Category Archives: Religion

Fucking hostile

When I decided to become a parent, I didn’t think religious issues would much factor into it. My son turns six soon, and lo, not many religious issues have thusfar come up. I am an atheist, as is my son’s mother. Therefore, religion hasn’t really factored into his upbringing. At school, he will not participate in the otherwise obligatory Religion-classes (theology is kind of a fancy word which I won’t use here..). At day care, they were going to church for easter, and I’m thinking: “Is this really a thing for people between the ages of 2-5?” Apparently. We told the daycare people that no, he wouldn’t be going to church since we are not a religious bunch of people. They looked at us with their heads cocked to one side, like we were making a strange proposition. “I guess he can stay at the day care center with some of the babies that are not going to church….”. And so he did. He was apparently quite the showman, and the babies were all very interested in watching. And of course he enjoyed being the center of attention, with none of the other older kids around.

After that day, he came home and asked me why the other kids went to church and he didn’t. And since it’s not a topic of discussion that we have some kind of… atheist moratorium on, I explained that some families believe in certain things, and that’s why they go to church. Kind of like some people believe in Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. Mind you, I wasn’t being sarcastic; I was merely putting it in terms that a five year old can maybe begin to grasp. So he takes my reply and goes with it.

Later, he’s rummaging around his mothers jewlery box, and finds a gold cross. He tells his mother that he really would like the cross, because, “Cross means church, and you need to be in the church when you die!”. So she calls me up and is rather distraught, and so was I. Where did he pull this from? Either he has been talking to another kid, and asking the same question (why did you go to church?), or then it’s been a topic of conversation at day care. Both options are a bit scary, though they were to be expected. We still live in a very christian society here in Finland.

A recent study tells us that 8% of the population believe in angels, and 13% believe that Satan exists. 65% reported that they are a member of a Christian congregation (the real number is much higher). Only 5% said that the most important reason for them being in the church was to ensure a Christian upbringing for their children. The most common answer was that they want church services (such as a church wedding, burial) with 34%, and 26% replied that they are a part of the church because it is customary. The study was conducted by the Think If Laboratories Oy, on behalf of the tabloid newspaper Iltalehti. The margin of error is +/- 3%, and they interviewed 4458 people.

Ok but.. what is a guy to do? A 5 year-old is obviously completely oblivious to stuff like “life after death” or “god” or..whatever. He just acts like a parrot; repeating whatever he hears. Very impressionable, easy to influence. Which is the prime reason in my mind, why religious teaching should be forbidden entirely to children under say.. the age of 12. Even that may be too low. Children just are not sensible enough to make that kind of choices, and the choices their parents make for them (of which atheism is one, too) can be downright dangerous. You come out as a crazed christian fundamentalist, and people start looking at you different. Equally, if you are an atheist, you will get the same looks and questions from the (soon) christian minority. According to the same survey that i referred to above, less than 50% would call themselves religious. So what we have here, is people who are members of the church or congregation because their parents were, and their parents before them. We’re not talking about die-hard, go-to-church-every-sunday types. Those are a vocal minority.

Extrapolating on current church membership decline, the Helsinki ‘metropolitan area’ should have a church membership percentage of less than 50% in 2030.

But back to the topic at hand. How does one, without instilling prejudice in a young persons mind, tell a child that “yeah there’s probably no god, and the people who feel the need to pray or go to church do it to feel better or explain things in their lives that they don’t understand or that are too painful. That it’s really mostly just tradition and/or escape from painful/hard-to-understand stuff?” I don’t want him to grow up thinking all christians are crackpots, because they aren’t. They just have a different belief, that is perhaps not as much based on rational thinking. I don’t want him to grow up to hate these people. I want him to make up his own mind. But at five, you just can’t do that.

If I tell him Christians are stupid, he’ll tell that to every kid he meets, because dad’s word is law when you are five. But apparently there are still religious people around who keep lying to their children about where they are going after they die, and that praying helps and.. other cooky stuff. And these kids, being young and impressionable, go around talking to other impressionable young minds and keep spreading the fud. It’s okay to believe in something, but you don’t have to go around telling everyone about it. Of course, a five year old doesn’t see it that way. He gets input (why did you go to church?), and he gives output (implanted by parents: “because it’s important to believe in god if when you die”).

