Monday, December 26, 2011

I have written in a previous post about the similarity between religion and some sports cultures. I have always enjoyed sports. As a child and teenager, playing sports was all I ever wanted to do. I was a pretty decent athlete too, usually one of the best players on whatever team I played on and usually the fastest or second fastest runner in my grade. As I grew older, though, I started to migrate away from team sports and towards more individual sports. At the time I started to become fed up with what I perceived as some of my teammates complaining all the time and others not pulling their weight or putting in the full effort. A few times I remember being downright embarrassed by my teammates actions in a game, and wanted nothing to do with them. This happened whenever a teammate of mine showed no respect for opposing players or even referees. I hate trash talking. When I played sports I kept my mouth shut and played hard.

Ice hockey is an interesting sport. It is a game that requires a huge amount of skill to play well. Not only does a player need to have all the technical, tactical, and strategical skills involved in most team sports, but in addition the game is played on skates. You can have great hand-to-eye coordination and a fantastic ability to read plays in sports, but if you can't skate well then you'll be a lousy hockey player. The finesse, speed, and skill of the game are fun to watch. Sadly, though, in North America there is a culture surrounding ice hockey that I see very few positives in. From a young age players are taught to be "tough", to never show any pain or emotion of any kind other than anger at opponents, retaliation for an intended or accidental slight by an opponent is a must. If someone accidentally trips you, then make sure you slash him across the wrists with your stick next chance you get. Hockey is a physical game. Part of the game is using your body to check someone and take the puck away from them. Knowing exactly when and how to hit someone to body check them effectively takes some skill. But in hockey culture, if someone effectively body checks you (legally) then you are encouraged to take offence, remember their number, and get them back later in the game even if it means stepping outside the rules of the game or the normal conduct of sportsmanship. This payback can often take the form of a fight, a pervasive part of ice hockey in North America. The penalties for fighting in hockey are minimal compared to most sports. Indeed, one could argue that fighting is encouraged in many ways. Traditionally, each professional team would have an "enforcer" or designated fighter who would make sure that anyone who hit a star player was challenged to a fight. As with any such system that uses force to discourage violence by an opponent, an arms race develops. In the case of ice hockey, each team has an enforcer, so often all that ends up happening is the enforcers fight each other ultimately having little to no effect on the intiiation of hits against star players. Thus, the whole system of fighting in the game is entirely futile. There is no question that if hockey leagues properly officiated their games, then star players wouldn't get targeted for dirty hits because opposing players would know that their season or their career would be over.

So, with that background, I recently read the autobiography of Bob Probert, an NHL enforcer (fighter) who played professionally from the mid-1980s to 2002 for Detroit and Chicago. I won't make this post a general book review, the book itself is far to poor quality to deserve an actual review, but I will make a few comments on the sad and pathetic life of Bob Probert. Probert grew up playing hockey and, as a big man or 6'3" and 225 - 230 lbs, he was probably destined to be a fighter if he ever made it professionally. He knew his role, and one can't really fault him for playing his role in the sport given the money on the line. But, Probert's life was a tragedy. A raging alcoholic and drug user, throughout the first two thirds of his career he was drunk most days. He never took his training seriously, and often stayed up all night partying before a game. Somehow he managed to keep playing at a hight level. But, as expected of someone who can't control their drinking urges, he was caught numerous times driving while drunk. He was also arrested several times with cocaine on him, once while he was trying to cross the border from the United States into Canada. The man's life was a disaster zone. What surprised me about the book was not the number of times he was in trouble with the law, but how irresponsible he was towards everything and everybody in his life. In his autobiography, he never takes any responsibility for any of his massive foul-ups. He always blames the cops when he gets arrested, the reporters when the story appears in the papers, his teammates when they tire of his antics and say they expected him to get in trouble again, his coaches when they demand accountability from him. In short, anyone whom he perceived to stand the least between him and a lifestyle of pure unadulterated fun with no accounatabilty. Probert recounts going into rehab at least half a dozen times. Most of the time he was in rehab he treated it like any overgrown adolescent would: with an attitude that simply betrayed his disinterest in changing, but rather simply going through the motions to pacify the authority figures in his life. At least twice in rehab he had sexual relationships with staff or others going through treatment. His sole objective during rehab appeared to be to find a way out and get another drink. Countless times in his book he talks about being clean for a few days or weeks and then caving the moment anyone asked him if he wanted a drink, as though it was their fault for failing to keep the alcohol away from him. As far as the reader can make out, he was unfaithful throughout his pre-marriage relationship with his future wife, and throughout their marriage as well. When his wife confronted him with infidelity his response was to more or less shrug it off and blame the booze. In short, there is no other conclusion to come to than that Bob Probert was a first class asshole who happened to be good at playing hockey and fighting while standing on ice skates.

And yet...he was revered by the hockey world. Fans adored him. Teammates generally respected him as one of the "good guys". When he died, at the predictably young age of 45, in July 2010, the hockey world paused and mourned the tragic loss of this great man as though none of them could have seen it coming. It is simply stunning, given his reckless approach to life, booze, drugs, women, and driving, that he made it past 30.

So why do people in the world of sports get so revered? If Bob Probert had not been a professional hockey player, I am convinced he would have been considered a collasal foul-up and loser. He would likely have ended up in jail long-term. (As it is, he did a significant stint in jail, and faced huge legal problems which were only handled in his favour because of the large financial backing involved in professional sports). In his book he must recount, in passing, driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs dozens of times. How many hundreds of other times did he drive drunk that he doesn't mention? He was staggeringly lucky to never kill anyone while driving drunk.

To me, the cultures of sports and of religions are interesting. I find many similarities in the cultures. There are unwritten and written codes that one must follow for no particular reason. People are blinded by irrational thought.

Had Bob Probert not been a hockey player and had instead orphaned some kid during one of his countless episodes of impaired driving, he would be remembered only as a total loser. The fact that he was lauded and rememberd as a "good guy" by all of the hockey world at his funeral and in multiple media stories only illustrates the insane, irrational thought processes in the world of sport. Sport is a religion, plain and simple.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Definition of Hypocrisy

Joseph Ratzinger, known by some billion people as their spiritual leader, today stated: "Let us ask the Lord to help us see through the superficial glitter of this season, and to discover behind it the child in the stable in Bethlehem, so as to find true joy and true light" in this story.

One would be hard pressed to think of a person who appears in public less "glittery" than the pope. One would be hard pressed to think of an organization (one can hardly honestly call it a nation) that is as wealthy as The Vatican. And this man encourages the rest of us to see through the superficial glitter?

I'll tell you what, Mr. Ratzinger, I will do just that. At this time of year, I promise to see through all the fake glitter that your organization represents and remember Christmas for what it really is, which is to pause and celebrate the winter solstice. We are through the darkest part of the winter and, although there are many cold days and nights to come, the light of spring at the end of the tunnel is beginning to be in sight. And so another growing season will begin.

What is Atheism part V: Don't shine your light in my face please.

In the contemporary "battle" that seems to be going on between traditional religions and what seems to be a popularizing of atheism, one of the more common sticking points is the argument about pushing your beliefs on other people and into society. As an atheist, I hold the position that personal freedom when it comes to religion is an important thing to protect in society. I believe that everyone in society should be able to believe whatever religion they wish, so long as their beliefs and practice of those beliefs doesn't infringe on other people's rights to be free from them. To me, this is the only reasonable approach to a society in which everyone has religious freedom as well as freedom from religion if they so wish. However, this is a very difficult concept to put into practice.

The difficult part seems to be helping the religious understand how to avoid having their beliefs infringing on others' rights to be free from them if they so wish. As an atheist, I believe I have the right to live in society without being subjected to any law that stems from religion. I believe this just as strongly as I believe that a religious person has the right to live in society without being subjected to any law that stems from someone else's different religion. This sounds like a logical and respectful position that most people would agree with, but it is amazing how difficult it seems to be to put it into practice. Most religious people, on the face of it, would initially agree with my position. After all, how many Christians really want some of society's laws to be based on Muslim Sharia law? Most open-minded religious people can understand the mutually respectful position of this position, and that it benefits everyone to not be subjected forcefully to someone else's religion.

I would be quite happy to leave it at that, but the catch seems to come when you introduce atheism into the equation. And, let me be clear, it is the religious who do so. I have no need to force atheism into society in any manner. What I do feel the need for is to protect the above position that religion should not be forced into society. There is a very significant difference. The religious will tend to get defensive, when asked to keep their religion out of the courts, the schools, and other public institutions, and almost universally insist that atheists do the same and keep their atheism out of public institutions as well. On the face of it, some people would think this sounds like a fair arrangement, but it actually represents a gross misunderstanding of what atheism is. Atheism is not a religion.

I find that I often think in analogies and I think one here might be helpful. Imagine that each religion is represented by a different coloured light. Imagine that, instead of religions we are talking about various groups of people who like to decorate society with lights of their favourite colour. And imagine that you find offensive lights of differnt colours. Imagine a large group of people who love shining red lights around, another group who loves to shine green lights around, and another who likes blue. Also imagine that the group who likes red lights finds it offensive when they see blue lights or green lights shining in public. Wouldn't the solution appear obvious? Shine your coloured light as much as you want in your own home or even in your own private club of same-minded people, but don't shine it around society and everyone else will agree to do the same. That should take care of any offensive lights being shone in public, but equally protect your individual rights to enjoy your own coloured light whenever you want. You can even walk around in public thinking about your red or green or blue lights as much as you like. Just don't ask to hang one up in the courthouse, the school, or the legislature.

