Faith of an Atheist: What sustains the godless?

This piece was written for the Wednesday Dec. 24, 2014 edition of the Boyne City Gazette (which has not yet gone to print).
Generally, my partner and the paper’s publisher write the opinion pieces for our faith page, but I thought I would make an unlikely appearance.

faithBy Benjamin J. Gohs

an unapologetic atheist

What good is faith to an atheist?

Along with hope and ambition, faith—in its many forms—may be one of the most integral nouns in the human psyche.
There are all kinds of faith, and they help us perform all sorts of functions, from making future plans, to feeling trust among friends and co-workers, feeling loved by relatives and, for some, assuaging fears of the unknown.

Faith can mean very different things to different people. For me, faith means reasoned confidence based on past performance. If the bus stopped on my corner every day at 2 p.m. last week, I have faith it will continue to do so. It also allows me to make decisions based on evident observable probability. Does this person seem trustworthy? Well, they exhibit behaviors that would suggest that, so the risk seems low that they would betray you. Of course, that doesn’t mean observable likelihoods are always correct predictors of future performance. So, you have to have faith that X, Y, or Z is going to occur.

Without certain types of faith, we would all be paralyzed by apprehensive inaction.

For some, faith means absolute belief and devotion to an idea that may not be empirically evident.

The two most common arenas for use of the word faith seem to be marriage and religion. Is your spouse faithful? Are you faithful to your wife? Do you have faith in god, God or gods? Heck, George Michael even wrote a tasty jam about the word.

If you’re like my wife—a devout Christian by even the most stringent standards—the word “faith” means more than mere belief and hope. For her, faith is a relationship with Jesus Christ. (I also have faith that I am in big trouble for discussing publicly something she views as a private matter.)

But enough about her, let’s talk about me, the lifelong heathen.

Say the word “atheist” and crowds gasp, mothers clutch their children (and purses) and people tend to cast the same dubious grimace with which one views an invasive species. But, before you clip my philosophical phragmites, consider this: we’re not so different you and me.

We all want 99 percent of the same things: safe neighborhoods, lower taxes, healthy children, understanding wives, a playoff berth for the Lions.

The biggest question I field as one without dogma—other than that old gem about morality—is how I sustain myself without the promise of eternal life or an everlasting celestial caregiver.

After all, at first glance, Blaise Pascal’s famous wager seems like a Biblical no-brainer. For the uninitiated, Pascal’s Wager is a fairly famous axiom. It states, in a nutshell, that one is wiser to believe in and worship a god than to not because, if God(s) does not/do not exist, you’ve lost nothing. However, if he/she/it does exist, and you didn’t worship him/her/it, you might find yourself in big trouble … especially if it’s one of those gods who demand compulsory praise.

As one who has never revered nor accepted the premise of magical omniscient-omnipotent-omnipresent beings (other than, for a short time, Santa, Easter Bunny and Tom Cruise) I have never felt compelled to pretend to believe in such. I say “pretend” because you cannot believe in something if you don’t believe in it. I could do as some say they do and, despite disbelief, hope for the best while going through the motions—what some consider faith—but I would be lying to myself and everyone around me, and that’s not fair or fruitful to anyone.

Besides, going back to our pal Pascal, even if God(s) did exist, I should have nothing to fear from my neglect of them because I find it difficult to believe that an all-knowing, all powerful, altruistic deity would spend even a moment punishing lower life forms because they did not kiss its big celestial butt enough. The desire of the powerful to be worshiped, obeyed and feared is the behavior one expects of petulant, impotent, unimaginative creatures.

But, back to metaphysical sustenance. What sustains any of us who do not find solace in the spiritual?

Conversations with those willing to admit to their secularism reveal many common themes—the same commonalities one finds when discussing ideas, life changes and family matters with those of religious affiliation.

We cherish relationships with family and friends, grow by mentors, improve with good advice and are enriched in our exposure to nature.

What sustains us is everything from a blade of grass below to the blue sky above. And, we benefit most when we are beneficial to the mental and physical well-being of others. While an afterlife seems unlikely to the irreligious, we can enjoy eternal life in the ripples of our actions, because a kindness begets a kindness begets a kindness.

