Thursday, November 3, 2011

The xenophobic side of religion

It's that time of year again; November 11, or better known as "Remembrance Day" in Canada. It's not uncommon for the religious nuts of this country to hijack this day of remembrance to peddle their own agenda. Last year, I was at the Durham College Skills Training Center in Whitby, Ontario where Dean Fenton called for a moment of prayer while we stood around and rolled our eyes. This is a backwards educational institution that features a prayer room but no quiet place to study; but I digress. That will be a discussion for another post.  For this post, I'd like to draw your attention to a very xenophobic post that's been making the rounds at Facebook:
"I think it is very sad that Canada can't celebrate Christmas at school anymore. And now they want to stop playing the national anthem at morning assembly, cause it might upset some religious families. IT IS CANADA...SOLDIERS DIED UNDER THAT FLAG & ANTHEM TO FIGHT FOR THEIR WAY OF LIFE! If they are so offended by the way the country was raised please feel free to go back to where u came from! ENOUGH IS ENOUGH ........ if you agree please re-post! Don't come here to change our ways, ADAPT to them!!!"
 I replied to someone who shared this hateful tripe with this:
That's a rather xenophobic point of view which I'd like to think doesn't reflect the majority opinion of our multicultural country. It's also misdirected; a lot of the people who don't want religion in schools are ex-Christians who were born here who recognize the harm their beliefs had on them when they were children and want change for the better. Immigrants to our country typically do adapt, even when faced with ugly, ignorant, xenophobic hateful statements like "Go back to where u came from!" It makes me ashamed to call the person who wrote this a fellow Canadian, but at least I can attribute their hatefulness to religious beliefs which I do not share, reaffirming why religion has no place in our schools."
I think it's pretty obvious that the person who wrote the initial xenophobic post is a Christian attempting to stir up hatred towards other religious beliefs under the guise of protecting that which soldiers fought and died for.  While I have nothing but contempt for nearly every organized religion in existence today, I cannot tolerate hatred towards another human being. What makes this more disgusting is the fact that Canada is well known for its multiculturalism  and welcomes immigrants with seemingly open arms. In fact, my own great grandfather was an immigrant, and Canadian immigrants of today are no different, coming here for the same reasons he did.

I can only hope that an immigrant to my country who reads this kind of message isn't as ignorant as the person  who wrote it, and I want them to know that the people with pale skin and thinning hair are not all the same. Perhaps once greater numbers of people recognize how absurd religion really is, we might get that much closer to a brotherhood of man.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Election night in Ontario

I voted in yesterday's election.  As I had moved since the last time I voted, I had to re-register at my new address before I was allowed to vote.  During this registration process, the person at the desk asked me, "Do you solemnly swear that you have not yet voted in this election?"  I paused, thinking to myself about the act of solemnly swearing under oath.  I do not believe in the divine, nor do I pretend to believe just to appease the ego of others.  For me to solemnly swear to anything would make me a dishonest person, and would be an affront to the purpose of the act of swearing.  Instead, I affirmed that I had not previously voted in the election, and was allowed to proceed.

I am grateful for those atheists who fought for my protection from religion and to live in a country that protects my freedom from religion.  In particular, I am thankful for the option to affirm in section 14 of the Canada Evidence Act and the secular minded law makers who included this in our law, and I delight in asserting my freedom from religion by affirming at every opportunity where I am requested to solemnly swear.  Oh, and by the way, I affirm that this event really did happen.  :)

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Christianity: Fighting freedom of expression since the dark ages!

I have long since come to realize that the belief in God and in Jesus Christ that I once held was something I believed in because I was brainwashed as an impressionable child.  This was because my parents were brainwashed into believing in it from when they were child, and their parents as well, all the way back to when my Pagan ancestors were "Converted" and "Saved."  The person we become is shaped by that which we are taught and indoctrinated with as children; for example, if a child is taught that cigarette smoking is healthy, they will likely hold on to this belief into adulthood in spite of evidence to the contrary.  Only those who are intellectually honest with themselves are able to challenge that which they believe in, which also takes a great deal of courage when it goes against the common beliefs of that person's culture.

