Friday, 29 March 2013

Deceptive Christianity

The term "Christian" is a political term used to gather together people with fundamentally similar but inherently different beliefs to be united as a false unit to gain political power.

"A cult is just a religion that doesn't have political influence" - Unknown

The progression of the word "Christian" is amazingly interesting. The term "Christian" doesn't appear in popular culture until  the late 1970's. An example of this: Every US President prior to this called themselves baptist, or protestant, or catholic, not "Christian".
Around 1980, some very clever people started being very inclusive when it came to religion, they bundled all those who believed in Jesus and the bible in a single group and called it "Christian". Individually baptists, or lutherans had a very limited political power, individually the bigger groups were only around 23%. When all these are brought together though, suddenly the number jumps to about 67%, making it much easier to legislate and fight things like abortion and gay marriage . It is also easier to win over a group of "Christians" (RE: government elections), rather than being specific and only gaining favor with your particular denomination.

I will now summarize some of the major denominations and their inherent beliefs. 

Catholic - Generally more formal. Mass is weekly and is more ritualized. Priests wear more elaborate vestments. Priests take vows of celibacy. Catholics observe the seven sacraments. The pope is the lead guy, and most of the child abuse scandals are from this denomination. 

Protestant - Contains a wide variety of denominations, some liberal, some conservative. Contains Anglicans, Lutherans, Baptists and Presbyterians, just to name a few.

Orthodox - There is less focus on the exact definition of religious truth and more on the practical and personal experience of truth. More metaphysical and spiritual than Catholic. Exact interpretation is not as important as personal truth. The "Holy spirit" is more of a big deal, and is worshiped more than in other denominations.

Anglican - The mid ground between Catholic and Protestant. The Church of England is Anglican. They are not subject to the Pope. Th are Protestant in most areas of doctrine, but retain many Catholic forms of worship. They have a hierarchy based on bishops, as in Catholicism. The Arch Bishop of Canterbury, goes in this group.

Baptist - Baptists have played a key role in encouraging religious freedom and separation of church and state. Martin Luther King was Baptist. Generally Evangelical in doctrine (take shit literally). Baptists generally oppose gambling, alcohol, tobacco. Believe that salvation is achieved through faith alone and not through works of our own. Strong emphasis on need for salvation (or you're going to hell).

Lutheran - Accepts the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the inspired Word of God. They Practice baptism (dunking you underwater and saying you're 'cleansed'). Widely varied beliefs about homosexuality within different Lutheran churches.

Denominations

Everyone's beliefs very quite differently depending on which branch of "Christianity" they worship. For this reason it is important to distinguish what individuals actually believe, and not make assumptions, and not misuse statistics such as: 67% of people are christian, therefore at least that many oppose gay marriage.

The word "Christian" should be taken with a grain of salt. Answering "Christian" to "What religion are you?" is like answering  "Human" to the question "what race are you". It's true, but doesn't convey much information. 

Monday, 25 March 2013

How Atheists Can Be More Persuasive

When debating for the Atheist point of view, a common problem encountered is that many counter arguments to "religious experiences" completely nullify the other party's experiences. Arguments which do this are not very persuasive, and convince the other party that you don't understand their point of view. Here's how to be more convincing with your arguments:

Allow me to first clarify "religious experience" or a "supernatural experience". Here is just one highly under-embellished example: "I was hit by a car when I was younger, and while I was unconscious, my vision faded from black to white, and I heard god telling me it was not my time to die and I needed to wake up, and now I'm alive".
Fucking bullshit right? 

The problem is, with whoever is the author of this story, they know this happened. This story might seem crazy to the logical thinker, but to the person who actually experienced it, it is as real as any other experience they have had. And thus, just plainly denying their experience as impossible, is not convincing, and shows that you must not understand.

Imagine someone saying the breakfast you ate this morning wasn't real. Everything you tasted, the temperature, they were just illusions in your head. But you know you ate breakfast, it was delicious (or not, whatever). This is what it's like plainly denying their experience by saying "god isn't real, so that's bullshit".

