“So far, I’ve changed my mind twice about God”

I’ve been visiting some old familiar websites, hoping to reactivate my gray matter after months of recovery from two spine surgeries and too many pain killers. After a while I stumbled across the question The Edge Foundation asked of ten prominent people from the worlds of science, philosophy, psychology, and physics: “What have you changed your mind about?” The answers were inspiring.

Alan Alda

ALAN ALDA

Not surprisingly, the great thinkers who answered the question included Alan Alda, who hosted the television shows “Scientific American Frontiers” (1993–2007) and “The Human Spark” (2010). Although he is an accomplished actor, he has always loved science and learned much during eleven years of interviewing six or seven hundred scientists around the world. His answer encouraged me to think, and change my mind.

(Below is from Alan Alda’s 2008 essay for The Edge Foundation)

“So far, I’ve changed my mind twice about God”

“Until I was twenty I was sure there was a being who could see everything I did and who didn’t like most of it. He seemed to care about minute aspects of my life, like on what day of the week I ate a piece of meat. And yet, he let earthquakes and mudslides take out whole communities, apparently ignoring the saints among them who ate their meat on the assigned days.  Eventually, I realized that I didn’t believe there was such a being. It didn’t seem reasonable. And I assumed that I was an atheist. 

As I understood the word, it meant that I was someone who didn’t believe in a God; I was without a God. I didn’t broadcast this in public because I noticed that people who do believe in a god get upset to hear that others don’t.. . .”

“. . .I still don’t like the word agnostic. It’s too fancy. I’m simply not a believer. But, as simple as this notion is, it confuses some people. Someone wrote a Wikipedia entry about me, identifying me as an atheist because I’d said in a book I wrote that I wasn’t a believer. . .”
— Alan Alda

Inspired by Mr. Alda’s comments, I had to ask the question, “am I still an Atheist?” In my post from last month I reiterated my self-labeling by explaining what I’ve been saying for 25 years, “I’m an Atheist, but more importantly, I’m a Secular Humanist.”

But ya know, Alda’s onto something. I’m so frustrated by having to explain the various definitions of the word “Atheist.” I’m tired of seeing the shocked stares when I proudly say that I’m a devout Atheist. I do so enjoy riling people up by using the word devout next to the word Atheist. However, I’d much rather focus my efforts on talking about Secular Humanism. Perhaps they will listen if I didn’t use the “A” word?

So after 25 years I’m changing my mind. Like Mr. Alda I’m content to label myself simply as a non believer. But now I must try it on and wear it around for a while. I can’t wait to test it on my friends. . .and certainly in public!

Are you an Atheist or a non believer?


The 2015 question at The Edge is “What Do You Think About Machines That Think?” There are 186 individual, printable responses. Ideas. Ideas. Ideas!

http://edge.org/responses/q2015


Why Ricky Gervais is an Atheist (or, Non Believer, if you will)

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A Happy Philosophical New Year

happy_new_year

On January 1st I began the day reading my email from Freedom From Religion Foundation and started to contemplate how I would define myself in relationship to FFRF’s quote from Michel Onfray.

“I persist in preferring philosophers to rabbis, priests, imams, ayatollahs, and mullahs. Rather than trust their theological hocus-pocus, I prefer to draw on alternatives to the dominant philosophical historiography: the laughers, materialists, radicals, cynics, hedonists, atheists, sensualists, voluptuaries. They know that there is only one world, and that promotion of an afterlife deprives us of the enjoyment and benefit of the only one there is. A genuinely deadly sin.”

—Michel Onfray, Atheist Manifesto

Michel Onfray

Michel Onfray

After reading Onfray’s quote I thought I might consider my own philosophical historiography using Onfray’s categories. . .one at a time:

Laugher, radical, atheist (yes, I am) (see note below on what I mean by “atheist”)

Materialist, cynic (not me)

Hedonist (yes, I am)

a person whose life is devoted to the pursuit of pleasure and self-gratification

Sensualist (yes, I am) a person given to the indulgence of the senses or appetites

Voluptuary

a person whose life is devoted to the pursuit and enjoyment of luxury and sensual pleasure
(No. I am not “devoted to,” but often “in pursuit of” these things, yet often not very successful at it)

think before believe

ATHEIST DEFINITION
(and some others)

I used the term “Atheist” above, but regularly find it necessary to explain what I mean by this word. There are so many connotations.

