When Persecution Isn’t: The Technological Expansion of Ego

© David Teachout

1428593672_featuredThe seeming necessity for bonding within like-minded groups is not simply an affectation of modern society, it is foundational to being human. This selection provides a sense of safety in numbers and relatedly a continuity of experience. While the lone dissenter has attained a certain mythologizing in modern story-telling, human history is far more often about groups of like-minded people working together towards a common purpose, regardless of whether such ends up being helpful from the hindsight of the future. Thus it is in studies concerning social relationships, people often state that they like surrounding themselves with different opinions, but the reality is quite different. To be found wrong is not just a subtle shifting of one’s opinion, though to paraphrase Kathryn Schulz in her book “Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error,” there is no real feeling of being wrong because that feeling is a lot like the feeling of being right.

 

This aversion to being wrong and the desire to be right provides the emotional impetus for and the cementing of many communities. With the advent of the Internet, communities no longer need to be geographically constrained. We can find like-minded individuals scattered throughout the world, fill chat-rooms, create private groups on various social media outlets and given how search algorithms take into consideration our own personal history, even seeming objective searches for information are inevitably curbed by our biases and predilections.
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Moving the Values of Myth: A Reflection on Easter

© David Teachout

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From moment to moment, our lives can embody any of the multiplicity of purposes that we can identify with. The stories we tell, from socially created myths to benign exaggerations expressed to friends and colleagues, project the particular purpose we want to make front and center. This can be due to a desire to express an idea to another or to make sure we’re on the same track we first set out upon. Whatever that purpose is, the values that come along for the ride, both in the telling and the type of story chosen, do so in the form the story takes. Thankfully stories are more than single-use thought-devices, else we would never be able to reuse them or get something new regardless of repetition. Because of a shared human experience, we are able to remember lessons imparted through literature or voice because they continue to resonate with new situations. Importantly, this allows us to determine whether the form the value took before is how we’d like it to continue. Take the example of a father telling a joke, a form of story, about how he’d scare his daughter’s date with shotgun in hand. The value on hand is paternal care, a value most of us hold in some fashion and have no problem promoting. However, the form it takes in the joke makes that value so prominent that it overshadows any other, for instance respect and personal integrity. As time has gone on the joke is no longer the best form to express paternal care, precisely because the values of respect and integrity have increased in significance in association with that situation. Consider it like a movable hierarchy, where the original story form presented paternal care at the top of the pyramid and respect and integrity being derived and below it. It’s not that respect and integrity didn’t exist, it’s just that rather than being equal, they were subservient to the form of paternal care being presented.

 

I know of no situation where a person’s values have utterly disappeared, though certainly they will rise and fall in conscious consideration as time and experience go by. I grew up with stories, my father sending me and my siblings to sleep with short made-up stories that imparted humor or whatever lesson he’d considered that day. I am also a voracious reader and, like the bed-time stories the form they take has changed over the years. There came a point when the bedtime stories stopped and simplistic fiction no longer sufficed. I still held the same values of honesty and valor, dedication to an ideal and perseverance in the face of adversity, but the way those values stood in form had become more complicated. For others the original form no longer made any sense.
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Being Anti-Religious Gets Us Nowhere

© David Teachout

When faced with the question of “Do you believe in God?” the immediate response should be “Which one?” This query goes to the heart of the inherent ego-centrism of the initial question. Let’s face it, the person uttering it is not at all interested in getting into a long and winding philosophical discussion about metaphysics, the nature of knowledge and the degree to which personal experience is relevant to claims about reality. No, they’re asking whether you belong with them, and by them of course is meant those who believe in their particular deity. The quizzical look that passes at the response is an indication of just how myopic their vision of human experience is, that of course when that funny three-letter word is used, particularly when capitalized, it can only mean the god they believe in. Any others are but pale human-made facsimiles.

 

The term “god” has no inherent content, it’s like a Platonic form waiting to be filled in by actual experience. At best, “god” can allude to some transcendent principle or being or experience, but beyond that there’s no details as to what any of those actually entails. As when we hear the term “chair” or “table” or “car,” we have an immediate framework for what such means and our minds supply images. Utilizing the proximity principle of cognitive heuristics, the images that come up are often what we saw last or are most often interacting with. Similar occurs then when we hear the term “god.” The mere ability to come up with an immediate image or idea in no way proves the legitimacy of that image or idea, it just points to the tendency of our minds to fill in the gaps of uncertainty. As such we can utilize god to mean anything from a transcendent principle like love or purpose (“god is love”), to a panoply of deities (Hinduism, pagan traditions, etc.), a monolithic supernatural person (Christianity, Islam, Judaism) and as synonymous with the holistic quality of being in the universe (Ernest Holmes, Jerry Goldsmith, Ralph Waldo Emerson).
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Divine Causation Results In An Absence Of Meaning

Mockery is easy, particularly when presented ideas are so clearly farcical. There exists so many examples of religious absurdity, from declarations of the end of the world to seeing Jesus on a piece of toast, that poking fun and snorting with laughter has become a past-time akin to baseball for some. Unfortunately for the practice of mockery, it offers little help for any form of engagement to result in an increased understanding. Perhaps expanded understanding isn’t the goal and, forgetting the silliness of their own childhood beliefs, the simplistic humor of mockery serves as a protestation of distance, each joke a declaration that “I am not like him.”