A better approach to this situation is to validate their experience, and offer alternate explanations. "That sounds amazing, but how do you know it was god? And not just a dream? If you were dreaming how would you know it wasn't a dream?".

Generally, if someone has attributed an experience to something supernatural, they obviously do not know of anything natural that could have caused the experience. This could be due to a lack of knowledge by the person, or by science/ society in general.

The brain can do some amazing things, dreaming, hallucinations, all which are very real for the mind creating them. Remember to take this into account before calling bullshit on someone's experience. 



Sunday, 24 March 2013

Atheist vs. Agnostic

If you don't want to make a fool of yourself if you ever get involved in a conversation about beliefs or epistemology, it's important to understand this difference.

Atheist - the umbrella word for people who either a) Have no active belief in god, or b) Have an active belief that there is no god.
Agnostic - there are two ways to view this one. 1) You believe there are things in the world that are unknown, or 2) You believe there are things in this world that can not be known.

Atheism, broken down into "A - theist", in its essence refers to, the negative (the "a" bit, similar to "anti" or "un") belief in at least one deity (the "theist" bit).

Agnosticism is related to epistemological (about the nature of knowledge and understanding) ideas. For example, "are there things which can never be known".

So although these words are often used in the same context, they are on different levels. They come from to different topics and relate to different concepts within their own topics.

There are some people who believe that "people with no active belief in god" are agnostic, and not atheist. This is wrong. Only a person who has never heard of god, or the concept of a god truly has "no beliefs about god". Because once you ask someone the question "do you believe in god", the answer is either yes or no, which divides people into atheist or theist. This is based on the premise that a negative belief is still a belief. Only lack of knowledge about a topic can truly exempt people from a belief about it.

Also, someone can be "Agnostic", and believe that there are things in the world that can never be known, BUT believe that knowledge about a god CAN be known, and thus an atheist.

Most of the time, when people talk about agnosticism in the context of religion, they specifically mean "I don't know if god exists" or "I believe we can never know if a god exists", but this doesn't exempt them from a belief either way (theist or atheist). That's why it's called belief, because you don't have to be sure.
If you have no active belief about god, you're an Atheist. And you don't have to be scared.

The word "Atheist" isn't a scary label, it simply means what was described earlier. So don't be cautious about using this word. If it ever comes up, explain your position intelligently, you'll sound much smarter for it.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Atheism is a Belief

It's a belief based on evidence. That's the difference. It's the way you you should decide what you believe about everything.

There are a large number of religious people who argue that Atheism is a belief, as though this some how brings down Atheism to the level of religion. It doesn't. Religion is "faith", which is belief without evidence.

Having beliefs is not the problem Atheists dislike. Having irrational beliefs is the problem.
I believe the sky appears blue most of the time, because I can see it, and it's fucking blue.
I believe water changes state from solid to liquid at room temperature, because I can leave an ice cube in a room and watch it melt (boring as bat shit though).

I believe there is no god, because I decide what to believe based on evidence, and there is insufficient evidence to warrant a belief in god.

Some say "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence", however this simply not true. There are circumstances where a lack of evidence does lead to proof of absence.
For example if someone tells you there is an elephant on your front lawn, and you look and see no elephant, or no evidence that an elephant was there (RE: the elephant would have left a trace on the lawn), then you can assert that there is no elephant on your front lawn.

Technically, because of the way humans continually redefine god, it is impossible to disprove it. Thus technically I should be an agnostic, saying there is not enough evidence either way. However technically, I can't prove there is no santa, no unicorns, and no bigfoot.. but I'm pretty fucking sure they don't exist either.

Atheism is a belief. Beliefs aren't the problem. Beliefs not based on evidence, or beliefs based on incorrect reasoning are the problem. Beliefs because of evidence and reason - all good.

If you want to say you have "no beliefs either way", call yourself an apistevist, not an atheist.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Christian Values ≠ Morality

Some Christians think that without Christianity, there would be no morals. Fucking wrong.

In today's society, especially in North America, there are a large number of people who are Christian, and are also good people. Thus it appears to them, that because some of the things they consider moral are in the bible, that the bible must be the ultimate source of these things.

