Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Tidy up Tuesday


I went back to three of my past posts that I felt were a bit rushed and fixed them up a bit. Links and Images have been removed to keep things tidy, with the exception of the headings, which link to the corresponding original post

I intend for you to know little about me; without a description of who I am, you are free to read, respond, and ponder outside the narrow scope of a specific persona. Instead, I wish for you to paint your own picture of who I may be through my stories. Some aspects of my character, however, will be evident from the outset. So I will make it known that I am an atheist, and a proud one at that. Most of my posts will be related to philosophy and evolutionary psychology and how these fields are supportive of atheism. Particularly, I enjoy discussing hindrance that religion poses on complex thought and proper child rearing. I’m not trying to teach, though I do write didactically at times. My ultimate goal is to inspire conversation where there is usually silence. Too often today, in the age of relativism, we keep quiet for fear someone will be offended. This in turn has created a population which takes offense much too easily. We tend to accept all opinions as “good” in their own way. This is a false notion fashioned by a society afraid to insult. Insult, as well as praise, has a distinct purpose: to encourage progress. Controversy is healthy. So let us be as controversial as the web will allow. Let’s bring back Self Reliance and Civil Disobedience, as Emerson and Thoreau called for. Let us express ourselves as fearlessly as Richard Dawkins has, without the arrogance we’ve not yet earned. I hope to spark some ideas, I hope to piss some people off, and I hope for some to be inspired. I encourage comments; I will never attack an individual who posts thoughtful responses, even if we drastically disagree.


I truly never thought I would enter the world of blogging: the “blogosphere” as the Internet savvy may say. But my unanticipated entrance into a new world has proven beneficial beyond my expectations. I expected to find few sympathizers (or none at all), since the topic(s) I tackle aren’t really intended for casual conversation. Atheism, agnosticism, skepticism, criticism are all subjects people fear to discuss, and with good reason. Persecution of the non-religious is perhaps the last bastion of true religious injustice. Atheism is the last remaining belief system that is not acknowledged by the government as a marginalized spiritual minority that deserves certain protections. (Okay, maybe Satanism or Vonnegut’s Bokononism are behind Atheism as far as government recognition goes).

Feeling utterly alone (and being okay with it), I continued my rampage of the Internet and found something surprising. The Atheist Blogroll has compiled a list of well over 1,000 blogs in the realm of atheism/skepticism. I found a few I particularly like, one in particular that I’d like to discuss: Deity Shmeity.

I enjoyed this blog in particular because of how quickly the design caught my eye. Clearly the author (Grundy, as he is known on the web) is much more graphically capable than I am.
And also much more humorous. I admit I can be a bit dry and analytical in my delivery at times. As a life long introvert, I’m afraid my formal style is here to stay. But Grundy is to Atheism as Grumio is to Shakespeares’s Taming of the Shrew. Witty, intelligent, sarcastic at times, and never fails to make the reader laugh even in the midst of a serious situation. I am relieved that Grundy possesses such brilliance even after his strict Catholic education and experiences with Christian Science in his young life. While his career is based in Advertising, Grundy still finds time to post two or three times per week. And his posts feature a great mix of lengthy, thought provoking essays, as well as shorter thoughts based around a funny image. And his audience clearly enjoys his style, seeing as every post has at least a couple comments. In many cases, discussion between readers breaks out, and Grundy fuels the interactive environment by taking part in the conversation.

Deity Shmeity has instilled in me a good feeling that atheists of all colors are out there and willing to speak up. Just as there are good Christians and bad Christians, good Muslims and bad Muslims, there will also be good and bad Atheists. But with blogs like my own, and Deity Shmeity, hopefully we can create a diverse community of analytical individuals who are willing to question, learn, and debate. My hope for my own blog is to use logic so sound, that even the religious can’t deny the foundations of my arguments. Grundy’s approach is different: though still very logical, I worry his use of humor may immediately deter religious individuals from reading further. They may feel personally attacked or mocked rather than curious.

