Q&A with A Raging Atheist

Ladies and Jellyspoons, boys and girls, I’m coming out. I’m an Atheist! Yay! I’m not Agnostic, I’m not curious or questioning; I don’t believe in God. Not Islam’s God, Christianity’s God, or New-Age “The Universe Loves You” fabrications. There is not one fiber of my being that believes some higher moral entity exists to govern our behavior towards one another. As a matter of fact, I don’t even want to believe that. I can’t find a single reason to support an argument in favor of divine guidance.

Of course, this joyful announcement may not be news to some of you. I have no shame in my views, nor do I think they make me a pretentious, arrogant bastard (although I am certainly that for other reasons). But I do receive a fairly common string of questions that I want to address, partly because I think I share these views with many fellow Atheists who may not care to articulate them, and partly because I’m lazy and will simply refer future askers of said questions to this blog post.

Doesn’t being an Atheist give life no true meaning?

If you define “true meaning” in the sense that there is no ultimate, existential purpose to human existence, then yes. Because I don’t think a God put us here in order to perform some extraordinary task, and because I don’t think there is any afterlife, that may mean I don’t see life’s “true meaning” the same way you do. Does that mean I believe life has no meaning at all? Absolutely not. I still experience pain, joy, hope, and love exactly the same way that you do. Cooking a mega Christmas dinner for my family and then sitting down to eat and laughing our butts off together brings me joy fit to burst. Having a giant, hairy dog who loves me so much she freaks out every time I come home makes me feel needed and happy. Experiencing the loss of a good friend makes me cry, rage, and hurt. I experience humanity whether there’s a God or not, and that’s meaning enough for me.

Do you believe in anything?

Sure. I believe that humans are fundamentally creatures of tribal existence, with intelligence cultured by millions of years of brutal evolution. I also believe that humans are fundamentally “good” in the sense that they want to be happy and see the people they love happy. We are each motivated by very similar things—the need to feel needed, loved, praised, successful, attractive. Although the extent to which we feel these things varies by person, I haven’t met a single person who didn’t care to be treated kindly. Once you take away threats to someone’s well-being, people are generally pretty willing to be nice to each other. Studies show that altruism breeds altruism—which is why, at my very core, I believe that treating others with humanity is the most important thing we can do in this life.

What happens after we die?

Nothing. We die and (hopefully, unless we were real assholes) our family and friends celebrate our life, and mourn our loss, but we cease to exist as intelligent entities functioning within a living, breathing body of organic matter.

Then why even bother getting up in the morning?

Because I’m hungry, I want to brush my teeth, Lois has to pee, I love my job, and I’m excited for the future.

What gives you hope?

I have to admit that, sometimes, there are things that bring me down. Watching the incessant war in the Middle East and doubting whether it’s ever going to stop—that doesn’t make me feel great. It often seems like humanity is its own worst enemy. Going back to true altruism though, I also think it can be its own greatest hope. When I see groups of people coming together, united under a cause to make life better for people for no reason other than just to be good, I am extremely hopeful. Why must we wait or depend on God to be good? 

Why are we here, then?

Does it matter? We’re here, whether you believe there’s a reason to it or not. I personally believe we’re here because billions of years of complicated evolution brought us to a point where we’re sentient enough to realize we exist. Again, that may not be the existential purpose you’re looking for; but as far as I’m concerned, we’d all be a lot better off if we got past the “whys” and delved deeper into the question of “How can I make positive contributions to the life quality of myself and those around me?”

What if you’re wrong, and there is a God?

I probably get asked this question more often than anything else. For the sake of argument, let’s just pick the god I’m most familiar with—the Christian God of the Bible—and play out a little scenario. If I die and float (or whatever one does when they’re dead) off to the pearly gates and am confronted with Jesus Christ and his rather abusive, neglectful father, I have some serious questions to ask them. 1) If you are going to base my entire eternal existence on my behavior on Earth, why did you create me with a brain that cannot believe in a higher power? 2) Why, being the all-powerful dudes that you are, did you allow such senseless, pointless, needless suffering to occur to the innocent? 3) Why were you such as asshole in the Bible? 4) Why did you permit people to carry out atrocities on each other in your behalf? 5) Why did you make such a painstaking effort to conceal yourself, and demand belief anyway? 6) Why use the process of evolution when you can command the elements at will? 7) Why didn’t you turn my water into wine? I really could have used all the money I spent on booze throughout my life.

All joking aside, though, I think believing in God simply on the off chance that He exists is tantamount to base cowardice. Simply believing in God because you’re afraid of retribution is living a life based only on fear. Step back and observe those around you: Does God really, truly bless only those who believe in him? Of course not—you see happy people, hungry people, hurting people in every walk of life and religious denomination. And if there is a God, which God is it? Your god? My god? The god of the starving child in Detroit, or god who tells parents to mutilate their daughter’s genitals? I haven’t heard of one single higher power on this planet that I believe is worthy of worship by human beings. In most cases, the things the gods we worship command us to do, or do themselves, are so much worse than anything we do to each other of our own volition (I guess this might be misleading, because since I believe humans made God up, we are doing anything they “command” us to do of our own volition). But you know what I mean? What is it about a mean, vindictive, jealous, murderous, racist, homophobic, and inconsistent God that you want to worship? If that means I don’t get to go to heaven, count me out. 

Do you think you can do whatever you want because you’re an Atheist?

Sure, I could do whatever I want. So could you. It doesn’t mean that we will, because whether I’m an Atheist or not, I still have to operate within the restraints of civilization and basic human decency. And if the only thing between you and committing capital murder is your belief in God, I’m a little worried, bro. 

If everyone were Atheist, how would the world have any “morals”?

Let’s just make one thing clear: Morals are not Ethics. I see religious people all the time acting unethically based on their “morals”. So your kid is gay—your morals dictate that his sexual orientation is a sin, so behaving according to your morals, you decry him as a sinner and refuse to allow him to bring his partner into your home. What if your morals dictate that the female sexual drive is fundamentally evil, and those women who experience orgasm will inadvertently stray into sexual sin? Your morals dictate that their genitalia be removed, but ethics say that is the bat-shit-craziest, ugliest, bloodiest, most reprehensible thing you could do to a young girl. Morals are a poor thing to base your decision making process on, because they’re dictated only by what other people believe. Ethics, however, are based on the fundamental principle that we should do good to each other and our behavior should reflect that decision. Morals remain stagnant as part of a religious code—Ethics evolve and become better, higher ways to treat others. I daresay we could use a world without any so-called “morals.”