Ultimately, I have faith that teaching my kids to do the right thing will help make the world a better place.

I have faith that I have done more good than harm in this life.

I have faith we may all realize a more fulfilling, productive and peaceful existence by having a little more faith in each other.

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moral superiority of atheism book cover front onlyI have a few copies of my new book “The Moral Superiority: A New Philosophy in the Oldest Argument” to give away for free.

Anyone interested should e-mail their mailing address to editor@boynegazette.com and I will get a copy out with next week’s shipment. (NOTE: I no longer mail books outside of the United States because it’s too dang expensive.)

If you prefer a digital copy, you can download it here: https://unapologeticatheist.files.wordpress.com/2014/12/the-moral-superiority-of-atheism-web-copy.pdf

Erroneous assumptions of religiosity

by an unapologetic atheist

atheist word artWe know most folks on the planet are religious in one degree or another. And, we also know that most atheists were—at some time in their respective lives—indoctrinated, as are most youth, with some form of magic-based explanation of life’s origins; an arbitrary moralistic code based upon terrorism and extortion; and systematic, rather than incidental, bigotry.

While plenty there may be to parse in the aforementioned, today I should like to focus on a seemingly neglected Truth in the discussion of occultist propaganda … what is quite possibly the second-most erroneous of assumptions conceived, shared and promoted by magic-worshipers: the title of “Atheist.” (The most erroneous assumption is that there can be no objective moral standard without aid of a magical being.)

Consider that this world is overpopulated by mythology’s mavens and easy it is to comprehend why even the most self-aware secularist may find him-herself engaging in debates solely constructed by superstitious minds.

The first pertinent Truth a burgeoning brain must adopt is that religion—it’s rules, threats, promises and fictional characters—is the unnatural position in this life; not simply because man is the only animal that creates such a chaotic, despotic, neurotic social malady; not only because fantastical occurrences, supernatural beings and magical forces exist only in the healthy imaginations of novelists, children at play and liars, or the diseased brains of the mentally ill; not just because nearly all religions require humans to ignore their natural in-born moralistic tendencies … but because, if any of the many of history’s hundreds of god characters were to exist, man’s only moral choice would be to resist and subvert such vile, rapacious, vain, childish, brutal, murderous, jealous, insecure, shortsighted and stupid creatures.

Only due to sheer popularity and longevity has religion become so ubiquitous that occultists are able to both believe, and convince others to believe, that religion is natural and beneficial.

The second Fact integral to the human free of superfluous inclinations of the mythological variety is that, while you may be an atheist according to the generally accepted definition of the word—one who understands there are no such things as magical beings—you are only labeled an “Atheist” because religionists need a term to describe dissenters; further, they have worked for centuries to ensure this most damning of scarlet letters maligns any who do not choose the unnatural acts of speaking to imaginary friends, hoping mental desires will—short of action—become reality, and denying the role of natural physical laws in favor of theses fantastical. After all, “Coincidence” is a far less interesting explanation for seemingly odd occurrences than “God did it!”

What is in a name?

An awful lot.

Despite the word “Atheist” meaning most basically “One who does not believe in god characters,” or A-theism, “Without theism,” the term sends bolts of hatred, rage and terror through the minds and bodies of many a religionist thanks to centuries of propaganda created and disseminated by the subterfuge class.
As noted earlier, the specious assertion that belief in gods is only natural has always been followed by the understanding that to worship them is just the moral thing to do.

Armed with knowledge of the preceding, it is only natural for empathetic atheists to acknowledge such anxiety—irrationally held though it may be—in the proverbial hearts of magically-minded individuals when they encounter those labeled as non-theists.

It seems to matter little to what degree of disagreement a non-theist is. One who simply chooses not to engage in occultism will often find himself treated with the same disrespect, distrust and disgust as those who openly shun mythology.

With the issue identified, we must take steps to progress to secular reason by making the religious aware their position in the simple majority is a mere simpleton’s triumph. The false sense of righteousness belonging to all prolific, like-minded groups remains intact only so long as the mythos of perceived correctness, ethical objectivity and self-justification can be maintained.