Now, in my analogy, the atheist is represented by someone who doesn't feel the need to enjoy lights of a particular colour. We don't mind you shining your red or green or blue lights in your own home or in your private club as much as you want. But we don't like coloured lights hanging all over town. So, we ask that you don't do so. In my analogy, the religous attitude towards atheis is represented by someone responding by saying: "Yeah, but you're asking us not to shine our red lights around town while at the same time you are trying to shine your dark lights around town." Doesn't make any sense, does it? How can you shine a light that makes things dark? You can't. If you don't like coloured lights then all you can do is request that others don't shine their coloured lights. There is no dark light you can shine that overpowers the coloured lights.

This is all we as atheists are asking for. Don't shine your coloured lights in our faces. Don't bring them into public institutions. We have no intention or need to "bring" atheism into the public institutions either. It only appears to the religious that we do when we ask them to put out their coloured lights.

Of course, the problem with this analogy, and with the reality of religion in society is that everyone thinks that their particular colour is right and everyone else's colour is wrong.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

It Takes Religion to Make Good People Do Evil Things

I read this story this evening about a man who attempted to circumcize his four-year old son on the kitchen floor for religious reasons (to get "right" with God). Apparently the unnamed child was born premature and circumcision was not possible at birth. Once the boy was four years old his father decided it was time to cut off a chunk of his genitalia, against his will. The poor boy was not admitted to hospital for another four days following the trauma. Can you imagine how awful those four days would be for that young boy?

I have to say, this story actually made me feel sick and heart-broken at the same time. I would hope that most people who have children of their own (and even those who don't) are appalled at the thought of taking a knife to the private parts of their four-year old son. Sometimes changing a diaper on a child is a huge battle of wills. Often getting them into the bath requires some significant coaxing. But can you imagine how hard your child would be screaming and kicking and writhing if you pinned him down on the kitchen floor and took a knife to the most sensitive skin on his body? Can you imagine the fear and life-long trauma that would result from seeing your own father, who is supposed to be your primary protection as a child, looking down on you with a grim determination on his face as he hacked away with a knife? Can you imagine?

This story is truly sickening, and I don't imagine there are too many readers who would empathize with the father. But, I don't really see any significant difference in circumcision of any kind. It is genital mutilation that has become culturally acceptable. Anytime I have had a discussion about circumcision, either online or in person, there seems to be a mix of opinions for and against it. Amazingly there are still people who think that it is healthier to chop off a piece of a young boy's penis. There are claims that it prevents foreskin cancer. Well, no kidding. By definition it is impossible to have cancer of a tissue that doesn't exist. But how many men have you met who have had foreskin or even penile cancer? There are claims that it helps prevent transmission of sexually transmitted diseases. Wear a condom. There are claims that it helps keep the penis cleaner. Take a bath. There is no valid medical reason for circumcision of a healthy foreskin. Most medical associations now recognize this.

There are many, many good reasons NOT to circumcise a young boy. Firstly, the foreskin includes the most sensitive (i.e. pleasurable) part of the penis. Any man who has been circumcized as a boy has missed out on significant sexual pleasure. There's simply no way around that fact. The parallel situation in females is to cut off the clitoris. Any woman who has had her clitoris removed at birth has missed out on significant sexual pleasure. That is not to say that a woman cannot have sexual pleasure without a clitoris, nor to say that a man cannot have sexual pleasure without a foreskin. But there is without question something missing.

Another good reason NOT to circumcise a young boy is that he has no choice or say in the matter. Let a man decide, when he becomes an adult, whether he wants to lose part of his penis for religious reasons or for any other reason.

If it weren't for religion, it is unlikely that circumcision would have ever gotten off the ground. Traditionally it was mostly the Jews who circumsized their young sons, but of course in North America the practice became popularized in the 20th Century due to faulty medical beliefs that it was healthier. Given the nature of our society these days, in which lawsuits seem to ever push the boundaries of personal freedoms and also of accountability and liability, I think it is a matter of time until an adult male sues his parents for having circumcized him as a child. I say the sooner the better. I suspect we are still in a time when most courts would not find in favour of such a plaintiff, but I think that may change. Freedom of religion will undoubtedly be used as a defense if such a case comes along, but it should not be a valid defense. Freedom of religion should only be a viable defense if it refers to the person themselves. I should not be able to claim freedom of religion if my actions are taken against another person, even if they happen to be my son or daughter.

I feel sorry for those little boys who are still subjected to the Bronze Aged barbarism of genital mutilation. I was shocked this past summer when Russell Crowe was ostracized for speaking out against circumcisions and calling it for what it is: both barbaric and stupid.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Don't Worry...Hell Makes No Sense Whatsoever

Last week Christopher Hitchens passed away. Prior to his death, Mr. Hitchens foresaw a couple of things happening when his time was to come. Firstly, he predicted that there would be those who claimed he had a last minute death bed conversion to Christianity. Secondly, he predicted that there would be those who claimed, as soon as he died, that he is now in hell. The second of these has happened, though I won't be referring to the specific people who have done so - they don't deserve the publicity.

But, more importantly, these types of claims give us the opportunity to pause and really consider their utter absurdity. Consider for a moment the idea of a hell. Most people will traditionally think of hell as a place where there is eternal suffering and pain at the hands of the Devil. Many modern religious believers will have long since given up the notion of a goat-hooved caricature of the Devil, but many undoubtedly still believe that hell consists of horrific suffering as a result of being tortured by the Devil and his demons. I always like to consider things a bit literally and see where it takes me, so consider that version of hell for a moment. The Devil is God's enemy. God will undoubtedly do one of two things to his mortal enemy of the ages: either destroy him once and for all, or punish him forever. Now, if the Devil is the sort of character who gets off on torturing people to begin with, then spending an eternity in hell torturing unbelievers is probably what the Devil wants to do for an eternity. That would be like heaven for the Devil, wouldn't it? So, if God is just and can't stand evil, then he must either completely destroy the Devil, or make him suffer endless torture alongside all the unbelievers. Either way, hell most certainly does not consist of suffering at the hands of the Devil as that would bring pleasure to the Devil, which surely God wouldn't allow. Why would God reward the Devil with what he wants at the end of the world?

So, many more modern Christians might shun the idea of a Devil-centred hell then. Perhaps they espouse the popular "eternal isolation from God" version of hell. But would that be hell? Suppose you weren't being tortured. Suppose you were alive and pain free for eternity, but were separated from God. Wouldn't that be a version of heaven for an atheist? We're going around in circles here. I just can't find a decent hell.

Then, of course, there is the scientific problems associated with an afterlife of any sort, let alone hell. We know that our personalities are the result of cerebral structures. Give someone a degenerative brain condition and their personality literally changes. They are no longer the same person. Tragically this happens all to often in old age with the onset of Alzheimer's and other debilitating diseases. So once the brain is dead and creamated, the personality of the deceased no longer exists. The memories, language, intellect, are all gone never to exist again. Would God really re-establish that person physically (by somehow magically re-creating their brain physically) just so that he could show them he is right after all and to punish them by separating them from him for an eternity? We know the God of the Bible is petty, but that takes it to a whole new level.

So, if you are one of those Christians who are still struggling with the whole issue of fear of hell, or if you are one of those newish atheists who still occasionally feel the tug of Pascal's Wager out of fear of being wrong after all, then relax. Think it through. There is no hell. The whole concept makes absolutely no sense at all. It is not at all reasonable.

Instead, go have a glass of Johnnie Walker (no ice), sit down with a good bit of writing by Christopher Hitchens, and enjoy what he had to offer the world. His writings are immortal and heavenly.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Good-bye Hitch

Photo courtesy of Google Images

Christopher Hitchens died yesterday. When I first started writing that sentence, I paused after writing "Christopher Hitchens" and wondered what descriptive would best fit following his name. I came up with a blank. Not because he didn't do any one particular thing well, but rather because he was well known for so many things. Christopher Hitchens, author, journalist, essayist, contrarian, iconoclast, debater, and atheist, died yesterday. There, perhaps that's more accurate.

We all knew this was coming. Hitchens has been ill with oesophageal cancer for some time and in his latest public appearance in Texas in October he appeared incredibly gaunt and looked close to death's door. It is not surprising that was his last public appearance. Dying from cancer is probably not the way anyone would choose to go. It is undoubtedly painful, slow, and involves all sorts of peripheral dysfunction along the way. As Jack Nicholson so aptly puts it in the film The Bucket List: "Some lucky bastard is having a heart attack right now." Yet Hitchens retained his dignity, his intellect, his wit, and his stamina until very near to the end. By all accounts he was still writing while in his hospital room in the last few weeks of life.

Christopher Hitchens was a remarkable man. It would be easy to dislike him, for he refused to engage in the normal apologetic approach that often permeates human interaction. When he held a point of view he let others know, unapolagetically. When he disagreed with someone he most certainly let them know, and again did so unapologetically. I don't believe that he did so in order to be abrasive but rather simply because he was more concerned with rational thought than he was with appearing polite and agreeable. But I did not dislike Hitchens. I most certainly liked what I knew of him from the public arena. His writing is brilliant. If one is able to write one paragraph as well as Hitchens wrote entire books, one would be doing well. I once heard him say in an interview that he estimates he wrote at least 1,000 words a day. Try to do that on any given day and you might succeed. Try to write 1,000 words sewn together with quality, day after day for decades and you may find that you're not up to the task. But Hitchens most certainly was up to the task, all the more impressive considering much of his writing was presumably combined with a good measure of Johnnie Walker, his favourite "amber restorative". Hitchens also made enemies, of course, due to his most recent fame as an atheist author. Anyone who holds a religious position felt the need to defend their position against his relentless attack on the irrational, superstitious beliefs of the religious.