It's not abnormal for people to want to express themselves when they've happened across what is, to them, a new discovery.  In the 1980's, when people discovered that the Japanese imports were of much better quality than the domestic offerings, they were open in expressing their opinions, much to the chagrin of the domestic autoworkers and the unions to which they belonged.  Those who were somehow connected to the domestic automobile production did everything they could to "Shut down" this expression of opinion, but here in North America (both in Canada and the United States), we value the freedom of expression greater than we do the job security of the unionized autoworkers.  Eventually, the Japanese automakers gained the respect they worked so hard to get, and the result was much better quality from the domestic automakers, in some cases exceeding their Japanese counterparts.

Those touting the superior quality of Japanese automobiles did not express their discovery to hurt anyone; rather, this stemmed from the innate human desire to want to help our fellow human which is fed by an euphoric rush from doing so; a trait that religions exploit to get well-meaning people to spread their doctrine to the impressionable.  Therefore, it's not surprising that a person who has freed themselves from religion only wishes to help others by letting them know it's okay to not believe that which they were brainwashed with as a child.  It's the whole reason why this blog exists.  I personally see religion as parasitic, and rather than making people good, I see how it turns otherwise good people against other people for the sakes of the religion.

Some atheists wish to take their freedom of expression further.  Some wish to pay money out of their own pockets to advertise their discovery.  Think about this for a moment: There are atheists who could spend their money on a killer home theater system, but instead use that money to buy an ad on the side of a bus or on a billboard to advertise their message with the desire to help others.  Personally, as I write this, I'd much rather be playing video games; but this is an entirely different level of commitment.  What are those messages?  Things like, "There is probably no God - now stop worrying and enjoy your life," as well as, "I can be good without God."  I ask you this, is there anything inherently wrong with wanting to enjoy your life, or wanting to be good for the sakes of being good?  Apparently, the church seems to think so, and the reason is obvious: They need people to be fearful and feel guilty about their very existence in order to keep up their racket.  If you suddenly decided that you didn't need to go to church to be a good person, and you suddenly decided that you should be enjoying your life, the church would go bankrupt.  Like a leech plucked from your foot, they would quickly whither up and die, and you would be better for it.

Personally, I don't expect change to happen overnight.  People have made religion part of who they are, and I have chosen to accept them in spite of this, out of my own understanding having once been a believer.  If a religious person wishes to put up a billboard proclaiming that the non-believers better believe or burn in hell, I would defend their right to publicly display their message.  On the other hand, I think it's telling that Christianity is fighting the same freedom of expression.  If a god exists, surely that god should voice his, hers, or its position on the matter, which has not happened.  Clearly, the church is fighting to sweep this under the rug, because they know it will lead to deprogramming.  They will then become a relic of our past, and humanity will become better for it.  In doing everything they can to remove the freedom of expression and freedom of speech from the atheists who wish to help their fellow woman and man, the church has demonstrated how truly evil they are.  I hope that you recognize this, and do what you know is right.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Atheism: Not easy, but worth it

As humans, we are all subject to the same human conditions: Depression, anxiety, issues with self-worth, discouragement, fear, guilt, dealing with death...the list seems as endless as the feelings that are associated with these issues. When life gets rough, religion offers crutches for the faithful to pacify themselves; as long as the faithful doesn't look too deep or start asking questions, it generally works for them. As a Christian, the plan generally is to pray, and if prayer doesn't work, accept that it's part of God's mysterious plan which nobody can understand on account of the fact that we're just not smart enough. Then there's the "God's testing your faith" crutch, so just keep singing the praises of the Lord while life falls apart around you.