And I’ll admit that I can be hostile as well (my criticism of Jesus Camp ensures that the Evangelicals will not be visiting this page). But between Grundy, myself, and everyone in between, we have all the bases covered. And hopefully, we’ll reach out to the doubtful and convert them to logic and reason. (If that doesn’t work, we could always send our young men on door-to-door conversion missions. That seems to work, right?)

I found two interesting bloggers around the same time that I found Deity Shmeity, both of which make the same (but opposite) analogies between football and religion. The more interesting thing is that they're both right. While Football V. Religion makes the claim that football is superior to and unlike religion, Lady Atheist  comments in a post that they are one in the same.

The difference in the two perspectives is drastic, making both bloggers appear correct in their respective opinions. The bloggers utilize their unique voice to express their thoughts and support their seemingly opposite analyses of football in comparison to religion. While it should be noted that Lady Atheist refers to American football, while Football V. Religion discusses European football, these differences are arbitrary in that the true focus of the analogy can be boiled down to "team sport" vs. religion.

The first post I want to discuss is entitled Unacceptable Behavior: Football v. Religion. The author quickly and effortlessly reveals through his diction and syntax that he is a devout and well-versed follower of football. His style flows in a way similar to a sports announcer: quick, poignant, staccato. Sprinkled with commas and packing punches with standalone fragments such as this one:

“WHAT UTTER BOLLOCKS”

But allow me to delve deeper into the content that precedes this exclamation. After relating the life and times of football star Joey Barton, the author compares Barton's anecdote of crime and punishment to the apparently more forgiving rules of Catholic morality. Sin and repent, sin and repent, die and ascend into heaven.


"Apart from the obvious 10 Commandments as rules of life, it seems odd to me that the Church and Christianity is content that the worst amongst us can be saved by repenting our sins. So what exactly is the fucking point of having a moral code if an evil and immoral life can be saved in 'injury time' by 'repenting'. Surely this is a get-out-of-jail-card for the worst in society."

His tone is casual, but his point is bold and profound. Though one pondered often by skeptics, this author phrases the argument in a new light, letting his unique voice as a blogger be heard. He utilizes profanity, but scarcely and well placed. The tone of the paragraph above is colloquial; it conveys frustration and a willingness to seriously address the issue at hand with those of like mind. I get this feeling from his use of "us" and other terms that imply he is addressing a larger body of individuals, which he also belongs to. His quotes over 'injury time' and 'repenting' mock the practices of the Catholic Church subtly, without being offensive. And those Catholics (or others) who would take offense could likely not muster a sound and logical retort.



"The Catholic Church has lost it's way, they have gotten too big, it is all about the brand and the message is lost, similar to what happened to Irish rock band U2. The church is now all about the church and only interested in the church.... What about the people ? What about the children ?"

This paragraph comes a bit later, after the author has explained that Catholicism lacks a moral compass, and should mimic the sanction system used by football. Maintaining his sports-announcer-esque style, he uses a hilariously placed allusion to U2 to again mock the Church in a way so playful that it can't possibly offend. But the point still packs a punch when he asks the rhetorical question "What about the children?". Any mention of children is an obvious attempt at the strongest of all rhetorical appeals, pathos. But he uses pathos while keeping his reputation as a masculine sports-fan intact. His voice is obvious, and consistent throughout this post and others. This author is somewhat headstrong, but remains logical and approachable. His goal is to make his point heard even if someone has to be offended in the process.


The Lady Atheist writes in a similar way, but she makes sure her readers distinguish her writing as a woman's point of view. This especially makes her voice stand out since women are significantly less likely to be Atheist. (This is a widely supported fact, which I find strange seeing as various religions and the books that correspond to these religions tend to do horrible things to females).


Lady Atheist asks her readers the question Is Charlie Brown a Christian? The post is not very long, so I encourage a thorough reading of the whole thing. She is very intelligent, and doesn't always make her point (or the transitions between points) obvious to the reader, but instead allows the reader to force their way into her thought processes. In other words, Lady Atheist says it like it is succinctly, and let's the readers fill in the gaps. (Unlike me, I feel the need to explain in full detail every thought I think. It's a blessing and a curse).


