Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Definitions: Theism to Atheism... and beyond.

Because REASON Podcast and The Offensive Atheists have had to deal with questions about the different ways of belief and unbelief we decided to offer up some definitions. These definitions fall under the two overlapping groupings of Theism and Nontheism.

Theism is the belief that at least one deity exists.  All believers in any God or gods are Theists.

 Monotheism is the belief in the existence of one God. Monotheism is characteristic of the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, most denominations of Christianity, Islam, Baha’i).

Monolatrism or monolatry is the accepting the existence of many gods, but with the consistent worship of only one deity. This is very similar to Henotheism which is the belief and worship of a single god while accepting the existence or possible existence of other deities that may also be worshipped. Many religious scholars would argue that the God of the early Old Testament was a product of this belief. Kathenotheism is a somewhat more specific form of the parent term henotheism, and refers to the worship of a succession of supreme gods "one at a time.”

Polytheism is the belief of multiple deities also usually assembled into a pantheon of gods and goddesses, along with their own mythologies and rituals.

Hybrid-theism is an amalgam of Polytheism and Monotheism where there are two or more gods who are facets of one supreme God. Hinduism and the Christian trinity are examples of this.

Pantheism is the belief that the physical universe is equivalent to a god or gods, and that there is no division between the Creator and its creation. There is generally no Godhead or consciousness to this God. Both Einstein and Spinoza claimed to be Pantheists. This is arguably a form of Atheism.

Panentheism, like Pantheism, is the belief that the physical universe is joined to a god or gods. However, it also believes that a god or gods are greater than the material universe. God is the universe and more.

Deism is the belief that at least one deity exists and created the world, but that the creator(s) does/do not alter the original plan for the universe. Deism typically rejects supernatural events or the interference of the deity in its creation. This includes prophecies, miracles, and divine revelations. Instead, Deism holds that religious beliefs must be founded on human reason and observable features of the natural world, and that these sources reveal the existence of a supreme being as creator. Many of our founding fathers proclaimed themselves to be Deists.

Nontheism is a term that covers a range of both religious and nonreligious attitudes characterized by the absence or rejection of theism or any belief in a personal god or gods. Nontheism is usually accepted as a general grouping for various distinct and even mutually exclusive positions united by a naturalist approach, such as agnosticism, skepticism, and atheism. While it is usually used synonymously with the term atheism, it can also include positions of belief in a non-personal deity, such as deism and pantheism.

Atheism is, in a broad sense, the rejection of belief in the existence of deities. In a narrower sense, atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities.

Positive Atheism is a term used to describe the form of atheism that asserts that no deity exists. Another term for Positive Atheism is Hard Atheism.

Negative Atheism refers to any other type of atheism, wherein a person does not believe in the existence of any deity, but without asserting there to be none. Another term for Negative Atheism is Soft Atheism or Agnostic Atheism.

Apatheism, also known as Pragmatic Atheism or as Practical Atheism, is acting with apathy, disregard, or lack of interest towards belief or disbelief in a deity. An apatheist can also be someone who is not interested in accepting or denying the validity of any claims that gods exist or do not exist. An apatheist is someone who considers the question of the existence of god(s) as neither meaningful nor relevant to his or her life.

Apathetic Agnosticism (also called pragmatic agnosticism) acknowledges that thousands of years of debate have neither proven, nor dis-proven, the existence of deities of any kind. This view concludes that even if one or more deities did exist, they have not shown themselves be concerned about the fate of humans. Therefore, their existence is of no import and should be of little philosophical or intellectual interest.

Ignosticism or Igtheism is the theological position that every other theological position makes too many assumptions about the concept ‘God’. This position holds that a coherent definition of God must be presented before the question of the existence of god can be meaningfully discussed. Furthermore, if that definition is unfalsifiable, the ignostic takes the theological noncognitivist position that the question of the existence of God (per that definition) is meaningless. In this case, the concept of God is not considered meaningless; the term "God" is considered meaningless. Theological noncognitivism is the argument that religious language, and specifically words like "God", are not cognitively meaningful.