It's not so easy for the atheist, who is generally a thinking person and for whom these crutches won't work. It's not even a simple matter of believing; a thinking person easily recognizes that asking for things in prayer is in conflict with the belief of a mysterious perfect plan that causes bad stuff to happen regardless. We wonder why God would test the faith of the unfaithful. Imagine if you were troubled, and someone advised you to sacrifice a goat at an altar to appease God and make things better. If you find this a ridiculous concept, then you will understand why advising a troubled atheist to just believe and pray is equally as ineffective for them.

An atheist must find belief to get through troubled times, but that belief must be in themselves. Ultimately, it's that inner strength that we all draw on, religious or not. Since God only exists in the minds of the faithful, the faithful really are tapping into their inner strength when they pray, meditate, or sing praises; it's just a round-about way of getting to that inner strength. The atheist must learn to tap into that inner strength directly. This direct link to one's inner strength that every atheist must eventually establish becomes its own reward; instead of jumping through the hoops built in their mind by their religious beliefs, the atheist can go straight to stoking the fire of their inner strength and almost immediately start on their path to recovery.

Ultimately, atheism is worth it. It's not only the direct access to inner strength, but also allows us to bypass a lot of grief and anguish associated with belief. I consider the notion that one's faith is being tested by terrible things in life to be its own form of mental torture; as well as the concept that bad things in life are part of some grand plan. An atheist doesn't stop to ask why bad things happen to good people, and good things happen to bad people. The understanding that bad things can happen to anyone accelerates the healing process considerably; it allows the atheist to bypass the fruitless questioning and praying. In addition, the lack of belief in a plan empowers the atheist to commence working on the mechanicals of a problem to make things better, rather than simply letting things happen.

Atheism really is empowering. As an atheist, I've found myself taking better care of my health and finances. Knowing that my future is shaped by the choices I make today, I've become more proactive with regards to education and training as well as savings, so that my future self will be better off. Almost paradoxically, atheism also empowers me to seize the day; to enjoy the here and now, with the recognition of how brief and fleeting life really is. If I catch myself thinking of doing something someday, I ask, why not today? I refuse to toil at a job I hate today for the sakes of a comfortable retirement in the future.

I cannot fault a person for wanting to hang on to their religious beliefs, as I'm certain that relying on the crutch of these beliefs may have caused the part of their mind that directly accesses their inner strength to atrophy; as will happen with muscles when a crutch is used for too long. However, if you're still able to, I encourage you to cast off those crutches and learn to stand on your own through the thick dark side of the human condition. There is nothing quite as liberating, and you will end up stronger for your efforts.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

St. Valentine's Day

Imagine you're a young adult, and on February 14, 2011, you've decided to spend time with that "Special Someone" in your life. The two of you are both consenting adults, and have both never been married nor have any children. You pack a picnic basket and agree to spend a leisurely evening enjoying a picnic dinner and each others company at a local public park after work, to get to know one another better. The two of you have barely finished your egg salad sandwiches when men in uniform announce they are the morality police, and the two of you are under arrest. You now face up to two years in prison.

The scenario sounds like bad fiction along the lines of a dreaded Orwellian future, but this is no fiction. This past Monday evening, this was reality for over 80 people in Malaysia. The picture I painted in the above paragraph omitted the fact that the people involved were Muslim, and that they were deemed to be celebrating Valentine's Day; however, these omissions are simply labels. These people did nothing to hurt anyone else.

As an atheist, I don't observe religious days, and have come to regard Valentine's Day as little more than a marketing device for retailers to sell overpriced flowers, chocolates, jewelry, and folded pieces of paper with drippy poems written on them. In modern Western culture, St. Valentine's Day has lost all religious significance much like Halloween has, and so I partake in this blatant effort by retailers to goad me into proving to my wife how much I love her by giving them my money for this crap. There's no real harm, and it makes her happy as we remember this day as our excuse to get to know each other better before we were married.