What about the value of faith?

I find no value in accepting something to be true simply because somebody else told you it was. I think there might be value in having “faith” in humanity, if that’s how you want to put it; but that’s based on the fact that we have observed others doing good, not because of some ethereal concept of human goodness. Failing to ask questions—of everything—is not a virtue. Making enormous, critical life decisions based on what you think God might want you rather than what practicality and circumstances and personal desires indicate you should do—that’s not a virtue. Faith, or blind belief, is not a virtue, it’s a vice, and we’d all be better off without it.

Didn’t Hitler, Mao, and Jeffrey Dahmer do awful things because they were atheist?

There are people in this world who do not care whether those around them suffer. There are people who relish the power to make life difficult for others, who crave the ability to cleanse the world of what they consider lesser human existence. That isn’t atheist—that’s just an ugly part of humanity that, unfortunately, seems to exist across the board. We see it in religious folks and nonreligious folks alike. The Inquisitions were based around doing exactly what Hitler did. The constant wars in the Middle East are pushed onward by religious zealots on all sides. Catholic priests are constantly called into the limelight for preying on little boys. The propensity to do ugly things to other humans has nothing to do with one’s beliefs—it has everything to do with one’s character, and the belief in God doesn’t seem to improve character one bit.

Doesn’t something have to exist in order not to believe in it? Why is God any different?

This is the dumbest fucking question I’ve ever heard, and I’m surprised by how often I hear it. The utter lack of logic evidenced by such a proposition scarcely deserves to be dignified by a response; but for the sake of this post, I’ll just say this. You don’t believe in the Tooth Fairy. That doesn’t mean a little green pixie with a tiny waist and giant boobs is hiding quarters under children’s pillows in exchange for a rootless molar–just so you can have the luxury to not believe in her.

Why do atheists hate religion?

Because we see it cause so much damage. Even if most religious people are fundamentally good, religion gives people an excuse to behave in ways they normally would not. If God didn’t say being gay was bad, would we ever disown our LGBT children? If God didn’t say a woman’s virtue is encased in her virginity, would strong, independent women be valued higher and would slut shaming stop? If God didn’t say men were the head of the household, would we see less spousal abuse? If God didn’t tell the Sunnis that the Shiites were wrong, would we have factional wars in Yemen and Syria? Religion spearheads much of the ugly behavior we see in the world today, and for non-participants, it is sad and frustrating. 

What about programs like Alcoholic Anonymous that make people better through religion?

I won’t deny that we humans seem genetically preprogrammed to believe in a higher power. The simple fact that we alone look up into the heavens with a blazing curiosity to understand the powers in the firmament is remarkable. It is hardly surprising that we invented superstitious ways to explain the incredible things we saw. Interestingly, those who have less control over their lives tend to rely on superstition the most. Even in baseball, where superstition is a fundamental part of the sport’s history, it is the players who have the least control over the game—namely, the pitchers—that exercise the most rigorous superstitious rituals. Programs like Alcoholics Anonymous that make users acknowledge a higher power that can usher in relief and assistance to the struggle of addiction certainly have their place. I take no issue with the fact that simply believing in a higher power can assist those whose lives seem to have lost control to substance abuse. Certainly I would prefer to see that higher power be relationships with loved ones rather than God, but who am I to dictate what makes other people stronger? If they’re not using it as a weapon against anyone, power to them.

What about studies that show religious people live longer?

Correlation does not equal causation. What scientists are finding now is that religions encourage people to unite in groups with a strong foundation in community and common purpose. Humans are social creatures, and we are happier when surrounded by those who love and support us. That is what makes people live longer—not the religion itself. I have watched several people struggle through issues of enormous implication, like death, cancer, and divorce. When these people have family and friends who join together in supporting the sufferer, the entire community is buoyed up and strengthened. Religion acts as a core unifier, not as a magical life-extenze. 

What about the new age spiritualism? Is that better than religion?

I guess, in a sense, I would much rather see people engaged in “spirituality” than religion. Those I’ve seen who consider themselves spiritual are typically in the pursuit of personal enlightenment, and do so because they want themselves and those around them to be happy. That being said, I think the “Law of Attraction” (which is a theory, not a law, and a flimsy one at that), and “Universal Guidance” are absolutely ridiculous and have no ground in reality. The universe doesn’t “love” you, because the universe is not a sentient whole capable of loving anything. Love is a concept that exists for humans because it makes us behave in ways that are beneficial to ourselves and each other. It’s a measurable force that exhibits itself in chemical reactions in the brain, and then causes us to carry out behaviors that reinforce good relationships. The universe is not human, and is not subject to our lovey-dovey wishes. The fact that positive thinking can make us happier is no Secret—but it doesn’t give us whatever we want. If it could, we’d all be manifesting ourselves into millionaires driving Maseratis. And the constant invocation of “Quantum Physics” to support the arguments for the Law of Attraction is the biggest psuedo-science bogus alive and well today. The average layman has so little knowledge of the quantum physics that they can’t distinguish the difference between quack science and genuine physics, but any reputable physicist will tell you that the Law of Attraction is utter nonsense. My biggest issue with this new-age Spiritualism is that it comes from a very self-serving point of view, and seems to blame those who have less simply because they haven’t tried hard enough to attract it to themselves. But that is a whole blog post unto itself (coming soon).

I’ve covered as many of these as I can think of; I’m sure there will be more added later. If you’re curious about any of these answers, or feel like they have been explain fully, or even just have a question of your own, I welcome comments and suggestions. May the force be with you. Always. 

Stop Praying for Boston

Out of the thousands of Facebook posts, Instagram pictures, and Twitter twats that have been circulating non-stop in the wake of the awful Boston bombing, the majority seem to be focused on prayer. “Pray for Boston,” “My prayers and thoughts are with Boston,” and #PrayforBoston are on every cellphone and computer screen around the country.

Apparently, people find this to be a show of solidarity and support. After all, something terrible has happened–what else can we do but pray for God’s help?

