Category Archives: Religion

What Are You Thirsty For? This is What I’m Thirsty For

There was a time at the UChicago campus when the InterVarsity Christians set up a tent outside and politely asked people, “What Are You Thirsty For?” as part of a larger national evangelism campaign. I think it was a very sincere effort to spark conversation about what people wanted in life, and how it connected to Christianity.

Well, I wasn’t asked, and who knows what I would have said, but I’m going to try to answer anyways.

This is what I’m thirsty for.

-I’m thirsty for a world of humanism, a world where old, narrow allegiances and ideologies give way to an appreciation of the well-being of all forms of sentient life and a true effort to minimize suffering, paying special attention to the poor, the disadvantaged, the outcasted, and our animal cousins.

-I’m thirsty for a world where people will learn to understand the benefits of thinking skeptically and the dangers of not recognizing their cognitive biases, a world where science, like a candle illuminating the dark, occupies its rightful place in the public discourse.

-I’m thirsty for a world where traditional and oppressive forms of morality that restrict ordinary human actions or identities, especially sexuality and gender, be discarded in favor of a more liberal system that affirms the true freedom and equality of all people.

-I’m thirsty for a world where real practical solutions, built from the technological intelligence of humankind, work to improve the quality and length of life, instead of a world that draws false hope from ancient fables that talk about a afterlife that we know not of.

-I’m thirsty for an ethical system that is reasonable and proportional to the welfare of people and the severity of moral transgressions, a system that rejects extreme and eternal forms of cruelty, rejects moral justification of actions based on supposed divine commands, and rejects the extreme belief that human beings are depraved and therefore need to feel guilty and repentant about every little imperfection that they have.

-I’m thirsty for a culture where disbelief, dissent, and skepticism is respected as a good, rather than discouraged or blamed as the workings of a supernatural demon.

-I’m thirsty for true inspiration instead of unfounded hopes, true inspiration that comes from seeing people of all religious backgrounds who do great and brave things, or from understanding the majesty of this enormous natural universe where we are floating on a speck of dust revolving around a random star in a random galaxy out of hundreds of billions. It is this cosmic view of life that I am also thirsty for an end to the conceited worldview that manifests itself in fights over politics, land, and religion.

-And finally, I’m thirsty for learning and growing, and for taking the risk all the time of thinking for myself, rather than resigning myself to an unalterable theistic authority that supposedly rules over us all.

That’s what I’m thirsty for.

Humanists, what are YOU thirsty for?

Advertisements

One Life: An Atheist Appeal to Make Your Life Extraordinary

Yes. This is the only life you’ll ever have. Listen to this message, and enjoy and cherish your wonderful existence in the Cosmos, which is “all that is or ever was or ever will be”.

Tolerating Imperfection

It wasn’t too long ago that I came upon an evangelism worksheet that posed the following question: if God is perfection, where in this 2-d space would you place yourself? With each subsequent question and scenario, the reader was supposed to draw stick figures. Pretty soon, the scenario became pretty predictable: there was an unbridgeable gap between you and God. The message? You deserved to burn in Hell forever, of course.

atheist_hell

Humanists approach the question of perfection differently. Contrary to popular accusation, we do not celebrate the fact that we are not perfect people. In fact, many of us will admit that the world is a dark place. Our minds are irrational, our societies are broken, and sometimes we do horrible things to each other. Indeed, we should fight for change.

Instead, humanists approach imperfection with a degree of proportion. You said a bad word when you were seven? You stole some money when you were eight? You shouldn’t have done it, but humanists don’t think you deserve to go to Hell.

We also see things in terms of the sentient creatures that are involved and what beings can be harmed, not in absolute theological terms. You think that contraception and/or gay sex is a sin? We beg to differ.

We recognize that rational pursuit of the goal to become better people means we should think critically about justice and punishment. We have to understand there are diminishing returns to enforcing moral values, and that telling people they will face much more “justice” than they deserve is downright cruel.

Vocabulary is tricky. I guess the idea I’m promoting isn’t that we should accept our imperfection and do nothing about it. It’s that we should tolerate them. It’s that we should approach them rationally in accordance with the principle of a compassionate understanding of human limitations.

Of course, you can read and think about this all you like, but there’s nothing like a Tim Minchin song to sum up the ethos of this post:

20,000 People Marched on the Streets of Dublin for Savita

If you don’t want to read about a sad, rage-invoking story involving a cruel and unnecessary death, go somewhere else.

16TH_IRELAND_1269723f

About a month ago, Savita Halappanavar died in Ireland after pleading for days in desperate pain for an abortion. She was already miscarrying. Because of Ireland’s draconian anti-abortion laws, the doctors in the hospital said they couldn’t do anything to help her. She died of blood poisoning from her untreated miscarriage.

Less than a month later, tens of thousands of people marched in Ireland, a traditionally Catholic country. They vowed, “Never Again”. This was the scene in Dublin:

Word has it that there is a pro-choice majority in Ireland. But when will things finally change?