Not everyone celebrates Valentine's Day, and for perfectly valid reasons. They are free to choose to not celebrate, just as I am free to celebrate. I don't think any less of them, though perhaps they might think I'm part of the herd, guided by the marketing forces; a criticism I fully accept. I digress. I live in a culture where consenting adults are free to choose to be with each other, and can choose to observe whatever cultural or religious traditions they want, so long as it doesn't affect the free will of another. It's these freedoms that are fundamental to peace in our society.

There are people who choose to be Muslim in western culture, and I am at a loss to understand why. As an atheist, I find all religious beliefs to be absurd to one extent or another, but the Muslim faith is one that really concerns me. This goes beyond people willingly giving up some of their own fundamental freedoms that people have fought and died for - and I'm not talking about soldiers fighting wars overseas; I'm talking about people like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Madalyn Murray O'Hair. It's one thing to give up your own freedom of choice to do what men who lived thousands of years ago think you should do. It's quite another to incarcerate someone else because they didn't give up their freedom to choose.

This is yet another example of why I believe Islam to be a tyrannical religion, and I will resist it and its influences in my culture as I would any tyranny. With any luck, acts like this will both scare people away from Islam and serve to slow the reproduction of the faithful, because the only power this religion has is from the people that believe in it. There is no God, Gods, Allah, or Holy Spirit. There is only doctrine created by people who didn't understand a lot of things we know today and needed to control masses of people.

Protest Valentine's day? Absolutely; I think everyone should have the right to protest something like this, for whatever reason they want - even religious ones. These protests make people like me aware, and perhaps I may decide that it really is a silly idea. However, we should all be wary, regardless of our religious beliefs (or lack of), when protest turns into tyranny.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Bibles in Classrooms

Back in November of 2010, there was some fuss stirred up regarding the Gideons handing out their bibles in public schools here in Ontario. While this was met with heavy objection from many atheists, I for one feel this is an excellent opportunity for education and enlightenment, for a number of reasons.

The first reason is that the bible itself contains nothing that would turn a person into a Christian. That requires charismatic people preying on vulnerable people, as well as parents drilling it into the heads of their children when they're still young enough to believe in anything their parents tell them to be true. By itself, the Bible is little more than ink on paper. I'd bet that the majority of people who proclaim to be Christian have never actually read the Bible cover to cover. Many claimed they had, but when questioned about the contents that aren't normally preached every Sunday, they often draw a blank; indicating they either "Skimmed" through it and never actually absorbed anything, or only cherry picked certain passages as they worked their way through. The bible itself provides nothing compelling nor even remotely convincing all by itself.

The second reason is that this provides an opportunity for children to learn how absurd Christianity really is. I recommend that it be a requirement for the children to read the bible as a condition of it being given out in schools. In fact, reading the bible has been known to turn Christians into atheists. Forcing these children to read such a poorly written piece of tripe in its entirety might be considered cruel and unusual punishment, so perhaps all they really need is a list of Bible absurdities to look up and confirm. We could also throw in a list of Bible contradictions for good measure. Get those kids really thinking about the Bible.

Yet another reason is that it doesn't cost the taxpayers money for this education. It costs the Gideon church money. Here is a perfect opportunity for children to learn about how absurd Christianity really is, and the Christians are willing to pay for it! All we have to do is rubber stamp a couple of URL's inside the front covers before passing them out. In fact, I'd be willing to buy the stamps and ink myself, and I'm certain I could round up enough interested people to ensure each and every bible gets our "Stamp of approval" before being passed out.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, attempting to stop the Bible from being passed out at public schools may give it more power (in the eyes of impressionable children) than it really has. It becomes that "Forbidden" thing, which immediately allows a shroud of mysticism and intrigue to exist around it. It was this shroud of mysticism and intrigue which gave Christianity its power in the early days, when the overwhelmingly vast majority of believers were illiterate.