There are a myriad of Hitchens quotes, and many are some of my favourite quotes. One of my favourites seems particularly appropriate to Hitchens' character. Following the death of Jerry Falwell in 2007, Hitchens was quoted as saying that: "Jerry Falwell was so full of shit that if you gave him an enema you could bury what was left in a matchbox."

For Hitchens himself I doubt a boxcar would suffice.

Monday, December 12, 2011

I read the news today...oh boy.

Today in the news, Canada's Conservative government was reported to have made two significant decisions, one which I would classify as common sense and one which I would classify as common ignorance.

First, the good news. It was decided that in Canada, you will not be able to veil your face when taknig the oath of citizenship. This decision is primarily aimed at women from Muslim cultures who might have preferred the practice of wearing a niqab or similar garment while taking the oath of citizenship. There is currently a similar challenge to the supreme court concerning the rights of witnesses to wear a veil over their face as they testify in court. Identifying people by their face is a standard part of our culture and most cultures around the world. Further, being able to recognize emotions such as fear, hatred, anger, love, friendliness et cetera, is a fundemental part of most human interaction. Therefore I would go one step further than this decision and outlaw the wearing of any clothing that completely covers the face in pubic (with the exception of clothing worn as genuine protection from the elements such as scarves or balaclavas in the middle of winter). Certainly when undertaking something as significant as the oath of citizenship one should have to show one's face for a host of reasons including identification and verification that the oath is actually being said. As I say, to me this is common sense.

Unfortunately the second decision announced today is not so positive. Canada has officially withdrawn from the Kyoto Protocol. In short we are reneging on our responsibilities that we signed up to in 1997. Whether you agree with Kyoto or not is more or less irrelevant in this case. The Conservative government is not pulling out of Kyoto because they think the protocol itself is faulty (though they will use that as an excuse) but rather because they don't think global climate change is relevant. As I've pointed out several times in past posts, when you have a Minister responsible for science who does not accept or understand basic science, then you are doomed to making very poor scientific decisions. A government that truly doesn't believe in climate change will not make any decisions to invest in change in the effects we have on the climate. They see it as a waste of money. Indeed, they see the opportunities to make vast amounts of money precisely by ignoring climate change. Sadly many of my fellow Canadians truly believe that climate change is a made up story. Many believe that it is a United Nations scam designed to increase international tax revenue by the U.N. Many otherwise intelligent people actually believe that we can burn fossil fuels ad infinitum with no consequence. This is a bit of ignorance that is all too common.

Drill, St. Peter, Drill?

I've a simple question to ask those who don't believe in anthropogenic climate change. For those who think that increasing fossil fuel production is the answer to any problem with energy demand and supply. For those who can't seem to separate their religious beliefs from their political beliefs and who just loved hearing Sarah Palin chant "Drill, baby, drill!" back in her brief and spectacularly disastrous national political career in 2008. For those who can't imagine a world without fossil fuels as the main energy source. Please at least try to answer the question honestly.

When you think about your future eternal life in heaven, are fossil fuels the source of energy there?

When you imagine leaving this earth and finally being rewarded by spending an eternity of bliss on your knees worshiping Jesus and his Heavenly Father, do you imagine a heaven in which there are gasoline and diesel powered cars, trucks, trains, and ships everywhere?

Just curious, because I'm willing to bet that 99% of people have never imagined a heaven in which fossil fuels are used heavily . Presumably energy in heaven will just be "free". As though it were just beaming down all day for free from some huge burning energy producer in the sky, just waiting to be harnessed.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Insecurity: The Unifying Theory of Humanity?...Part I

It is said that Einstein, after having changed the world of physics and science forever with his work on relativity in the early 20th Century, then spent the rest of his career searching in vain for a grand unifying theory of physics. When you are genearlly considered to be the greatest scientist in modern times, you can likely find a bit of space to spend a few decades pondering the nature of the universe without too much criticism that you're not being productive.

Is there such a grand unifying theory of human behaviour? Can we humans be defined by one theory? Can our societies be reduced down to one statement that, ultimately, governs all our behaviours, both individual and collective? Perhaps not, given the complexity of human emotion, psyche, and great cultural differences. Do the same things motivate investment bankers on Wall Street as a young child on the streets of Dhaka? Freud might have reduced everything we do to some motivation stemming from the basics of sex and violence. Other psychologists and sociologist might have other theories about human behaviour, and I have my own theory (though admittedly I am not trained in the study of human behaviour, beyond my understanding of neuroscience). At least, in observing people in North America, I have a theory about what motivates a lot of the negative behaviours I witness. I don't claim to have a grand unifying theory of humanity overall, but I do profess that one thing motivates a lot of the negative human behaviour in our society.

Insecurity.

That it is. Ultimately, the vast majority of North Americans are supremely insecure. All of us have witnessed someone who is clearly insecure on the surface. We might think that insecurity always manifests as timidity, nervous chuckles, et cetera. Most young women in their late teens and early twenties are supremely insecure about their bodies. They perceive that they are not sexually attractive enough (for what?) and often overcompensate with inappropriate clothing, excessive time spent on self-examination et cetera. Young men in North America are, I believe, also so insecure about their own sexuality that the default position for many of them is one of open homophobia. Any young man who is not openly homophobic is suspect amongst his peers. 

But what I'm proposing is something much more profound than that. Even a cocky, wealthy, powerful politician or businessman is ultimately very insecure about who they are and what their qualities are. Indeed, they are perhaps more so than most. Recently I saw a wealthy businessman (well, one would be tempted to call him a businessman except that he isn't actually in any business other than using money to make money in investments) who stated that his primary objective in life was to go to bed every night with more money than he woke up with that morning. I looked up this individual's net worth and found it to be in the order of $300M. I'm not a jealous person, and I have no problem with someone having significantly more money than I do. I have no problem with someone being a multi-millionaire or billionaire if they have taken risk and been successful in their business. But, I will never understand how someone with more money than they could know what to do with could still have making more money as their primary objective in life. At least, I would never understand it if I didn't put it down to deep psychological insecurities. If you had enough money that you could easily live whatever lifestyle you wanted, why would you want to spend your time (limited as it is in this life) trying to accrue more money? That is a a bit like going to university to become a science teacher and, instead of becoming a teacher when you graduate, just going on in university taking more and more science courses, not because you enjoy the subject for its own sake, but because you want to have more scientific knowledge than any other science teacher.

Ultimately, I believe that what motivates a lot of people's behaviour is insecurity about what people think about them. Deep fears that you aren't good enough are very motivating in life. Those sorts of feelings can drive someone to work hard for decades in a career that they would otherwise have little or no interest in. Ever met someone who really doesn't care what people think about them? I don't mean someone who pretends not to care, and who therefore tries to stand out in some hippy-ish way, but someone who really doesn't care about what other people think. No jealousy, no inferiority complex. Just contentedness.

This brings me to a test of my theory of insecurity. If you are curious about whether your or someone else's behaviour is motivated by insecurity, ask yourself if you would still spend time doing a particular behaviour if you were the only person on earth. I mean this in a theoretical sense. If one was really the only human being on earth, then one would be spending every minute trying to find food and shelter. But what I mean is, if you had your basic needs met but never saw anyone else, would you still behave the way you do? If you drive to work in a BMW sports coupe, would you still do so if no one ever saw you in the car and if no one ever would see you in the car? If so, then perhaps it's not insecurity that is motivating you, perhaps it is just a love of the BMW sports coupe itself. But if you hesitate and think that perhaps you would put the extra $60,000 you spent on the car towards some other use if no one ever knew you had the car, aren't you partly admitting that you own the car because of what other people think of you? That is the essence of insecurity, isn't it? You care deeply about what others think of you, and it motivates your behaviour. And you don't care about what other people think about your abilities to form friendships, to love, to be honest, but rather you care about what strangers think about your car as you drive by. Why else would a man worth $300M still be motivated to make more money every day unless to show the world that he was even better than the guy who happens to have $350M?

So, why does insecurity motivate bad behaviours in our world? Because insecurity always drives people to behave in ways that try to make up for their feelings of inadequacy. It always motivates people to try to make themselves feel better than others. Part and parcel of this is putting others down. If I want to feel better than someone else, I can achieve that partly by pulling myself up and partly by putting others down. Insecurity leads to arrogance, bullying, power, greed, violence. All of the things that we need less of in the world.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Hitch

If I commented too much on this video clip, I would degrade the immense intellectual quality apparent in it. I challenge anyone to speak just one sentence, without forethought, in such a grammatically correct manner as does Mr. Hitchens. If I had half the intellect in my own field as this man has, I would be the greatest scientist in my institution, and perhaps in my country.

Christopher Hitchens speaks at the recent Freethought Convention in Texas:



In this, there is perhaps one of his greatest quotes to date:


"There are no final solutions. There is no absolute truth. There is no supreme leader. There is no totalitarian solution that says that if you will just give up your freedom of inquiry, if you will just give up, if you will simply abandon your critical faculties, a world of idiotic bliss can be yours. You will certainly lose the faculties, and you may not know, as a result, that the idiotic bliss is even more idiotic than it looks. But, we have to begin by repudiating all such claims. Grand Rabbis, Chief Ayatollahs, Infallible Popes, the peddlers of surrogate and mutant quasi-political religion and worship. The Dear Leader, the Great Leader, we have no need of any of this. And looking at them and their record and the pathos of their supporters, I realize that it is they who are the grand impostors, and my own imposture this evening was mulled by comparison."

- Christopher Hitchens

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Sounds Like Something out of an Orwell Book...

