Thursday, October 7, 2010

Humanism: The Web Of Light

I just got home from work / college , but today was a little different! Instead of riding my bike like I have been, I walked. I had gotten a ride this morning, but had enough to do today that the most feasible option was simply to return home on my own.

Not a problem, really! No complaints here. It was a very pleasant walk; I got some exercise, rocked out to my tunes the whole way, and thoroughly enjoyed myself.

Even if I was in pain due to cramping, overheating in the blazing sun, and visibly limping due to my bad knee acting up after a steady quarter of a mile, it was still enjoyable. I'm way too optimistic of an individual to let any of those things get to me. I had a very successful day indeed and was in a great mood.

In fact, as I walked I made a note of all the garbage along the side of the road. It didn't take long for me to consider a cleaning event for when my club becomes official later this month. Atheists For Earth or something along those lines! I think organizing a couple cleaning crews to neaten up the area directly surrounding the campus would be fantastic. The bulk of my planned events are educational and socially beneficial as one of my major concerns is fighting misconceptions about freethinkers.

Returning to my trek, halfway home I saw that someone's delivered newspaper had been poorly aimed and had slid into the ditch alongside the road a fair distance from their driveway – so I tossed it back up into the lawn much closer to the house where they could see it.

When I finally got home, despite being rather tired and sweaty, I checked my mail and asked some neighbors downstairs moving out if they needed my help. They didn't, but I thought I would offer regardless. Now, you may have been wondering where I was going with this little tale. If you had a sneaking suspicion that I was building up to something, you are quite right.

I spent my walk home executing a social experiment. A good hundred people or so passed me on the way home – from their perspective they should have seen a young woman trekking along in the heat with a heavy shoulder bag, clearly limping and lacking a sidewalk. I don't believe I look anything even remotely like a creeper and it should have been pretty obvious I was a student and on my way home. I wasn't hitchhiking, I was in a safe neighbor in a safe city, and odds were that many of these drivers had even seen me before at the college. It was also evening and most people passing me were probably going home, a guess on part backed up by the fact this road was leading away from the business district and into residential.

However, not a single person stopped. This was a failure on the part of society. I think there's a legitimate concern about paranoia in our culture playing a very unfortunate part in this, but that's a discussion for another time.

I'd like to focus on the failure of Christianity in this picture today. See, many of these passing vehicles had Jesus fish bumper magnets and church decals. Those of you who stick an Ichthys on your car and pass an opportunity for doing good are adding to the bullshit that makes up mainstream Christianity in America. I am reminded of this classic quote by Gandhi:

"I like your Christ. I don't like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ."

It's not just the fundamentalists creating this negative picture of religion – every little piece of hypocrisy and direct contradiction adds to the pot. Now, I'm sure many of these people had a good reason for not stopping. There are all kinds of unforeseen factors I know nothing about – time restrictions, urgency, whatever. However, the odds of every single one of the Christians who passed me (statistics suggest the majority of these drivers) being legitimately unable to stop and offer a ride is awfully unlikely.

So, for those of you who honestly could have stopped to offer at least a small piece of your time and kindness? Congratulations in being proud enough of your religion to proclaim it to the world, but not enough to actually follow your own doctrines. What a fine example you are. A testament, even, to the fact that most religious individuals are part of an indoctrinated flock and merely followers rather than practitioners.

This is particularly sad because I think most people know of the parable of the Good Samaritan. Shoot, even those who know nothing about the Bible have at least heard the term “good Samaritan” - you would think that any Christian would know the actual story behind it and as followers of Christ are supposed to be taking such lessons to heart. Unfortunately they got a failing grade today.

I've heard the phrase 'most Christians aren't really true Christians' before, but time has had to convey to me what it really meant. I have a strong respect for the writer of the linked article and people like her. While I cannot agree with the theological aspects, their version of Jesus is very much a representation of humanism. It's slightly disappointing that they can't find morals and ethics without trying to copy someone else, but regardless they (generally) follow a very positive representation indeed. It is a spirituality that I'm happy to support.