 

Recently having watched the movie “Fury,” a scene plays out when one soldier asks another why the Germans haven’t given up as they are so clearly beaten. The other soldier looks at the questioner and asks: “Would you?” Whether it’s nationalistic pride or ideological allegiance, there’s a level of safety being sought in both, an identification with something bigger than one’s self. In issues of meaning and purpose, this identification can take on a great deal of weight, scrambling to hold onto it even as the mental fingernails scrape and break over the gravel of reality. So it is with Divine action, there exists a social confluence of potential mockery and abject devotion to a belief.
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Personal Journey Series – Faith to Freedom, Religion to Humanity

© David Teachout

Growing up there was never a question of going to church on Sundays, attending Sunday School as a child and eventually graduating to the “adult” experience of sitting in pews, singing old songs and listening to a sermon. Beyond Sundays there was mid-week youth group of some kind, attempting to instill the bonds of faith with other believers of my age group.

 

I was “saved” at an early age, internally pushed into it out of fear of death. Later, as a teen, I “rededicated myself to Jesus,” a fact of life for many evangelicals who grow up in the church. Finding myself living a life having “backslidden,” the fervency of “getting right with God” cannot be overstated. I went after this feeling with a dedication reserved for the self-righteousness of the teenage mind or reformed sinner. Being a Christian was more than a statement, it was a living ideal.

 

College brought a host of new experiences I’d been wishing for. I’d studied philosophy before, C.S. Lewis and Francis Schaeffer, but never to the extent I was now. Similarly with theology, I was introduced to the history of Christianity, studies in biblical literature and the changing history of theological ideas. I ate it up even as more and more the questions I was coming up with were increasingly not being answered. The boy who had written in his senior yearbook picture caption that “to live in Christ is gain” was now beginning to grasp at straws.
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Christianity Isn’t Irrational… It’s Worse Than That

© David Teachout

Christianity is about as multifaceted as the people who label themselves adherents to it. Once “the bible” was given to the masses and the notion, put forward by the Renaissance and Enlightenment, that the individual mind could seek truth, it didn’t take much time for theology to reflect even more the nature of its creator, i.e. human variety. The title here then is a simplification, for the topic in question has far more to do with the basis of a supernatural tradition than with any particular instance of it. Still, for ease of writing, Christianity will serve as primary example. At issue is the claim there exists a fundamental level of reality, the realm of god and his angels, that is by definition outside of the understanding of humanity. While much can be said about such claims and their absurdity, what is often overlooked is what such a pronouncement means about people in general.

 

The apologetic traditions of Christianity boil down to two: evidentialism and presuppositionalism. The former is most glaringly offered by people like Josh McDowell and William Lane Craig, offered through some variation of the cosmological argument.  Essentially the practice boils down to finding a point of ignorance and then filling it with, in a display of utter self-service, their own deity. The latter has historically been placed in the hands of Gordon Clark, Carl F.H. Henry and Francis Schaeffer, among others, and is offered through some iteration of an axiological argument. Essentially this attempt is to declare all ideologies must assume some foundational basis for knowledge and existence, so of course their holy book and their god is correct, particularly since once you assume their book and god, all other ideologies fail. Truly, it’s that mind-numbingly simple. What both traditions have in common, besides attempts by users of each to destroy the arguments of the other, is a belief that at some point there is a limit to human understanding, not because existence is huge and complex, but due to some inherent lack or deficiency in humanity. This is why at some point each tradition flings itself into the arms of faith. The evidentialist does this as a “leap of faith” ala Kierkegaard, the presuppositionalist simply assumes faith as the preeminent means of knowing right from the start.
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Faith: It Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Means

© David Teachout

 

As a human being I’m interested in broadening the understanding of my experiences and increasing my knowledge by identifying what I’m ignorant of and then looking to fill in the gaps. My humanity also determines the limits to fulfilling those desires. I have particular interests by virtue of being me, not every subject draws me the same way. I have time limitations so I have to choose on a daily basis what to read, what to study and plan accordingly for the future. I have career limits, in that my professional obligations concerning psychology direct me to continued education along paths associated with it and not, say, that of electrical engineering. I also, though this is controversial and not without a great number of caveats, have limitations on my intelligence; there are items I study which I struggle to understand while other people have already passed me by. All of these limits are part of being human, but none of them determine prior to the inquiry itself whether I could understand by virtue of that very humanity, they are only particular limits of my own.