Let the Gideons pass out their silly little Bibles, and in the interest of ensuring a balanced education, ensure those bibles are accompanied with a list of absurdities and contradictions. The children can learn for themselves how backwards and absurd Christianity really is. Who knows; we may finally see the end of religion and the beginning of enlightenment within a few short generations...or at least until the Gideons run out of money to print Bibles.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

From Christian to Atheist

I decided to start this blog to share my perspective as an atheist in a world that, by and large, believes in something which I know cannot be true.  It certainly isn't a popular position, but then again, uncomfortable truths rarely are.  Nevertheless, I have found peace and contentment in my current lack of belief; like those who discovered the world was round, I did not sail off the edge but rather grew intellectually.  Indeed, I should think that my life has become better ever since I shed my Christian beliefs.

I was not always an atheist.  I suppose I was born one; as I think everyone is born without belief.  However, I was baptized (or so I am told; I was too young to remember the event or even speak), and raised in a religious family.  I'm not talking bible thumping, speaking in tongues crazy fundamentalists.  No, my family and their church were just your typical go-to-church-every-Sunday Protestants, and I was probably the most religious when I believed.  I would always want to give the blessing before a meal, memorizing all of the great blessings I could to add variety and spice.  I sang in the choir.  I felt anger whenever I met someone who claimed to not believe.  I was not abused nor molested by anyone related to the church, and to this day I think that the ministers of my church are actually pretty good people.

The only thing that started me on my journey away from the church was when money became involved.  My money, to be precise.  As a kid, I worked very hard for the little money I was able to earn; I delivered newspapers, picked strawberries, and even toiled at a tree nursery.  I was no stranger to blisters and sunburn.  At first, I gladly wanted to add my money to the plate being passed around, to be the best Christian I could.  However, I couldn't stop wondering, what did God need of my money?  Surely, the creator of all things should be able to provide the church with what they need without my contribution.  Wasn't a couple of hours singing hymns every Sunday, a blessing before every meal, convincing others that my religion was the one true religion, and regular prayer several times a day per week enough?   I felt so.  With that, I stopped going to church on a regular basis; only going whenever there was a wedding, baptism, or funeral.  I still wanted to put the Christ back into Christmas, but like my grandfather, I felt that mine was a more "Personal" relationship with God.

Years passed, I got married and was about to have a child.  Nothing makes a person really evaluate their life like the birth of their first child.  I wanted to be the best father I could, so I put my beliefs under the microscope.  I examined other beliefs, and found that many did not worship Christ.  When I thought about it, I realized that, by accepting Christ as my savior, I was essentially allowing someone else to take the blame for anything bad I had done, intentionally or not.  Being an independent young man of 25, it seemed awfully cowardly, and not something I wanted my child to do.  I decided that if I was to be judged, I wanted to be judged for everything I had done; both good and bad.  If the things I had done in my life were so terrible as to warrant an eternity in hell, then so be it.  At once, I denounced Christ, on the basis that I did not want anyone to have died for me or anything I had done, and become that strong, moral role model that I thought my child would need. 

At this point, I still believed in God, but had no particular religion.  I examined other religions, and when I hit on Buddhism, I was introduced with a whole new concept.  God was not a central theme to their religion.  While I explored Buddhism, I became agnostic.  Did God exist?  The existence of God is unprovable, but ultimately doesn't matter, became my agnostic point of view.  I ended up becoming a member of The Church of the Apathetic Agnostic, and wrote a few things for them and even became ordained.

The thing that finally pushed me over the edge to atheism was The Atheist's Certainty.  Clearly written, I finally found that nugget of clarity and truth I had been seeking my entire life.  Once the James Randi Flying Reindeer experiment put things into such crystal clear perspective, I couldn't believe that I actually considered the existence of a god as a possibility.

There you have it.  A brief summary of my journey from being very Christian to becoming an atheist in my mid to late 20's.  No hatred, no ill-will; just clarity and truth.  In my non-belief, I find peace and contentment, and it has made me a better person.  These will be topics of future blog posts.  I'm Paul the Atheist, and this is my blog.