Jesus in this light is one of the few positive things religion has been able to offer us. I could easily be called an Atheist For Jesus*, although it would be easy to replace “Jesus” with “Superman”, “Batman”, or “Harry Potter”.

*This is an awesome article by good ol' Dawkins that ties right into what I'm saying here. Also, someone buy me that shirt. I would love you forever.

Embracing the idea of personal interpretation being valid goes a long way towards constructing interfaith dialog. I have no qualms in stating that I think it is ridiculous to believe Jesus is a real supernatural entity who loves us, was sacrificed for sin, etc. However, constructing him as a fablesque character to promote as a teaching model is quite positive and when I see honest Christians (ignore the oxymoron) “feeling the love of Jesus” and “following his teachings”, that's how I'll interpret things. They're following a representation of humanism in a way that's comforting to them and feeling the love of life through doing good things and interacting with other people.

It's just another package of positive spirituality and almost all “true” Christians I've met will have nothing to do with organized religion for obvious reasons: religion is a spiritual corruption that leads to paradoxical behavior like displaying a Jesus fish, but failing to live up to the claims attached to it. I have a friend named Frank who is a follower of Jesus, but is disgusted with religion. I believe he would have stopped for me even if he didn't know me.

Returning to the subject of fighting misconceptions about freethinkers: note today that I did two good deeds and thought of a larger third in the span of one walk this evening. I made sure someone had an easier time finding their paper, I offered kindness to strangers, and I decided to work towards organizing a group to clean up garbage for the sake of the planet.

I also donate blood, donate to charity, attend charity events and help strangers in need be it offering assistance or lending items in a display of almost reckless trust. I show concern and compassion to all people. I smile at everyone who makes eye contact with me, even if most people don't return it. I hold open doors for people every single day. I dish out some badass customer service and will always stick my nose where it doesn't belong if it means standing up for what is right.

You know what, though? I don't do any of these things because someone or something tells me to.

Why move a bagged newspaper on the side of the road?

Why offer strangers help moving in?

Why donate blood?

Why attend an ALS walk?

Why give a friend ten dollars for gas?

Why give a charity for homeless children ten bucks?

Why speed up to open a door for someone on crutches?

Why share your lunch?

Why offer your gum and cookies to classmates?

Why buy a coworker coffee?

Why the Hell not?

I do these things because they feel like the right thing to do. They feel like the natural thing to do. When I do them, it puts a visible spark of joy into the lives of others – when I see that spark it fills me with the same light and makes me want to do them again and again. It's humanism at its most pure and branches off to create harmony and happiness in an infinite web that only has to stop expanding if you don't continue the transference.

My golden rule is generally 'if something can be improved, improve it'. That goes for everything from big things like social norms and laws to little things like cleaning up after yourself or holding open a door for someone else. It is incredible how much the little things can mean – don't pass up opportunities just because they seem small at the time. Those little things open up channels that eventually lead to much bigger things down the line. Every penny really does count.

Signed,

Your Friendly Neighbor Atheist

(P.S. Please send some babies for my lunches.)

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Arrogance In The Face Of Insignificance

This evening I watched a YouTube video that I'd seen many times before, but had previously neglected to like or favorite. Whatever the reason I failed to do so before, finally performing this long-overdue task automatically posted to my Facebook. Well, as I was posting a reply to a friend regarding it, I found myself writing enough of an essay a comment to make into an acceptable post.

So here we are! JT, thank-you for bringing this awe-inspiring video back to my attention alongside a rather awesome piece of news.



Honestly, the idea that the universe was made for us is so arrogant it puts me into a state of shock.

It doesn't matter how many times I watch this video, it always fills me with awe and humility at how incredibly insignificant we are - just trying to imagine the size of these stars is mind boggling enough, then you get hit with the fact that's just in our tiny little galaxy. A galaxy that's just one of hundreds of thousands sprinkled across an infinite black expanse.

The idea we're "alone" much less "special" is a hysterical impossibility.

It makes the concept of religion so much more ridiculously absurd than it already was. We're less than a speck of a speck of a speck, how anyone can think a deity would be involved with us on any kind of direct and continuous level is kinda demented. Even the most agnostic forms of deism need to expand the distance a little more for such an idea to even be remotely considerable.