But the part of this post I really want to discuss is as follows:

"As a woman, I say, "Go ahead and kick her in the crotch!" Yes, getting kicked in the crotch is painful for women too. We won't barf but we will double over, and this Lucy bitch deserves a taste of her own medicine."

While this passage isn't central to conveying the intended message, it is key to establishing Lady Atheist's unique voice. The reason I find it intriguing is because Lady Atheist addressed her audience as primarily male (And she's probably right in doing so). She explains the sensation that women feel when "kicked in the crotch" as if her audience would not already know, because they probably don't. This passage is also interesting, because despite Lady Atheist's pride in her feminism, her intelligence and moral code transcend her desire to protect a fellow woman. This establishes her voice as a blogger immensely; she values logic above all else and is respected accordingly.

"Would an atheist version of Charlie Brown be such a sucker? He'd say "fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice..." and he'd turn to the side and kick Lucy in whatever body part happened to be within range."

Lady Atheist is completely comfortable with a young man using violence on a young woman if said young woman needs some attitude readjustment. For this reason, I believe Lady Atheist is absolutely brilliant. She favors de facto equality of the sexes, and doesn't simply support her own sex blindly.
But the real kicker of this post (no pun intended) is when Lady Atheist, contrary to the author of Football V. Religion, asserts that football and religion are one in the same.

"It's us vs. them, break the rules for a good cause, drop everything on the appointed day, and make pilgrimmages to partake of ritual foods. There are heroes and villains. And after hours of "play" nothing has really changed except a few numbers that will be erased in a few months.
...and quite a few people will have new scars and debilitating injuries.
Yep, football is just like religion."

Her reasoning, just like his, is accurate. The reason they are both right is because the voices they have established respectively, utilize different facts about the same sport in order to convey the intended religious message that corresponds to the aspect of the sport that they discuss. More simply, it seems that the male author's interpretation of football is more characteristic of his voice as a male author. He compares the lack of a fair system of sanctioning in religion to the well-designed penalty system in football. Meanwhile, the female author assesses her knowledge of football as a violent and meaningless game and relates this to the equally pointless "sport" that is religion. Of course, both of these authors possess a more unique voice that extends far beyond the methods they use to analyze football.

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Voice of Atheism

Male and Female Voices on Religion and Football


I found two interesting bloggers around the same time that I found Deity Shmeity, both of which make the same (but opposite) analogies between football and religion. The more interesting thing is that they're both right. While Football V. Religion makes the claim that football is superior to and unlike religion, Lady Atheist  comments in a post that they are one in the same.

The difference in the two perspectives is drastic, making both bloggers appear correct in their respective  opinions. The bloggers utilize their unique voice to express their thoughts and support their seemingly opposite analyses of football in comparison to religion. While it should be noted that Lady Atheist refers to American football, while Football V. Religion  discusses European football, these differences are arbitrary in that the true focus of the analogy can be boiled down to "team sport" vs. religion.

The first post I want to discuss (written way back in September of 2012) is entitled Unacceptable Behavior: Football v. Religion. The author quickly and effortlessly reveals through his diction and syntax that he is a devout and well-versed follower of football. His style flows in a way similar to a sports announcer: quick, poignant, staccato. Sprinkled with commas and packing punches with standalone fragments such as this one:

WHAT UTTER BOLLOCKS


But allow me to delve deeper into the content that precedes this exclamation. After relating the life and times of football star Joey Barton, the author compares Barton's anecdote of crime and punishment to the apparently more forgiving rules of Catholic morality. Sin and repent, sin and repent, die and ascend into heaven. 

"Apart from the obvious 10 Commandments as rules of life, it seems odd to me that the Church and Christianity is content that the worst amongst us can be saved by repenting our sins. So what exactly is the fucking point of having a moral code if an evil and immoral life can be saved in 'injury time' by 'repenting'. Surely this is a get-out-of-jail-card for the worst in society."

