Posts Tagged ‘reality’

How I Got Irreligion

May 11, 2014

imagesAt around age six, I was sent to a Jewish “Sunday school,” featuring Bible stories: Daniel and the lions, Noah’s ark, etc. I was fine with them, as stories. But then I realized adults took them seriously; troubled by this, I confided in my mother.

No theologian, she. But I distinctly remember her ending the discussion by saying, “Well, you do believe in God, don’t you?” I said yes. And I knew I was lying.images-1

I was no rebellious kid; in fact, a meek, go-with-the-program, clueless kid. But even at six, I saw right through religion.

Odd, this common locution, “believe in God.” We don’t say we “believe in fire,” or upholsterers, or aardvarks. Few have actually seen that beast, but an aardvark nonbeliever would be pretty weird. images-2For reality, “belief” simply doesn’t enter into it. Talk of belief in God implicitly bespeaks something other than reality.

Anyway, I went on to Hebrew school, Bar-mitzvah lessons, and the Bar-mitzvah itself, on stage in the synogogue, chanting the memorized gobblydegook. It never occurred to me to say no to any of this; again, I was a go-with-the-program kid. I actually did well in Hebrew school, if only to avoid humiliation when called on in class. UnknownBut I drew the line at anything optional, to the despair of my religious teachers.

Through it all, my disbelief felt like a shameful, guilty secret, a personal failing. Performing at my Bar-mitzvah, I considered myself a fraud. The sanctimony all around me evoked virtue, propriety, right-thinking. It seemed universal – with the sole exclusion of pitiful me. Never, anywhere, was I exposed to a dissenting viewpoint. This was the ’50s, with no Dawkins or Hitchens. Nothing to suggest I was not alone, or to provide any validation for my unbelief. What was wrong with me?

In that sense, I can understand how being gay must have felt – with no validation for that either. (So underground was gayness that not till my twenties did I actually understand what it was.)

Unknown-1Yet I never agonized; never made an effort to get with the program of religion. Notwithstanding how admirable faith might appear, to me it seemed just fundamentally false. The Emperor had no clothes.

Some believers imagine atheists will eventually “see the light,” if only on their deathbeds (or in the proverbial foxholes). Human psychology varies endlessly, so it does happen, but quite rarely in fact. None of the many atheists I’ve known has ever lapsed. My own conviction has only grown stronger over time. What was at first a “simple faith” (or lack thereof) has profoundly deepened as I have learned ever more about the history of religions, the human psychology behind them, and all their spectacular philosophical contradictions. And I long ago stopped wondering “what’s wrong with me?”

My humanist atheism is indeed the essence of what’s right with me. Believers feel their faith is what gives their lives meaning. Unknown-2And if that’s really true for a person, fine. But for all the consolation claimed for religion, many are tortured by doubt. Wrestling with doubt might be portrayed, by intellectualist apologists, as part of a wholesome experience of faith. But I’m not attracted by a hopeless effort to reconcile the irreconcilable. I don’t feel it’s possible to make proper sense of anything while laboring under so basic a mistake about reality.

I have never been afflicted by doubt about my most fundamental perceptions. There’s much about life and the cosmos I don’t yet truly understand (quantum mechanics; why there’s something rather than nothing; the minds of priests who rape children); but my pursuit of such understanding is not hobbled by a need to reconcile it with preconceived dogmas that can never be squared with reality. Being thusly free to see the world as it really is, I feel, enables me to fit properly into that reality, and to make a life of authentic (not illusory) meaning.

Anyhow, that’s me. If it’s not you, I won’t try to get you burned at the stake.

An Ideology of Reality

February 22, 2013

I’ve done many blog posts, books and articles, and otherwise engaged in public discourse, upon a wide range of topics. So I ask myself if there’s a unifying idea, a thread connecting it all.

I’ve previously discussed what really matters: and the only possible answer is the feelings of beings capable of feeling. Hence the over-arching goal to advance human flourishing.

imagesBut this verges on banality; most people would embrace some variant of it, and likewise profess to aim at human betterment. Even some of history’s worst villains would have. Where did they go wrong? Fundamental mistakes about reality (including realities of human nature).

It’s not enough just to want good. The road to it runs through truth and reality. Other roads lead to Hell.

And so, there’s the real essence of my ideology: truth and reality.

images-3Of course, we all think we see truth. But it’s not so easy. Too often, people believe things because they want to, because it’s comfortable believing them. Ideology or faith drives perception, to see the world in ways that comport with the belief system. Cynics in particular flatter themselves that they’re seeing through to real reality; but very often this too is just what makes them feel good and isn’t reality at all.

So, mindful of all this, I turn things around. I try to make perception drive ideology. I strive to base my beliefs on what I see, not the reverse. That IS my ideology. (Or do I too flatter myself? At least I’m cognizant of the pitfall.)

My core belief system is to respect and accept truth rather than trying to wish it away. Only by understanding the world’s realities can we ever hope to overcome the constraints they impose on us, and make life truly better. The quest for the good cannot be divorced from the quest for the truth.

images-4Consider the example of our current gun debate. Gun control opponents believe a gun in the home protects you. Reality check: statistics indisputably show it’s many times more likely to hurt or kill you than protect you. Gun fanciers believe differently because, well, they just prefer to. (Or they don’t think the statistics apply to them.) They also believe guns can fend off potential government “tyranny.” And pigs can fly.

I’ve written before how some Lefties idealize the likes of Hugo Chavez. I look at the reality. Some people see vaccination as causing autism, and dangers in GM foods. I look at the reality. Some reject evolution. I see the evidence. Ideology leads some to deny the reality of climate change; others, to cling to a solution that denies reality.

images-1The problem is especially prevalent in economic matters. The whole antipathy toward market economics is grounded in caricatures rather than the reality of how it works, what it actually does, and its results. Not to speak of alternatives. While some advocates of protectionism do act with clear-eyed self-interest, most who go along are blind to the broader harm, indeed the harm to their actual self-interest. Opposition to outsourcing reflects a simplistic zero-sum economic picture totally at odds with the reality. And the French, many Democrats, and even Nobel-winning economist Paul Krugman seem to think there’s no limit to how much can be borrowed to pay out ever spiraling “benefits” (the Greeks learned differently). And so forth.

Of course the biggest whoppers people tell themselves are religious. Now, there isn’t great harm in believing inconsequential nonsense like astrology. But when you believe some divine being is running the world and your life, that’s consequential in the highest degree. images-2Likewise belief in Heaven. How can one make proper sense of life, and operate rationally in the world, laboring under such profound reality mistakes? You can’t even get right the basic “mattering” question if you think God is in the answer.

I’ve written about Muslim societies and violence. I did say there’s something besides just religious belief in play. Nevertheless, imagine how Muslims might settle down and behave if all that religious insanity went away. And please don’t tell me religion is the only check on their baser impulses. I know lots of atheists, and nearly all behave quite nicely. As for Muslims, the reality is that conflict and violence aren’t doing them any good; and if they got a better grip on the reality of the world they live in, they would realize this, and act differently.

Gimme that old time reality – it’s good enough for me.


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