Letters from a Skeptic – Letter 1 – 3 of 30

In the first letter, the father raises the issues of historic church crimes – Inquisition, Crusades, Supporting or Ignoring the Holocaust, whichever interpretation you prefer.

Now, the letters were exchanged in the early 1990’s – and the father did not touch on the systemic raping of children and the administrative cover ups that followed over decades and in every country where the Catholic Church operates.

Nor does the father raise the issues around characters like Mother Teresa, who socialized with the worst dictators, never publically accounted for the massive amount of donations, which were not evident in her hostile warehousing of sick and dying, suffering people who were not treated by doctors or nurses or with medications, but were cared for by nuns – the sole purpose of the warehousing the ill was to concentrate suffering so that Mother Teresa could feel close to a god that she no longer felt but was carrying on as if were real.

This fetishistic view of suffering is part of what’s psychological kinky about religious belief. The contradiction between our drives to live with creature comforts and spend our time in pleasurable pursuits and our succumbing to advertising pressures that play on our insecurities and fears – as religion does.

Because really, if advertising can convince you that you are an incomplete person unless you buy their branded product – what mental defenses can we have against religion, ingrained into tradition over centuries, sleazes into our premises about ourselves and our value, that says we can’t even be good people unless we brand ourselves with the correct religion.

Whew, okay, step back from the brink and return to the book.

Basically, the father is disconnected and discounting religion – but from my reading of his letters, the father is not a skeptic in the same sense of skeptic as I am. His analysis of religion is not deep, it’s vague and easily countered as a result.

Specific objects are not easily brushed aside, as Dr Boyd does with his father’s vague disgruntlements the Free Will Dodge and a variant on the No True Christian fallacy.

Letter 2.

The father isn’t totally convinced by the Free Will answer to why people can commit evil – and the original question of why would a loving god not do something when humans chose to do evil under the banner of god’s will, is not answered.

Because there isn’t an answer to the charge that if god is real, and is a compassionate and loving god, then it makes no sense that each of our own free will would allow a person to arise through the social power structure and then slaughter millions of people in their god’s name.

At the very least, it’s not good PR for god – it’s hard to sell a loving image over the sounds and sights of genocides and the systemic sexual exploitation of children over decades and spanning nations.

Which doesn’t mean that there’s not an attempt to sweep these concerns aside with blanditudes.

The Free Will Dodge, used to explain why people get to be or do evil is then applied across society. By adding personal responsibility to the Free Will, the apologist attempts to avoid getting god splashed with the evil of humans individually and collectively.

As an aside, there’s a certain tone in the book – and I realize that the correspondence was between a man and his 70 year old father, so there was a lifetime of familiarity – but also a reminder that these letters were edited for publication to an unknown degree – which is not to cast any doubt on the sincerity, the obvious caring and love or the father’s eventual conversion.

I maintain that the father was more a disgruntled customer who was able to be soothed back into the fold, than a person who grounded themselves in natural reality and rejected a religious reality.

But what I found particular cloying was the tone of the son’s letters, all the hallmarks of active listening when you are trying to lead someone down the garden path – positive feedback, compliments that step outside of the discussion so provides a pat on the head patronizing tone within the warm fuzzy feelings and fuzzier logic – that anyone lacking a grounding in naturalist reality would probably not detect. Because anyone existing in a reality were the religion is deemed real or may be real, isn’t seeing the apologist reality with an outside of that reality perspective.

It gets back to being socially capable – being able to take a block of information and compare and contrast it to other blocks of information.

The discussion between father and son is within the realm that the religion may be or is real. The son is a christian, the father has lapsed – but while he rejects the religion for himself, his allowing that it might be real and his acceptance of it as real is dependent on it being made palatable.

Not dependent on religion being credible, logical or consistent with world history and reality as people who are socially capable of coexisting with diversity understand reality.

But on the religion being made palatable and blameless for the harms and evil it causes in the world – by separating the actions of people from their religious motivation for their actions – and claiming that’s where Free Will puts the responsibility on people for bringing about genocide or systemic sexual abuse of children while protecting the priestly molesters. Indeed, sending them from one parish to another until they could find a parish who were willing to offer their children as sacrifices to the priests or be promoted up the ranks to protect those perverts who came after them.

Funny how they want to love the sinner and hate the sin, as if it is possible to separate sexuality from personal identity in the case of gays and lesbians. Worse, acting as if sexuality is no different than criminality as a behaviour.

