Friday, November 13, 2015

BODY AND SOUL, OR WHY DO WE HAVE BODIES, ANYWAY?

It seems we are natural-born dualists.  On the physical side we of course can observe our own bodies as well as those of others.  And then there’s that inner life, that internal world.  We have a powerful experience of sensations, emotions, and thoughts that together give us a compelling sense of will and of identity.  We refer to this inner world as mind or consciousness or sentience, and if we are religious we call it the soul.

Friday, November 6, 2015

SUPERMAN AND THE PERSONALITY OF GOD

I fondly recall when the original Superman series ran on TV in the 1950s, with George Reeves in the title role.  I was seven when the series began in 1952, and I loved it.  And while I realized at some level that Superman wasn’t real, I will admit to thinking early on that if I only had a cape maybe, just maybe, I too could fly.  (Yes, I was that naive.)  Thankfully, my older sisters quickly disabused me of that notion.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

AN ATHEIST'S PET PEEVES

I enjoy discussions about religion with my Christian friends, even though I realize that the chances that I will change anyone’s beliefs about matters of faith are close to zero.  And the older I get, the more remote the odds become.  But in discussions regarding the basis of beliefs my goals are broader than that.  Listening to what others have to say has helped me not just to understand better what I think but to refine those views and in some cases to change them.  But while I enjoy the repartee, there are some things that my Christian counterparts do and say that I find very frustrating.  Let’s call them pet peeves.  Here are a few:

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

FREE WILL, CHOICE, AND RESPONSIBILITY

A couple of times previously I have attempted to support my point of view that free will does not exist, that it is simply a powerful illusion.  So far, as far as I know I have succeeded in converting no one, zilch, to my position. Nevertheless, here I am making another effort at a persuasive essay in support of my view.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

A BRIEF NOTE ON ABORTION

When pro-choice individuals are asked the question of when in a pregnancy a human fetus requires recognition and protection, virtually all would agree that there needs to be a standard.  Without such a standard we could wind up on a slippery slope to euthanasia.  And I think most moral scholars agree that that would be a very dangerous position for society to assume. 

Saturday, July 4, 2015

THE PERSECUTION OF CHRISTIANS

We’ve all heard the old joke, “Lions 21, Christians 0,” a reference to the period presumably when the Romans persecuted Christians for sport.  Now we’re hearing cries of persecution of Christians once again.  Right now and right here in America.  Here are some examples:  
  • Banning of religious symbols—ten commandments, nativity scenes—on government property. 
  • Banning of prayers in public schools.
  • Banning of the teaching of creationism in public schools.
  • Giving women the right to abortions.
  • Granting same-sex couples the right to get married.
All are claimed to be instances of attacks on Christians and Christianity.  I don’t agree.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

A NOTE ON CONSCIOUSNESS

Most of us are dualists.  We believe we have both bodies and minds.  We believe we peer out of our bodies by way of our minds and that the combination gives us our sense of self, our souls, if you will.  We don’t think about it much; we just accept the idea that we have an internal mental world separate from the exterior physical world.  We believe our bodies are made of the same stuff—atoms and molecules—as the rest of the material universe.  We’re not sure what our minds are made of—some sort of nonphysical stuff.  Even though we don’t know what mind is, we think that most (though not all) of our physical actions are controlled by our minds rather than the other way around.  We refer to the mind that we are aware of as consciousness.  We don’t really think about consciousness much either; it’s just there.  However, we believe we control our consciousness through our selves, and we call this “free will.”

This is what most people believe, if they think about it at all.  But it is not correct, and it is not what I believe.  There is no such thing as “mind” or “consciousness” or “self” or “soul” that is in control of our physical actions or that is independent of the physical world.  The notion of mind as separate from body is simply an illusion, albeit a powerful one.

Monday, May 25, 2015

A WORLD WITHOUT RELIGION

What would the world be like if there were no religion?  I know, at this point it’s just an atheist’s dream.  Still, I think it is useful to ask whether the world would be better or worse if no one believed in a god or gods.  How would an absence of faith affect morality, violence, cultural traditions, happiness?  Volumes have been written on this question.  Here I thought I would just touch on a few of the ways in which the world might be different.

Friday, March 20, 2015

DOGMATISM AND SCRIPTURE AS THE WORD OF GOD

I’ve said this before:  I am concerned less with what individuals believe than with how they acquired their beliefs and why they maintain them.  And in the evangelical/fundamentalist Christian community nothing illustrates this better than belief that scripture is the Word of God.  

The terms “dogma” and “dogmatism” have a serious image problem, though it wasn’t always that way, at least in a religious context.  Dogma is a principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true.  Thus Christians came to be expected to accept the Nicene Creed without question.  It was just the way things were.  Nowadays using the term “dogmatic” in reference to someone or his or her ideas is clearly viewed as a negative.  But I think the term describes well the position of those who believe steadfastly in scripture as the inspired word of God.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

FAITH, BELIEF, AND THE GREEN BAY PACKERS

I received an interesting comment from a Facebook friend to my recent essay on Sparring with Christians.  She complained that for me “everything has to be rational” but that for her “not everything is rational and in fact the most important things in life aren’t nor can be explained in rational human thought,” including religious faith.  I thought her comment raised an interesting point, and I decided that I would expand here on the response I made to her comment.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

SPARRING WITH CHRISTIANS

I have a confession to make.  I secretly enjoy sparring with my Christian friends over matters of religious belief.  At the same time I often find such discussions frustrating.  And I will also admit that I cannot think of a time when I convinced any of my “sparring partners” to change their beliefs.  So why do I have this love-hate relationship with these discussions?

Monday, January 5, 2015

MY MOTHER'S BIBLE

By the time I was five—well before I learned to read—I understood that my mother’s Bible had special powers.  For one thing it was different from all the other books in our house.  Bound in soft black leather that was well worn but well cared for, its pages were of thin high quality paper that was wavy rather than flat. Moreover, my mother treated her Bible in a way that was totally different from how she treated any of our other books.  She always laid it out in its own special place on a living room table, never on a bookshelf with our other books.  She spent a great deal of time reading from it and always took it with her to church so she could look up any of the verses that the pastor quoted during his sermon. 

It was a King James Version, and that added to its power.  The words were English, but they often were so different from the contemporary vernacular that I heard every day that I assumed that the characters in the Bible actually spoke in “thee”s and “thou”s.  And I have the sense that everyone else in my family thought the same.