Agnosticism is the view that the truth values of claims about the existence or non-existence of any deity are unknown or unknowable. Agnosticism is usually (wrongly) understood as a middle ground between theism and atheism.  More truthfully it is a different scale or axis of belief.  In the strict sense, however, agnosticism is the view that human reason is incapable of providing sufficient rational grounds to justify the belief that deities either do or do not exist. Within agnosticism there are agnostic atheists (who do not believe any deity exists, but do not deny it as a possibility) and agnostic theists (who believe a deity exists but do not claim it as personal knowledge).


Monday, May 28, 2012

A broken promise

Over the past few weeks, a number of people who were connected to my life in one way or another have died. At this point, coming from such a large family, death is not the shocker that it used to be. The time when a phone call early in the morning that you great aunt sally who you may have met one Christmas party in 1993 has passed away has long since lost its affect. As one of the youngest members of such a large extended family, it appears to be my job to bear witness to the passing of time, to the passing of life.

And, I do this dutifully, suits and funerals, comments of "she looks so peaceful," and "she's in a better place now." These are motions gone through, one by one as the old get trimmed away like so many unruly hedges, and leave space for the next generation to step up and take its swing at this chance we call life.

I've grown numb to any pain once felt for those whose golden years slowly fade to black. It's not like death is some big fucking surprise...every single one of us will die, and we all know that we can't stay on this roller coaster forever...and who would want to?

But the deaths surrounding me lately have not been the quiet, peaceful sunset where growing old gives way to growing old no more. The deaths surrounding me lately have been 'tragic' deaths of my peers.

We use that word, tragic. In this context, I think it means wasn't supposed to happen. These two tragic deaths, not connected in any way, were tragic in that they weren't supposed to happen. They certainly weren't supposed to happen to my peers, to my friends.

And, it seems, like all deaths labeled tragic, these two deaths were the direct cause of stupidity. I shall not speak ill of the dead, and the poor choices that led to their demise, for I have made these same poor choices, and I have made them time and time again. It's that random crap-shoot we call life that leads to me writing these words here as the bodies of my friends are in the ground.

See, death never really struck home for me, so long as it was confined to ole Great Aunt Sally. But seeing your friends die, well that will awaken circuit long since hazed over and dusty from lack of use. And that circuit leads me down a road I haven't walked since my youth...and that road leads to anger.

When I was younger, I had a dog Named Charlie. Like all dogs that you had when you were five years old, Charlie was my best friend. Catch, and chase, and petting, and all of the things that a boy and his dog will do. Over the years, Charlie began to lose the skip in his step, and maybe he couldn't catch quite as well as he used to be able to once his eyes turned a strange milky white. Charlie eventually gave up on that whole moving, and eating, thing altogether.

So, when I was seven, I was told so say goodbye to Charlie, and then sent to a neighbor's house as Charlie took his last car ride.

After the deed was done, I was comforted by friends and family who told me that one day, far in the future, Charlie and I would be playing catch on streets paved with gold, blessed by God, and in a heaven where there is no pain, no suffering, and eternal peace.

As a seven year old, this concept comforted me. The though that Charlie and I would be together again was what got me through this, this greatest loss I had experienced in my young life.

I believed this lie for the longest time, and not just for Charlie. I believed I'd be back fishing with Grandpa someday, and helping Grandma to make perogies in God's kitchen.

And then I grew up, and slowly became aware that these comforting tales served their exact, intended purpose. They helped me to get over loss by offering hope. Hope that the loss I have experienced is only temporary, and all will be made right in the end.

It's a funny thing, though. Convince someone that all will be right in the end, and they will spend their time waiting for that day when all will be fixed. Sure, there are rules to follow, and those are obeyed with all due diligence, but as long as we obey, then it's simply a matter of watching the clock.

These days, I'm watching the clock for a different reason. I am watching the clock because I have left these fairy tales behind. I shall not see my friends again, and I'll never play catch with Charlie. I watch the clock because it's clear from the evidence in front of me that I have from sun up to sun down to try and make a difference. I have but one life, and I've wasted enough of it preparing for the afterlife, instead of making the world that is in front of me better then it was when I got here.

I'm watching the clock for one reason: to see how much of this world I can fix my time runs out, and my flame fades away.

I may have hours, days, years, or decades. I hope I die at 98 in a bed with friends by my side, but we don't get to choose how we go. We only get to choose what we do between now and then.