That's not true any more. Once upon a time, before people started looking outside religion for morals, the bible seemed like a good place to gather morality from. And there were such social norms such as human and animal sacrifice, slavery, and the oppression of women. (Note: at one point or another, these were all "Christian Values")

Fortunately today, we have thrown away the "christian values" we don't like, and kept the "christian values" we do like.
... So how about we stop calling it "Christian Values"?

Let's start calling the values that are confluent for a moral society,  "moral values".
It doesn't matter if you're Christian, Jew, Islamic, or Atheist, if you are a good person you will agree with these "moral values".
Morality today can and is studied through philosophy, and even science by a few people. It is not something that is taken as an absolute and unchangeable, like religion.

All morality is essentially based around the experience of conscious beings, and trying to improve this experience. The morality we kept from Christianity fits this model, and the morality we threw away (or are in the process of throwing away) doesn't fit this model.

Even if Christians were the first people to invent the idea of "don't kill others" and "don't commit adultery" (which they weren't), today morality has moved beyond a set of principals set in stone. There are reasons behind the moral principals we have in modern society. 

If we all stopped for a minute and looked at the reality of this situation, it would be a lot easier to make changes in the world that effect people in a morally positive way.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

The Reality of Emotions

..And how to master your feelings.

Emotions arise unconsciously. Just like thoughts or ideas. You have no idea what you are going to think of next. In order for you to know what you are going to think next, you would have to think it before you think it. Think about it.

Your emotions behave in the same way; they simply arise into consciousness and you become aware of them. In response to the death of a friend, no one thinks "I should be sad about this" and then becomes sad. The feeling of sadness comes from within our unconscious brain, and then we become consciously aware of it.

However, our conscious mind can have amazing impacts on how our unconscious brain operates.
For example: Don't think of a purple elephant. ... What did you think of?
What we think with our conscious brain directly effects what range of possibilities our unconscious brain has to work with for or next thought.

Similarly, our unconscious brain works to answer questions our conscious brain poses for it.
For example, try to retrieve an item from out of arms reach without moving your posture. This creativity and critical thinking comes from our unconscious brain. It wasn't apparent before that the ruler on my desk could be used to knock the object closer, or the headphones as a crude lasso  but my unconscious found a solution to the problem I posed it. It answered the question.

So if I pose my brain questions like "Why does my life suck", "Why does this always happen to me", and "Why am I always sad", my brain will search around unconsciously and find answers. Answers which could include "because you're (uncoordinated/ ugly/ unpopular/ overweight/stupid), because your parents didn't give you enough attention as a kid, because they secretly resented you, because they knew you would grow up to be useless.".
When said like this and observed objectively, its obvious how illogical these thoughts are, but the brain doesn't know that. The brain doesn't function linearly, it's structured like a mesh. It will move to answer questions through connections in this mesh.

The best part is, what you think consciously, if repeated, forges these connections. Conscious learning works in this way, well guess what, so does unconscious learning.

So if you look in a mirror, see your body, and don't like what you see; The next time you look in a mirror, you'll unconsciously trigger that connection (without becoming consciously aware of it) and feel bad. And this reinforces that connection and makes it stronger.

This is the very beginning for 90% of depressive or anxiety disorders. Not all behavior like this leads to depressive disorders  but the majority of depressive disorders start here.

The good thing is you can change all these connections with conscious thought.
If you look in a mirror for 30 days and think "I actually look alright" and ask yourself "Why am I so good looking?", you'll have much better self esteem at the end of it.

Once you know this secret.. the sky is the limit. Ask your brain questions you want answers to. Force connections between healthy food (or the gym) and a positive emotion (positive emotions can be produced consciously by smiling and laughing accompanied by reinforced positive internal dialogue).

This doesn't work for everything, some emotions are so overwhelming that no amount of positive repetition could reforge these connections, they are instinctual. These include, death of a family member, loss of security (home, job, money), heartbreak, etc.