Complicated stuff. One might argue atheism is a belief among all others, but I would argue it’s less harmful. It doesn’t teach a set of values, because it isn’t a system per se. It’s absence of belief in a deity or deities. The church on the other hand imposes certain guidelines to live by, which leads to hate, misunderstanding and other not-so-nice things. Atheists can decide for themselves whether they don’t like gay people or not, they don’t take their orders from a book. Which leads to the classic “Without bible and its teachings, where does your morality come from?”. Gee, I guess common sense.

Which is exactly what I want to pass on. On the other hand, if, later in life, he decides he wants to believe in Buddha or Allah.. a rock in the park? Fine. Go wild. Knock yourself out. But not before I feel he isn’t ready to formulate proper opinions. Keep your options open. And your mind. And I have a feeling I know where he’ll end up.

I can’t help but to be biased too, of course. I don’t believe in God. Therefore there is bias. So maybe one option is to talk to him about all the beliefs and gods in the world. That’ll be a long discussion, but maybe he’ll understand there is no universal religion or higher power. That it’s very much culture dependant, and based greatly on tradition and what your parents pass on to you. I still think that teaching “nothing” or “everything”, as I’ve suggested, allows for more choices later on. The alternative doesn’t give you other choices, and breaking away from the traditional mold might be very hard.

I’m done.

Dei

My thoughts on faith, religion… whatever. Controversial topic to some people, or to most people? Kind of like how much you get paid in Finland. I don’t think so. I speak about both issues freely, sometimes to the chagrin of others.

I’ll start by telling one of my favorite anecdotes. When our son was born prematurely (on week 27), we were at the ICU for weeks, because he didn’t really have any lungs to speak of, and was kind of the size of a carton of milk anyway. He made it fine, to those not in the know, but still, it was touch and go for weeks.

While they were doing sterile operations, like changing incubation tubes or other such stuff, parents were asked to leave the ward and go to a waiting room. The room had a TV, a couple of sofas, a guestbook (filled with the most horrific and the most brilliant stories). Just a room to spend half an hour in while you couldn’t be with your child.  One day in the waiting room, we were joined by a middle-aged woman. We talked for a moment, and then she asked, as an aside, if our son had been “emergency-baptized” as soon as he was born prematurely. Apparently, this is something where your child is baptized right away by a priest or whoever, so that if the child dies, his/her soul goes to heaven. A kind thought, but since neither of us, the parents, belong to any church or subscribe to any system of belief, we answered “No, our son has not been baptized”.

What does this charming example of the human race do? She stands up, fire in her eyes, and nearly shouts “Your child is going to hell!”. She then promptly storms out of the room, leaving us, literally, gasping.

I had no words for the situation. Now, mind you, i wasn’t a “new” atheist or agnostic (more on this later) at this point, so i wasn’t stumped by her reasoning. I was simply amazed that someone would do this at a children’s ICU-ward. I rarely have good comebacks when people say something “smart”. I’m also not a violent person by nature, though, if i could go back, i would probably beat the everliving crap out of her for the sheer fun of it.

So what made her do it? Her religion. Her beliefs. Her conviction. She was absolutely sure that an unbaptized child will go to hell. She was not angry at our child, but at us. The non-believers. We had, with our ignorant actions, condemned this poor young-soul to hell. How dare we?? We had no right. I saw this.

But then, I don’t feel pity for people like this. I feel hate. Anger. That’s the kind of person I am. So sue me.

Uh okay. So what do i believe in? I don’t believe in a god. Or gods. Or the Bible, or the Koran, or the Talmud or anything else of that sort. I believe in science. I believe in scientific methodology. By definition, that makes me an atheist. Something that is counter to the theist idea, that include belief in a god or gods. I do however accept that there are things we do not understand. That doesn’t make it supernatural, or imply the existence of a mythical god-figure. There may very well be a force beyond our current understanding, that manipulates what we perceive as reality. But it still doesn’t make it a god. It just makes it something that we do not yet have the terminology or science to grasp.

Atheism, to me, is not a belief system, though a lot of people want to say it is. It’s a way of thinking based on rational thought. I don’t believe there is no god, i know there is no god. It’s the difference between belief and knowledge. I think that sums Atheism well enough for me.

Then what is science really? It’s a current best guess. Theory, based on theory, based on experiment, based on theory. We’re constantly revising what we know, because we accept we are not perfect. We accept that we know a humble tiny little piece of how the universe works, and we’re trying our best to figure things out. Some theories last longer than others. We do not need absolutes, just current estimates and theories.

