Archive for October, 2010

Thinking vs. believing

I realize that I can’t know for sure whether Bertrand Russell’s proverbial teapot is in orbit around the planet (or is it around the sun?), but I have no problem* categorically stating that I believe it is not.

Except that’s not quite true. I have a bit of a problem with the word “believe,” since it misleadingly suggest I’m talking about a belief or faith. In fact, my view of Russell’s Teapot (and God) is more of an opinion. It’s a best guess.

The problem is that while we make a distinction (at least I do) between “belief” and “opinion,” in colloquial speaking (and writing), we generally use the verb “believe” to refer to both kinds of views. I have a pretty extensive vocabulary, and I’m not afraid to use it, but I don’t think I’ve ever used the word “opine” in my life.

The other option, of course, is the verb “think,” and I try to use that when I’m referring to my view on deities — that is, I think there aren’t any. If I were a little less mindful of my Rule #1, I might respond to queries about what I believe by saying, “I don’t believe, I think.”

(pic via xkcd)

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Saturday Sermon: Burn ’em, Bo!

I only know Bo Burnham from one Comedy Central special, but I’ve seen the nerdy singer/rapper/comic as something of a kindred spirit (except I’m pretty sure he’s gay, and pretty sure I’m not). But this clip that’s apparently from an hour-long special airing tonight (also on Comedy Central)  puts a hurt on religion that’s just a joy to watch.

Breeding contempt

So, the Intertubes have been all abuzz lately about the Pew study showing atheists are msot knowledgeable about religion (you can take the quiz here).

Some have suggested possible contamination because atheists are more educated, or more intelligent, and of course people who want to argue against something often know a lot about it because they’re looking for stuff to criticize (then again, creationists tend to be woefully ignorant of evolution and evolutionary theory).

But I suspect that looking deeply into any religion (to the point where you can discuss doctrines without merely parroting them) probably tends to point to the conclusion that the religion has some problems. In other words, of course we know a lot about religion — that’s why we’re atheists!

(cartoon via FanPop)

I’m wide awake and I can see

Not exactly a Sunday Sermon today, but since I’m watching the team I grew up rooting for (Packers) playing against the team I rooted for in the ’90s when I was living in Maryland (‘Skins), this meditation on “Torn” seems somehow appropriate:

Thanks to Reddit (yes, I know, they’re my source for lots of stuff), I now realize that a song I always sort of liked, Natalie Imbruglia’s (cover version of) “Torn,” is actually an atheist anthem. Well, maybe not “anthem,” more like “confessional” or something more personal. Still pretty cool. And sure, there’s some wiggle-room on interpretation, but lines like “I’m all out of faith” and “I should have seen just what was there and not some holy light” are pretty blatant, not to mention the opening line.  Here are the lyrics:

I thought I saw a man brought to life
He was warm
He came around
And he was dignified
He showed me what it was to cry

Well you couldn’t be that man I adored
You don’t seem to know
Or seem to care
What your heart is for
I don’t know him anymore

There’s nothin’ where he used to lie
My conversation has run dry
That’s what’s going on
Nothings right
I’m torn

I’m all out of faith
This is how I feel
I’m cold and I am shamed
Lying naked on the floor
Illusion never changed
Into something real
I’m wide awake and I can see the perfect sky is torn
You’re a little late
I’m already torn

So I guess the fortune tellers right
I should have seen just what was there and not some holy light
But you crawled beneath my veins
And now, I don’t care
I have no luck
I don’t miss it all that much
There’s just so many things
That I can’t touch
I’m torn

There’s nothin’ where he used to lie
My inspiration has run dry
That’s what’s going on
Nothing’s right
I’m torn

Tuesday Semi-Sermon: Don’t start, believers

OK, so I’m watching “Glee” and the storyline is that Kurt (the fierce gay one) is in crisis because his dad’s in a coma after a heart attack, and it turns out Kurt’s an atheist, and not wavering from his views, even being disdainful of well-meaning efforts by his theist friends to pray for his dad, etc.

And then there’s a touching scene where Mercedes (the sassy black one) says to him, “I know you’re going through a really scary time right now, and I know you’re not really religious or spiritual, but I want you to know that I’m still behind you and I care about you even though you don’t share my beliefs.

Oh, except that’s TOTALLY NOT WHAT SHE SAID! Instead she said, “but I think you’re missing out on a lot” or words to that effect, and then invited him to attend church with her. Since when is it appropriate to take advantage of someone’s vulnerability to proselytize for your religion? Sure, that might not be her intention, but that’s what she’s doing. At the very least, it’s horribly insensitive.

“Glee” had a really great opportunity to make a statement about atheism being, at the very least, a valid part of the rich and diverse tapestry of humanity. Instead they treated atheism as a problem to be dealt with, or a phase to be outgrown or moved on from.

Postscript: I’m now watching the end of the episode, and Kurt still doesn’t believe in God, and he still gets to make a touching and sympathetic speech. So I guess there’s still some hope.

(pic via Homorazzi)

Sunday Sermon: Maher-velous

If you’re reading this the day it posts, I’m out of town — visiting an old friend from college (On Wisconsin!) who’s now in Newark, and we’re probably watching the Packer game in a Packer bar in Greenwich Village(!) that used to be a beatnik hangout(!!). So I’ll turn the mic over to brother Bill Maher, who absolutely pwns Bill O’Reilly in his own “No Spin Zone.”