His tone is casual, but his point is bold and profound. Though one pondered often by skeptics, this author phrases the argument in a new light, letting his unique voice as a blogger be heard. He utilizes profanity, but scarcely and well-placed. (Unlike my last last post in which I thoroughly overused profanity due to actual anger, in the future I'll cool down before I post). The tone of the paragraph above is colloquial; it conveys frustration and a willingness to seriously address the issue at hand with those of like mind. I get this feeling from his repeated use of "us" and other terms that imply he is addressing a larger body of individuals, which he also belongs to. His quotes over 'injury time' and 'repenting' mock the practices of the Catholic Church subtly, without being offensive. And those Catholics (or others) who would take offense could likely not muster a sound and logical retort.


"The Catholic Church has lost it's way, they have gotten too big, it is all about the brand and the message is lost, similar to what happened to Irish rock band U2. The church is now all about the church and only interested in the church.... What about the people ? What about the children ?" 

This paragraph comes a bit later, after the author has explained that Catholicism lacks a moral compass, and should mimic the sanction system used by football. Maintaining his sports-announcer-esque style, he uses a hilariously placed allusion to U2 to again mock the Church in a way so playful that it can't possibly offend. But the point still packs a punch when he asks the rhetorical question "What about the children?". Any mention of children is an obvious attempt at the strongest of all rhetorical appeals, pathos. But he uses pathos while keeping his reputation as a masculine sports-fan intact. His voice is obvious, and consistent throughout this post and others. This author is somewhat headstrong, but remains logical and approachable. His goal is to make his point heard even if someone has to be offended in the process. 

The Lady Atheist writes in a similar way, but she makes sure her readers distinguish writing as coming from a woman's point of view. This especially makes her voice stand out since women are significantly less likely to be Atheist. (This is a widely supported fact, which I find strange seeing as various religions and the books that correspond to these religions tend to do horrible things to females). 

Lady Atheist asks her readers the question Is Charlie Brown a Christian? The post is not very long, so I encourage a thorough reading of the whole thing. She is very intelligent, and doesn't always make her point (or the transitions between points) obvious to the reader, but instead allows the reader to force their way into her thought processes. In other words, Lady Atheist says it like it is succinctly, and let's the reader fill in the gaps. (Unlike me, I feel the need to explain in full detail every thought I think. It's a blessing and a curse). 

But the part of this post I really want to discuss is as follows: 

"As a woman, I say, "Go ahead and kick her in the crotch!" Yes, getting kicked in the crotch is painful for women too. We won't barf but we will double over, and this Lucy bitch deserves a taste of her own medicine." 

While this passage isn't central to conveying the intended message, it is key to establishing Lady Atheist's unique voice. The reason I find it intriguing is because Lady Atheist addressed her audience as primarily male (And she's probably right in doing so). She explains the sensation that women feel when "kicked in the crotch" as if her audience would not already know, because they probably don't. This passage is also interesting, because despite Lady Atheist's pride in her feminism, her intelligence and moral code transcend her desire to protect a fellow woman. This establishes her voice as a blogger immensely; she values logic above all else and is respected accordingly. 

"Would an atheist version of Charlie Brown be such a sucker? He'd say "fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice..." and he'd turn to the side and kick Lucy in whatever body part happened to be within range." 

Lady Atheist is completely comfortable with a young man using violence on a young woman if said young woman needs some attitude readjustment. For this reason, I believe Lady Atheist is absolutely brilliant. She favors de facto equality of the sexes, and doesn't simply support her own sex blindly. 

But the real kicker of this post (no pun intended) is when Lady Atheist, contrary to the author of Football V. Religion, asserts that football and religion are one in the same. 

 "It's us vs. them, break the rules for a good cause, drop everything on the appointed day, and make pilgrimmages to partake of ritual foods. There are heroes and villains. And after hours of "play" nothing has really changed except a few numbers that will be erased in a few months.
...and quite a few people will have new scars and debilitating injuries.
Yep, football is just like religion." 