And my choice is to work as hard as I can on doing the things I love, and using the tools I have to try and make the world the tiniest bit of a better place. It seems to me a better plan than taking a knee, and letting the clock run out. Broken promises aside, in this time I have there is only one thing to do, and that is to try.

All I can do is try.

-Paul Wittmeyer

Friday, May 25, 2012

Late Achievers and Second Lifers

 So, here I am staring down the barrel of 40. Yes, I used a gun metaphor to describe turning 40 years old. I have a couple of years left in me but that number is already taunting me. I look back, like people often do and think about what I have accomplished and what I failed to. I am not a congressman or an actor. I am not an ivory tower intellectual or world traveler. I am not a model or engineer. I am most certainly not a picket fence family man and I have failed to become a farmer. What have I accomplished in my "productive years"?  Not a damn thing.

I went to school for way too long, taking classes which interested me, not classes which advanced any grand life plan. I learned Game Theory, Statistics, Derridean Deconstructionism, American Political Theory, Neuropsychology, Geography, Geology, Anthropological Perspectives of War and of Gender, and more European History than I can shake a stick at. What did it get me? I sit at a desk and read medical reports in preparation for arguing arbitrations.

The question I ask today is "is this it?" Should I resign myself to this for the rest of my days? I have a wonderful woman and she has a wonderful daughter. We are buying a home together. Should I resign to my personal life and forget about the rest of the world? Give up on professional dreams, public accolade and fame and fortune? Maybe not. Lets look at those who lived a life and come their thirties or forties created a second life.

First, I want to tell you about my mother. She went to school for a decade looking for wisdom and missing money. She was raising two children and had, perhaps, resigned herself to single motherhood and domestic life. Then, at 12, my sister died and my mother was, understandably crushed. She was 38 years old and her life was a wreck. What did she do? She went to Law School. My mother was a 40 year old law student. She graduated with Honors and began a second life practicing law. This was a career she loved. She loved the fight. She loved court and she loved doing something good and productive with her brain. She is not alone.

Julia Child, TV cooking superstar was, into her thirties, a spy. During WWII she was enlisted in the wartime OSS (WWIIs version of the CIA) and continued to work as a spy. In 1944 she was posted to what is now Sri Lanka and met her husband to be (also a spy). Following the war the two were married and assigned by the State Department to Paris where she began to cook. Soon she was teaching cooking, publishing books on cooking and cooking on TV.

At the age of 30 two heroic men gave up carpentry and moved into another field altogether. One was Jesus of Nazareth and the other Harrison Ford. Both had rocky beginnings but both were eventually very successful. Though one had a somewhat abbreviated career.

Frank McCourt was a teacher into his 60s when he published "Angela's Ashes", Phyllis Diller was a housewife and advertising copywriter until she began comedy at 37, and steamboat pilot and insurance salesman Harlan Sanders opened up a chicken restaurant in Kentucky at the age of 40.

It is not just actors and celebrities though. Taikichiro Mori founded Mori Building, a Japanese property management firm, which made him the richest man in the world. He founded it in his mid fifties.  There is Eugene Ehrhart, the french mathematician, who began publishing in mathematics in his mid 40s and introduced Ehrhart Polynomials. He got his High School diploma at the age of 22 and did not finish his PhD thesis until the age of 60.

Lets also remember Ronald Reagan, star of Bedtime for Bonzo, gave up acting and ran for public office for the first time at the age of 55. Harry Truman went bankrupt after starting a store which sold silk shirts and other clothing before venturing into politics and eventually winning World War Two as President of The United States.

Charles Bukowski published his first novel at the age of 49 and Joseph Conrad (who learned to speak English at 21) was not published until the age of 37. Conrad went on to write Heart of Darkness.

No list like this would be complete without mentioning Charles Darwin. Darwin went to school for Medicine and Theology. At 22 he went on the five year voyage of the HMS Beagle. Darwin began publishing journal articles around the age of thirty but did not publish "On The Origin of Species" until he was 50.

So, the next time I feel old or that I have not accomplished enough in my life I will think back to the late achievers and second lifers and remember that we live longer and longer and this may just be the beginning of my journey.  I suggest you do the same.


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Facebook's Carnal Release

I think at one point in our lives we said to ourselves “Facebook is cool but it’s not that big of a deal.”