But as good and kind as it may seem, this social media prayer phenomenon really bothers me. And believe it or not, it’s not because I’m an angry atheist or think all people who pray are stupid. Prayer seems to have a wonderfully calming effect on everyone who performs it–so much so that, despite the fact that prayer literally changes nothing about our circumstances except our outlook, it makes us feel so much better that we just keep doing it. When I was religious, prayer was always my instinctive go-to. When I lost something, I’d pray; and then, whether I found it or not, I felt as if the outcome was the “right” thing.

But what if it wasn’t “right”? What if I prayed for something I badly needed, like finding the key to my car, after I had dropped it in the dumpster outside? What if that key was permanently lost, and as a result, I was out a hundred bucks and my car for a week? And what if, prayer notwithstanding, shit like losing keys just happens?

This is clearly a facetious example–the Boston bombings are much more serious than losing keys. But the principle stands; praying only makes whatever happens seem better, even if it’s actually not. After witnessing the violence and destruction on the news, sitting on your ass and posting about how you’re going to pray doesn’t do a damn thing except make you feel better and then make whatever the resulting outcome is seem “right”.

Oh, and it conveniently lets everyone else know what a righteous ass-soul you are.

Not to fight with a weapon I consider tantamount to holy sword made of poo, but in the Bible Jesus condemns the Pharisees for praying in public (perhaps this Jesus guy was smarter than I give him credit for). And I quote:

“Whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray while standing in synagogues and on street corners so that people can see them. Truly I say to you, they have their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:5-6).

Not to be too punny, but Jesus hits the nail right on the head. O ye who post over and over about how thou art praying for this family or that tragedy–good job. Now everybody knows you’re a good person, and we’ll all “like” your status and give you spiritual high-fives.

But if the purpose of real prayer is to bring personal comfort, doesn’t it seem like it would be much better carried out alone, minus the incessant social media postings, where you can really pour your heart out to God and receive the comfort it gives you? Yes. And there’s nothing wrong about that.

Here’s where the problem with the mass prayer phenomenon comes in, though. Praying for the suffering of others you don’t know makes you feel good–but it doesn’t do anything else. At. All. This fascinating study discusses a very carefully conducted experiment about prayer. Essentially, 1800 patients undergoing heart surgery were placed in three different groups: Those who were being prayed for and knew it, those who were being prayed for and didn’t know it, and those who weren’t being prayed for at all. Those who weren’t being prayed for, and those who were being prayed for and didn’t know it, recovered at the same pace. But those who were being prayed for and did know it had more complications and recovered slower than the other two groups.

Some have suggested that spiritual matters like prayer transcend that of scientific studies’ capabilities. Why, though? If God has the power to alter matter in the universe and use prayer to affect real, tangible things like bombs and broken bodies, why shouldn’t the “power” of prayer be measurable? Why would He put the physical evidence of His power beyond our reach? It doesn’t make sense that a God who wanted his children to believe in him/her/it would do such a thing, or, as some people suggest, maliciously try to confuse us by deliberately thwarting such studies.

Still, all this considered, prayer couldn’t be a bad thing, could it? Except maybe it could. Because, since all posting about praying on Facebook does is make you feel like a good person, it enables you to literally sit on your ass (or knees) and do nothing while bad things happen around you.

Because, as the study above shows, people who pray remotely for others they don’t know have absolutely no effect on the prayees’ health or well-being. In reality, if you were sincerely interested in making life better for the disadvantaged, there is literally no end to the good you could do if you just got off your duffer and did it.

The worst has already happened in Boston. Your prayers, after the fact, won’t take back time and change that explosion, or bring that eight year old boy home, or stop the suffering of those who lost legs. And while the bombing in Boston is awful, and close to home, in reality the world is full of much, much worse things every day.

Boston
For example.

So, rather than type your prayers out for the world to see, why not do something better–something more noble and something that will actually make a difference. You don’t have to have money, or resources, or even a ton of time to do something that will make somebody’s life easier than praying will.

And perhaps it’s just my arrogant anti-religious sentiment, but the irony of the whole “Pray for Boston” situation is that the evidence seems to show this attack was religiously motivated to begin with by fundamentalist Islamists.

Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t. But religious or not, you can’t argue too hard against the fact that this world would be a hell of a lot more like heaven if we all started praying less and doing more. 

And on that happy note, I’m going to go rescue a kitten from a tree.

Modesty: The Spiritual Thought Crime Squad

The tenth commandment, in both the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy, states that thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, thy neighbor’s ass, thy neighbor’s wife’s ass, and etc. This seems like a fairly innocuous command until you accidentally peer across the street and see a new Corvette in the driveway, and then–BAM–you’ve busted up the Decalogue and made a sinner of yourself.

In a real-life scenario, nobody but you would ever know that you had wanted that car, or a few minutes alone with the new intern at work; our internal monologue flows so easily that without even paying attention to it, we covet things right and left on a daily basis. Wanting more encourages competition and hard work, principles strong cultures thrive upon.

However, in a religious scenario, the Big Guy upstairs is not only monitoring your every thought, but keeping a tally and punishing you for them as well. It doesn’t really matter that thinking about something doesn’t affect anybody else, no less harm them. The critical thing with the tenth commandment is that your thought can definitely bring you dangerously close to hellfire.

And that is where the concept of religious modesty comes in–the idea that it is a woman’s duty to cover essential parts of her body so that man doesn’t even have the chance to commit lusty thought crimes against God.

The idea that keeping one’s thoughts under control is noble in essence, since any kind of desperate, secretive wanting can fester into obsession, and God knows we have enough Buffalo Bills in the world. However, the idea of modesty falls under scrutiny because it is the women–who are typically not known for lusting after the neighbor’s wife–and not the men who are responsible for not only their own behavior, but that of the opposite sex as well.

The principle behind traditional Islamic burqas is the perfect example of this. Certain interpretations of Islamic text leads us to understand that women don’t have to wear their face covering in front of blind, gay, or asexual men. A statement by Muhammed Salih Al-Munajjid on Islam QA states that, “…the woman’s face must be covered. It is the most tempting part of her body…”

The complete and utter nonsense of this concept is infuriating. That religion is continually allowed and encouraged to suppress a woman’s physical self-expression to prevent thought crimes against the Divine is totally ridiculous in the twenty first century, especially in developed countries. Unfortunately, Islam is not alone. Other uber conservative religions, such as the Mormon Church, maintain similar principles: the young women must not wear immodest clothing because it tempts the young men to have lustful feelings.

