extremely powerful because they have two of the four stories we tell ourselves hardwired directly into the religion. This means that not only can Christians pretend they can escape death in one way, but Christianity offers them two escape routes. Of course, atheists can put this one to good use as well, by telling ourselves we can freeze our bodies till a future date or (my personal favorite) that we can upload our thoughts and personalities into a computer, allowing us to cheat death.

The last story can be handily utilized by atheists – it’s called ‘the legacy’. The idea involves beating death by leaving behind a legacy. I suppose religious people can also use this story to their benefit.

The Ted Talk also breaks down how a bias works, and how our fear of death works against us. This terror of death and the bias it creates allow us to convince ourselves that all sorts of nonsense is true. Rather than try to work within the bounds of the reality of death, many of us choose to take refuge within comforting myths, no matter how improbable they might seem when we’re thinking rationally. It allows us to ignore the evidence in favor of the comforting idea that we won’t really die, and if we do, it’s only temporary.

Blogger, Alex Capo, recently wrote a post in response to mine where he does a fine job of trying to fit his religious beliefs within a framework that makes sense.

For example, he said:

Here we see something very interesting, Jesus compares death with sleep. As the story continues, for those who have not read it, Jesus ressurects Lazarus. Why, on God’s good Earth would Jesus raise Lazarus if he had been in paradise with God, himself? I think the answer is simple.

When we die, our bodies return to the dust and our consciousness remains in a sleep state. Not a normal state of which would include dreams, delta, alpha, and beta waves, but rather, a sleep with no such thought process at all!

While something like this might sound comforting, Alex’s stance rests on there being a God, which he has yet to demonstrate is true. Then it relies on the assumption that this God is the Christian God, and not one of the thousands of other Gods that have been invented by humanity over the course of our history. Then it relies on the bible being an accurate account of this Gods thoughts and ways of doing things.

Alex’s stance also relies on all kinds of bias, including the fear of death. How much nicer reality would seem if we merely went to sleep instead of being swallowed by the void and forgotten by time. Then this deity will reawaken us and off on our merry way we go. The likely reality of death is so much harsher than this, and why would you want to believe in the void when you can believe in the fuzzy goodness of Jesus?

However, I think we need to look for the truth, no matter how harsh it may seem. I think comforting lies and myths lead to all sorts of other errors in judgment, and I think we need to learn how to deal with how the universe and our existence in it really work.

I hope you’ll stop by Alex’s blog and read his entire post. It is an excellent blog…but I don’t buy it. I know death can be terrifying. It’s like looking into an abyss that you know you can’t escape. I would rather have the courage to face the darkness and live in the light that remains. One day that light will go out, but at least I’ll know that I tried my best to find the truth, no matter how uncomfortable, and that is what’s important to me.

What Do I Think Happens After Death?

quote-our-death-is-not-an-end-if-we-can-live-on-in-our-children-and-the-younger-generation-for-they-are-albert-einstein-293578Do you remember when dinosaurs roamed the Earth? Or when the Incan Empire was at its peak ?

No?

Neither do I. While I’m fascinated by the history, I can’t recall those time periods because I didn’t exist as a conscious being yet. I highly suspect that when I take my last breath, I’ll return to that state. I won’t be aware of anything that happens afterward. I don’t think I’ll be ushered into a torture chamber for not believing in God. Neither do I think I’ll be partying with 72 virgins or hanging out with Jesus in a mansion in heaven.

I think these things are wishful thinking on humanities part. I think once we die, the party is over; the lights go out and the living continue to do their thing without you.

I think consciousness depends on our brain. Once our brain dies, we no longer remain conscious.

I know for some people, this might be a depressing thought. However, I find it slightly comforting to know that I won’t be alive for all of eternity. I think that living forever (especially spending forever worshiping an egotistical deity) would be super boring. Forever is a long time. I think death also gives this life more meaning. I don’t think of my life as a dress rehearsal for eternity in heaven. I think this is my one shot, and if I mess it up, then I won’t get eternity in heaven to make it up.

I think its natural to fear death a little. We’re hardwired as a species to survive. Dying isn’t something I look forward too. But reality isn’t always kind and I won’t be bullied into believing a comforting myth to make myself feel better.

If there is more to come after death, I think I’ll be pleasantly surprised…or bored to tears, if tears are possible at that point. Maybe there is a whole other reality once we leave this one. I don’t know. I’m comfortable saying “I don’t know”, because I think it’s a more honest answer than pretending to know that a magical carpenter is going to whisk me to heaven or that some God is waiting to reunite me with my deceased family. I think so far, the evidence points towards death being the end of conscious thought.

If there is some sort of being out there that we would call a ‘God’, I don’t think it would even remotely resemble anything in our primitive religious mythologies.

One of the most inspiring quotes I’ve heard on death came from the great Carl Sagan:

“I would love to believe that when I die I will live again, that some thinking, feeling, remembering part of me will continue. But much as I want to believe that, and despite the ancient and worldwide cultural traditions that assert an afterlife, I know of nothing to suggest that it is more than wishful thinking.

The world is so exquisite with so much love and moral depth, that there is no reason to deceive ourselves with pretty stories for which there’s little good evidence. Far better it seems to me, in our vulnerability, is to look death in the eye and to be grateful every day for the brief but magnificent opportunity that life provides.”

  • Carl Sagan, “In the Valley of the Shadow”, Parade, 10 March 1996

If you’re reading this, what do you think happens after you die?

Have You Read The Bible?

If I had a dime for every time I’d been asked whether I’d read the bible, I’d be a mediocre rich person.

Maybe.

Okay, probably not. But I could certainly afford to buy a few more coffees.