That was a bunch of bullshit. It’s a place to vent. To share who you are, what you believe, sure. But, more than that, it’s like crack. Facebook became something more than the other networking sites before it. Facebook is like an epidemic. It’s everywhere. Everyone. We’ve all caught it.

My mom has a Facebook, so does yours, heck your grandparents probably have a Facebook. For example, my son and I were in a restaurant and being the adorable and flirtatious 11 month old he is our waitress took a liking to him. She started talking about her grandkids and how they were great and then she said, “Thank God for Facebook! Without it I would never see my grandkids.” We live in Facebook. Meanwhile, I felt kinda shitty cause her kids never visit. But, I mean she sees everything through Facebook so really what’s the point of visiting. I mean this way she doesn’t get drool on her blouse.

So how, one may ask, did Facebook become the barometer of our lives? It’s our lives condensed onto a timeline, yes, but unlike the MySpace and LiveJournal preceding it Facebook presented in earnest at an opportune time. A time when a majority of the population started carrying the internet with them in their pocket.I carry my Facebook everywhere I go. My droid gives me access at all times. Thus, as soon as I get up in the morning I check my Facebook, at work, check my Facebook (with no reprimand for using work computers), and at home, check my Facebook. Sometimes I’ll even be on real desktop Facebook on my computer and my fingers are so trained that when I unlock my phone I immediately click open the app. Don’t judge me, you know you do it too. We all do. Addiction.

Wait, it’s deeper than that. Facebook is like your measure of societal acceptance. This is why we all look forward to the pinnacle of FB attention that most will ever receive (I mean other than that time you shared that really funny MEME off Takei’s timeline). It’s when you change one simple aspect in the basic info section of your timeline: Relationship status.

The FB relationship status is the judgment of the seriousness of a relationship now. It is where you make the public statement of your love for another. It’s a big step. I’ve known couples who were together months before even tackling the subject. It makes me forget how we used to announce relationships. Did we? Were there parties to say “Hey me and Billy are getting it on now!”?  In any case, the seriousness of this step has not been overlooked by the Facebook overlords.This is why it can’t be done on the mobile app. It has to be official. In front of a real computer, preferably at the same time as your lover as you coordinate mouse clicks. Ok, that’s a little obsessive. But, you get it. It’s a big fucking deal in this day and age. 

I just had this pleasure. Getting out of my familiar mobile app FB world to go onto the full desktop site to do just that, change my relationship status (albeit short-lived as it has changed back again...must admit it felt like the right thing to do but it was obviously a preemptive strike…Again FB relationship status change, big fucking deal. Do it too soon could implode the relationship with too much pressure. Too late and it’s a whole lot of “Why wasn’t it done sooner, do you not believe in us?” It’s messy business). And as I did I realized something that left me confused and a bit puzzled. You see there are other categories with serious implications that are also not editable on mobile. Birthday, Quotes, oh yeah and Religion. When I went all excited like to change my lovely relationship and tag my partner I realized my religion was set to Christian.

Odd…I haven’t considered myself Christian in years. I know I’ve changed it before. I mean even on MySpace I think I’m still listed as Agnostic. But there it is, Christian, all reeking of long un-kept biblical commandments and the pastoral advice of my youth. So I changed it to Agnostic and went on to more important things. Changed to “In a relationship” and tagged. 

And the flood poured in. Well-wishes, likes upon likes, and the same on his page. If Facebooking provided a carnal release this would certainly be it. I go back to my basic info just to look at it again, see his tag and…Christian. It didn’t change. 

At first I guess I said I was Christian because I didn’t really know what I was in 2008 on the cusp of losing my father. Never good to create a Facebook account when going through an existential crisis of faith, by the way.I said I was Christian because I didn’t want my family to think otherwise I guess. I wasn’t ready to deal with being the different one yet. I didn’t want to hear it from those in my group of friends that might consider it off putting to go against societal norms. I knew I didn’t believe in Christianity. I had created some sort of an amalgamation of a faith system for myself at that point. Which Facebook had no name for obviously.Slowly, since then, that’s all dissolved as well.  So then, what now? I started to consider my position.