I read a story of a young Mormon woman, who, as she met with her bishop for the first time at twelve years old, was told by this man of God to bring her legs together under her skirt to the bishop wouldn’t be tempted to look at her privates.

There are numerous cases of men, high in authority, who have made statements something along the lines of, “If you dress appropriately, you are putting yourself less at risk of sexual assault.” Is this true? Probably. But it doesn’t in any way justify the fact that the perpetrators are men, making the decision to commit a heinous sexual crime, and the bottom line is that it just doesn’t matter what the woman is wearing. It’s not her job to protect herself, her thoughts, and her physical safety, and maintain an appearance suitable to religious standards so that the men can be spiritually safe, too.

But it is our job to try to put a stop to this spiritual double standard. France finally took a stand by instituting a ban against burqa face coverings in public; despite some social protests and several tragic violent acts against women who still choose to wear them, it is far better to take a stand against countries and cultures where the social pressure to wear a burqa creates much more violent responses towards women who don’t obey.

Although there are some women who are uncomfortable without wearing their head cover, it is finally an instance where people have said no to tolerance of religious bigotry. It is far too easy to allow the oppression of women and chalk it up to respecting religious rights; and it’s high time a government took a stand against it.

And it is a step in the right direction; it’s just fucking amazing it was the French who dunnit.

I’m an Ex-Mormon: Why leaving the Church is so difficult

Several weeks ago, I received a text from an acquaintance asking me if I wanted to hang out. Because this individual had never previously expressed any interest in me, I was surprised–but responded, “Sure.” As it turned out, he was asking if I wanted to attend an LDS fireside.

 

Shortly before that, I attended a Stake Conference in Provo for a friend. One speaker announced a serious problem: In the whole of Utah County, there are several thousand Utahns who are not LDS. “Bring them to the fold,” he said. “That is far too many.”

Throughout my time writing as a columnist for the Statesman, I have been asked these questions more times than I can count: You’re angry, aren’t you? Do you hate the LDS Church? You have a serious bone to pick with the Mormons, don’t you?

Yes. Yes. Yes.

These are difficult questions, with difficult answers; explaining what it’s like to be an ex-Mormon is complicated and fraught with emotional hang-ups. Explaining how something that makes you happy also makes me miserable is almost impossible; even more difficult is reassuring you that I know that the Mormon Church is not true, as equally as you know it is. I’m going to try anyway.

One of the primary reasons being an ex-Mormon is difficult is illustrated in the first example I gave: somebody who has zero interest in my personality is inviting me to Church functions. Because a fundamental part of the Mormon doctrine is the recruiting of non-members, this is a fairly common occurrence. But if all you can see in me is the potential for bringing a lost individual salvation, it cheapens our relationship and demeans your intentions–and any ex-Mormon can tell you how it feels to be ignored except for spiritual invitations.

We’d actually prefer to be let alone completely. But, as the second example illustrates, that doesn’t happen because the Mormon Church is everywhere. There is absolutely no getting away from it here. Pictures of caucasian Jesus hang in every window. Missionaries are sent by neighbors who have never taken the trouble to meet me.  My friend group, my dating pool, and my entire college experience is marginalized because I am not Mormon. The constant exposure is incredibly frustrating.

This is compounded upon by another common experience many ex-Mormons share: ostracization from family and friends. Often, in sacrament meeting, stories are told in which individuals overcome extreme familial hardships when joining the Mormon Church, and just can’t understand why their families don’t accept the transition. These individuals are made out as martyrs, who are unjustly punished for making a decision that brings them happiness.

Unfortunately, the pendulum doesn’t swing the other way. Although ex-Mormons hear from many of our Mormon friends that they still love us, we want to ask them: Then why don’t we talk anymore? Why can’t you empathize? Ex-Mormons don’t get invited to family reunions, life-long church-going friends abruptly lose contact, and false rumors spread like wildfire–will you pretend there isn’t a correlation?

Often, the rude behavior of Church members is brushed off with the mantra of, “The members may not be perfect, but the doctrine is.” Au contraire, my friends. The doctrine tells parents their gay son is living a sinful, intolerable lifestyle. The doctrine tells youth only to associate with those who hold the same “standards” as they do. The doctrine allowed racism to continue so far past the Civil Rights movement, and the extreme sexism to continue today.

No, the length between the Civil Rights movement and our reluctant acceptance of human rights has nothing to do with the fact that everyone in the General Authority Quorums are wealthy, racist, white men. Why would you think that?
No, the length between the Civil Rights movement and our reluctant acceptance of human rights has nothing to do with the fact that everyone in the General Authority Quorums are wealthy, racist, white men. Why would you think that?

Is that doctrine perfect to you? Because it seems only perfectly hateful to me.

Sometimes, ex-Mormons are told to leave Utah if we hate it so much. But if my church history isn’t much mistaken, it was the Mormon themselves not long ago that were systematically purged from entire states because they believed differently. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Fortunately, I am leaving. But that won’t change the fact that I do have issues with the Mormon Church. I think it is a force most often not for good, and it does make me very angry to watch it wrong the people I love. I think the sexism, racism, and homophobia is intolerable and you’re damn right I have a bone to pick with anyone who promotes that kind of behavior.

Unfortunately, though, my time with USU has come to an end and so does my angry, bone-picking column writing. I would like to express gratitude to my editor for his patience, and my supporting readers who have encouraged me onward when I’ve wanted to flush my laptop down the toilet. If you’d like to follow me in the future, you can find my writing at lizeverything.com, but in the meantime–don’t psuedo-swear, harass porn users, or get married; but do cross-dress, tip your server, and keep those damn fraternity boys in check.