My country is instituting a federal Office of Religious Freedom. George Orwell would be proud. Well, in fact he would be ashamed, but he might be proud that six decades ago he wrote about just such offices in his book 1984.

This latest waste of taxpayer money is a classic example of the slow slide towards theocracy. The Prime Minister of Canada, Mr. Harper, is a devout Christian. He doesn't talk about it much in public, but he is. There is little doubt that he believes there is a god overseeing everything, that he has a personal relationship with this god's son Jesus and that, ultimately, the whole world would be better off if they were Christians too. This is one small step in that direction. But, as much as Mr. Harper is a deluded religious fool, he is also a smart politician. Even more than theocracy, what he wants is to retain political power and get re-elected. So, this latest venture is politically aptly named the Office of Religious Freedom rather than the Office for the Advancement of Christianity, which is what it really is. When election time rolls around, you can be Mr. Harper's response to any criticism on this waste of tax dollars will be to point out that we all want human rights to be protected, and that religion is just one of the basic human rights. But, this office is not about that. You can bet that this office will spend the vast majority of its budget on programmes that promote Christianity rather than protect all religions. Isn't this the very same prime minister who just earlier this year said that the rise of Islam is the greatest threat his country faces? Will this new Office of Religious Freedom go about protecting the spread of Islam?

Ultimately what this boils down to is a long-term plan to increase the number of Christians in Canada, thereby increasing the base for the Conservative Party (for whom almost all Christians vote). James Waterton is said to have stated that when fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and heralded as a plea for liberty. It seems the prime minister has heard that quote and is taking it not as a warning but as re-election advice.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Why I Will Never Vote Conservative

I like to consider myself pretty open-minded. When I was younger, I listened pretty carefully to what politicians had to say during election campaigns and, in my idealistic youth, actually believed some of it. These days, I still pay close attention to federal elections and, so far at least, I still vote in federal elections. (Local elections are another story - who cares?). I tend to go into any election process with an open mind and at least give the candidates a chance to share their platform before deciding who I will vote for. (My understanding is that in the United States I would be considered an independent, though I also think that term has other connotations that don't apply to me). As Christopher Hitchens has rightly pointed out, politicians are more likely to work at least a little bit for your vote if you don't give it away before hand. There are, undoubtedly, many voters in both Canada and the United States who vote with their preferred party no matter the candidate or the level of the elections. I consider that plain idiotic. Why vote for a complete moron to represent you you government just because they pledge allegiance to an organization (above their allegiance to you, by the way)?

So, in any federal election, I listen to the debates between the leaders of the various parties. I made my decision based on three main factors: the party platform (what they plan to do once elected); the leader's perceived abilities (i.e. what sort of prime minister the leader will be); and the qualities of the local candidate for member of parliament. (If you're not familiar with the Westminster system of parliament, then this may make more sense if you read up on it). In the past, I have given all parties and independent candidates in my riding an equal opportunity to gain my vote. I do recognize that all parties are out to serve the party, not the electorate. I do recognize that pretty much any party that is big enough to have a realistic chance of getting into power has already been bought and will be serving the hand that feeds it rather than the hand that votes for it. I do recognize that every federal government I have witnessed in my life in my country has wasted my tax money, had outrageous scandals, lied and then lied about the lies they've told, and not fulfilled their election promises. I recognize all of that. Yet, I will still vote and choose the candidate that I think represents me best. With one exception.

No matter how well the Conservative Party of Canada lines up their economic policies with my preferences, their social agenda with my beliefs, and no matter how much a local candidate may be the best option, I will never vote for the Conservative Party.Why? Because they are out of touch with basic reality. That sounds like the catch phrase of any disgruntled voter. I could imagine, three years into his presidency, voters complaining that Obama is out of touch with reality. I wouldn't necessarily disagree with them, metaphorically. But when I say that the Conservative Party of Canada is out of touch with reality, I mean it literally, not figuratively. I don't mean they are out of touch with my version of reality. I don't mean they are out of touch with the direction I believe my country should move in. No. They are out of touch with the established reality of the world we live in. And they are officially so. How so? The good old litmus test  of evolution. Evolution, except for a number of deliberately ignorant and religiously motivated fools, is established fact. (Well, it is fact for those fools too, they just don't recognize it as such). But, the Conservative Party of Canada has, by appointing a creationist as Minister of State for Science and Technology, officially taken the position that evolution is not reality. This is as basic as having a prime minister or a president who does not believe in gravity. Think about that for a minute. No matter how much you believe in the vision of your favoured politician, how would your feelings about them running the country change if they did not believe in gravity? Would you still vote for them? Or might you be tempted to start to think that they belong in an institution of some sort. And I'm not talking about the one that sits on Parliament Hill.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Legal Victory for Reason

Polygamy. Nominally it seems like a relatively straight forward legal issue in which the government should stay out of the bedrooms of society. But it is not. In theory, polygamy could be lumped in with other legal battles over the definition of marriage such as the recent (and ongoing in some countries) battle over the inclusion of same sex marriage into the umbrella defined by legal marriage. In theory, if one person wants to have two spouses and the two spouses desire to share that person with each other, then perhaps they should have the legal right to do so. But there are some huge implications to this type of relationship which make all the difference in the world.

Firstly, there is the issue of things like rights to benefits. Imagine being an employer who provides a benefits package to your employees and, after hiring someone (and budgeting in a certain percentage overhead cost associated with average benefits costs) finding out that they had not one spousal dependant but five. Suddenly your arithemetical models used to calculate benefits costs are out the window. Inevitably, with enough of these situations, the whole model of employer paid benefits would shift. This is an important issue, but relatively minor (or non existent) reason for some of the current legal battles over polygamy.

The most important issue surrounding polygamy is abuse. The vast majority of polygamous cases that the government is interested in prosecuting involve abuse of women and children (and sometimes men). Typically, polygamy occurs in communities in which religion of some sort is deeply ingrained and entrenched, and the polygamy stems from some religious belief about marriage and relationships. Polygamy was, after all, not uncommon in the Bible, and continued to be officially sanctioned by mainstream Mormonism until relatively recent times. Modern day polygamy normally involves one man marrying many women who are typically much younger than he is, and who are often coerced into the act of marriage. They may feel as though they are taking the decision of their own volition, but that is normally because they have been raised in a culture in which they have no other expectations about marriage. Often women are married at a young age, still as teenagers, to middle aged or older men, who are commonly a distant relative of some sort (a function of the limited size of such sects). It is not hard to understand how this constitutes abuse. A girl raised to believe that polygamny is the norm, or indeed the "right" approach to marriage, and then pressured into marriage at 16 to some familiar relative whom they may have known all their life would eventually become their husband, is abuse plain and simple. One could also argue that the boys who grow up in the same culture and eventually end up being the "beneficiaries" by marrying many wives, are also victims of abuse. They know no other lifestyle and often make their choices out of religiously motivated fear.

A modern day example of a polygamous community is Bountiful, British Columbia, Canada. The community is known as a fundamentalist sect of Mormonism (i.e. a claimed sect of Christianity of sorts) in which patriarchal male figures marry multiple young women. The local government has wrestled with the legal precedence of the situation for some time, but yesterday a supreme court judgement ruled that the law against polygamy is constitutional. (See this news article).

People have freedom of religion in most Western, democratic societies. But, their freedom of religion should never infringe on someone else's right to freedom from religion, or on anyone's basic human rights. Good for the legal system in making the right decision in this clear case of abuse of society's most vulnerable. Let's hope they follow it up with some prosecutions.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Top Ten Suggested Changes to Democracy

Everyone who lives in a democracy thinks the system is good in theory; everyone likes having a say in how law is written and money spent by the government. Everyone likes the thought of accountability of the people in charge by way of elections every few years. But, I propose that there is a growing unrest an unease about democracy in practice. The recent "occupy" movements seem to indicate that people are fed up with what is perceived as too cozy a relationship between governments, big business, and banks. All democracies require some rules and regulations around which they are organized (for example: the Westminster System of parliamentary democracy). But, I propose that the following regulations would make democracy better in the sense of being closer to the intention of democracy rather than the usual realities.

1. Make voting mandatory for all adults. 
Whatever the legal age of adulthood (whether 18, 19, or 21), require that all citizens of sound mind vote in each election.

2. Include a "none of the above" option on the ballot. 
No citizen should be made to vote for someone whose policies they disagree with. Given the common likelihood of not finding a candidate for whom you would feel comfortable voting, provide the ability for voters to cast a "protest vote", and report the percentage of votes that went to this option.

3. Make it illegal for any media or person to poll voters during an election campaign, or to publish mass opinions on which candidate is likely to win the election. 
Often, in modern democracies, the outcome of the election is known prior to the voting. This discourages voter participation, and indeed undoubtedly influences election outcomes. This single change would encourage more people to vote with reason rather than voting for the perceived winner.

4. Ban private and corporate sponsorship of or donations to political parties or candidates. 
Everyone accepts that corporations and special interest groups are better represented in governments than individual voters are. By donating millions of dollars to a campaign, special interests (who typically don't have the ability to vote themselves - such as a corporation) can influence policy in their favour and possibly away from the favour of the electorate. The government should serve the electorate, not special interest groups.

5. Limit the ability of elected politicians to accept corporate positions following the end of their term, or board positions during their term. 
Similarly to point 4 above, there is a need for regulations to limit the influence of non-voter special interest groups. Even if corporations are limited from contributing to a campaign, they may significantly influence a politician's actions by "buying" them while in office with a promise of a high-paying corporate position once they leave politics. This is a tricky one because it is a regulation that starts to infringe on an individual's personal freedoms once they leave office. But, by making it clear that politician's have limits on their working positions following retirement from politics, only those truly interested in serving the people would enter politics, and those interested in politics only for future accumulation of wealth would be less common.