It doesn't even make much sense if hypothetically every planet (1.4 Billion in OUR GALAXY ALONE) had their own deity, which is generally the unavoidable starting point of convenience when arguing theistic claims, as most ignorantly act as though Earth is the only planet to discuss. It's a little better of an idea, but I'd like to see someone get a religious individual to admit it! It would make their god a very tiny god in such a pantheon indeed, considering the size of his planet.

I present this statement to theists now: in arguing your god cares so much about the details of humanity and this planet, you are arguing that he is a very small god rather low on the totem pole of deities. The less your deity cares about details and the less it is directly involved, the more I'm going to take you seriously. I rather prefer the 'cosmic energy' sort of approaches to bullshit. Thus I deem Star Wars a more reliable source or religion than Christianity.

When you get down to specifics like a strangely human-behaving god creating a son to sacrifice on a minuscule speck of a planet, there is so little logic it hurts. If there is something that rules over this enormous of a universe, there is no sense to be made out of it caring about human "sin" much less paying much attention to this planet that closely at all. Then you hit concepts like literal creationism and all hope is lost for sane thought processes.

It took six days to create an itty bitty teeny weeny speck, but just one to create the rest of the infinitely complex universe? Assuming that's what 'lights in the sky' mean, e.g. planets and stars. I'm having a hard time figuring out how can anyone be that mentally defunct.

The arrogance and absurdity of religion can only be matched in scale by the expanse of the universe.


(Thanks, Jesse.)

Friday, August 13, 2010

Updates, Ahoy!

Hey, everybody! I know I seemingly abandoned my blog after the first post, but I've been incredibly busy. I've been putting in a lot of hours at work and will be for the next couple of weeks, classes start soon, and the apartment has been a disaster area being heavily worked on. This is being juggled with trying to find free time to play games, sleep, write, and work on other pet projects like finding homes for kittens and working on the pieces and parts needed to start my club.

You'll also notice I've updated the layout a little! It's still a work-in-progress until I decide to seriously attack it with some CSS work, but it'll do for now. The art is my "fursona", a fictional anthropomorphic representation of myself, by an artist I commissioned on GaiaOnline.

A fairly big announcement: I have recently agreed to be a guest poster for JT on his blog, something I am honored to have been asked and am really excited to do. I just wrote my first serious post tonight!

My thoughts on the conference have been mentioned over at Blag Hag and even by August on the official SSA blog and on the SSA Facebook Page. I didn't say much in direct response, but that was because I was busy squirming in my seat and probably turning a fascinating shade of red. I was both humbled and delighted. I've also done some writing for the SSA eMpirical eNews I hope you'll be seeing soon.

I think my last entry lacked a special thanks to my father, who sent me the money to be able to attend the Secular Student Alliance Conference this year. I am extremely grateful for you, old man! You and the rest of the sane side of the family are absolutely incredible in all you do for me. I'll continue working hard and pursuing my goals. You guys have made all of them possible and it means more to me than I can put into words.

Michelle, you were absolutely rocking during our weekend together. We have to hook up again! I miss you! I miss the atmosphere of the conference in general - my high over the event has died down a bit and unfortunately been filled with a longing ache for more of the same contact. Skepticon is going to make me one happy camper.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Secular Student Alliance Conference 2010

Damn, where do I start? My mind is bursting at the seams! So is my metaphorical heart. Attending the Secular Student Alliance Conference this year was an absolutely mind blowing experience.

I've never really attended any sort of serious secular gathering before and as far as getting together with fellow skeptics goes, my only other ventures have been a meeting of the Fayetteville Freethinkers on the same day as the NWA Pride Parade. That was another fantastic heartfelt experience that did a lot for my confidence and determination, but was not nearly on the same level. It can't compare in what it did for my growth as a person in such a short amount of time. I am filled with more appreciation, passion, love, excitement, determination, and pride than I think I have ever felt before. I feel like I could take on the world.


FOR SCIENCE!