Why do children suffer? Dostoevsky’s “Rebellion” and what it says about the suffering of the innocents (PHIL 3600)

The God Who Created James Eagen Holmes:

Using Dostoevsky’s “Rebellion” to view the Aurora, Colorado shooting

On July 20, 2012, a twenty four year old man walked into a movie theater in normal clothing, carrying nothing suspicious. This man, James Eagen Holmes, studied neuroscience at the University of Colorado as a Ph.D. student. Intelligent but antisocial, he had no criminal record and purchased all of his weapons legally. Holmes sat down for the beginning of the movie but then left, propping an emergency door exit open, and went to his car to dress in heavily protective combat gear. Upon his return to the theater, he fired a 12-gauge shotgun, a semiautomatic rifle, and a handgun into the audience. Over seventy people were injured overall, and twelve victims died, including a six year old girl and a three month old infant.

For those who believe a benevolent God created the universe, including Mr. Holmes, the ever-present problem of reconciling the existence of evil with God’s goodness cannot go unaddressed. How could a God who has humanity’s best interests at heart bless a man like Mr. Holmes with the intelligence and ability to carry out such a wicked crime? Why would He, in His omniscience, refuse to interfere and stop Mr. Holmes from achieving his violent objective? And why would he allow the death and injury of innocent children as young as six years and three months old?

Dostoevsky’s “Rebellion” asks the question especially pertinent to the case of the Colorado shooting: even if the suffering of the adults was a consequence of their sin, how could a loving, omniscient, good God allow those children to suffer? For it wasn’t just the two killed in the shooting, but the children of the parents who died, the siblings of the young adults who were murdered, who are made to suffer for the rest of their lives as consequences of James Holmes’.

Because I don’t believe in God, it is easy for me to say that the suffering of children is a result of decisions made by faulted individuals. But a close address of those who adhere to western religious philosophy, who believe that God is omniscient, omnipresent, and perfect, must be made because this is a great and terrible question to ask: Why do children suffer? In attempting to answer that question, I prefer Dostoevsky’s ultimate conclusion: that the suffering of even one child, for the sake of the rest of humanity’s happiness and success, is unacceptable—even if God is the one who causes it.

“Rebellion” is a chapter from “The Brothers Karamozov,” a story about two brothers, Ivan and Alyosha. Ivan is an atheist, while Alyosha is a Christian who tries to bring Ivan back to the truth. “Rebellion” mostly consists of dialogue between the two brothers, although Ivan does much of the talking as he surveys the suffering of humankind and attempts to explain it. He observes that, despite humankind possessing more intelligence than other animals, they are decidedly wickeder. “The tiger only tears and gnaws, that’s all he can do,” Ivan says sadly. “He would never think of nailing people by the ears, even if he were able to do it.” He then goes on to give numerous details of abominable acts committed by humans against one another, more evil because of the creativeness with which they are carried out—tossing infants and catching them on bayonets before their mothers, making a baby laugh before shooting it in the face, and nailing people by their ears to fences all night before hanging them. This is directly comparable to the actions of James Holmes; brilliant enough to study neuroscience at a graduate level, he designed and carried out a massacre that even the most violent of animals could never even conceive. He even set up his apartment with explosives to kill the police when they arrived (although he did eventually warn them of this danger).

The adults, Ivan says, know the difference between good and evil; they have partaken of the apple, and “They go on eating it still.” Adults inflicting suffering on other adults is much less evil than adults inflicting suffering on innocent children, so Ivan focuses his discussion on violence against children and the purposelessness it entails. He describes several instances of children who, for no other reason than the wickedness of the adults, are abused, beaten, and even torn to pieces by hunting dogs (or, in the case of the Colorado shooting, murdered with a gun).

After he speaks for several paragraphs about evil inflicted upon children, he begins to arrive at his conclusions, which I completely agree and relate with. I, too, want to be there when an explanation is offered about the purpose of all the suffering, when incidents like the Colorado shooting are finally justified. I wish I could understand it. But, if the answer is simply “God is just,” and then everything lives in harmony, I have to agree with Ivan—I think that God would be wrong. I can’t accept the harmony that will suddenly accompany the “understanding” of suffering.

I do not believe for one second that a good, kind, all-knowing God would allow a three-month old infant to be shot for any purpose, including the good of humanity. Neither do I believe that creating a hell for the oppressors, and thereby allowing more suffering, is a solution. I, too, would rather be without harmony and remain with my own “unavenged suffering and unsatisfied indignation,” even if I am wrong—because the price asked for harmony would be too high.

I love the questions that Ivan asks Alyosha at the end of the excerpt. Would you, if you were creating a world where the end goal of mankind is happiness, allow the torturing of even one child in order to ensure that happiness? Is the eternal satisfaction of everyone else worth the death of one innocent child victim? Alyosha, Ivan, and I agree—it is not.

It is interesting that, in the course of the brothers’ conversation, the issue of God being able to forgive everything doesn’t come up until the very end. When, as Ivan believes, God is the construct of the human mind, His “ability” to forgive the suffering (note that it isn’t even an ability to relieve the suffering, only to forgive it) becomes irrelevant when events like the Colorado shooting occur. What do we care about eventual justice right now if, in this very moment, children are suffering? How could a good God possibly allow an intelligent adult to carry out such an attack, even if he plans to make it right later? Why would He?

I also think the same way Ivan does—I haven’t entirely shut out the possibility of there being one Creator, because I certainly don’t know how the universe came to be. If such a being exists, and we are eventually made aware of its existence, there isn’t a possibility of not accepting it. But, like Ivan, if this Creator or God is the kind of being that allows children to suffer the way they did as a result of James Holmes’ actions in Colorado, I don’t want to believe in or worship that God. And if He does exist, I, too, will follow Ivan’s example and “respectfully return Him the ticket” to heaven.

Arguments against a physical, material Deity

Although I don’t believe in God, I am fascinated by the various concepts of His existence, particularly of the Christian sects. One concept that has always bothered me, and now bothers me even more because of the arguments we’ve discussed in class and in readings, is the Mormon belief that God has a literal, material, and eternal body. Mormons preach this tenet as a main part of their religion, basing it off of the Genesis 1:26, which states that God created man in His own image. Mormons use this scripture to justify their belief that God not only has a physical, tangible body but also as evidence that mankind may eventually become Gods themselves.