The quotes below from “7 Different Types of Non-Believers” by Valerie Tarico may help to unravel this mystery. Originally this was on Alternet. I found it on salon.com.

“Positive atheism asserts that a personal supreme being does not exist. Negative atheism simply asserts a lack of belief in such a deity.”
(I’m a negative atheist, although I hate the use of the word negative here)

To further define myself, I am also an anti-theist.
“The anti-theist says, ‘I think religion is harmful.’  It also implies some form of activism that goes beyond merely advocating church-state separation or science education. Anti-theism challenges the legitimacy of faith as a moral authority or way of knowing. Anti-theists often work to expose harms caused in the name of God like stonings, gay baiting, religious child maltreatment, genital mutilation, unwanted childbearing or black-collar crime. . .”

HUMANIST
Although I am a born skeptic, I am a positive and hopeful person. I am a Humanist. . .trying to exercise reason, compassion, and hope. Humanism gives me that opportunity.

“While terms like atheist or anti-theist focus on a lack of god-belief and agnostic, skeptic and freethinker all focus on ways of knowing—humanist centers in on a set of ethical values. Humanism  seeks to promote broad wellbeing by advancing compassion, equality, self-determination, and other values that allow individuals to flourish and to live in community with each other. These values derive not from revelation, but from human experience.”

How ’bout you?  What do you think about yourself? Happy New Year! 

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Happy B’day Pi and Albert Einstein

Just in case someone told you that Einstein was religious, or that he believed in God, you need to read his real quotes below. This should put an end to that. Not only did he not believe I god, he was very articulate, even poetic about it. However, I do think he believed in Pi. His quotes are from Freedom From Religion Foundation (ffrf.org). You should join and get these Freethought of the Day bios and quotes like I do.

FREETHOUGHT OF THE DAY  – March 14th

albert_einstein_smOn this date in 1879, Albert Einstein was born in Ulm, Germany. He completed his Ph.D. at the University of Zurich by 1909. His 1905 paper explaining the photo-electric effect, the basis of electronics, earned him the Nobel Prize in 1921. His first paper on Special Relativity Theory, also published in 1905, changed the world. Einstein split his time and academic appointments between various European universities. After the rise of the Nazi party, Einstein made Princeton his permanent home, becoming a U.S. citizen in 1940. Einstein, a pacifist during World War I, stayed a firm proponent of social justice and responsibility. He chaired the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists, which organized to alert the public to the dangers of atomic warfare. In an article for The New York Times (Nov. 9, 1930), Einstein wrote about his views on religion, and wonder at the cosmic mysteries: “This insight into the mystery of life, coupled though it be with fear, also has given rise to religion. To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their primitive forms—this knowledge, this feeling, is at the center of true religiousness. In this sense, and in this sense only, I belong in the ranks of devoutly religious men.”

Confusion over his beliefs stemmed from such comments as his public statement, reported by United Press in April 25, 1929, that: “I believe in Spinoza’s God, who reveals himself in the orderly harmony in being, not in God who deals with the facts and actions of men.” Einstein’s famous “God does not play dice with the Universe” metaphor—meaning nature conforms to mathematical law—fueled more confusion. At a symposium, he advised: “In their struggle for the ethical good, teachers of religion must have the stature to give up the doctrine of a personal God, that is, give up that source of fear and hope which in the past placed such vast power in the hands of priests. In their labors they will have to avail themselves of those forces which are capable of cultivating the Good, the True, and the Beautiful in humanity itself. This is, to be sure a more difficult but an incomparably more worthy task . . . ” (“Science, Philosophy and Religion, A Symposium,” published by the Conference on Science, Philosophy and Religion in their Relation to the Democratic Way of Life, Inc., New York, 1941). In a letter to philosopher Eric Gutkind, dated Jan. 3, 1954, Einstein stated: “The word god is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this,” (The Guardian, “Childish superstition: Einstein’s letter makes view of religion relatively clear,” by James Randerson, May 13, 2008). D. 1955.