I believe in good people. I believe in good acts. I believe in making the world a better place. I believe in eliminating prejudice and hate in the world. I believe that there are a lot of people who go against my beliefs under the guise of serving their God or Gods. 

I do not believe in a deity. I do not believe anyone died to save me.  I am anti-organized religion. People in groups are dumb. We know that. People in groups that are also being led by someone feeding them what to believe out of a book or books they’ve probably never read, can in some instances be homicidal. Not a good thing. I mean, have you seen the Middle East? Messy, messy, messy.

So then, what label should go there in that box of religion? Labels suck. Seriously. Because, really I don’t feel I completely fit into a category. But, I feel a decision must be made. I feel I shouldn’t leave it blank.
So, the result, two proclamations to the people of my cyber kingdom, I’m in love and I’m agnostic. Well they kind of already knew that, not much of a proclamation. Agnostic Atheist. Hmm…*sigh* Fucking labels. In love and an atheist.Straight up, no chaser. Let them comment on that one. 

–Colleen Amos

Monday, May 14, 2012

I always tell the truth, even when I lie

"I always tell the truth, even when I lie." Tony Montana said those words in Brian De Palma's 1983 film, Scarface. For years I have understood the meaning behind those words but have struggled to put it into words myself. It has a sort of obvious sense for me, but I also tend to think about intentionality (as thought and word) differently.

I realize that we all censure reality. We choose which facts to reveal and which to either leave out or obscure. This is not just in what we tell to others but also what we tell ourselves.

Humans seem to spend a lot of time interpreting reality as opposed to experiencing it. We cannot just take in raw data. We need to place value judgments on facts and contextualize them as we hear them. When we recall that information we recall the entire web of interconnected facts, feelings, intuitions and, of course, biases.

Do we see reality legitimately? Do we recall reality legitimately? More important to our current subject, do we present reality legitimately? No, no and, most certainly, no.

We lie. We lie lie lie. Virtually everything that comes out of our mouths is, in one way or another, a lie. When you tell a story you choose what information to relay.

We edit the information on the way in through what we choose to notice or store as important and the connections we make in our memories. We remember the story in a fantastic but inherently flawed storage device. Our brains tear experience up into little tiny pieces, tag them and re-assemble them whenever recalled. Much of the information is just lost but we fill in with likely data that we make up.

Adrenaline and pain are prime causes for memories to have huge gaping holes. Both of these cause our focus to be refined onto specific details while totally ignoring other details. We do this for solid memories and more so for ones badly recorded to begin with.

When recalling the information, we are bound by context. What part of the memory is important to the current circumstance? When presenting the data we need to match our facts to the flavor of the conversation. How has the conversation moved and what parts of the story illustrate the points that need to be made?

What I am saying is that, even with the best intentions, we are stuck "cleaning up" reality when we recall and present stored memories. We are forced into being somewhat untruthful out of necessity.

So, what does Tony mean by his somewhat iconic statement? I think his real comment was on being really honest. That he has intentions of saying what he means and meaning what he says. Think about dry wit. You may say the opposite of what you mean but are not really lying.

This is not to say we are trying to be dishonest. In my experience most people mostly try to tell most of the truth most of the time.

Tony had a problem with honest dishonesty. Being disingenuous while telling the truth. Perhaps the worst kind of liar is using truth to create untruth. This is a hypocrites honesty.

Tony was announcing to the world that he is not being disingenuous. His words and claims might not be truthful but they are ingenuous (which is a word. I checked). His heart is honest and his intentions are true. True even when he is telling a bold faced lie.

Ladies and gentlemen, I announce here today that I always tell the truth, even when I lie.


Thursday, May 10, 2012

Game Changer

The following is a post from our guest Blogger, Colleen Amos. She felt that she had something to say, and here it is:

On days like yesterday it’s almost like anything you could say would sound cliché. Momentous, historical, a day where you might at a later date in your life say “I remember when…”

I’ve been hoping, fighting, voicing opinion in wait of a day like yesterday for so long. I never thought I would see it.  A day that changes the game, the landscape. A few statements which make the world a little better. Perhaps this is how it felt when people first read the Emancipation Proclamation. 