6. Make it illegal, during an election campaign, to comment on an opponent's platform or position. 
Election campaigns have become little more than mud-slinging competitions. Voters should really be exposed to the platform and policies of each candidate rather than the interpretation (and purposeful misinterpretation) of an opponent's platform. This might seem like an impractical regulation, but in time it would likely be no more difficult to enforce than something like a plagiarism law.

7. On every single vote in the house of elected members of government (e.g. in the American House of Representatives, the British House of Commons, etc.), publish the question going to vote and the results of the vote, member by member.
Constituents should not have to rely on the inevitable mud-slinging by opponents to report how their elected member of government voted on an issue, or how often they were present for a vote.


8. On every single vote as above in point 7., prior to the vote provide every voter with the opportunity to complete a poll on the issue within their electoral district or riding. 
Every elected member of government should have timely feedback on how their constituents feel on a particular issue.

9. Require that every leader who wants to take their country to war must, prior to the onset of the war, resign their position and join the unit of the armed forces which will most likely be on the front lines. 
Put your money where your mouth is! If a president or prime minister really feels so strongly about going to war, if they really feel like it is the right thing to do, if they really feel terrible each time a soldier is killed, then  let them lead by example.



10. I'm open to suggestions...

America: Ruthlessly Self-Serving

Almost a decade ago now, I engaged in some pretty heated debate with a number of hawkish Americans about their country's intent to go to war in Iraq. I can respect any point of view that is backed up with rational thought, even if it is contrary to my own. Had someone been able and willing to defend the decision to invade Iraq rationally (as Christopher Hitchens did and continues to do), I would respect their position though I would strongly disagree with it. I am a pacifist in general, so there aren't many military interventions that I can get behind philosophically, but I am most vocal against military action when I see a country projecting their self-interest under the guise of spreading freedom, protecting democracy, or simply protecting human rights.

A couple of Americans with whom I engaged on this topic insisted that America's plans to invade Iraq were purely altuistic. The argument was the Saddam Hussein was an evil tyrrant (which is true) and that his people needed freeing from him as a dictator. In addition, of course, there was the issue of weapons of mass desctuction (WMD) that were about to turn into mushroom clouds all over the West. I challenged those I argued with on this, saying that America's interest in invading Iraq was purely self-motivated. It had nothing to do with care for the average Iraqi, and all to do with promoting long-term American interests in the region. Had someone acknowledged that fact, and yet clung to the position that their country was justified in projecting those interests, I would have respected their argument (thought I would still have disagreed with the invasion) a lot more than if they bought the propaganda about freedom and human rights.

I saw a chart in The Economist today that I thought was relevant to this discussion. Before looking at the chart, try to think of the one region in the world that, in the past 60 years, has seen more dictators and government corruption, and less democracy, than almost any other region in the world. Do you think of Africa? If you don't you probably should. Since the Second World War, you'd be hard pressed to isolate another region in the world that has had more ruthless dictators and less democracy and basic human rights. Idi Amin, Muammar Gaddafi, Charles Taylor, Sani Abacha, Laurent Kabila, Robert Mugabe, are just a few of the men who have ruled with impunity and fear. The continent has wallowed in fear, civil war, and genocide for generations. True success stories of democracy, human rights, and lasting peace are few and far between. If ever there was a continent that begged for intervention to "install" democracy, peace, and human rights (if all those things can be installed from outside) then Africa was it. 


Yet, take a look at this chart from The Economist online on November 21st 2011








You'll notice that the number of American troops deployed to Africa is so negligibly small as to be amost unmeasurable. Why?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Lunacy of Defence Spending

You don't need my blog to recognize that the money spent on defence in our world is ridiculous. Upwards of a trillion dollars a year is spent on weapons. The biggest spender is, of course, the United States followed by countries like Russia, China, Britain, France. What is military spending? Ultimately these days, it is an investment that allows or ensures (depending on the amount spent) that a country can protect and exert its interests around the globe. Often ruthlessly so. However you happen to feel about the American war in Iraq since 2003, you must recognize that it cost a tremendous amount of money (figures upwards of $3,000,000,000,000 or three trillion dollars are batted around). What did that money provide? National interests were protected. Whether those interests were control over oil or protection of freedom, they were national interests. The U.S. would not have invaded Iraq if it had not been in its national interest. Americans should be rightly nervous about how their national interests will be protected through the coming century. The current level of funding simply isn't sustainable. China will almost certainly outspend American on defence in the coming decades. America will likely try to keep up, but futily so. The overwhelming debt will eventually bankrupt the country if defence spending is continued at the current percetage of GDP (maybe around 5% or so).There is simply no doubt about the fact that China will exert its will and influence around the globe more and more powerfully in the coming decades. It will get to the point that China has the ability to thumb its nose at anyone who doesn't agree (as the United States has been able to do effectively for a long time, and unabated since the end of the Cold War).

Canada is currently planning the purchase of a number of high-tech fighter aircraft. There is a lot of conflict over the necessity of the purchase. Critics point out that it will cost billions of dollars and will do little to actually defend the country or its interests. Who is Canada likely to have to defend against in the coming generation of fighter jets? That's a tricky question to answer, but I read a viewer's comment on this CBC news story on the issue recently, and I thought they put it very well:

BackBushBilly wrote:
"10Billion dollars for war planes than Washington, Moscow or Beijing can obliterate in under 3-minutes. Hell, for $500, I will be glad to shoot each of you in the foot!

For $10B, we can build 143,000 homes (11,000 homes per province and territory) and end homeless for ever

For $10B, we can employ 1000 surgeons for 20 years ($500,000/yr?)

For $10B, we can buy 3334 MRI machines

For $10B, we can feed 10Million starving Africans for a year
"


Another viewer wrote an even more succinct response, given the tight economic times: 

artonibus rex wrote:

"For 10 billion, we could spend 10 billion less."


Hard to argue against that one.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Honourless

What can one say about this story of a recent "honour killing" and subsequent trial? It is horrific, of course, but it is also a window into the insane mind of a man who doesn't understand the word honour. Nor does he understand where his own honour comes from.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Fallacy of Freedom of Religion

Freedom of religion seems to be a fundamental human right in societies that we consider to be enlightened, democratic and, well, free. I don't know too many people who wish to change that fundamental right. I've never actually met another atheist or agnostic who thinks that people should not have the right to whatever religious belief they wish, so long as that belief does not infringe on others' rights. In theory, this fundamental freedom is a wonderful idea and it should be protected and preserved. But, the key component of that right that so often seems to become eroded and misunderstood (perhaps deliberately so) by those who have particular religious beliefs, is that this right to believe whatever you wish is not a right to bring it into the public domain as much as you wish. There are limits. Anyone with the least ability to think outside their own religion must agree with the key phrase "so long as that belief does not infringe on others' rights." How many American Christians would actually support the rights of Muslims to bring Sharia law into the government of the United States. How many Muslims would support the rights of Jews to start sacrificing animals on the piece of ground under the Dome of the Rock? No, we don't even need to examine extremes to understand that none of us want others' religions shoved in our faces, and we especially don't want practices that infringe on our human rights to be protected by someone else's right to religious freedom. Surely we can all agree on that?

So, what's the problem? Fundamentally the problem is that the religious too often don't seem to understand when they themselves are putting others in that position. It is easy to recognize when someone else is imposing their religion on you or when their religion is too much "in your face." Just think of the uproar in the U.S. relatively recently over the mosque at ground zero issue. If you are a Christian, it is easy to understand the offensiveness of Islam being "shoved in your face" when you don't want it. It is easy to react to the offensiveness of another religion being shoved into government policy. But, is it so easy to recognize when you do that yourself? Why can Christians not understand that issues like having the ten commandments inscribed on public buildings is as offensive as having a mosque built, not at ground zero, but within a public government building?

In the past few weeks I have been asked several times if I am a Christian or a born-again Christian. [I always ponder the difference and whether the questioner even knows the difference. I'm always tempted to say, yes I am a Christian, since in some ways I am culturally a Christian. In the middle east, many people are categorized as Christian, Muslim, Jew, regardless of their actual practicing religious beliefs. This harks back to the classic joke about Northern Ireland in which a hypothetical Irish man is asked whether he is Catholic or Protestant. When he replies that he is an atheist, he is asked: "But are you a Catholic atheist or a Protestant atheist?". I love that little joke because it has so much truth to it. The culture of religion is so important in some places that we need to know how to categorize someone. But I digress. I am certainly not a born-again Christian.] Sometimes this question has been raised in the actual workplace. Hard to believe I know. Of course, I have the right to refuse to answer the question, but that normally doesn't go over very well. People seem to need to know what religion you belong to. They need to know that you have heard the "good news" of the gospel so that they can rest assured that they didn't miss a proselytizing opportunity.

In some countries, such as the United States and to an increasing degree in Canada with the current "conservative" government (which is actually anything but conservative but is rather a thinly veiled party of God), the religious seem to completely miss the point of religious freedom. Religious freedom is not a free pass to bring your religion into the public sphere and into public policy. Are you welcome to make your religious beliefs public? Certainly. Are you welcome to push your religious agenda into policy in the workplace or any other public domain? Certainly not. The hard part for the religious seems to be understanding how to separate their religious beliefs from their public duty. We live in a secular society with secular laws. Whether you are a doctor, lawyer, school teacher, politician or electrician, your religious beliefs take a back seat to the public secular laws. You have no right as a doctor to deny someone a blood transfusion based on your religious beliefs. As an electrician you must respect the building codes above your own religious codes. And, most importantly, as a politician, you have no right to bring your religious agenda into the governance of the country. This last point seems completely lost on many politicians and aspiring politicians. I have no problem if you think abortion is wrong. I have no problem if you think God created the earth 6,000 years ago. My problem begins when you try to change the secular laws to fit those two private religious beliefs.

