Thursday, January 17, 2008

His Dark Materials

While reading Philip Pullman's, "His Dark Materials," I had to remind myself that this book was marketed toward children. However with themes like physics,philosophy and theology, it is easily enjoyed by adults. While I won't talk about the plot of each book there were some interesting themes that I thought worth discussing.
Daemons: This is the physical manifestation of one's soul as an animal. What I found interesting is that when a person's daemon dies, the person dies or becomes catatonic. Is there something inside people who make them people? If Terry Schiavo had a physical daemon the decision to starve her to death would have been easier to make. Unfortunately for her, her family, and her insurance company seeing is believing, at least when it comes to human consciousness.
Dust: This is Dark Matter in our world. Dust is conscious. The church believes it is the manifestation of original sin making it the target for ultimate destruction. One character says, "for all the church's history it's tried to suppress and control every natural impulse. When it can't control them, it cuts them out. It tries to obliterate every good feeling." Maybe our universes aren't so parallel after all. The church makes a big deal of separating children from their daemons because Dust is less attracted to children. Thus, by cutting the child away they would never know original sin and live their lives as mindless servants to the Magesterium. That would NEVER happen in our world. Finally we get to the controversy....
If people thought the "Golden Compass" was controversial than wail until they make a movie about "The Amber Spy Glass." First off, this book reveals the Christian Heaven to be a lie. The children visit the land of the dead, only to find out that every one thats ever died lives in a bleak, bland world... kind of like Indiana without the racism. Then there is the criticism of organized religion. Mary Malone, the character I related most to, says of Christianity, "The Christian religion is a very powerful and convincing lie, thats all."
Mary Malone could possibly be my number one literary hero. Her character left the Church and described it in a way every atheist can relate to. It was hard for her because she let down her family. "It felt as if something they all passionately believed in depended on me carrying on with something I didn't." Those atheists out there that have a supportive family, I envy you. For the majority of us, we are made to feel as if we did something horribly wrong, and the only way to right our crime is to lie about the way we feel. However she also describes the relief, the huge weight off her shoulders with my favorite line of the book, "Now I can do something with my whole nature, and not just half of it."
I recommend His Dark Materials not only to atheists, but to people who simply like a good book. The story is suspenseful and there is love, redemption, and all those other good things that make something worth reading.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Why I havent' been blogging

I'm the web guy for now. I opened my big mouth, and wanted extra features, so I've taken over the domain with a redesign. It's a giant work in progress, but there certainly are more features now. Oh, and I was mentioned in the Pioneer Press yesterday. If you go to and search for "Minnesota Atheists" it'll be there.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Rochester Freethought group in the news

I had a lot of fun at the Solstice party hosted by Bill Kass and RAFT, Rochester Area Freethinkers. Jeffrey Jackson wrote up a nice piece about the group in the Rochester Post-Bulletin.

A good piece from the article:
"We're not organizing marches to burn down churches," he said.

Instead, the group stresses tolerance of people's beliefs or disbeliefs.

"We wanted to be able to meet people who the first question out of their mouths was not, 'Have you found a church yet?'" Kass said. And, he said, he wanted to find similar families so that his kids would realize they were not alone in not professing a religious faith.

That is one question that often comes up, and it is assumed that you go to a church. People in the neighborhood are interested in which faith you belong to. It can be one of those things which makes the stranger next door a good friend, or makes sure it's the last time you ever see them again.

Bill talk a bit about discrimination in the article. That's something I wish would end. I don't feel like I can even be open about who I like politically, without it being an issue at work. I remember once I was chastised for saying I voted for Kerry. It may be irrational fear, but I don't think I could have anything at my desk which would identify me as an atheist. There are a dozen or so people at work who have daily devotional calendars, prayers, or crosses at their desks. I think it's great that they can express themselves that way, but there is something holding me back. I even feel reluctant to say, oh, I'm going to be on a public access show. "What's it called?" "Atheists Talk." I find that once people get over the initial shock, check for horns, and start to have a dialog, then even the other person feels comfortable talking about how they think. I spent most of the 5th Sunday Breakfast for Minnesota Atheists talking with a Christian who was there with another friend. he had boiled Christianity away so far that all was left in the bottom was Jesus, God, a book with some stories in it, which were written by men, and an idea that the conscious could not have evolved. But everything else, all of the dogma was gone, all that was left was peace, love and happiness. I thought it was pretty at ease talking about his views, because I'd be the last one to call him a bad Christian for his opinions.