Now in my head anyone in my position would feel the same way. Be brimming with excitement over this inspiring statement of acceptance from the current chief executive. I feel I represent my demographic, female, mid-late twenties, college graduate. What do you do with a B.A. in Theatre Studies? Not much but struggle to get a job to pay off the student loan debt you’ve accrued obtaining this piece of paper that declares you’re smart. I am the 99% and blah, blah, blah. Obama is supposedly my president. 

I’ve never considered myself a true Obama supporter, never felt I could rally. I consider myself a Democrat. 

I don’t support big business in any case. Obama seemed like the lesser of two evils in 2008. I felt he ran on an empty platform full of empty promises of “change”. Then things did start changing. The repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” started the ball rolling. 

Yesterday my opinion of Obama changed.

 I think it changed for a lot of people. I now feel that if this man were to be re-elected maybe some changes can be made that don’t factor in the ideals of the religious in Washington.  I think this has made a significant stride in the direction of true separation of church and state. Yesterday was truly a humanist victory. A day when the LGBT community in this country all breathed a little easier, felt like finally they won, even if just a little. A step in the right direction has been taken. 

Yesterday my president openly and firmly endorsed the ability for gays and lesbians to get married…no bullshit civil be married in the same way as I would be able to if and when I choose to do so. 
When the leader of the free world, on camera, makes a stand, people stop and listen. When I heard the words President Obama shared with the world yesterday I felt like leaping for joy. For once, it felt like this country was catching up with the rest of the “civilized” world. The incumbent commander in chief decided that in an election year, when no one else had ever done it in history, and at the risk of losing a huge portion of his constituency that he was going to make a statement that said it is not right to discriminate against any person for any reason. Screw the reaction of the Christian Right, the machine that generally runs the politics in this country. 

Is the President publicly backing gay marriage going to change everything overnight? Of course not. He doesn’t actually write legislation. But, if he can win this next election on a platform of equality and the belief in the rights of all people, that’s a big step in the right direction. Yesterday was a win. Yesterday takes us closer to the day when our children can feel safe in admitting who they truly are. Yesterday takes us one step closer to basic equalities for all people. Men and women, of any race, creed, or sexual orientation, standing together as a united front to make this the strongest country it can be. Yesterday brings us closer to true freedom. Yesterday changes everything. 

 I wonder what the rest of the world thinks. Perhaps, thanks for finally catching up, America.
-Colleen Amos

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Letter to my, as yet, un-conceived son.

Dear Son,

I know you would like to be interested in most everything. The world is full of interesting and exciting things just waiting for you to reach out and grasp them. This all seems great and I want you to feel like this is what life will be about but this letter is tough love from someone who has lives a few decades and I have learned that that is not the path to happiness.

No, son, happiness is in assimilation. Find a clique and jump in whole hog. It can be the Jocks or the Nerds or the Geeks or the Artists or what have you. You can be part of the cool or the anti-cool groups. You can dress like the popular kids or like the outcasts. You can listen to trendy music or to ironically trendy music. What you should NOT do is be yourself. You should not be an individual. I have been there and it is not a good time.

If you are going to be a Jock try to be interested in the sports. Try to learn all you can about them and be ready with a statistic at a moment's notice. If you are a Nerd keep your muscle mass low. Try to be as meek as possible and mumble. Geeks require that you not be too attractive. If you have natural beauty try and get a hair cut that is unflattering or gain some weight. As an artist you are going to have to remember that magic is real and the universe is a fluffy place. You can be "spiritual" or naive but do not grasp the concept of facts and hard reality.

I know this sounds severe. For that I am sorry. As a child you might think that being a whole person will fulfill you and taking the best of those worlds will make you well rounded. It will also make you a pariah. Take it from someone who was never a part of any clique and who has suffered for it all his life. My third dimension just confuses people.

Too fit? The Geeks, Nerds and Artists will ostracize you. They pretend they are the rejects from the cool group but they are just another group with whom you need to assimilate. If you cannot they will never accept you. The Jocks or popular kids are the ones who get all the press for this but they all do it. We all seek a form of elitism and the groups we create reflect that.

So my advice to you, my yet un-conceived son, is to pick a group and drink that Kool Aid. Will you lose a part of yourself? Sure. But you will be happier. Happiness is, in my experience, like mindedness.



-Joshua Billingsley

***Edited to correct for the clique error. I was never in the spelling clique***