As a final dodge, the son waves the patriot flag – we have to tolerate evil or else be nothing more than programmed brainbots – and what is in it for god – even an all knowing god – if we just go around as he programmed us.

Without any realization that forcing people to adhere to rigid gender roles or a moral code that’s handed down from on high and leaves a lot of wrongs on the table, like slavery, women as chattel, child molesting, and all the other stuff in the bible like wholesale genocide save for one family not drowned in the flood.

Apparently, we have to want to act as if we are programmed to show how good and deserving we are – our lives are supposed to be some emptying our will to follow the unknowable will of god, unknowable except for all the representatives on earth who tell us god’s will, without a thought to how nicely it is that god’s will allows these leaders to live in luxury and material wealth while most followers have to scrape and scratch to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table.

The battle is one of whether you live your life how you think god wants to you live, based in what you’re told by authority figures and what’s tolerable to you, vs what you have to struggle to accept.

It seems to me that the battle is within the religion, keeping the fold folded and so occupied with rituals and rules that they never take the time to ever think about what they are being told and asked – especially when asked to live in a way that is not consistent with your own desires or understanding of the world and your place in it.

It’s what I kept coming back to while reading AJ Jacobs, the Year of Living Biblically.

There were so many rules to juggle and follow that there was no time to really live, it hadn’t been for modern infrastructure and on top of adhering to the daily religious routine, AJ had to deal with crops and livestock and property and household management, the slaves unionizing and the wife spending longer and longer periods of time in the menstrual tent with the other unclean wives….there would have been no book at the end, because his whole life was consumed with the necessities of life and worship.

The father calls the son with this argument that I summarize as “evil being the cost of free will not an acceptable answer”

But the father’s skepticism and world view is not large enough to pull the son into the natural world for debate, and is instead, sucked into the false reality discussion wherein there are only two possible answers – “religion is real” and “you continue to resist reality.”

Surely an all knowing god would know what the risk of free will and allowing a few people to cause suffering on the scale of millions in the modern world – numbers not even guessed at at the time of the original followers.

Which is part of the natural world understanding – the world of the bible was a geographically small one with a handful of player nations.

That the world is so much larger and more complex than the bible would have us beleive, because the bible occurs in a very small geographical region in very few countries – the universe of the bible is but a subset of the universe that we have available.

It’s like saying of all the books that have been published, I am going to only read one and assume it contains everything that I will ever need to know.

Which is fine if you live in a world that the book describes – but we do not anymore.

Our world is vastly more complex than the world of the people who wrote the texts, who edited the texts, translated the texts and eventually compiled the texts, re-edited and distributed the texts so people could not read them and be told what they contained.

The answers that made sense 100, 500, 3000 years ago, are unlikely to make sense now, with the facts on the ground as we can and do know them.

The reality is that the cost of freedom is that evil will and can occur – but it’s not freedom that’s bestowed upon us that we have to prove ourselves worthy of through the quality of our obedience and conformity.

Freedom and Free Will are mutually exclusive with religion predicated on worship of a deity – if the cost of using your free will to determine morality based in your rational mind and socio-cultural context is to be punished with eternal damnation, then you may as well have no will at all.

Obey or suffer consequences, is not loving or compassionate, is not allowing freedom, it’s forcing a choice – submit or die.

This is the basis for the crusades, the inquisition and the spread of religion by the word or the sword.

Submit or die is not the basis of a complex, multinational, multicultural coexistence.

We have to be able to coexist – we have to chose to coexist on a daily on-going basis as individuals and as nations.

Because if we cannot respect that each of us has a right to exist just because we were born, a right to exist without fear of being murdered for a cause or belief we do not subscribe to, a right to exist without fear of being abducted, harmed, killed by strangers because they physically can without consideration for legality or morality, if we cannot agree that human rights are the rights that we allow for each other in order to peacefully coexist – which is why the withholding of equality is as an attack on a population group.

If we can’t agree in principle that we are going to coexist with all the diversity that humans are capable of, then existence will continue to be pointless and plagued with evil, corruption and waste.

The cost of not changing is the continued destruction of habitat and lives from one person up to whole populations of people.

So, if we are going to have the discussions, we need to be having the same discussions.

Religionists and Naturalists are not speaking the same language and are not having the same discussions. We need to not be having discussions inside religious realities – leave those for those who beleive.

The discussions we need to have are in our shared reality, grounded in facts on the ground and dealing with the world as a natural world in a natural universe.