“I cannot imagine a God who rewards and punishes the objects of his creation, whose purposes are modeled after our own—a God, in short, who is but a reflection of human frailty. Neither can I believe that the individual survives the death of his body, although feeble souls harbor such thoughts through fear or ridiculous egotism. It is enough for me to contemplate the mystery of conscious life perpetuating itself through all eternity, to reflect upon the marvelous structure of the universe which we can dimly perceive, and to try humbly to comprehend even an infinitesimal part of the intelligence manifested in nature.”
—Albert Einstein, column for The New York Times, Nov. 9, 1930 (reprinted in The New York Times obituary, April 19, 1955)

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Support Humanist Principles: Raise the Minimum Wage!

Support Humanist Principles: Raise the Minimum Wage!
By Ron Steelman

We must take a stand on raising the minimum wage in the U.S. If we help to raise the minimum wage, we will raise hundreds of thousands of minimum wage workers and their families out of their forced poverty. The objections and arguments against raising the minimum wage are presented by those in business that must keep the wages as low as possible so that they can make huge profits. We get that. But they are doing so on the backs of the most poor among us. It seems unconscionable to me, given these two principles of Humanism:

“We are concerned with securing justice and fairness in society and with eliminating discrimination and intolerance.”

“We believe in supporting the disadvantaged and the handicapped so that they will be able to help themselves.”

(Although this 1923 cartoon is old news, the issue of the minimum wage law is still alive today. Justice Sutherland wrote the majority opinion that the minimum wage law for women violated the due process right to contract freely. D.C. Court of Appeals affirmed. Today, both men and women are still being kept in poverty.)

Minimum_Wage_article

President Obama has proposed a new minimum wage of only $9 per hour, while Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) have rolled out their own, more ambitious proposal, which by 2015 would raise the minimum wage to $10.10, closer to its historical high in the late 1960s.

“Even with the tax relief we put in place, a family with two kids that earns the minimum wage still lives below the poverty line,” Obama said. “That’s wrong.”

PayneMinWage

(. . .a “display of compassion”?!)

Read about it. Think about it. Then do something about it.

Below are just a few links to get you started:

http://goo.gl/AaPhgS

http://goo.gl/opCyK0

http://goo.gl/VsS60y

http://goo.gl/rKcJsA

THEN BE VOCAL IN YOUR SUPPORT OF RAISING THE MINIMUM WAGE.

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Conversation Starter

Conversation Starter
by Ron Steelman

Smile_No_Hell_Black

A friend sent this to me. I immediately added it to my email signature. I may even buy a T-shirt with this image. Why? It’s kind of disarming. It’s simple and pleasantly humorous. . .as opposed to the more “in your face” atheist/humanist buttons and Ts that are out there. For example:
– Atheism Cures Religious Terrorism
– Gods don’t kill people – People with Gods kill people
– Keep Your Rosaries Off My Ovaries
– Hi, I’m going door to door educating Christians about evolution
– Don’t Pray in My School I Won’t Think In Your Church
– Jesus loves me, but I still make him wear a condom.
– I’ve Got Nothing Against God, It’s His Fan Club I Can’t Stand
– Have You Threatened Your Children With Eternal Damnation Today?
– If you burn a Koran, light it with a Bible.

There are hundreds of these quips that are designed to push back against the christian right and to defend ourselves against all the ridiculous ways they are attempting to interfere in our lives and with our laws. In the process of forcing their religious beliefs on all of us, they may ultimately corrupt our U.S. Constitution and demolish the wall of separation between church and state. Of course, this is all under way right now.

There is an ongoing discussion/debate amongst my atheist and humanist friends. There are some humanists who hold that we shouldn’t spend our time insulting the ultra-religious or tearing down religion, because we’ll never win them over anyway and we’ll come off as arrogant and strident. We should focus, instead, on educating the non-fundamental religionists. Maybe, if we speak reason to the reasonable, perhaps they will give up their superstitious religious beliefs. On the other side, my more strident atheist friends think we should loudly challenge all this religious hogwash, pointing out every ludicrous aspect of their dogma.