I find that Christians often bring out this argument when they either feel they can’t get through to us heathen-ish atheists or when they’re losing a debate so badly that they feel they need to whip out the Ace card  they’ve been hiding up their sleeve.

It’s as if the Christian believes that if I’d only take the time to read their holy book, I wouldn’t be able to disagree with it. I’d finally admit that their God exists and I’ve been a foolish moron the entire time. Maybe they believe the holy spirit will descend and open my eyes once and for all.

Dear Christian: I have read the bible. I used to be a Christian much like you. I believed in Jesus. I believed in the bible and I believed what my pastor told me the bible said.

One day I decided to read the bible for myself. I’d been told this was the be-all-and-end-all of books so I’d be a fool not to read it at least once, especially since I was expected to base a good portion of my life around it.

It wasn’t what I’d been expecting. I found it was full of violence, genocide, rape, misogyny, contradictions, internal inconsistencies and what I considered to be unethical teachings.

Since then, I’ve read the bible several more times. Each time I read it, it reinforces in my mind that this book that is revered by so many was written by humans – and men in particular. I can’t understand how so many people believe the magical claims found within its pages, especially when they’re told point blank that they need faith to believe it.

There is no evidence any of the supernatural occurrences described in the bible are true. The teachings in the bible are unethical in my opinion, and while there are some good parts in the book, I don’t understand why we don’t treat it like any other book and file away the good parts, acknowledge the horrible parts, learn what we can from it, and finally admit it was written by superstitious people who believed all sorts of nonsense.

The short answer is that yes, I’ve read the bible.

It’s one of the premier reasons I’m an atheist. I wish more Christians would read the bible for themselves, instead of relying on their Pastor or Minister to read it to them.

Why Is Climate Change On The Same Scale As Tiger Woods?

climate changeIt seems crazy to me that we as a society spend more time thinking, reading and writing about things like Tiger Woods’ extramarital affair, than we do climate change. Who Tiger Woods shags is really none of my business and what he does on or off the golf course (while superficially interesting) will not affect me in the long-term. Climate change on the other hand, could mean devastation for us and future generations.

In an article published in Science Daily, researchers found that climate change news has a hard time getting traction with the public, even when it’s been covered by the media:

Researchers found that negative media reports seem to have only a passing effect on public opinion, but that positive stories don’t appear to possess much staying power, either. This dynamic suggests that climate scientists should reexamine how to effectively and more regularly engage the public.

I agree that climate scientists need to reexamine how they engage the public, but I don’t think this applies just to climate scientists, but to all scientists. Here are a few things I’ve noticed about how we communicate about science and climate change.

It’s just a theory

I seriously think we need to change the word ‘theory’ when it’s connected to science. Too many people don’t understand the difference between a scientific theory and a theory as it pertains to everyday use. Many people just throw out there that things like evolution are just a theory.

However, a scientific theory isn’t something we should scoff at. What a ‘theory’ means in this context is:

A scientific theory summarizes a hypothesis or group of hypotheses that have been supported with repeated testing. If enough evidence accumulates to support a hypothesis, it moves to the next step—known as a theory—in the scientific method and becomes accepted as a valid explanation of a phenomenon.

As you can see, a theory in science means it has undergone extensive testing, and the scientific community considers it a valid explanation of a phenomenon.

For example, gravity is just a theory.

Faith is superior to evidence

I think we put far too much stock in what ancient manuscripts have to say about how we live our lives. People seem to be able to accept talking snakes and flying horses because they’re mentioned in what they consider to be Holy Books, but they won’t accept evidence based science because of what they believe in ancient mythology.

For example, some people believe that god granted us this planet to exploit. This might lessen their concern over climate change. Some people believe that evolution isn’t backed by a mountain of evidence, and people are taught that science should take a backseat to faith. This is dangerous thinking in my opinion, and we have to start being honest about how this type of thought process can lead to serious (perhaps fatal) consequences, such as devastating climate change.

Considering we’re surrounded by the fruits of science, you’d think more people would get behind science than their choice of myth.

We need better science education

I think we need a culture shift that includes better science education. We need more shows like Cosmos, that help put science into terms the common person can easily understand. We need to make science fun.

If I could wave a magic wand, scientists, thinkers, teachers etc would be the new rock stars of our society.

We need more urgency

The original study stated:

For instance, he said, climategate had the same Internet half-life as the public fallout from pro-golfer Tiger Woods’ extramarital affair, which happened around the same (but received far more searches).

A public with little interest in climate change is unlikely to push for policies that actually address the problem, Anderegg said. He and Goldsmith suggest communicating in terms familiar to the public rather than to scientists. For example, their findings suggest that most people still identify with the term “global warming” instead of “climate change,” though the shift toward embracing the more scientific term is clear.

Concern over climate change should far outstrip our concern over who Tiger Woods is sleeping with. We need to realize that climate change is urgent. It’s not something that is going away.

I think part of the problem is we can ignore climate change right now. Sure, there might be a few weather anomalies, and we might see a few news story about the shrinking ice, but we still have our air conditioning, two cars in the garage and Netflix to keep us occupied during our downtime. By the time we start suffering detrimental (or commonly lethal) effects from climate change, it might be too late. There might be no turning back and we could cause our own demise as a species.

We need to muster political will, and we need to do it quickly.

Change the conversation

Even if someone doesn’t believe in climate change, they can hardly argue that dumping pollutants into the air isn’t a bad thing. We need to develop and manufacture clean energy solutions.

We need to stop listening to big oil companies that have a vested interest in keeping us blind and ignorant to the situation. We need to stop paying attention to what their spin-doctors and paid cronies have to say, and start paying serious attention to the scientific community.

We’ve seen how public pressure and social media can change the world. Let’s start putting those tools to good use when it comes to something as important as climate change. Our very future depends on it.