Because even with the whole of human history, all religions have the same evidence to support their supernatural agent claims – that is no evidence at all.

Just so religionists don’t feel alone, if we’re going to save the health care system, it needs a facts on the ground shake up too – and any treatment that doesn’t end in a measurable health improvement and who’s impact is not empirically quantifiable or explainable and is never ending – needs to not be deemed a medical treatment.

This means chiropractic, homeopathic, anything that’s been invented by one person who is unschooled in biology, medicine, chemistry, genetics whatever, is not funded by employer offered medical plans or  government in the case of universal health care.

If there’s no basis for it, don’t fund it from taxes – let users pay for unproven and unscientific treatments and give them no sheen of credibility – by acting as if they might be real or that the false comfort and false hopes they engender are worth being defrauded for placebos.

If ever there’s a product or service that should be decided by the impersonal marketplace, it’s the fraudulent ones.

Which, religion is a placebo for the brain, it’s something that people find comfort in, to accept the small and large injustice in the world, to think that They Will Get Theirs in the end – because if we miss the bad guy, then god will get them.

So perhaps the real harm and evil of religion is that it allows people to tolerate injustice and unfairness – because it allows believers to be intolerant and unjust, excusing it with sincerity of belief to be sorted out in the afterlife.

Not a comforting thought to those of us who don’t accept the premise of an afterlife and who do not find it so easy to tolerate injustice and unfairness – especially when we see how much of it is created by or in the name of, religion.

Religiously Kinky

Humans by their nature are contrary and kinky.

But exactly how kinky is determined by the arena of their lives in which they express their kinkiness.

Physically – that is to say, sexually, is the least kinky arena – because with sexual kings, you are limited by the amount of physical discomfort that you can endure – a built in safety zone, which is expanded upon through safe and sane conceptual concepts – safewords, limitations agreed to, types of play contracted between players.

So kinky sex takes place in a culture of respect for personal boundaries, clear communication before, during and after – very similar to how role playing gamers distinguish between character interactions and player interactions.

If you are emotionally or psychologically kinky – you are probably not self aware enough to really understand the depth of your kinkiness because when you cross boundaries, you have no sense of your limits because the pain is emotional or psychological.

And in this regard, the human capacity for adapting to suffering conditions remains unplotted – partly because of the variation in the species and partly because, I don’t think anyone’s done a lot of big picture thinking about it.

People have found ways to cope and survive all sort of psychologically, emotionally and physically punishing context from the easy emotional hit parade of bringing up WWII/Holocaust survivors, the various genocides and pogroms, dictatorships and theocracies – and in secular democratic nations – bigotry and oppression of any minority that the majority holds in contempt and lesser value.

The fact that groups are lesser value an inequality exists under secular law – should be the reason alone for allowing gay marriage.

Because the freedom of a group to believe in the religion of their choice does not include the ability to make society reflect any given religious belief.

The reality that is the shared reality is that every citizen is equal under the law.

Denying any citizen the ability to access what other citizens can take for granted is oppression and it is based in religious belief – there is no legal reason for the government to deny any citizen of consenting age the ability to manage their life and have the same legal benefits and protections and responsibilities as any other citizen.

There needs to be a distinction in people’s minds that what they believe, they can do as they wish in their own homes – but their beliefs do not get to form the basis of how to interact in the wider world – where their beliefs are not necessarily shared.

And that their private beliefs do not entitle them to infringe on anyone’s else personal sphere of sovereignty.

So, the state has an interest to ensure that children are raised in a manner that allows them to become participating members of society – that means that they have a sense of civic responsibility, including age appropriate understanding of their rights, entitlements and responsibilities as citizens – and they are able to access legal protection if need be.

Children need their formative years to be loved and cherished, be the centre of their world – and when they get older, they need to understand that their early life was just normal for them and isn’t normal for everyone – but be able to form relationships with peers to be able to understand this through experience. Seeing how other people live – and coming to an understanding of what the range of norms is within their society.

What’s normal for you at any given stage, compared to what’s normal for others and how that range falls within normal for the society.

This works best in places where there’s a diversity of people, and less so in homogenous communities.

But until we start to really think about the various realities that we carry around in our heads and understand that the distance between the  reality bubble that each of us lives inside our head and knowing how far off the social norms our bubble is – is the range of discussion we can have with each other.

If a person cannot distinguish between how they’d like the world to operate and how it actually operates, then, there can be no discussing any of the world with them, because it simply does not enter or factor into their reality.