Her reasoning, just like his, is accurate. The reason they are both right is because the voices they have established respectively, utilize different facts about the same sport in order to convey the intended religious message that corresponds to the aspect of the sport that they discuss. More simply, it seems that the male author's interpretation of football is more characteristic of his voice as a male author. He compares the lack of a fair system of sanctioning in religion to the well designed penalty system in football. Meanwhile, the female author assesses her knowledge of football as a violent and meaningless game and relates this to the equally pointless "sport" that is religion. 

Of course, both of these authors possess a more unique voice that extends far beyond the methods they use to analyze football.  

   



Friday, March 29, 2013

Marriage Equality According to Religious Young Adults


And Why They Should Think Before They Hold Up Signs


Recent events have proven to be perfect evidence for my idea that raising children in a devoutly religious household is perhaps the worst parenting tactic. Originally, I intended for this post to be centered on the benefits of discovery learning as opposed to direct instruction. Discovery learning teaches a developing mind to think critically, logically, and figure things out. Direct instruction will result in a closed mind, which has only leaned how to regurgitate beliefs, thoughts, and behaviors as taught by an instructor.

A study summarized by Alison Gopnik in her article How Babies Think displays the phenomenon perfectly. In this experiment, an interesting toy with dozens of buttons and levers was given to two groups of toddlers. The ultimate goal was for the toddlers to push a series of buttons and levers in the proper order, which would cause the toy to shower the toddler in confetti and make noise. The control group had an adult “instructor” show the child a very complex, multi-step way to make the toy go off, while the other group was left to explore the toy on their own. The “instructed” group never diverged from the way they were taught, tediously repeating each complex step without ever exploring to see if there was a better way. Meanwhile, the “discovery” group found multiple and much simpler ways to work the toy.

But more on this later.

This strictly instructional teaching method is used by religious groups and cloaked by the term “faith”. Don’t ask questions, even if nothing we teach you makes sense, just have FAITH. It’s right because God says so!

This “God’s way or no way” mentality generally persists throughout childhood, into young adulthood when the religious zealot is now granted the right to vote. And once the religious conservatives receive the right to vote, they use their vote to take rights away from people who aren’t part of their in-group. This point has been beaten so deep into the ground but I feel the need to reiterate… Why the fuck do you care if the LGBTQ community has the same rights as heterosexuals? How the hell does it affect YOU and YOUR ability to please your God. If YOU don’t want to enter a homosexual relationship, you don’t have to. Mind your own Goddamn business.

The Internet has been overtaken by the Supreme Court’s debate over California’s Prop 8. I was pleased to see a multitude of pro marriage equality signs by individuals of all backgrounds, ages, and even some religions. I acknowledge that not all religious people are closed-minded and well, mean. But I was also disgusted to see a page on Buzzfeed that displayed about a dozen disgracefully idiotic anti marriage equality signs. Here are a few of them and why I think the people holding the signs are fucking imbeciles.  


I don't even know where to begin with this guy. His sign isn't even written in intelligible English (he may be a foreign language speaker so I won't criticize too harshly). But the crux of the issue with this sign is that "God's law" is in no way shape or form Constitutional law. You as an individual may choose to follow God's law, but you may not impose your God's law on anyone. 


A lot of problems here. First and foremost (another argument that's been beat into the ground), the Bible says a lot of shit that even the Church considers outdated or irrelevant. The next problem with this sign is that this young man (let's call him Judas) believes that his way of being raised as a child is the only way. Judas feels that being raised by a mother and father is the only way to turn out to be an "amazing kid". Clearly Judas has not met any children of homosexual couples; I'm quite sure they'd rather be in the care of two loving moms or two loving dads than in a broken home, single parent home, orphanage, foster care, or on the streets. Either way, Judas has no right to impose his own upbringing on every child, just because he turned out amazing doesn't mean it would work for everyone. 


Again, it appears that Bible study and homeschooling don't stress grammar or proper English. I don't understand how this girl's love for God will change if James marries Matthew and Suzy marries Sally. You can love God all you want; I don't think he'll blame you when marriage equality passes. After all, when it does pass, won't it be His Will? 