The first step toward neutralization of occultist might lies in effective communication of the Facts that:

  1. True morality is a natural occurrence

  2. Magic worship/religiosity—regardless of how popular or longstanding—are unnatural and detrimental

  3. The A-theist—so-called—by virtue of his freedom from the mind-forged manacles (Hitchens) of celestial slavery is better positioned to undertake the task of becoming his/her most moral self.

By doubting, questioning, refusing to cede the mind to the lies, hysteria, self-loathing and destruction of pious ne’er-do-wells, you, dear skeptics, secularists, agnostics and atheists, you embody all that consternates the regressive machinery of the cave-dwelling occultist brain with all its myriad superstitions, fears and misapprehensions.

Teach the believer he has the power to give up promises of false security and far-from-blissful ignorance offered by dogma’s minions and he just may find himself able to accept nature’s greatest gift: his very own mind.

Ironically, it is by embracing the path of critical thought and natural atheistic morality that we become the very antithesis of most of religiosity’s erroneous assumptions.

When it comes to dispelling mythology, information is a lot like spaghetti sauce

atheism spaghetti sauce

We need nice atheists, argumentative atheists, passionate atheists, skeptical atheists, scholarly atheists, rock star atheists and average Joe atheists if we are to reach a diverse audience with the message of reason, hope, morality, empathy and peace

By an unapologetic atheist

I’ve heard the occasional comment from visitors to my website that some of the memes contained therein tend to be a bit pointed. Some might go so far as to say they are insulting, insensitive, sometimes generalized in their nature and—gasp—mean-spirited.

To these observant folks, I say: “You are correct!” (You can tell I really mean it because I used an exclamation point.)

On a handful of those occasions I took the time to explain to said visitor why it is, since my philosophy is so heavily weighted with emphasis on morality, empathy, sympathy, common ground, etc., I would allow myself and my administrators to post any articles, pictures or memes that some people find insulting.

It is a fair question.

I can explain the reason fairly simply by referencing a story that was told to me some years ago.

Once upon a time, long ago, there was only one kind of spaghetti sauce. There were a couple companies that made your basic tomatoes and herbs spaghetti sauce, and most everybody was pretty happy with the whole arrangement. True, there were a few folks around who didn’t care for this one type of spaghetti sauce business but they were pretty much shit out of luck.

The spaghetti sauce companies had no reason to make any other types of spaghetti sauces because nobody was asking for any new spaghetti sauces. The money was flowing, the majority of macaroni munchers slurped down the sauce at a rate that kept the corporate tomato steamers in great baskets of cabbage—that’s “cash” to you younger cats.

Then, one day, along came an individual who didn’t like the idea of there being only one type of spaghetti sauce. He thought there should be chunky spaghetti sauce for the big boned, extra garlicky spaghetti sauce for the vampire hunters, garden vegetable spaghetti sauce for those fabulous California types, and even—pause for a gasp—cheesy spaghetti sauce … for those folks who just cannot develop heart disease fast enough.

Pretty soon, there were dozens of kinds of spaghetti sauce. And what was the result? Did the companies making regular old Italian-style spaghetti sauce suffer from the addition of newfangled gravies? No, they sold more sauces than ever by offering more types of sauce.

Many people had never considered that there might be a better-tasting, varied and science-based spaghetti sauce in the universe.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand that a critical sentence concerning an aspect of religion isn’t identical to a flavor of spaghetti sauce. However, consider that delivering information—the methods used—cannot nor should not be approached with a one-size-fits-all mentality.

Some people learn best by doing a thing.

Some people learn best by reading about a thing.

You may learn best by seeing a picture with a factual quotation attached.

And, let’s face it, most people are not willing to consider viewpoints adverse to their own without them having been introduced to some fact or notion which connects with them on a personal and intellectual level.

Much like our sauce skeptic, who brought diversity to America’s dinner tables by posing a never-before considered notion, we seek to reach many different people on many different levels by offering many different forms of good information.

The result? There could be more than one type of spaghetti sauce. And maybe, just maybe, the most popular spaghetti sauce on Earth was actually based on a recipe of lies and cooked in a kettle of deceit. (These metaphors doing anything for ya?)