Your emotions are your reality. The "truth" of emotions are the ones you come up with unconsciously. But you can significantly change what you are likely to feel unconsciously. And that's the truth.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Teaching Creationism to Children is Child Abuse

The idea that the earth is 6000 years old is fucking wrong. Proven wrong. Proven by an overwhelming amount of evidence to be wrong. And people who teach lies to their children, or support the teaching of these lies with the false equivalence that they are evidentially equal to the theory of evolution, are child abusers.

By teaching our children such an incorrect view of how the world works, contrary to science, we do them a disservice in a world that is largely advanced by science. In a world where intellect and education are the driving force behind the global workforce, if we teach our children nonsense, they will have a significant disadvantage when they try to enter into this competitive world.

Furthermore, it is also wrong to infer that the ideas of evolution and creationism have an equal share of evidence supporting them. The idea of teaching both alternatives in schools as so not to offend the beliefs of the religious is also ridiculous. The education system's number one priority is to dispel ignorance. Schools don't teach their students that some people think the earth revolves around the sun, and others think the sun revolves around the earth, and no one knows for sure.

It is up to the rest of society to take action to cure society of this disability. The idea that the earth is 6000 years old should be met with as much ridicule and laughter as the idea that Elvis Presley is still alive, or that Bigfoot is real.

People are entitled to believe whatever they want to believe, however in today's society belief in such ridiculous mythology comes at a cost. People will not take you seriously if you demonstrate you believe knowledge which in reality is obviously incorrect. And rightly so. Society should demand a better intellectual standard from people in this day and age.

It is past the point where society should be polite about other people's ideas that have been proven to be wrong. As a society we need to demand better of each other, so not to disadvantage our future generations in a competitive world that relies on application and discovery of true knowledge.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Who is Responsible for Educating Our Children

Fucking everyone!

Currently in Australia there is an ongoing debate about who holds responsibilities for educating the youth. One state says teachers have the responsibility, and are moving to raise standards for applicants applying for teaching courses at universities. Another state says parents have the responsibility, and are promoting curriculum where parents assist more with homework at home.

Which school of thought is right?
It doesn't fucking matter.

Yes, making teaching courses more appealing (through higher wages for teachers) will improve the quality of education. Yes, imposing higher standards for students studying teaching will improve the quality of education. Yes, getting more involved with your child's education will improve it's quality. Everything works, so do everything.

The government should be focusing on their end of the deal (schools, curriculum, and teachers) and parents should be doing all they can for their children to further their education.

Some parents don't have time, because of work and other commitments, to help out with their kids education. That's a shame for that kid, they're going to be average. It is a convoluted path to helping those types of families from the governments position.

However for families who have the time, of course they should be helping further their child's education.  Reading to them, fostering their interests, giving them life experience all drastically improve a child's well being(intellectually and emotionally).

It shouldn't be a question of either or, it should be everything, all the time. Government focus on quality at school, and parents focus on quality at home.

Educating children, in all areas (literacy, numeracy, as well as healthy social skills) should be considered the number one priority for governments looking for long term flourishing of a country. Also parents should be placing a high priority on helping their kids do the best they can.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

You Probably Have the Wrong God

The chance that some sort of divine entity created everything (as in, made the Big Bang happen, thereby setting everything in motion) is pretty slim. Not impossible, but slim.
The chance that the god you are subscribed to is the right god, is even fucking slimmer.
The chance that that god, actually agrees with your specific beliefs about slavery, adultery, homosexuality, and cares about each one the the same extent as you do, and demands the same punishment for sins as you do, and rewards the same good deeds as you believe to be valuable, is almost fucking impossible. Is fucking impossible.

Perhaps a better way to approach the situation of life would be to try to be a good person, based around morals you think are reasonable, not based around beliefs claiming to be fact. Just try to be a good person for yourself, for society.
If there is no god, you've done alright, and death is the end.
If there is a god, but heaven and hell are bullshit,  you've still done alright, and death is still the end.
If there is a god, and he's not as retarded as religious texts make him out to be, and he likes your morals and the way you lived your life, he'll probably let you into heaven.