If I were to assume that there is a God, I would have to agree with many of the fundamental philosophers of western religious tradition, who argue repeatedly that God is immutable, unchangeable, eternal, and because of these traits must also be immaterial. The irony in the Mormon belief of God’s physical existence lies in that they consider themselves Christians along with Catholics, Protestants, Baptists, or any other branch-off sect, and yet their belief in God’s material body directly contradicts the teachings of other Christian philosophers. So, assuming that there is a God, and that He is the Christian concept of God, I will now argue why the Mormons must be wrong and why God cannot have a physical body.

How could Jesus hold this dinosaur if he DIDN’T have a body? 

The first reason why God must be immaterial lies in His inability to be changed. God cannot change because, in order to be God, He must be the end-all of any purpose—that is to say, He must exist in pure actuality. He cannot move, act, change, or fall apart—all of which things the human body can, and must, do. For God to have a literal physical body, even a perfect one, His heart would have to pump, His blood flow, His arms and legs have potential to dance, his intestines be capable of creating dookie, and His entire being rot if He were to die. Since He would be made of parts, He would have potential to come apart. However, this instigates the idea that God can change, which He cannot—therefore He cannot have a body.

Mormons believe God is eternal, and therefore has always existed, does now exist, and always will exist. However, this means that God existed “before” the big bang (I say before, but since God exists outside the constraints of time, this isn’t really the appropriate word). Matter and physical laws, as we know them, did not exist before the big bang, being created only after the process of physical events began—how, then, could a God manage to be eternal and still exist with a material body before the Big Bang? I think that He could not.  Even if matter did exist before the big bang, scientific knowledge to date indicates it probably would have to have been inside other universes; so did God’s physical body move from one universe to another when the big bang occurred, thus abandoning the previous universe? This idea is also highly improbable.

Another issue with the idea of God having a physical body is that God’s knowledge and impressions would have to pass through the filters that come along with physical existence. Kant originally posed this argument, presenting the difference between noumena and phenomena. Noumena is an object that is “known” outside the senses—that means an apple, in its noumenal state, is exactly an apple. Our physical filters, such as sight, smell, and taste will affect how we perceive an apple and cause it to enter into phenomenal existence—thus making the apple red, sweet, starchy, etc. Because of our limitations from our physical bodies, we are familiar only with the world of phenomena. There is no human way to perceive noumenon. This makes it impossible for a physical God to be completely perfect and yet also omniscient—His perception of all things would be influenced by his physical body. Instead of perceiving His children as noumenal creatures, knowing our whole being perfectly, God would be limited in His perception of us depending on which direction He looked at us from, how skin color is perceived through His eyes, what His brain perceives as “good”, and a myriad of other things. How can a finite being, such as a body, act with infinite potential? How could God use his physical brain to obtain knowledge of my physical brain? I think that He could not. And if God existed in a physical body similar to ours, the size of His brain would be enormous in order to contain knowledge of everything—thus either making him look like an extreme macrocephalite, or giant in overall proportion, neither of which conforms with the idea that He looks like us.

Then there are just the simple complications that come along with a human body that make the idea of God having one illogical. If human bodies are susceptible to viruses, but God cannot change, does He have a perfect immune system? Is His body just chock-full of white blood cells whose memory is perfectly aware of every disease ever to exist? Or does God remain aloof from these diseases because He does not live on Earth? In any case, if God’s body is truly like ours, then He is susceptible to the failings that our bodies are as well. Additionally, physical bodies are not self-sufficient—they are continually in need of nourishment. Does God eat some sort of heavenly sustenance—angel food cake, perhaps—and then, does He sit on a golden toilet to take a divine shit while reading the latest issue of Good Universekeeping? I’m mostly kidding, but in order for Mormons to believe that God’s physical body is just a perfected version of their own, these are the kinds of questions they have to answer.

Finally, if we were literally created in God’s image, that begs the question of whether God is both male and female. It seems a little prejudiced to assume that God has only the male genitalia, although I suppose this would make the not-so-immaculate conception a little easier to understand; but Mormon women, too, believe that they are created in God’s image. Is God, then, a physical hermaphrodite? Answering this question requires yet another Mormon underivative to explain this existence of a “Heavenly Mother,” who does not exist in any other Christian sect.

After hearing all this, a Mormon might argue that God became a God only after enduring the trials that they believe we, as God’s children, must also endure in order to achieve God-status. This is why He has a body, and this is why we will be Gods someday, too, if we eat our vegetables and listen to our mothers. This seems to contradict their idea that God is eternal, though—if God was, at some point,not God, then how could He have always existed? And if He did not always exist, He cannot be eternal, causing the entire Mormon doctrine about God’s to contradict itself.

As I said earlier, although I’m not on board with any particular religion, the fundamental Christian arguments about God’s existence totally make ridiculous the Mormon belief about God having a material body. It just isn’t possible for God to be eternal, omniscience, omnipresent, and yet still have a physical body. However, based on the class discussions we’ve had, I think it’s a safe to make the assumption that even if Mormons could defend their belief about God’s existence, they wouldn’t because they just don’t care—all they need to have is faith, and the rest of us can make our way merrily to hell, where Satan eagerly awaits our arrival.

Bizarre Utah Phenomenon: Teen Marriage

Welcome to the 2012 school year, and with it another semester of Lizzen Up. I’d like to send a very personal thank-you to my kind and thoughtful supporters; and to the rest of you the assurance that you only have to suffer skipping over my section till December when I graduate.

 

I hope you had a wonderful summer. Not that you care, but I certainly did. I got a very cute (and now very large) Newfoundland puppy, bought a new car as an almost-graduation gift to myself, and, perhaps most importantly, made the leap of moving in with my boyfriend.

 

Since we’ve moved in, the word “marriage” has cropped up from family and friends incessantly. Each time, I answer the inquiry with a very firm No. That’s always followed with a shocked, “Do you not like him enough?” and I can’t help but laugh.

 

I’m not very old, but I like to consider myself at least a little wise; and at the risk of coming off as an expository bag of hot air, I want to say a word or two concerning dating and marriage. Rest assured, I like my boyfriend plenty; but we’re not going to get married, and there are several reasons why.

 

College is probably the most singular opportunity in which to date. You are literally surrounded on all sides by members of whichever sex you find yourself attracted to; you are unrestricted by parental boundaries; there is an endless supply of fun things to do; and you are guaranteed to find someone who thinks like you do.