I prefer to learn new information by reading scholarly articles—perhaps that’s the journalist in me. I have friends who get excited over a statistic attached to a graphic. And, I know some people who are only called to action by seeing or hearing of an injustice they feel compelled to address.

And, just like spaghetti sauce, as long as the quality of information is good, it shouldn’t really matter how it is delivered … so long as no one is caused to suffer materially in the process.

And, really, having your worldview challenged or disparaged may be annoying, it may be frustrating, it might even give you an excuse to become enraged … but is it causing you undue physical or mental distress? I challenge anyone to prove atheist authors have caused any real harm, let alone on the scope of the malignancy mythology has wrought. If you don’t like their sauce, push away the plate and sample something else.

Oh, and my favorite spaghetti sauce: Hitchens’ brand chunky garden with zucchini.

GET A FREE COPY OF MY BOOK—The Moral Superiority of Atheism: A New Philosophy In The Oldest Argument—WHILE SUPPLIES LAST.

Just send your shipping address to editor@boynegazette.com and our godless technicians will use the amazing powers of science to turn my thoughts into words on a printed page for your reading pleasure … or disdain.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2014: Examining my own bigotry

intolerance will not be tolerated

I write this on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Generally this national observance is celebrated with remembrances of the man and pondering of his legacy. My reason for writing this piece on this day stems from a conversation with a good clerical acquaintance last week—a talk that has left me in contemplation of the state of contemporary civility, or lack thereof.

We Americans tend to laud ourselves on accomplishments of old: suffrage, desegregation, abolition.

Yet, this nation roils still in a melange of bigotry and irascibility … though kinder and gentler they may be.

Having learned that word “irascible” just last year, it’s use is not intended to dazzle the reader but because it is most apropos.

This persistent anger fed by unending frustration is likely the root of most bugbears.

Civility is a choice, true. But, can one be simultaneously contended and kind, and at the same time be fearful and hateful? Such juxtapositions have never co-existed for myself.

When I feel most hateful, most frustrated, I speed in the opposite direction of contentment with both feet on the gas.

The most oft found target of such ire is injustice, specifically the harm that comes to those who have done no harm.

But, because that which rolls downhill is less discriminating, such discontentment, such irascibility often finds targets less deserving of ridicule.

So, what are we to do when we perceive others—sometimes correctly, sometimes not—as supportive of ideology or activity that directly harms?

After all, when properly marketed and executed in the accepted manner among certain classes, various forms of racism, misogyny, extremism, child abuse, discrimination, intimidation, brainwashing, misinformation, extortion and propaganda are perfectly tolerable.

Actually, make that “unfortunately” tolerable.

Often, these philosophical arguments over societal issues are deemed mere “differences of opinion.”

However, financially, mentally, legislatively or physically harming someone who poses no actual material threat cannot remotely be construed with merely holding an opinion.

Is it enough for us each to simply tolerate one another? (One tolerates dysentery, not people.)

That being said, I know many people—friends, family, acquaintances, business associates—otherwise good people, who think nothing of loathing those who pose no danger but whose only crimes, aesthetically speaking, are that of looking, speaking, behaving differently.

With friends and family, at least, I try to tolerate (there’s that word again) such fearful aggression.

It’s much easier to sever contact and communication with familiar strangers than relatives.

And, miracle of miracles, it requires little effort to hate those that hate … but where does that leave me?

It is Shakespearean, if not cliché, this impulse to retreat into homogenous clans—what Hitchens called “The false security of consensus.”

After all, if it is ethical and acceptable to strike, in defense,  those who strike you, then it must be moral to hate those that hate, no?

The Dalai Lama said, “In the practice of tolerance, one’s enemy is the best teacher.”

Then I think back to my clerical comrade and his urging to meet intolerance with tolerance, hate with love, violence with peace.

Then I remember that, while my own viewpoints seem altruistic to me, they may be seen as intolerant or threatening to others.

So my late New Year’s resolution, sworn upon in secret in my office early on this Martin Luther King Jr. Day, 2014, is to realize always that our commonalities far exceed our differences, and that I still have much to learn.

