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.


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.)