If there is a god and heaven is reserved for people with vastly different morals, then that's not a place I want to spend my eternity, and maybe I'll enjoy the company in hell a lot better anyway.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Why Religious Morality is a Bad Idea

Religion claims to hold a monopoly on morality, each claiming that their divine entity is the judge, jury and executioner in regards to moral rule, after death. This is a fundamentally worrying principal.

Not all religions are an issue here, or to say, not all people who practice a religion are an issue. An issue specifically arises when the reason people decide to to "good", or not to do "bad", is because of their after-life fate. Teaching this to children, and using this as an acceptable justification for doing good, or not doing bad, is unethical, stupid, and potentially dangerous.

Firstly, believing that it is up to another being (weather divine or not) to judge your morality, means you sacrifice yourself to whatever they deem to be moral.
An example of this is extremest Islam. 9/11. The hijackers who flew planes into buildings, did so believing they were doing good. Because they defined their morality by "the word of god", they were susceptible to suggestion to follow "god's will". Unfortunately, their interpretation of "god's will" required them to kill infidels, people not of their faith; sacrifice themselves in order to prove how good and dedicated to god they were. Complete trust in another for judgement of morality takes away any power you have to decide what is moral or immoral.

Secondly, if at any point through out the life of an individual who grew up being taught "don't be bad or you'll burn in hell", decides to believe there is no hell, no heaven, and no god, suddenly has no reason not to be bad. This might be okay for adults, because they normally have a developed sense of empathy, but for children it is a different story. If a child has always been taught "be good or you'll go to hell", "be good or mum will punish you", "be good or you won't get dinner", they don't have a developed sense of empathy. The child who hasn't been taught to think about the feelings of others, won't unconsciously take them into account before making a decision about an action.

The solution to this problem is to not be a dumb fuck and think for yourself. Center your moral base around the philosophy "Act as to prevent suffering and the suffering of others". This guards against outside manipulation of your moral principals. Teach children to think about how their actions affect other people, and teach them to act to not hurt, or hurt the feelings of others. This after all, is in itself, a more moral, moral code.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Why Isn't Being Fat Illegal?

It's law that you must wear a crash helmet when riding a motorcycle. It's law you must wear a cycle helmet when riding a pushbike on public roads. The final price of cigarettes is 62% government tax, to raise revenue to compensate for the extra cost on the health system. So why, with type 2 diabetes being the fastest growing disease in developed countries, are  there not more regulations for fat people.

Not fatty foods.. fat people.
Taxing fatty foods would be unfair to those who eat fatty foods responsibly, and maintain good health.

There is no doubt among health professionals the connections between being overweight, and pathologies leading to high blood pressure (hypertension), high cholesterol (hypercholesterolaemia), and many forms of cardiovascular disease (including increased risk of heart attacks, atherosclerosis, diabetes, etc).

It would seem like discrimination to impose a constraint or duty on a type of people, but it's not (at least, not in the sense of criminal discrimination).
A distinction has to be made here, between bad discrimination, and regular discrimination. Regular discrimination occurs all the time, the hefty tax on tobacco products, the different price of movie tickets for adults/ children / concessions/ students, lower income taxes for low income earners. These are all types of discrimination that make sense, and are legal.
Bad discrimination would include treating people differently because of ethnicity, skin colour, gender, sexual orientation, or some other condition beyond the control of the individual. This type of discrimination is illegal and rightfully so.

However being fat isn't beyond the control of the individual. Everyone has choice over what they eat and how much they exercise . Being fat occurs as the result of a higher caloric intake than calories burned off, over an extended period of time. This is indisputable science.
Therefore, discrimination against obese people is ethical, and fair when compared to the scenarios in the opening paragraph. Obviously there are certain medical conditions (Hypothyroidism) that cause uncontrollable weight gain, and allowances would be made for these conditions.

Obese people put themselves at risk in the same way not wearing a seat belt puts you at risk. Also, there is a cost to the taxpayer through public health claims and subsidized medications which treat conditions ultimately caused by being obese.

It is a double standard to punish one group (smokers, people who don't wear helmets/ seat belts, people who use illicit substances), and not obese people.
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