Inevitably, the religious accuse atheists of exactly the same thing. By keeping society's laws secular, they often become confused about the word "secular" and accuse atheists of trying to bring their religion into the public domain. (And even go so far as to often accuse atheists of corrupting a "Christian nation"). This is a fundamentally flawed concept because atheism is not a religion. By bringing your secular values (as an atheist) into the public domain, one is already in line with the secular nature of the society. The only reason it appears tot he religious that atheists are pushing their "religion" on others is because the religious themselves cannot separate any issue from their own religious biases, and often cannot or will not accept that we live in a secular society. 

In short, the religious simply can't be trusted to keep the "freedom from religion" aspect intact within the "freedom of religion."

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Willful ignorance

I recently read this story about how being sedentary may increase the risk of some cancers. The story itself is somewhat interesting in that researchers isolated the knowledge that a high frequency of physical activity during each day seems to have some benefit for health, particularly related to inflammatory markers that might be related to cancer. This is fundamentally different than the traditional knowledge of the relationship between physical activity and disease which leads to the standard recommendations of regular exercise 3 - 4 times per week. In this study the information seems to indicate that the act of being sedentary between bouts of physical activity is also a risk factor. In other words, you can be active and fit, but if you sit for 8 - 10 hours per day without moving around, you are increasing the risk of some cancers.

But what really shocked me was the response to this study by the people who commented on the news story at the end of the article. Comments (and the rough estimate of readers' views based on the amount of "agree" vs. "disagree" votes with each comment) seem to indicate that the majority of people who read this either dismiss it or are flippant about the data merely because it is inconvenint.

A few sample comments follow:


"This just in: Everything causes cancer. Doctor's prescription: Live your life."

"SITTING? Are you kidding me? Sitting, standing, lying dan, peeing the wrong way, breathing at the wrong time, eating the wrong food (it's all wrong at this point...so it doesn't much matter), looking at the moon at the wrong angle....I mean really...this is GETTING RIDICULOUS."

"A little more fear-mongering...pretty soon they will determine that breathing causes cancer too."

These comments can be summed up with the attitude of: "Sitting may lead to an increase in cancer risk. How inconvenient to me. I'll just dismiss the data because I don't want to deal with it."

Everything does not cause cancer. Cells do degenerate and some factors cause an increase in this process. Stand around some radioactive materials and you'll increase your cancer risk in some cells. Is that inconvenent? Why does no one say: "Radioactivity??? Are you kidding me? You can't do anything these days without getting cancer!" The fact that being sedentary for long periods might cause cells to increase the risk of becoming cancerous might be true (more data will illucidate us). So, if you find that annoying, should you just dismiss it and assume that everything causes cancer?

"This is getting ridiculous." What is getting ridiculous? The fact that we have so much data, or the actual nature of the data? (The nature of nature).

The last comment is perhaps the most ludicrous. More fear-mongering. Yeah, right. There is a huge group of well funded people out there making up data that is specifically designed to get you to stand up from your desk once an hour and go for a 30 second walk. Maybe this is the same group of people that killed Kennedy.

Why are my fellow humans becoming so willfully ignorant? Why do people not want data? Why do people refuse data when it isn't convenient to them? If you had heart disease, wouldn't you want to know so that you could take the appropriate steps to avoid a heart attack? So why is this any different? This trend is very frightening because it denotes an overall mistrust of science. Science is not taught well these days in educational institutions. Science is seen as abstract and relatively useless in our world, rather than as the fundamental process of discovery by which we find answers to everything. The less understanding of science and more importantly, the scientific process, then the more opportunity that people in power with an agenda have of ramming their agenda down your throat. Just look at the state of politics in the United States these days. There are millions of voters who base their vote on things that are known to be false, such as creationism. We know that evolution is true and that the world was not created as described in the Bible. This is established fact, and yet millions of voters cast their ballot dependant on a candidate's acceptance of the known falsehood of creationism. This concept can be extended to any reach of government. Some people like the notion of small government and cast their vote accordingly, but are too un-schooled in scientific unbiased observation to notice that the very people they vote for enlarge government rather than reduce it.

Science education is an absolute must in a healthy society. The process of learning scientific knowledge is only one small portion of scientific education. Equally or more important is understanding the process of science so that, when a politician stands up and makes claims such as climate change being "made up", one can dismiss it as an unscientific claim.

Evidence. Love it or be deliberately blind.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Limits of Science...Part I

My blog writing is suffering. I have blogger constipation. Not that I don't have things to write about, but I am having a hard time finding the time at the moment. Other things in life are keeping me very busy and away from writing. I realize that is the death march for any blogger. Blogs need to be regular in order to draw any interest. If anyone is visiting my blog on a regular basis (I'm still not sure if that is happening), they are likely getting bored and tired of checking back and seeing no new posts. I apologize and hope to find more time in the near future.

I did have an interesting discussion about science on Facebook  recently. A friend of mine had commented about the recent Nobel prize winner announcements and rhetorically pondered what science will discover next. (This friend is a Christian, as far as I can classify, but also very open minded, knowledgeable, and science-friendly). A friend of his, someone I don't know, commented on his status that he was fed up with science and scientists. This person ranted about all the problems that scientists had not been able to solve yet such as poverty, third-world hunger, wars, the common cold, etc. I thought this was an excellent representation of the pervasive public misunderstanding of science. I added a comment about how his rant really illustrated this misunderstanding of science. I pointed out that science is capable of any discovery so long as enough time and resources are available, but that that does not mean that scientists are capable of solving every human problem that is considered inconvenient. Lumping the common cold in with world peace, for example, is not only like comparing apples and oranges, it is more like comparing apples and Bengali tigers. One is solvable by science (assuming there is a solution) given enough time and resources. The other is not because it does not involve a process of discovery. There is not some phenomenon that would solve hunger and bring world peace if only it were discovered.

The interesting part of the Facebook conversation then began with my original friend. We had a bit of a discussion about the limits of science. This friend pointed out that science has not been about to solve certain things such as the existence of angelic beings and dark matter. Again, I pointed out that the two examples raised are in completely different categories. Given enough time and resources, the whole story about dark matter (and all particles in the universe) is solvable by science since it is a real phenomenon in the natural world. Angelic beings are not a natural phenomenon in the real world (at least, we don't have any evidence that they are), and therefore their existence will never be solved by science. My friend then rightly pointed out that scientists have often been wrong in the past, but the scientific process corrects itself as it goes along, and tried to produce the neat trick of then lumping super-natural phenomenon into that category. Perhaps in the future scientists will find out that they have been wrong about angelic beings. This warping of the limits of science is very common and pervasive. It is by using a bit of truth about science (the process, applied imperfectly by biased scientists sometimes produces error), people often try to point out that science is limited in its ability to discover knowledge in the natural world. It is not. My friend went on to point out a few examples of the usual questions that people think science cannot answer such as, "Why are we here?" and "What should we do?". The first question, of course, has been more or less answered 150 years ago by Darwin. The answer isn't always one that people like or are comfortable with, so the answer gets ignored or rejected and people claim that science cannot answer it. The second question simply needs qualifying before science can answer it, since it isn't a reasonable question as it stands. "What should we do...if we want more elephants in the world?" is a very answerable questions in science. "What should we do...in general with our lives?" probably isn't. This IS an example of the limits of science. Science cannot answer questions for which there is no answer. But, for any real phenomenon, science can provide an answer, given enough time and resources.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Rick Perry: Another Step Backwards

I am sometimes reluctant to quote Richard Dawkins too much. I shouldn’t be. He is, after all, a brilliant mind who possesses an enviable skill of succinctly and understandably presenting a rational point of view. Yet, sadly, one of the more hateful and ignorant comments against atheism by the fundamentalist crowd is that Prof. Dawkins is held as the deity of the atheists. That atheism is nothing more than a religion itself.

So, by quoting Dawkins, I sometimes feel like it may appear that I am illustrating the claim of these fundamentalists that Dawkins is the worshipped deity of atheism. But, those who retain any level of open-mindedness at all will appreciate that is nonsense. I think Dawkins is a brilliant man, but he’s certainly not my god. I question everything he says and writes. Sometimes I disagree with what he says, but often I agree and realize that he has very carefully thought out his views before sharing them.

In any case, recently Dawkins had what I would call a characteristically succinct and rational response to Rick Perry, the current governor of Texas and aspiring candidate for President of the United States. Mr. Perry is, of course, in favour of the teaching of intelligent design, that thinly veiled version of creationism that has crept into some science classes in the U.S. Perry was recently asked about evolution and he responded:

"It's a theory that's out there," Perry told the child. "It's got some gaps in it. In Texas we teach both Creationism and evolution."

This quote, short though it is, stunningly exposes Perry’s ignorance. No one, who has the least grasp of science and reality, could ever state that evolution is “a theory that’s out there.” Who, in their right mind, would say something similar about gravity or heliocentricity?