It meant a lot to me, more than I can articulately express, as I noted on Facebook: “You guys are all fantastic. I can't begin to express my appreciation for all the work you guys have done! This weekend I may have had the best time of my life so far. This conference meant so much to me as a freethinker who has just begun to start in the world of activism; I have never felt so respected and it is an incredible feeling to be able to have meaningful conversations with people who care and are willing to return your passion.”

I really mean it. The conservative area of Northwest Arkansas often leaves me feeling alone amidst a sea of indoctrinated blind faith where I rarely find conversations of any depth and often feel hesitant to let people know what I think out of fear of condemnation. I avoid commentary when told things such as 'bless you', 'god provides', 'you've been blessed', 'why weren't you at church this Christmas', and other such assertions with a politeness that condones the continuance of their assumptions. I can remember an instance when I corrected a woman on my ankh not being a cross when she happily informed me that she was “also a Christian” and liked my “cross” and was met with almost immediate coldness and disregard: her entire personality did an alarming one-eighty. All I said was “oh, it's not a cross – it's an ankh”. I stated nothing more when I easily could have pushed the topic further, such as noting that the symbol was representative of humanism and my love of Ancient Egypt, as well as that it predates the use of the crucifix as a religious symbol by at least five thousand years. It is more likely even older.

I have a lot of room in my heart for people and a lot of passion for life, as well as a complicated past revolving around emotional abuse, so I admittedly do not have the thickest skin when it comes to being rejected and assaulted with religious absurdity. This can be very conflicting when I like to show people a lot of respect, but do not feel religion deserves an ounce. In the majority of cases I honestly feel that the concept of religion and the lack of critical thinking that comes along with it should be strongly criticized.

This step into the world of activism and networking with colleagues in critical thinking have filled me with the fire to stand up for myself and evidence-based reasoning. It has given me the fuel to keep my confidence aloft. It has given me the strength to pursue my goals and fight irrationality and injustice. Every penny I spent on this trip was worth it. I feel enriched and stronger as a person, truly emblazoned and full of the drive to make a difference. For some time I've considered the thought of leaving the area to more accepting grounds, but now I know that NWA needs me and there are others like me who need the support and assurance I have gotten this past weekend. I will not abandon them in such a time of change and growing awareness that skeptics of all kinds do indeed exist alongside the religious.

I met a lot of incredible people. Ben, JT, Debbie, Joel, Kay, Kelley, Frank, Cassy, Cambridge, Robbie! Mark, Kai, Conrad! There were so many more of you, forgive me if you were not mentioned, I simply didn't have the time to get to know all of you. Hopefully I will through the internet and come Skepticon!

Speaking of Ben, Frank, and Debbie. I'm so glad that Michelle and I weren't the only ones with good taste in Panera Bread! It was awesome to be able to have that final farewell. I got my tattoo right after that – not counting our ironic brief contact with the “Columbus Israelites” on the way – so you guys will be of particular remembrance associated with it.

Lyz, Nate, August, Sharon, Jesse, Derrick, Leslie, all you hard workers at the SSA! You have no idea how much your continued efforts and commitment mean to me as a secular student. You've given me so much strength. Lyz, I gotta give you particular mention. You were the absolute best and of huge help to Michelle and I. We wouldn't have gotten around with you! Thank-You, Thank-You, Thank-You.

Hemant, Greta, and Jen. What awesome inspirations for the aspiring blogger! I did not get to speak a whole lot with you guys, but did meet some with Greta at the zoo and was able to chat with Hemant on the walk back from Noodles. You guys were so welcoming and full of information and stories to tell. I hope I get the opportunity to speak with you all again!

After three fantastic days, it was an enriching, but bittersweet ending. I was and still am completely high on socialization and intellectual bliss, but a mere three days was a tease. I didn't nearly have enough time to meet and hang out with everyone like I would have liked.

There is so much more I could say, but I'll break it up into posts more-or-less sticking to a topic throughout the next few days so I don't drag this out into an endless stream of rambling. That aside, welcome to my first blog entry! It's a fledgling work in progress and is going to revolve around an extreme diverse amount of topics. It won't all be related to skepticism and science; I also love to talk about fiction, writing in general, comic books, video games, daily experiences, you name it.

Rock On,

Coltara