 

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As an atheist I am confronted often by the simple declaration from religious adherents of “you have faith too” or in its more arrogantly adolescent form: “it takes more faith to be an atheist.” The confusing nature of this argument becomes immediately obvious when I inquire as to just what is meant, resulting in some example of the form: “you have faith that x will happen” where “x” is filled in by the sun rising tomorrow, the continued love of friends and family, or other such. From the days of my own belief, I can recall the apologetic of referencing wind or air when attempting to describe how the Holy Spirit works. Then, as now, the response to such attempts is to point out that the examples being referenced are not at all comparable.
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Social Identity: Indignation Without Responsibility

© David Teachout

One’s social identity is basic to building a self-narrative, the means by which individuals project their stories for viewing by others. Consider social identity like a stain-glass window, it allows a person to see inside but only through the selected colors by the person who built it and often the window as a whole pictorially represents a story of some kind. The extent or fullness of that story is dependent upon a person’s felt need and broader social context. If there’s not much inquiry going on, internally or externally, there’s not much need to devote time and energy to fully articulate the details.

 

For Americans especially, social identity has become largely conflated with the notion of self, so much so that when discussing other people we view them primarily and initially by political affiliation, sexual identity, or career choice. Who we talk about is no longer an issue of finding out how the various aspects of a person’s life join into a complex whole, interacting in various social contexts. Instead we talk about “the democrats” or “the republicans,” “the gays,” “religious believers” or “nones,” and there’s an increasing call by fair-minded liberal activist groups to broaden out the terms for sexual and gender identity. This tendency to fine-tune our social identity has led to a bizarre social reality where a term that used to classify a group has become so particularized that it can almost be said to belong to a single person. For a people who loudly and vociferously hate labels, we are decidedly dedicated to making more and more of them.
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Atheism Is More Than A Lack Of God, It Is the Pursuit of the Knowable by Removing Faith

© David Teachout 

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After leaving Christianity, I spent several years connecting with other religious communities. One such was the Unitarian Universalists. Known for their inclusion, I was in the midst of a conversation with a long-standing member who was adamant about not being against anything, only promoting the assertion that all religions seek to address essentially similar ideas. I won’t belabor whether that statement is accurate, as the central issue was more concerned with being opposed to being against anything. When I brought up that being for free inquiry and free expression and the individual right to determine one’s own moral system, logically infers being against the opposite, i.e. moral dogmatism, authoritarian dictates and rigid hierarchical systems, I was looked at with a look that can only be described as dumbfounded.

 

Innumerable articles have been written about what may euphemistically be referred to as the ‘soul of atheism.’ There are the bewildering rantings against the so-called “New Atheists,” often based on a poor or deliberately mistaken understanding of what is stated and an emphasis on the mantra that such “New Atheists” are angry all the time. It would seem that after so long remaining silent, the mere act of finally speaking out must be construed as being angry. Frankly this says far more about the inherent felt superiority of the religious majority. When those in power want a minority to stay quiet, caricaturing their actions is an effective way to remove them from discussion rather than deal with their criticism.
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When Religion Kills: The Cowardice of the Dogmatic

As reported in the NY Times, Avijit Roy, a Bangladeshi-American blogger critical of religion, was murdered yesterday in Dhaka, Bangladesh, hacked to death by machete-wielding religious adherents. His wife was attacked as well and is currently in critical condition. If we are to follow in the footsteps of the current Pope, that bastion of progressive values championed by liberals ignorant of Catholic dogma, Roy got what was coming to him. Comparing criticism of religion with the cursing of one’s mother, an equivalency with playground childishness that is as ridiculous as it is inaccurate, he declared such usage of free speech as wrong and the person doing so should expect to be punched. That the Pope disavowed murder as an appropriate response is completely undone by this rationalized approval for violence.

 

In recent polling done by Pew Research (May-June of 2014), when asked to describe, by reference to temperature, how positive or negative a particular religious ideology is viewed, Americans scored atheism at 41 degrees, only one degree warmer than Muslims. Considering all the press concerning the possible rise of hate-crimes against Muslims, the lack of coverage concerning antipathy towards atheists seems to tacitly endorse the fact that such people deserve to be hated. This wanton disregard by leaders and social institutions shows the lie of their supposed dedication to making the world a better, more informed, place.
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