Dawkins’ response, which follows below, is a very good example of how a ridiculous and dangerously ignorant point of view like Perry’s can be blown away with a bit of rational thought:

“There is nothing unusual about Governor Rick Perry. Uneducated fools can be found in every country and every period of history, and they are not unknown in high office. What is unusual about today's Republican party (I disavow the ridiculous ‘GOP' nickname, because the party of Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt has lately forfeited all claim to be considered ‘grand') is this: In any other party and in any other country, an individual may occasionally rise to the top in spite of being an uneducated ignoramus. In today's Republican Party ‘in spite of' is not the phrase we need. Ignorance and lack of education are positive qualifications, bordering on obligatory. Intellect, knowledge and linguistic mastery are mistrusted by Republican voters, who, when choosing a president, would apparently prefer someone like themselves over someone actually qualified for the job.

...The population of the United States is more than 300 million and it includes some of the best and brightest that the human species has to offer, probably more so than any other country in the world. There is surely something wrong with a system for choosing a leader when, given a pool of such talent and a process that occupies more than a year and consumes billions of dollars, what rises to the top of the heap is George W Bush. Or when the likes of Rick Perry or Michele Bachmann or Sarah Palin can be mentioned as even remote possibilities.

...a politician's attitude to evolution, however peripheral it might seem, is a surprisingly apposite litmus test of more general inadequacy. This is because unlike, say, string theory where scientific opinion is genuinely divided, there is about the fact of evolution no doubt at all. Evolution is a fact, as securely established as any in science, and he who denies it betrays woeful ignorance and lack of education, which likely extends to other fields as well. Evolution is not some recondite backwater of science, ignorance of which would be pardonable. It is the stunningly simple but elegant explanation of our very existence and the existence of every living creature on the planet. Thanks to Darwin, we now understand why we are here and why we are the way we are. You cannot be ignorant of evolution and be a cultivated and adequate citizen of today.”


That last sentence is worth repeating: “You cannot be ignorant of evolution and be a cultivated and adequate citizen of today.” So true. This short statement so adequately explains why the issue of denial of evolution in politics is so important. Gary Goodyear, the Minister of State for Science and Technology in Canada is, as I’ve written before, a creationist. Many of my fellow citizens probably feel that is irrelevant to his ability to do his job. But, as Dawkins puts it, the fact that people like Perry and Goodyear reject a basic part of the reality of the world we live in shows that they are woefully ignorant and uneducated. In Goodyear’s case it is a double whammy. Not only is he an inadequate citizen of today who shouldn’t even be in politics to begin with, he is the Minister responsible for science in Canada. What a tragedy.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Who Knew She was on Crack Too?



This story just made me laugh. I know LOL is an overly common part of the lingo these days, but when I read the story I actually lauged out loud.

Sarah Palin has to be the greatest representation of what is laughable about American politics. Here is a woman that most sane people would have to admit has no qualifications or experiences that would contribute to making her a good chief executive of the country. Sure, she has some relatively minor experience in local and state government. But, if you're picking someone to lead a country, particularly in times of trouble brought on by the vastly complex global economy, wouldn't you prefer someone who has a LOT of experience not just some? [Inevitably, Palin supporters will argue at this ponit that Obama also was thin on experience when he became president. I wouldn't disagree].


But, more important than her experience level is, as anyone who has ever heard her speak, the ability to think rationally. Anyone who reads this blog at all understands that I am a big fan of rational thought, and evidence-based arguments. Sarah Palin, it seems to me, is a fan of neither. One of the things that fascinates me about politics and the fanatics on either side of the political spectrum, is how people tend to go into a political discussion in exactly the same way that they approach religion: their mind is made up beforehand, and whatever evidence comes to light is argued away. Everyone has their biases, myself included, but despite my biases it seems to me that the conservative crowd is more guilty of this than the more liberal crowd. It was this observation in fact, rather than any policies, that lead me away from my more conservative position as a youngster to a more liberal view point. Many of the things that conservatives tout are fine with me: small government?...sure; lower taxes?...fine with me; family values?...who doesn't want those? The problem with modern day conservatism is twofold: firstly, conservative politicians don't in fact promote the very values that they claim to; and secondly, this disconnect goes unnoticed by followers of conservatism because they are unable or unwilling to take an evidence based approach. Both Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush ran the largest governments to date during their presidency. Yet, when conservatives in the U.S. run on a platform of small government they seem to get support despite their party's miserable record in that area. No one seems to notice.

This latest bit of "news" about Sarah Palin (we must, in fairness, wait until it is verified before we assume it to be true) is a classic example of this. Sarah Palin's perceived strength amongst her supporters is probably family values and her strong commitment to her religion. There is a feeling that she would bring decency to the White House. If that is what is important to you, then all the power to you. Go ahead and throw your support behind someone who espouses those values. But, shouldn't you, if you truly are in support of those values, reject as a candidate someone who doesn't demonstrate them? I have often claimed that a Republican will be excused of the most outrageous acts that a Democrat would immediately be condemned for. I have previously mused about how the story of Bristol Palin's pregnancy would have been received by fundamentalist Christian voters had it been one of the Obama girls in her shoes. Doubtless there would have been outrage, and claims that it showed how ineptly qualified Barack Obama is as a father and therefore president. Yet, in the warped world of conclusions before evidence, voters managed to convert that issue into a positive for Ms. Palin Sr. "See, she's a great mother - she encouraged her daughter to have the baby even though the circumstances were less than ideal. She would make a great president." Clearly, today's "news" is no different. The fact that Sarah Palin may have snorted cocaine and engaged in extramarital sex won't harm her image among the very people who claim they are for family values. In fact, I predict the opposite effect. If these claims about Palin turn out to be true (and you can bet she is frantically meeting with a bevy of advisors right now determining the best path forward politically, never mind the truth), then she will find a way to turn it into more support, a la George W. Bush post-cocaine and alcoholism. I would also be willing to bet that the power of Jesus will be invoked in her reformed lifestyle.

As someone who tends to vote on the more liberal side of the spectrum, though I would not classify myself as a liberal, I would immediately reject any political figure who turned out not to practice what they preach. If the leader of the Green Party in my country suddenly started making decisions and political actions that were very un-green, she would lose my support (if I supported her in the first place). If a Liberal Party candidate ran on a platform of increased health care support and then cut health care, they would lose my support. Yet, for some reason, no matter what issue conservatives run on, and no matter how they fail to follow through on those issues once in office, their supporters never seem to notice.

As I say, this is one of the main reasons that I have no choice but to reject conservatism as it presents itself in modern society. Conservative values have been completely lost, and conservatism has become nothing more than a synonym for irrational, evidence-less, and therefore ultimately ignorant beliefs and values.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

11th September 2001, Ten Years On


Do you remember where you were? It has been a decade since that dark day. The cliché is old and tired: everyone knows where they were when they heard the news. I remember I was just finishing up watching Law and Order on A&E and heading off to bed and I heard the news. The reported number of dead was astounding. Surely the international response would be immediate and overwhelming. Millions of dollars would be poured into immediate relief to ease the suffering, billions more would be spent in the coming years to ensure this tragedy never happened again. To protect us all from such evil. The news agencies would surely cover no other story for weeks while orange-skinned anchor men and women breathlessly and needlessly over-enunciated key words as the bits and pieces of news trickled in. This was something that had to be remedied. We could never let this happen again. Nationalism would fall away and we would all realize the one undeniable fact that binds us together in this world: we are all human beings regardless of race, religion, or nationality. We would band together, move forward and respect each other a little bit more. We would recognize the steps that had to be taken to avoid a repeat of the day’s tragic events. Each of us would have to make some sacrifices. We would have to give up some of our personal freedoms and probably even a significant amount of money for those assurances. Politicians would face the tough challenge of choosing a difficult path that would prevent such a calamity and yet of course have to do so in a way that would not render them unelectable. The support for politicians would be overwhelmingly high though, wouldn’t it? People would understand that sacrifices needed to be made. People would band together and stand behind their political leaders. Partisanship would fade a bit as people realized this was something far greater than a conservative vs. liberal issue. This was something so big it defined who we are.

The events were so frighteningly real. Everyone suddenly realized: “That could have been me.” Or perhaps worse, “That could have been my child.” What pain to have your own loved one go through that. What if you lost your husband, wife, or, goodness forbid, your child in that painful way? How would you go on in life knowing that your child had suffered an agonizing death that was not only painful, but which you could see coming in advance, which you had to watch helplessly as it approached?  

Sixteen thousand children dead. Sixteen thousand. In one day. Could it be? And apparently that was just the children. Reports were unclear and imprecise, but there appeared to be an additional eighty-two thousand related adult deaths. All in that one day. How was that even possible?

But then, shockingly, in the following months and years the politicians never mentioned those deaths once in any speech. The news networks didn’t even carry the story at all, let alone focus solely on it for weeks on end. Details were extremely hard to find. It was all but impossible to find out just how many had died, let alone the names of any of the victims. The dead were not only forgotten, they were never even recognized. Their intense suffering went unheard.

Yes, I remember exactly where I was on the 11th September, 2001 when 98,000 people died from preventable malnutrition and its related diseases. But, for some reason that I can’t quite put my finger on, I don’t remember where I was on the 10th or 12th September 2001 when the events repeated themselves.

A decade on? Nothing has changed. Well, except of course for the 350 million people who suffered the exact fate that those 98,000 who died on 11th September 2001 did. Three hundred and fifty million painful, preventable deaths  in a decade? Isn’t that approximately the entire population of the United States of America? Gone in one decade.