Here's the bit from Bill on discrimination:
"A co-worker the other day told me she feels sorry for me," Kass said. The co-worker proceeded to say that all unbelievers were "evil," adding, "except for you, Bill."

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

TheUpTake - Citizen Journalism

Has news gotten so bad that you rely on UK websites to tell you what is going on? Are you tired of recycled pieces copied from AP and Reuters? Are you looking for something a little more raw, but not as raw as C-SPAN? You may enjoy TheUpTake. It's an online channel with content submitted by the liberal elite, citizens with camcorders. Check out their content here.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

"In God We Doubt" Review

A few of you may remember at BBC program called, "Humphrys in Search of God," which investigated the claims of religious leaders of Christian, Islamic, and Jewish faiths. The host, John Humphrys, was unconvinced by the answers he received. Broadcast on radio at the end of 2006, right in the wake of "The God Delusion," Humphrys asked tough questions about suffering in the world, even religious violence. How could a God exist who would allow so much violence, even violence in the name of religion. How can belief in God coexist with science? While Humphrey's is not convinced by the major religions, one should note the subtitle of his book, "Confessions of a Failed Atheist." Humphrey is a genuine agnostic, however, atheists and liberal believers will find value in Humphrey's tale of his search for meaning. Humphrys writes plainly, and is skilled at telling his story from a long career with the BBC, including an assignment as Diplomatic Correspondent in the 80s. He is open and honest, not afraid to offend atheists or the religious.

The interviews have failed to move him, as ritualistic responses by priests had failed to answer his questions as a young boy, but the letters which followed the program had a much greater effect. Normally, after a radio program, the BBC will receive a dozen or so letters. The response to Humphrys ' program resulted in thousands of letters, from atheists, agnostics, and believers. The questions asked are big questions. God and morality carry strong responses. However, neither side wins him over, and he is critical of strong and weak arguments from both sides. The arguments from atheists fail for him. While the atheists will use wit and skill, they describe Christianity in ludicrous, but true, terms. An analogy would be to describe a camping trip as slogging about some mountains as if you were a hobo, having the sunrise ruined by morning mist, and complaining about the breaks in the silence by chattering birds. This type of description would be great for people who hate camping, but does nothing but outrage those who love it. There is little progress or dialog by characterizing Christianity, or other faiths in the manner atheists do. It discredits your logical arguments, and the treatment of Christianity in this manner turns off those who may be sympathetic to your opinion. Humphrys wants atheists to do two things, prove mainstream religion is a malign force in the world, and not just showcasing examples from extremists, and provide an alternative to the millions of believers in the world.

"Atheism is easy," asserts Humphrys. "The default position for the human condition is that there is something out there. This can’t all be one big accident. Otherwise, what is the point?" We recognize kindness, wickedness, and evil. There is no country in the world which would condone murder, theft, or rape, no matter its religion, or lack of it. Atheists assert that the rules which determine morality are created for the benefit of society, not handed down by some ultimate authority. Humphrys uses an old argument that if objective evil exists, there must be a God. Humphrys believes that we should fear fanaticism, but we "should also fear a world in which the predominant values are materialism and consumerism, and the greatest aspiration of too many children is to become a celebrity."

Through his story, he never really answers what will convince him to believe in God, or any religion. He has spent his whole life trying to find good reason to support his skepticism, but is instead drawn away and toward this idea of "something." His honesty is refreshing. Like it or not, his feeling about religion and atheism is not unique. There are many out there who are non religious, but unable to accept atheism, or a religion. Should we spend our time telling Christians how their religion is a lie? We have many clever ways of doing that. What should the goals be? Would our position be better understood if we defined things we do believe in, rather then asserting a negative position in opposition to the religious? Despite the diversity of atheists, there are a number of points which can be loosely agreed upon, and further debate about moral issues to be made which could make atheism more accepting to honest doubters, the agnostics.