 

That being said, my number one piece of advice is this: Slow down. You have at least four years of this environment at your disposal, and campus will never run out of potential datees. Use this time as a precious opportunity to observe what you like and dislike, both about yourself and others around you.

 

Then, get out and do something. Or several things. We all know boys and girls who sit around and mope about the fact that they aren’t in a relationship. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, because nobody gives a four letter word about people like that. They’re obnoxious and pathetic. Find something you really love to do, and get good at it; then seek someone who’s done the same.

 

Next: If you think more about the wedding than you do about life after the wedding, don’t get married. A graduate dissertation published by Pacific University indicated that event-driven relationships were far less likely to succeed. Your wedding day is just that: a day. That’s it. You go home that night with sore feet, a stained dress, and some cake in the freezer for next year.

 

Girls in particular, finish your education. Women are much more likely to drop out of college once they get married. Considering the fact that 50% of marriages end in divorce, is not having a college degree a risk you want to take?

Once you find that someone, wait longer. If he or she is right for you after six months of dating, they’ll be right in another year and a half. The most successful marriages tend to follow an average of twenty-five months of courtship. Second-guessing your partner is not something you want to do, but we all know that couple who probably should not have gotten married.

 

Part of this is realizing that you might be in love, but you also might just be horny. Many people want to rush their wedding because controlling sexual urges is difficult. I won’t argue with that. But there’s bad news: for most people, wedding night sex is uncomfortable and awkward. It takes a long time to figure out the nuances of another person’s mind and body. Rushing into a long-term commitment because it’s too hard to refrain from the hanky-panky is certain to end in disappointment.

 

And remember that world is not over if you’re not married by the end of college. The average person in the nation is married at twenty-six, and often as late as thirty. Don’t stay in a bad relationship, or even a mediocre one, out of fear that someone better won’t come along. They will. It’s hard to be lonely, but it’s well worth the patience.

 

Finally, enjoy whatever time you choose to spend with someone. Chad and I aren’t getting married because, among other reasons, we both graduate in December. He’s going to med school somewhere, and I’m going to take a lowly job as an unpaid intern somewhere else. Living with your partner may not be the best option for you; but undercutting the value of a relationship simply because it doesn’t lead to marriage may prevent you from some of the most meaningful relationships you’ll ever have.

And remember kids, have lots of sex!

Is life worth it?

My genetic heritage is comprised of habitual worriers, and this gene did not bypass me. Prone to intense anxiety, I worry most about the health of my parents, the safety of my younger brothers learning to drive, my partner working in Alaska, my own financial security—and these are just the tip of my Mt. Sinai of concerns.

 

When you think about life, there really are innumerable things to worry about. If nothing else, we’re all eventually going to die, and so are the people we love. Car accidents happen. Cholesterol clogs arteries. Identity theft occurs regularly. I don’t believe in an afterlife, or an all-knowing god who compels all of us to live eternally under the conditions we justly brought upon ourselves while on earth; so, when there’s so many things that make life painful and difficult, one of the biggest questions arises. Is this experience really worth it?

 

Well, for people who commit suicide, apparently it is not. I would say for the thousands of children born with HIV in their bloodstream, whose mothers are too sick and tired to shoo the flies from their faces, who starve and die in a matter of months, the answer is also no. The same could be argued of inner-city Americans who are hooked on drugs from their preteen years, who escape death by gang violence only to spend a lifetime in jail or prostitution. If you view mankind as I do—a product of an incredible evolutionary chance—then senseless suffering is in no way alleviated by promises of a paradisiacal afterlife. It just doesn’t make sense.

 

Even those who are lucky enough to be born into an affluent, educated household, have no guarantee of happiness. Depression affects a surprising number of well-to-do individuals, and everyone knows stories of corporate giants blowing their brains after years of material success.

 

So what gives, even for secular humanists, who rightly hold human life in highest priority? And why, when we are aware of the miseries that will surely cleave our future and already accompany our past, are most of us able to live despite our difficulties, even if we never overcome them?

 

I think the answer lies in the quality of the relationships we build with those around us. When you don’t believe in an afterlife, the most rational choice is to focus on the here and now; and for all of us, that includes friends and family. Time magazine shared an interesting study that said even religion’s secret to happiness isn’t faith-based; it’s friend-based. Having a sense of family and community makes us much happier, healthier, and ups our longevity significantly.

 

Or you could believe in the afterlife, only to be met by this asshole.

If you want to answer the question, “Is life worth it?” with a yes, then the solution to your problems lies in your connection with others. Making your life happier, and therefore easier, consequently does the same for them. No matter what your worries, you’ll have a constant support system to buffer you against the inevitable difficulties that are headed your way, and you can congratulate yourself on accomplishing a goal that all sensible-minded secularists strive for: making a heaven right here, right now, rather than waiting for a nonexistent afterlife.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go worry about making the deadline for publication.

Dealing with death for non-believers

When I was sixteen, a very good friend’s young mother was diagnosed with an aggressive form of lung cancer and died four months later. This was the first time I really had to confront the idea of death—until that point, dying had been something that happened to unlucky pets, great grandparents, and strangers on the news. At the time, my religion was a great source of comfort for me and gave me the answers I needed to justify a tragedy that was otherwise unjustifiable.

 

Just a few weeks ago, another good friend’s even younger mother was diagnosed with the same disease. This time, neither I nor my friend have a religion to buffer the ugly reality of death. This drove me to ask the question: How do you comfort a nonbeliever who’s grieving?

 

Although everyone deals with loss in their own way, there are some guidelines to remember and respect when you’re comforting someone you love who does not believe in an afterlife.

 

The most important is that, even though a religious worldview may bring you consolation, it can come off as arrogant and insulting. This may sound strange, but if you’re religious, imagine a nonbeliever trying to comfort you by saying, “I know you’ll never see them again.” You’d feel awful, right? The same idea works conversely by saying, “I know you’ll see them again,” to a nonbelieving person.

 

A woman named Torrie shared with me her reaction when her brother committed suicide and a congregation member trying to comfort her told her, “He is not in a happy place right now. He is still suffering.”