Friday, August 26, 2011

What is Atheism IV: Atheism is not…

There are many misconceptions of atheism. Those who are not atheist, by definition, believe in a god (or at least in the concept of theism). Most people who are not atheists, I would suggest, believe in the personal, meddling, prayer-answering God of the Bible. Atheism for them, therefore, is an evil detestable concept. There is no need to understand it for it stems from Satan and is a path that leads away from God – precisely what they are trying not to achieve in their lives. I believe that failure to even try to understand someone else’s point of view, close-mindedness, is the root of much evil in this world. The conflicts in the Middle East, the tensions between the predominantly Christian West and the predominantly Muslim East, and even conflicts within personal relationship such as a marriage, would all be eased somewhat simply by a genuine attempt to understand the other party’s point of view. There are very, very few circumstances in life where one side of a conflict is simply evil and out to destroy all that is good. Yet, that portrayal is common (necessary even?) in wars and much of our society.

So, depending on your particular beliefs, it may be of some benefit to read my personal opinion, as an atheist, of what atheism is and is not. I spend a fair bit of time engaging with both atheists and believers in a religion. Almost without fail, the religious misunderstand atheism, often deliberately so, and almost always are disinterested in learning about it and actually understanding it. It is easier to fear, hate, and reject than it is to learn, understand, and then perhaps politely disagree.

Atheists don’t believe in anything. This is a common perception among the religious. I have been told that I don’t believe in anything if I’m an atheist. There is a tragic video available on the internet in which one of the world’s more famous atheists, Richard Dawkins, interviews one of the world’s more fanatical and close-minded believers in religion, Yousef Al-Khattab. In this Yousef tells Richard Dawkins that he doesn’t believe in anything. This was actually one of the first places I encountered this attitude, but since then I have encountered it personally many times. My answer is thus: atheists do not believe in gods but that does not mean we do not believe in anything. If I did not believe in anything, then that would mean that I don’t believe in: human rights, education, the scientific method, my family, love, environmentalism, and forgiveness. However, I do very much believe in these things. The difference, perhaps one of semantics, is that I do not believe in anything for which there is no evidence. That, perhaps, is a more accurate statement about many atheists. I see no problem with not believing in things for which there is no evidence. There is evidence for all of the things I list above, and for a great many more things that have a positive influence in the world.

Atheists proselytize in just the same way that the religious do. Proselytizing is defined as the act of attempting to convert people to another opinion and, particularly, another religion (Wikipedia), or as inducing someone to convert to one’s faith or to recruit someone to join one’s party, institution, or cause (Merriam-Webster). None of these definitions fit what an atheist could do in conversation about atheism with the exception, perhaps, of the final one. Atheists cannot, by definition, attempt to convert someone to their faith (atheism is not a faith) or religion (atheism is not a religion), or party, or institution. It is possible that atheists could be defined as proselytizing by attempting to convert someone to their opinion or cause, but even that would be unusual among atheists. Most true atheists that I know are interested in rational discussion in which people arrive at their own point of view or opinion so long as it is reasonable and rational. I do, of course, actually believe that if everyone was capable of thinking completely rationally, reasonably, and used evidence to support their beliefs, then everyone would logically end up as an atheist, or at least as an agnostic. But that is quite different than preaching to people that they should convert to atheism. If I meet someone of religion who has rationally and reasonably examined their religion and still manages to explain in a logical manner why they believe in it, then I respect that person’s belief and have no interest in trying to convert them to atheism. That is in direct opposition to most people of religion. I have yet to meet anyone of religion who does not, as an underlying theme, hope that eventually I will join their faith (and therefore be saved).

Atheists have no basis for morality. This seems to be a universal (though I hate using that term inappropriately to define something in human behaviour which could by definition be no more than global) assumption and position of the religious towards atheists. Since you don’t believe in a god, you have no basis to form moral decisions. You might behave morally, presumably ultimately because you are afraid of going to prison in a country in which the laws are based on Christian morality, but as an atheist you have no inherent basis for morality. [Before I continue, I simply have to address as a side note the notion of a country based on Christian or Biblical morality. There is no such country in the world, thank goodness, and I hope to never see one, let alone live in one. For Americans in particular, this is a point of significant debate. So many Christians argue that their country was founded as a Christian nation (“one nation under God”, et cetera), and the debate about the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the intentions of the founding fathers can go on fruitlessly for hours. In reality, though, one need only read the Bible to recognize that even the most extremist Christian politicians such as Michelle Bachmann, Sarah Palin, and Mike Huckabee don’t actually want their nation’s laws based on the Bible. Read through the Old Testament books dealing with the law and then ask yourself if you really want to live in such a country. If you think the New Testament is any better, then ask yourself how a nation would be built around the concept of neighbourly love. How would you imprison someone for not loving their neighbour? Would I get a ticket from a policeman each time I drove by someone with a flat tire without helping them out? Would the laws in a Christian nation require that you hate your mother and father? Would marriage of a divorcee be illegal? Would lust be enough for imprisonment? If you lost a lawsuit to a large corporation, would you be required to pay more than the settlement amount? If you found an old man and forced him to carry something for you for one mile, would he then be required by law to carry it for you for two miles? If you were the victim of theft, would you be required by law not to try to get it back? These are all the darker sides of a hypothetical Christian nation that no one ever considers.]

But perhaps the first place to start with this issue of atheists having no basis for morality is to look at what morality really is and where it comes from. Morality can be defined as a set of behaviours or beliefs that differentiate right from wrong. My understanding of the religious claim of no morality amongst atheists is that, since we have no god to tell us what is right and what is wrong, then our morality is subjective rather than objective and as soon as you make morality subjective then anything is permitted or justifiable. My understanding of morality, however, is that it does not originate from a deity. (How could it when there are no deities?). Morality is a human construct. It originates from within humanity. We, as humans, have decided that things like murder and rape are immoral. Further, I would point out that morality is in fact much more subjective among the religious than it is among atheists. I have yet to find many religious people who can’t find some way of justifying killing another human being. Whether it is through capital punishment, a “just” war, retribution for a horrible act, or sanctioned by their own deity, most people of religion, at least if they accept the Bible to be true, have to accept that at some point killing other humans has been moral. So sometimes killing other people is immoral and sometimes it is moral. That, to me, is a subjective definition. My position is that killing other humans is immoral in all cases. That is pretty objective. I can’t find a scenario in which it would be moral to do so. (That is not to say I wouldn’t be tempted to do so in certain circumstances. Often in a conversation like this, someone will ask me what I would do if someone kidnapped and harmed or killed my own child. My answer is that, as a parent, of course I would feel like killing the perpetrator, especially if it increased my chances of recovering my child. But that would not make it moral). So, in my opinion, morality is actually less subjective among atheists than it is among the religious. But whether it is subjective or objective is not really the point. Morality is a human quality. We, as humans, invented it. Animals do not seem to have morality. They may have certain acceptable behaviours, but they are incapable of defining certain behaviours as right or wrong. It is likely that human morality varies a bit through cultures and has likely changed a bit over the time that humans have existed. But some basics have likely always been part of the human moral code. How could murder, within one’s own tight knit group, ever be considered moral? If it were, then people would be killing each other on a whim each time it was convenient to do so. Human society could not function. Perhaps in the distant past when humans had yet to form into clans, this may have been the case, but in order for humans to function in cooperative groups there needs to be some understanding that killing each other without reason is wrong. Somewhere along the line, people must have wondered where this feeling of “wrong” came from and, as religion evolved, ascribed it to a deity. The deity must have told us that murder is wrong, otherwise how else would we know that it is so? But the reality is that the knowledge that it was wrong was already there. If all that is not enough, then just look at behaviours of atheists and religious people. Murder rates are not higher among atheists, theft is not higher, rape is not higher, child abuse is not higher, tax fraud is not higher, none of the behaviours we might consider immoral are more common among atheists than among religious people. In fact, there are an overwhelmingly higher proportion of Christians in American jails than there are atheists. Atheists might make up somewhere around 10% of the American population (depending on your statistics source) but don’t make up anywhere near that percentage of the prison population. Some statistics cite it as low as below 1%. Maybe atheists are just better at not getting caught…

Atheists should not be allowed to teach children. Actually, most atheist teachers aren’t interested in teaching about atheism. They are interested in keeping their personal views and beliefs out of the classroom as much as possible and teaching the curriculum. I think a much stronger case can be made against having Christians teach (especially when it comes to science) than can be made against having atheists teach. What is a Christian teacher to do when they come across some curriculum that contradicts their personal beliefs? (For example: evolution, conclusions bases on evidence, etc.). An atheist teacher never has this problem because, so long as the curriculum is based in evidence and truth, then the atheist teacher is happy to teach it.

If you’ve been brought up in a religion, or find yourself believing a religion, then perhaps you’ve never given much thought to treating atheists with respect. Perhaps you’ve never thought about trying to understand atheism. Perhaps, if you are from a very fundamentalist religion, you even see atheism as evil or learning about atheism as a path to the devil. It is not. It is simply a way of looking at the world we live in. In particular, it involves looking at the world we live in and accepting it for what it is, based on the evidence that is available to us. Most atheists have managed, or at least try on a regular basis, to set aside their innate fear of death or hope for an afterlife, have set aside the stories they were told as children which are not based in evidence, and have set aside any familial or social pressures to conform to a religion that may be dominant in their culture. Consider, before you blindly reject atheism and atheists, how you would feel if someone of a different religion than your own rejected yours before they fully understood it. Suppose you are a Jew and you ran into a Christian who was horrified by your habit of drinking blood from Christian children. Suppose you are a Muslim and you run into a Christian who can’t understand why you want to strap a nuclear bomb to your back and walk into Manhattan. Suppose you are a Christian who meets a Muslim who hates your ideology of thinking that carpet bombing children in other countries is the path to world peace. All of these misperceptions would, of course, outrage anyone of those respective religions. The above listed misperceptions about atheism are no less outrageous.