If we really want to make sure that we can coexist in a respectful and peaceful society where multiculturalism is the norm and the range of human capacity and potential can be unleashed – then it’s critical that every person can make reality distinctions.

Without that, there is no perspectives, no nuanced understanding of the world – and worse, no incentive to change.

Much has been made of the various recent dates for the end of the world – and most people found the idea that people would believe that the world was ending on a specific day humourous.

But, I see no difference between a person who believes that a deity will trigger the end of the world and a person who believes it’s this Saturday.

Both people are operating on the assumption that the deity is real and that at some point, this deity will end the world.

Because if that’s your belief, then it’s no wonder that people can’t get upset with climate change, massive weather pattern disruption and natural disasters – they just see all that as preparation work, it’s all part of the plan.

Worse, they vote in politicians who think the same small terrified ways – so it’s little wonder that the religious right doesn’t like science or art or anything that;s about human accomplishments – they don’t like humans, they don’t want to be humans, and this life is a test of how much they can resist temptations in order to be found pure enough to get into heaven.

Which is why its not a big deal when you get caught with a dead girl or an alive boy – as a flawed person it’s not that you gave into temptation, it’s the quality of your repentance that matters.

So there is no discussion possible with people who live in their own reality bubble, because the mechanisms of cognitive dissonance are hard at work to ignore, deny or make apologist word games, fallacies, and excuses – whatever is needed to maintain the integrity of the reality bubble where their beliefs are real.

Until we can educate people out of this mind set, there is no negotiation, no compromise possible, because that mind set is absolute and black/white.

We have to encourage them to turn off the 1950’s family sitcoms in their heads – and bring them into the colour world that we share today.

Book Exchange – Report 1

A while back, I exchanged books with Jenny from Religious Experiment.

Jenny sent me Letters from a Skeptic by Dr. Gregory A. Boyd and his father, Edward K Boyd.

The book is a collection of correspondence between father and son, with the son being a Christian apologist and the father a skeptical unbeliever.

My first thought was to consider the book as just the material between the covers – find out what the relationship was – because, by the end of the correspondence, the father becomes a Christian.

The book was published as a guide to teaching Christians to communicate with the unbelievers within their circle of family, friends, maybe coworkers – people that you physically know.

Within that limited context, I did not expect the father to be an actual non-believer and skeptic, because most believers of these sorts, do not encounter actual skeptics. They encounter people who’ve been exposed to the religion as a given in childhood, but who have, over time, become disenchanted, disengaged and distant.

Which is a very different thing than a person who arrives as a realization that the premises upon which religion is founded, are baseless, unproven and no different than Santa Claus or Scientology.

I refer to Scientology in the sense that it’s origins are well documented – it was invented by L Ron Hubbard to make money and provide a universe for his science fiction writings to exist with.

In many ways, Xena the Warrior Princess can show us how religion works.

If you removed the gods and goddess characters from the Xena and Hercules shows – most of the episodes would remain unchanged – both Xena and Hercules lived their lives and carried out tasks based in the needs of the people in front of them.

They helped villages from being destroyed by warlords, retrieved stolen property and generally went around protecting people from harm.

If those programs only showed these episodes, they would still have been fun adventure stories – Xena and Hercules lived their lives based in the realities of their world and environment – despite the very real evidence that they had that the gods existed – Hercules being a half-god and both being able to talk to and interact with, the various gods.

But what if us as the audience didn’t get to see the gods or goddesses – we only saw what was evident in the world – characters who are then carrying out anything as being the will of gods or goddess then have some explaining to do about why they are sacrificing children or virgins….

And this is where the rubber meets the road with anyone who lives, not as if their religion is one possible one of many explanations, but rather as if their religion is the only possible explanation.

Which is why believers rely on Pascal’s Wager and binary restrict the options as either they are right or they are wrong – and they won’t accept they are wrong.

By getting dragged into the discussion on their terms, we have already lost.

Which is why the discussion has to change to being their terms.

So, the conversation can’t be religion vs science – but rather – religion vs naturalism.

Naturalism being the reality that the rest of us live in, science which is the study of nature, philosophy which is the study of the nature of existence, arts which is the study of humanity and how we interact with the components of our society and history.

We need to engage the religious and bring them into the natural reality in a way that allows them to keep their religious reality bubble inside them, but nested within an awareness of the natural world – being socially capable of functioning in a complex society with diversity and range of behaviours within a modern secular society.

Anyway, that’s the context that I am reading the book in.

I will go over the letters and discussion in future posts.