 

“I wanted to slap the woman,” Torrie told me, even though she knew the woman meant well. “But you know what? I didn’t, because I knew my brother was dead. He was gone. And he wasn’t sad; he wasn’t happy. He wasn’t in a better place; he wasn’t in a worse place. The matter that made my brother was no longer functioning in the form that I knew as Dave.”

 

I couldn’t have said it better myself; and when this is what you believe—that death in its finality is not to be assuaged by ideas of afterlife— there are clearly much better things to say than the woman in Torrie’s example.

 

A wonderful article on alternet.org called “When it’s not God’s plan: 8 Things to say to Grieving Nonbelievers,” has some great ideas, the most popular simply being, “I am so sorry.” No wordiness, no creativity, just plain and simple human empathy.

 

Another suggestion is to just say, “This sucks,” because it does suck; no matter how you deal with death, it’s hard to avoid the cold, hard fact that we suffer when someone we love dies. Rather than offering cliché platitudes that really don’t mean much, let them know you’re suffering right along with them.

 

Share stories of good times about the deceased; ask how you can help, with the sincere intent to do dishes for a week if that’s what it takes. Or better yet, don’t say anything and just listen. Companionship goes a long way when alleviating the stark loneliness of grief.

 

When it really comes down to it, none of us know what happens when we die. We believe, we hope, we resign ourselves to reality; and in the end, we all deal with it in the way we know best.

 

Atheists, agnostics, and others who may not believe in the afterlife still get angry about death; but when I asked atheist and agnostic students at Utah State concerning the matter, the overwhelming sentiment was not of sadness but of hope and happiness. Rather than waiting for an afterlife to provide the comforts of paradise, they all focused on creating a piece of heaven on earth and leaving the world a better place.

 

Ann Druyan, the wife of the late astronomer and agnostic Carl Sagan, said it best after her husband died. “Carl faced his death with unflagging courage and never sought refuge in illusions. The tragedy was that we knew we would never see each other again… But, the great thing is that when we were together, for nearly twenty years, we lived with a vivid appreciation of how brief and precious life is. We never trivialized the meaning of death by pretending it was anything other than a final parting…the way he treated me and the way I treated him, the way we took care of each other and our family, while he lived. That is so much more important than the idea I will see him someday. I don’t think I’ll ever see Carl again. But I saw him. We saw each other. We found each other in the cosmos, and that was wonderful.”

 

 

This is an excellent page for support:

http://www.facebook.com/faithfreegriefsupport

Orthodox Jewish Circumcision’s Tryst with Herpetic Priests

Last year in September, a two week old baby boy unnecessarily died. The cause of death: Disseminated Herpes Simplex Virus Type 1, complicating ritual circumcision with oral suction. The Orthodox Jewish circumcision process, called “metzitzah b’peh,” is otherwise known as “oral suction,” or the suctioning of blood from the circumcision wound directly by mouth.

Unfortunately, last year isn’t the first time that this particular rabbi, Yitzchok Fischer, has killed a child this way. The same thing happened in 2004, and that same year three other babies were determined to have contracted herpes from Fischer. While Human Simplex Virus 1 is usually harmless in adults and manifests itself only as uncomfortable cold sores, because of the virus’ association with the nervous system, it poses significant threat of complications in newborns and can result in brain damage and even death.

The practice of circumcision is condoned in the Bible and believed by several religious denominations to be one of the most important rituals performed during an individual’s lifetime. But outside of a religious context, oral-penile contact from an older man to a young boy is considered pedophilia and punishable by law.

Because the contact in question occurred within a religious context, Fischer has not been held accountable for the death of the baby boys. Jerry Schmetterer, the spokesman for Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes, told The Jewish Week Monday, “Our Crimes Against Children Bureau is looking into this situation. I would not assume what any possible charges would be.”

I can think of a few possible charges, Mr. Hynes. How about two counts of criminal homicide? Several counts of child molestation? Tortious transmission of an STD by intentional neglect? The behavior of this priest is abominable to any right-minded person, but according to The Jewish Week, the city only filed a legal complaint against Fischer to compel him to stop engaging in the practice after the death of the first baby. Clearly he did not comply; but, instead of being legally prosecuted, the matter was ultimately referred by the city to a beit din, or religious tribunal, for review.

In his book God is Not Great, Christopher Hitchens writes of circumcision in connection to religion, “Full excision… is now exposed for what it is — a mutilation of a powerless infant… And who can bear to read the medical textbooks and histories which calmly record the number of boy babies who died from infection after their eighth day…  The record of syphilitic and other infection, from rotting rabbinical teeth or other rabbinical indiscretions…is simply dreadful.”

The alteration of an individual’s body without informed consent is dreadful. And it is interesting to note that in third world countries the circumcision or genital mutilation of young females is viewed as an abhorrent attack on  human rights and informed consent; but in America, before 2006, still over half of young males were being circumcised.

Oh, hell no!

Fortunately, the practice of circumcision has plummeted in popularity in the last few years. A study by the Control for Disease Center in 2010 found that from 2006 to 2009, the rate of circumcision dropped from 56 percent to 32.4 percent. There are groups, called “intactivists,” who promote legislation that prohibits the practice of circumcision altogether.

Some modern proponents of male circumcision claim that the removal of the foreskin reduces infants’ chances of incurring urinary tract infections and aids in preventing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases later in life. However, according to Kidshealth.org, less than one percent of non-circumcised males will contract a UTI, making this concern negligible.

I don’t know any sentient men who would willingly submit to significant changes in that area of their body; wouldn’t it be better, then, to let mature men make the decision to mutilate their genitalia once they actually understand what is going on? If the health benefits are significant enough that circumcision still seems beneficial later in life, men will seek the surgery on their own.

As it now stands, infant circumcision is just as unethical whether it is male or female, religious or secular. Yitzchok Fischer should be held legally accountable for the deaths of two infants, rather than being deferred to a religious council who will, in effect, do nothing to prevent this tragedy from happening again.

Lastly, religious and non-religious parents alike who are about to make the decision regarding whether their children ought to be circumcised need to seriously reflect on whether the mutilation of an infant’s genitalia is ethically justifiable. I think to any honest individual, the answer is a resounding no. Too bad the New York’s DA doesn’t agree.

P.S. It happened again, although the babies’ health is still undetermined: