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Welcome to The Secular Gospel According to Jess! In this blog you’ll find everything from cartoons that make me laugh, to quotes that inspire me, to stories of my own personal experience when it comes to dealing with religion and pretty much everything in between. The title of my blog is intended to be ironic, as one doesn’t often hear the word, “gospel”, associated with secularism, but my intent is to preach, for lack of a better word, what I think gospel should really be about: love, rationalism, fairness, equality, human rights, science and truth. Enjoy!

Friday, January 21, 2011

I would just like to say...

"We must also be alert to "theological prejudices", not only in religious contexts, where they are overt, but in all metaphysics-even those that profess to be atheist. Like any modern philosopher, Jacques Derrida was deeply suspicious of the fixed, binary polarities that characterize modern thought, and the atheist/theist divide was, he believed, too simple. [Some] atheists have reduced the complex phenomena of religion to formulas that suit their own ideologies-as Marx did when he called religion an opiate of the oppressed or Freud when he saw it as oedipal terror. A fixed and final denial of God on metaphysical grounds was for Derrida as culpable as any dogmatic religious "theology". ...He was inclined to the view that, since no absolute certainty is within our grasp, we should for the sake of peace hesitate to make declarative statements of either belief or unbelief."

-Quoted from The Case for God, Karen Armstrong

I posted this because this blog is not about my own personal delusion that I have all the answers, and I want to maintain that it is solely an outpost for me to voice incompatibilities that I, myself, have recognized in organized religion, and my thoughts regarding better ways to think about the subject. I recognize that it is a complicated subject with a history that has spanned millennia. I am not trying to reduce it to a simple issue in its entirety.

Though I think you would be hard pressed to find an atheist who claims to KNOW that God does not exist with the same certainty that religious people KNOW that God exists, and this is the difference I would like to point out. Most of those people who would consider themselves atheists are actually agnostics leaning TOWARDS atheism, for to declare oneself as atheist when there is no proof that God does not exist, would make said atheist as bad as the religious person who chooses to believe in God on blind faith and on blind faith only.

That being said, that is not to say that such atheists don't exist (though I have yet to meet or read about one), but I am not including myself in the bunch.

Fortune cookie

I keep this fortune in my phone behind the battery cover as a constant reminder.

"Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance."

Also known as: blind faith...not WANTING to know.

I also have another fortune taped to my refrigerator.

"Do not seek to find the answer so much as to understand the question better."

To me this is indicative of what science, at its very best, tries to accomplish: understanding the question better. Not, conversely, what religion tries to do, which is invent an arbitrary name for one thing as an answer to another thing, not realizing that in doing so, it only raises more unanswerable questions.

King of Anything

"Who cares if you disagree? You are not me, who made you king of anything? So you dare tell me who to be? Who died and made you king of anything? You sound so innocent, all full of good intent, swear you know best, but you expect me to jump up on board with you and ride off into your delusional sunset. I’m not the one who’s lost with no direction, but you’ll never see."
-Sara Bareilles

I have a really hard time with religious people who are under the impression that my soul is in danger because I choose not to believe in a Biblical God.

My idol

"Isn't it enough to SEE that a garden is beautiful, without having to believe there are fairies at the bottom of it, too?"

-Richard Dawkins

I think this quote perfectly sums up how I feel about the mysteries of the universe. I don't claim to have all the answers, and to be honest, I enjoy the wonderment of not ALWAYS knowing. This, to me, is absolutely crucial in terms of engaging the mind and stimulating imagination and critical thinking skills. To hypothesize about the way things work is one of life's great debates.

Religion likes to give all answerable things a name: God.

God is NOT an answer. God is also an enigma.

Food for thought

My thoughts are dominated lately with religion and the problems I believe it poses to a society that, without which, would be entirely better off. I am unfortunate to live in a world (and more specifically, country), that is still dominated by religious belief, which makes it nearly impossible for me to speak face to face with living humans about the issues that I address in my blog. As unfortunate as that is, the mere fact that I can send the ideas I have into cyberspace is somewhat of a comfort, so I will continue to express how I feel to the internet universe so long as that remains so.

A couple of things, spoken as clear-headed, rationally and calmly as I can manage:

1. The world is not black and white. There are countless shades of gray. What works for you may or very well MAY NOT work for me. Religion teaches its followers to see things in only black and white. This is detrimental if our concern should (and honestly, MUST) be to understand one another as best we can. UNDERSTANDING, not SUPERIORITY COMPLEXES or JUDGMENT.
2. Religion was invented in an age where access to scientific technologies was extremely limited if available at all. While religious texts may have certainly offered the best possible answers in the age when the Bible was written, those answers are no longer relevant or legitimate.
3. Without religion, there would be good people doing good things and bad people doing bad things. For good people to do bad things, that takes religion.
4. When two opposing points are expressed with equal fervency, it does not mean that each point is equally TRUE. It is possible for one side to simply be wrong.
5. It is my personal conviction, based on the evidence available, that the side of the argument that makes the existence of God unlikely if not implausible is the more TRUE side.
6. God and religion are separate entities. If God does, in fact, exist, however improbable I consider that to be, it would not change the way I live my life, because God, in the Biblical sense in which he is generally understood, is a God that concerns himself with human emotion and desires, cares about our day to day sufferings, and controls the laws of nature. From my 26 years on earth, I have found that whether God exists or not, he certainly takes no interest in any of my personal triumphs or struggles and seems equally apathetic about the occurrence of natural disasters, even if those natural disasters happen to wipe out hundreds of thousands of his "children" at one time, and injure countless others. For this reason, whether some kind of God exists or not, I would not change the way I live my life. Religion, on the other hand, is a man-made concept, and one that is responsible for the kinds of horrors you would not even see in Hell (if, of course, it even existed). Religion and God have absolutely nothing to do with each other. God does not depend on religion for his existence, and religion was not responsible for the creation of God. People seem to view the two concepts as one and the same, yet the two are completely unrelated and both are completely unnecessary.
7. Religion is disgustingly misogynistic. I can understand, to an extent, why over millennia men have appreciated religion if solely for the fact that most, if not all of the "Holy" texts have one thing in common: they all hold men in much higher esteem than women. If women complain about the fact that they are still oppressed, still paid less than men to do the same jobs, still suffer catcalls and sexual assault and unwanted attention from the male sex, maybe they should look to religion as a scapegoat. Religion enables men, in a position of superiority, to belittle us in all these ways, but we never think to blame the "Holy" book for the existence of such misgivings.
8. Religion enslaves all of its followers, and not even to the will of a respectable human the will of a 2,000 year old BOOK.

"Religion is fundamentally opposed to everything I hold in veneration: courage, clear thinking, honesty, fairness, and, above all, love of the truth."

-H.L. Mencken

Raising children

"Let children learn about different faiths, let them notice their incompatibility, and let them draw their own conclusions about the consequences of that incompatibility. As for whether they are ‘valid,’ let them make up their own minds when they are old enough to do so."

-Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion

Indoctrination is an unnecessary evil. Teach your children that there are countless different ways of thinking about the world and about God.


‎"But now I have come to believe that the whole world is an enigma, a harmless enigma that is made terrible by our own mad attempt to interpret it as though it had an underlying truth."
-Umberto Eco

I can't stand the idea that: "Everything happens for a reason." People LOVE to believe this. It is, at its core, an idea rooted in religious belief. People have a very hard time with the idea of chaos. They cannot stomach the fact that entropy is the natural way of things so they invented an all powerful God who is held responsible for all of it. When God is held responsible for random occurrences such as tidal waves, earthquakes, hurricanes, etc., people are left trying to devise a REASON for why such a terrible event happened in the first place. These can range the very worst...punishment for gays, sinners, blacks, or whoever else the Church decides to be focusing their vitriolic attacks on at the time.

The events in themselves are not EVIL. They are simply the result of mother nature working her course, or a result of the negative effects human beings have on the environment.

It is only when we try to come up with reasons for the events that they BECOME evil.

We must stop this horribly childish way of thinking.

Words to live by

"You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life."
-Winston Churchill

"Happiness is not a life of rapture; but moments of such, in an existence made up of few and transitory pains, many and various pleasures, with a decided predominance of the active over the passive, and having as the foundation of the whole, not to expect more from life than it is capable of bestowing."

"My religion is simple. There is no need for temples, no need for complicated philosophies. My brain and my heart are my temples; my philosophy is kindness."
-Dalai Lama

"You speak of signs and wonders, but I need something other. I would believe if I was able, but I'm waiting on the crumbs from your table."

“Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing, the last of human freedoms: to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."
-Viktor E. Frankl

‎"We routinely disqualify testimony that would plead for extenuation. That is, we are so persuaded of the rightness of our judgment as to invalidate evidence that does not confirm us in it. Nothing that deserves to be called truth could ever be arrived at by such means."

The thought processes of the last few months...

When I was 16 I remember driving around with my friend, Kathy, and I can't recall what drove me to ask her the question I did, but I do recall how frustrated I was with her answer. My question, "Do you believe in evolution or in Adam and Eve (by this I meant Creationism)?" was I suppose more or less rooted in curiosity, as I don't remember having any serious qualms about religion in general at that age, but ten years later I find myself perpetually unsatisfied with her answer, and it may very well be because her answer is the answer that most religiously-minded people give when asked a similar question. Her response? "Creationism." And when I prodded at her for an explanation for WHY, and for HOW she could ignore several centuries worth of amassed evidence AGAINST the theory that "God", did in fact, create the earth in 6 days, she simply replied: "I just do."

"I just do." Is it just me or does that sound more or less like a cop out?

About 2 years later there was 9/11, the biggest catastrophe suffered by the United States at the hands of religious fundamentalists, ecstatic at the idea of being martyrs in the eyes of their god. 10 years later, the Mayor of NYC is in talks to erect a mosque at the site where the twin towers once stood. Again, is it just me, or does that seem like a slap in the face to the loved ones of the 2,900+ people who died that day? Sure, I mean why not promote the religion at the very same place where 2,900+ people lost their lives at the hands of it?

I am consistently amazed at the inconsistencies of religion and the power that it still wields over the majority of the world, despite the bloody history of nearly all "modern," Abrahamic religions. Just look at the Catholic Church, the world's largest landowner, and the fact that they use the majority of that land to erect expensive, elaborate and extravagant churches when such a large portion of the world remains poor and uneducated. I hate to even mention the fact that teachers in religious schools are more poorly paid than teachers in public or non-denominational schools, are given limited benefits (if they are given benefits at all), work without any promise of severance or tenure, and are told that it is because the Archdiosis cannot afford it. Here is an idea: quit erecting churches and put the money into schools and their teachers. Just a thought! Next we should examine the damage that the Muslim world has the capacity to inflict on the Western world (consult for a full list of known attacks with religion at the root). Judaism is no exception, despite the small number of Jews left in the world. Israeli Jews are just as self righteous as Palestinians are in claiming that "God" promised the particular plot of land currently known as Jerusalem to both of them, and neither country hesitates to risk bloodshed to keep a stake in their claim. I'm sorry people, but for all the supposed "good" that religion may accomplish, doesn't it come at a pretty high price?

I am extremely bothered by the idea of blind faith, faith rooted in the absence of anything that could be considered concrete knowledge. Now, let me first say that I do not presume to KNOW anything with complete certainty, but I do believe that we can know certain thing with MORE certainty than others, and it is on this belief that I base my life. There is no way to prove, and therefore believe in with any certainty, a virgin birth, a dead man coming back to life, the ability to walk on water, the ability to part an entire sea with only a staff, etc, etc... And what I mean by that is that none of us who would be considered "sane" could claim to have witnessed these things with any or all of our 5 senses. It is however, quite possible to make claims that would be considered very "sane" indeed when they are things that many other people have witnessed, or that many other very intelligent people have agreed on, or when something just follows a particular path of logic that we have generally accepted as being true because we cannot find a way to refute it and we do not recognize any holes in the argument. I have never been quite sure why such fairy tales are crucial to religion, and it is PRECISELY those fairy tales (among many other things) that cause me to distrust it. I have neither the will nor the ability to believe in a fairy tale, and what I find interesting is that none of us is asked to believe that the Princess in the children's fairy tale story, "The Princess and the Pea" could ACTUALLY feel the pea beneath 100+ mattresses, or that wolves and bears can talk, a la "Little Red Riding Hood" and "Goldilocks", or that carpets can fly of their own accord, or that little blue genies live in bottles, and when you rub the bottle they come out and grant you three wishes, a la "Aladdin," yet we are asked to accept without question the nonsensical stories in the Bible, most of which are equally if not MORE absurd that any of the aforementioned stories in children's books. I am not trying to say that there are things that happen that are outside of any aspect of knowledge that we, as humans, are capable of understanding, but I do not accept that the FACT that these things happen is the perfect argument for the existence of "God". Of course, any logical mind could conclude that if "God", were indeed responsible for everything that happens, and given the complexity, delicacy and elegance of that which DOES exist, then something or someone even MORE complex, delicate and elegant must have "created" "God", or, if you choose to argue that "God" simply has always existed and will always exist, then again you are going on blind faith, because YOU have NOT, actually, always existed, nor will you always exist, and any relative of yours who may have been alive in the time when "God" "came to be", has been dead and gone and therefore unable to communicate to you any information regarding the truth of that belief. Either way, there is no sound argument or concrete proof for what you claim to believe.

Before you claim to believe something for the sake of belief alone, ask yourself "At what cost?" If even half the people who considered themselves religious sat down and really EXAMINED what is at the heart of their religion I could only hope that they may change their minds. People rely far too much on OTHER people, namely Rabbis, Priests and Pastors to INTERPRET the Bible FOR them. I wonder how anyone can be content being spoon fed information? What has happened to the spirit of the individual? What has happened to the valuing of INTELLIGENCE? Are we destined to succumb to a group-think mentality, the horrors of which are touched upon in books like George Orwell's, 1984, and the film, V for Vendetta? Are we destined to let go of so many centuries of progress and invention and cures for various diseases at the hands of religion consistently telling us that cleverness is of no worth to the human species, and is, in fact, detrimental to us?

I cannot, in good conscience, accept any of this. Can you? Can you, really?