Religious people work with absolutes, as far as I’ve been able to understand them. An age old adage says, “If you could reason with religious people, there would be no religious people”. If there’s something you don’t understand, you consider it, ask other people, look at other angles and so on. Or do you just say “no, god did it”. Or “god works in mysterious ways”. That’s just a piss-poor way of saying “I don’t want to understand” or “I don’t need to understand”. “These things are not meant to be understood by me.” You’re essentially saying you are too stupid to understand how things work, and that you’re okay with it. If that’s okay for your, to not be able to reasonably look at things then… I’m very sorry for you.

I used to think that I’m an agnostic. An agnostic does not make up his mind, but waits for evidence to either side before making up his mind. But since there is not conclusive evidence toward either side; and how could there ever be conclusive evidence, ever in an issue as complex as this, you don’t make up your mind. But this is pretty much a cop-out, as I’ve come to understand it. Even if there isn’t evidence that conclusively proves that there is no god, can i really honestly accept that possibility? Can i honestly accept into my world a supernatural being that created and controls everything? No. I can accept a force beyond our current understanding that may to the uneducated mind seem omnipotent. But anything can be explained through science. Just not current science.

So I’ve perhaps come to understand that I’m purely an atheist. If i need the label at all. But i definitely don’t accept the possibility of a deity of any kind. The mere concept is ludicrous.

So what about the afterlife. Dying. Creation? Evolution? Let’s look at my thoughts on these issues.

When you are born, in fact, before you are born, your consciousness is born. This can be proved by looking at EKG from a fetus. At some point, when enough stem-cells have been tasked to form brain cells, a chemical process happens which triggers electrical activity in the clump of cells that will be your brain. They will eventually take over involuntary and voluntary functions that you need to survive and act. The fetus will move it’s hands. It will kick. It will toss and turn. When the child is born, these will be augmented by a whole host of amazing feats that us humans take for granted.

We know there is electrical activity happening in the human body. When you die, this activity eventually ceases, within 24 hours or so [uh edit here, after the brain stops getting oxygen, it stops working after a few minutes or so]. Don’t quote me on this, by the way, but let’s say that for the sake of conversation at the moment. According to physics, energy doesn’t go anywhere. It may transform, but it exists just the same. You burn a log and you get heat. Same way, the energy that kept you going has to go somewhere. It may just dissipate into the surroundings, or the tissue, or it might do something else. There’s no evidence for any of this, so it’s just speculation. As far as we know, when you die, you cease to exist. You don’t conceive anything anymore. Ergo, there is no afterlife, because there is no you there to comprehend it.

Creation..well can we just put this to rest already? It’s 2011. If you believe a magic fairytale-guy created the world by thinking about it in a week, or even thousands of years, you’re crazy and you should be institutionalized. There is enough conclusive evidence to say that the universe was created some 13.7Ga ago, and we have visual evidence of other solar systems that are in the process of forming planets to say that this didn’t just “snap into existence through some magical fucking being”. It’s still an ongoing process that we have the privilege to study and look at.

As for life, well, we’ve already created ‘artificial bacteria’ in labs. We’ve created something that wasn’t created through natural process. Sure, we haven’t yet simulated how life came to be from a goo of amino acids, water and various elements, but we have enough supporting evidence to say this is exactly what happened. We have evidence for evolution. Sure, there are holes in a number of species and how they came to be, but that doesn’t negate the other, valid evidence that we have. We can point to a rock or a fossil and say with a high degree of certainty that it is n years old.

And because our knowledge of evolution isn’t complete, as few things are, it’s still just a theory. And that doesn’t bother me in the least. It can be a theory as long as it has to, but theory doesn’t make it any less real than something written in a book 1800 years ago. Theory just means we don’t fully understand everything, so we make certain hypothesis based on research and empirical evidence, until we can fill out the gaps with enough confidence. Which we may never! And that’s the great thing about science.

I don’t get scared of the unknown, i take it as a challenge. I want to learn more. I don’t settle for explanations that take away an amazing process, and instead explains the end result as magics created by some guy in the sky?

One of my favorite quotes is ‘Epicurus’ Trilemma’ (paraphrased by me and summarized by David Hume) :

If God is unable to prevent evil, he is not omnipotent

If God is not willing to prevent evil, he is not good

If God is both willing and able to prevent evil, why is there evil?

This is the best god damn evidence that there is no god. If you want to worship a god that is petty and childish or downright evil, like a child killing ants with a magnifying glass.. well..