I can argue with my friends over these issues, but I don’t do well in debates with fundamentalists. I get so angry with them and their lack of reason and rationality. It’s not that I expect to win-over a religious fundy. It’s that these confrontations are a complete exercise in futility.

So, for me, for now, I want to experiment by wearing a T-shirt around that says, “Smile. . .there is no hell.” I want to see if it will spark a conversation with someone who might relate to the quip. Maybe this will get them thinking about some other things that they don’t believe either. Maybe I’ll give them a brochure from my Humanist group before we part. HA!

I’ll keep you posted.

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“I’m Spiritual, But Not Religious” (Bronx Cheer)

“I’m Spiritual, But Not Religious”
(Bronx Cheer)
By Ron Steelman

This is an example of the ongoing debate/discussion about the “S” word. In my experience a high percentage of people who claim to be ‘spiritual, but not religious’ can’t really explain what they mean by this. That’s O.K. Many people have no idea about what they really believe, because many have never actually thought about it. Others seem to be afraid to identify as a “non-believer,” and simply use the phrase “spiritual, but not religious” in order to cling to various supernatural beliefs.

Krista Tippett

Krista Tippett

Below is a quote from the Krista Tibbett podcast on her NPR radio program, “On Being,” from her discussion with Lawrence Krauss, titled, “Our Origins and the Weight of Space,” recorded  in the summer of 2012 at the Chautauqua Institute in western New York.

On Being is mainly about faith. Here is Krista at the end of the Krauss interview trying to trap the famous theoretical physicist into relating the word ‘spirituality’ to the word ‘scientist.’

Krista Tibbett:  What is the spirituality of a scientist?

Lawrence Krauss

Lawrence Krauss

Lawrence Krauss:  The spirituality of a scientist? The spirituality of a scientist. . .if I had to use that term. . . is “awe in the wonder of nature.” And. . . the realization that spirituality isn’t having the answers before you ask the questions. Real spirituality comes from asking the questions and opening your mind to what the answers might be.

The following two paragraphs are from Paula Kirby of the Washington Post. If I had her skill as a writer, I would have written this myself (thank you Paula for putting this so succinctly.)

(the following is an excerpt from the article, “Spirituality: It’s Only Human” by Paula Kirby – Washington Post, Wednesday, August 17, 2011)

‘Spiritual’: what a weaselly word that is! Much like ‘Intelligent Design’ as a euphemism for ‘Creationism,’ ‘spiritual’ is a word that believers throw in when they’d like to claim something for religion, but suspect they wouldn’t get away with it. ‘Spiritual’ is conveniently ill-defined and therefore perfect for their purposes, conveying, as it does, a vaguely religious implication that humans are special, somehow elevated above the other animals, attuned to other-worldly influences and having an added dimension that cannot be satisfied with mere Earthly matters. ‘Spiritual’ leaves open the possibility of ‘mysticism’ and ‘higher powers’ and ‘immortal souls,’ without ever having to spell out, and therefore defend, what is meant by such things.

We non-religious might also resort to the word on occasion, when groping for a term to describe a particularly intense sensation of peace or beauty or harmony; but generally speaking, it is rare to find an example of ‘spirituality’ being used in a context where ‘emotional and psychological well-being’ would not be a more appropriate term. Well, shorthand can serve a useful purpose, and ‘emotional and psychological well-being’ is a bit of a mouthful; but still, we should not forget that that is what we are really talking about, and we certainly should not be fooled by the other-dimensioned overtones of ‘spiritual’ vocabulary into thinking that emotional and psychological well-being actively requires us to dabble in matters religious. Link to article

My “emotional and psychological well-being” frequently comes from my “awe in the wonder of nature.” However, I also can achieve emotional and psychological well-being through the love from and for my family, the enjoyment of beautiful art, music, dance, theater, food, friendship, and laughter. It’s not necessary for me to chase this primitive idea of a spiritual nature. My human nature and my “awe in the wonder of nature” fills me to the brim with “emotional and psychological well-being.” Nothing supernatural is required. I’m a happy Humanist.

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