Why I Think Secular Christmas Is Amazing

I don’t particularly mind that Christians like to ironically celebrate the supposed birth of their savior on a Pagan holiday. In fact, I rather like Christmas.

I don’t believe in Santa Claus either, but as one humanist told me once, I believe that Santa exists in the “example of Saint Nicholas” and “the spirit of anonymous giving.”

I’m also not a big fan of rampant, irrational consumerism.

So why do I like Christmas? Tim Minchin’s song below pretty much captures why.

 

Yes, We Built It!

I Believe in Atheism as I Believe the Sun Has Set…

Because I’m an Atheist

Joining the bandwagon is fun. Friends Miriam, Kate, and Andrew have already written their “Because I’m an Atheist” posts. All were inspired by Mr. Cromwell. Here’s my take.

Because I’m an atheist, I am able to touch the intricate fabric of reality. I am able to breathe every moment as close to reality as possible. For there are no angels, no demons, no pixies, no gods, and no fairies. There is but this natural world. And that’s awesome.

Because I’m an atheist, I am able to join a proud community of humanists. A community that prides itself with using effective methods to deal with pressing human problems. A community that doesn’t go around hating queers, women, and non-believers. A community that respects science, that embraces reason, that promotes diversity, and promotes service to all people. A community that generally acts better than most religious ones.

Because I’m an atheist, I disapprove of silence. I disapprove of people who sit and watch the world go by, without lending their voice to what’s right. I am shocked that people aren’t angry at religion, that people seem to always be more concerned about defending the reputation of their religion than standing up unconditionally for their fellow human beings. I am stunned by the amount of nonsense and hate that this society puts up with.

Because I’m an atheist, I can tell the truth about death. I don’t have to go around and do the unethical act of telling people that they have a second life after they die, when in fact I don’t actually know. I am able to tell people that as far as we can tell, this is the only life they have, and that this fact makes their life so much more valuable, and so much more meaningful.

Because I’m an atheist, I have a better idea of how much I don’t know. I am ecstatic about the edges of human knowledge, eager to explore new fields and learn about exciting discoveries. I am thankful to the researchers who toil day and night to bring us closer to reality, and look down upon those who think they know something just because it’s in a book.

Because I’m an atheist, I can be justifiably angry at our circumstances. I don’t have to make excuses for why the universe looks exactly like a cold, godless place. I don’t have to torture my conscience to explain why millions of innocent children suffer and die, despite desperate pleas and prayers from their loved ones. I don’t have to accept the unacceptable, love what is unlovable, praise what is monstrous. I don’t have to view cancer as “god’s will”. I don’t have to accept horrifying natural disasters as “mysterious”. As an atheist, I am glad that I don’t have to reason that poorly, be that dishonest about reality, or care that insufficiently about the suffering of others.

Because I’m an atheist, I promote actions that have an impact. It means no praying, no hovering about a magic pot, no rain chants, and no alternative medicine. No deluding ourselves about salvation. We have to take responsibility for ourselves. As Carl Sagan says, as far as we know, there is nobody out there there to save us from ourselves. If we want to make it to the stars, we have to make this a better, safer planet for the next generation. And we can start by doing things that actually work.

Because I’m an atheist, I know that life does get better. Despite having the privilege of living in a secular/liberal city, during high school, I never thought that the secular movement would take off like it did. I never thought that I would meet incredibly talented, loving, and genuine people in this journey called life. I never thought that the love of learning about reality would consume me, making me more curious, more awed, and more grateful.

To the young person–the high school skeptic, the passionate social activist, the curious mind in an oppressively religious community, the naive science nerd, the questioning philosopher, the ordinary teen–my message is this. Community is much bigger than the place you come from. You’ll see and experience things you never thought would happen.

Join us, and enjoy the incredible ride.

More Inspirational Choral Music: Candles in the Sky

You don’t have to go to a place that supports supernatural nonsense (e.g. church) to enjoy magnificent choral music. Kenley Kristofferson has brought the magic of this musical genre to nonreligious people around the world. I previously covered his three-movement Carl-Sagan-inspired choral suite called Cosmos, which is now available to download in mp3 format.

And of course, you don’t want to miss this:

The Right to Criticize Religion Is Not Free: Speak Out Now

The right to speak our minds, the right to criticize religion candidly and openly, does not come without pain, or without struggle. If we don’t speak out, if we don’t stand strong and steady, we will lose this right to theological oppression.

If you care about making the world a more tolerant place, if want to know about an interfaith (aka transfaith) issue that really matters, then watch this video (the really inspirational part starts at 1:35).

Alexander Aan is still in jail, for the crime of talking about atheism on Facebook. Many others are also. Countless others live a lie, or keep their beliefs secret.

We humanists believe that no person deserves punishment for speaking his/her mind. No person should live in fear for their lives and freedom because of their beliefs.

Sign the petitions. Share on Facebook. Talk about it with your friends. Make this a topic of national conversation.