Tea for Tumidity?

This photo from the Library of Congress' collection shows thousands of people in attendance of the 1963 March for Jobs and Freedom on Washington, D.C.

This photo from the Library of Congress’ collection shows thousands of people in attendance of the 1963 March for Jobs and Freedom on Washington, D.C.

Tea for tumidity?: A meditation on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington D.C.

Is there any drink strong enough to sober a species enamored of destruction and disdainful of creation?

What can be done with a creature who’d rather bomb cities than build bridges, who’d prefer Cold War over peace talks, whose fascist tongues flick platitudes of freedom and equality?

Let’s face it, if we were half as moral as we think ourselves to be, the world would be far less dismal than reality suggests.

Regardless of what name you give them, self-absorbed, apathetic, fearful majorities have always existed. And, most of us are guilty of such behavior at some point in our lives; hell, most of us are guilty of it right now—whether we realize it or not. (Due to the hijacking of the lexicon, you may need to consult with a very old dictionary to understand what the words “conservative” and “liberal” actually mean, for political parties they are not.)

Their hallmarks are discernible even at great distance: they are conservative with love, conservative with introspection, conservative with justice, conservative with forgiveness, conservative with truth, conservative with realism, conservative with empathy and tolerance. And, they have always existed and will continue to exist because it is the easy thing to engage one’s fear. It is the comfortable thing to stick with one’s own kind—be that one’s religion, skin color, ethnicity, geographical affiliation, ideological similitude, or socioeconomic standing.

The skeptical, effacing, inquisitive individual—though scarce and seldom seen—will always raise the ire and terror of the self-absorbed, apathetic, fearful majorities. Nothing causes as much consternation in the certain mind, the determined mind, the ignorant mind, as the introduction of equitable principles. For, equality is the unnatural thing, the difficult thing, the impossible thing … the necessary thing.

Search nature for true liberty and equality and it likely will not be found; only human society has even broached the subject. Only mankind has—a scant few women and men—truly attempted to raise the weak and the sick, the deaf and the dumb, the blind and the simple, destitute and the hungry to the level of the strong and the healthy and the fortunate.

The skeptical, effacing, inquisitive individual arrives; a minority of one, is he. Like clean healthful lemon juice meeting thick, dull, artery-clogging cream, coagulation occurs. And, in a violent silence this silent violence unfolds … for none is ever so irascible, steadfast and mean-spirited as he who coaxes monsters from slumbers.

A defense of hate? There is only defense of hate. How else does one despise skin, fear sex, loathe strangers, deny equality—while demanding deference? Why is it lauded to overindulge the self, to steal, to under-nourish the fellow, to subjugate the poor, to exploit the have-less, to mock the foreign? It has become shameful to be a gourmet among gourmands. After all, who wants to be a field mouse among sewer rats?

Still, one’s stance of pure hatred of anything unfamiliar is not shunned but instead given title, political cachet, admiration and adoration … and unwieldy power; bone-snapping, jaw-breaking, gut-slicing, suffocating, mind-raping power.

Confidently ensconced in dominance, the purposeful pathogen works single-minded in its task—oh-so-liberally in its task—to destabilize inquiry, sabotage skepticism, to eliminate critical thought.

With liberal doses of racism, liberal doses of homophobia, liberal doses of apocalyptic occultism, liberal doses of censorship, liberal doses of state-sponsored terrorism, liberal doses of austerity, the self-absorbed, apathetic, fearful majorities manufacture and spread debilitating, dehumanizing, disenfranchising, dysfunctional hatred.

So long as consensus replaces righteousness, might replaces justice, tribalism replaces love, bitterness replaces empathy, fear replaces inquiry, propaganda replaces truth … so long, so long, so long as those iniquities remain transposed, so too shall mankind remain a sallow group of fellows frustrated by sickness but befuddled by the cure.

To bear witness to injustice for wont of status quo is to polish a lustrous trinket, nothing more.

I leave you with a toast as I sip orange pekoe: To those scarce and seldom seen heroes of nonviolent struggles, may your kind words and willing ears thaw frozen hearts, polish dusty minds and inspire wary bodies.

teapot

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