This is not a theocracy. Marriage IS a right implicit in "life, liberty, pursuit of happiness", as well as the equal protection under the law provided by the 14th amendment. 





These three are perhaps the worst because they display no evidence of higher level thinking. There is no logic here whatsoever, simply regurgitation. 

I could go on forever, but will spare you. To end on a bright note, Buzzfeed also featured a page of responses to these anti-marriage equality signs. The difference in intelligence is made painfully clear... Here are some of my favorites. 


Tolerant, fair, and succinct. The logic is sound and no one gets hurt. 






I find it interesting that the young adults in favor of marriage equality are so willing and eager to not only discuss the issue with the opposition but also befriend the opposition. Take this as you will. 

-Mendelssohn 

Friday, March 8, 2013

Deity Shmeity


Even Atheists Have Friends 


I truly never thought I would enter the world of blogging: the “blogosphere” as the Internet savvy may say. But my unanticipated entrance into a new world has proven beneficial beyond my expectations. I expected to find few sympathizers (or none at all), since the topic(s) I tackle aren’t really intended for casual conversation. Atheism, agnosticism, skepticism, criticism are all subjects people fear to discuss, and with good reason. Persecution of the non-religious is perhaps the last bastion of true religious injustice. Atheism is the last remaining belief system that is not acknowledged by the government as a marginalized spiritual minority that deserves certain protections. (Okay, maybe Satanism or Vonnegut’s Bokononism are behind Atheism as far as government recognition goes).

Feeling utterly alone (and being okay with it), I continued my rampage of the Internet and found something surprising. The Atheist Blogroll has compiled a list of well over 1,000 blogs in the realm of atheism/skepticism. I found a few I particularly like, one in particular that I’d like to discuss: Deity Shmeity




I enjoyed this blog in particular because of how quickly the design caught my eye. Clearly the author (Grundy, as he is known on the web) is much more graphically capable than I am.

                               

And also much more humorous. I admit I can be a bit dry and analytical in my delivery at times. As a life long introvert, I’m afraid my formal style is here to stay. But Grundy is to Atheism as Grumio is to Shakespeares’s Taming of the Shrew. Witty, intelligent, sarcastic at times, and never fails to make the reader laugh even in the midst of a serious situation. I am relieved that Grundy possesses such brilliance even after his strict Catholic education and experiences with Christian Science in his young life.  

While his career is based in Advertising, Grundy still finds time to post two or three times per week. And his posts feature a great mix of lengthy, thought provoking essays, as well as shorter thoughts based around a funny image. And his audience clearly enjoys his style, seeing as every post has at least a couple comments. In many cases, discussion between readers breaks out, and Grundy fuels the interactive environment by taking part in the conversation.  

Deity Shmeity has instilled in me a good feeling that atheists of all colors are out there and willing to speak up. Just as there are good Christians and bad Christians, good Muslims and bad Muslims, there will also be good and bad Atheists. But with blogs like my own, and Deity Shmeity, hopefully we can create a diverse community of analytical individuals who are willing to question, learn, and debate.

My hope for my own blog is to use logic so sound, that even the religious can’t deny the foundations of my arguments. Grundy’s approach is different: though still very logical, I worry his use of humor may immediately deter religious individuals from reading further. They may feel personally attacked or mocked rather than curious.




 And I’ll admit that I can be hostile as well (my criticism of Jesus Camp ensures that the Evangelicals will not be visiting this page). But between Grundy, myself, and everyone in between, we have all the bases covered. And hopefully, we’ll reach out to the doubtful and convert them to logic and reason. (If that doesn’t work, we could always send our young men on door-to-door conversion missions. That seems to work, right?)



Monday, March 4, 2013

Class is in Session

Surprise! It's Video Day. 





Well worth 10 minutes of your time. Everything I attempted to convey in my post referencing Jesus Camp, but more eloquently expressed and visually appealing by Xandar's Meteor.

I found the video via @RichardDawkins. To my surprise, Twitter can be rather resourceful (if you know who to "follow", though frankly I hate that Twitter deems its members "followers", but social media can only do so much).

Also, if you have 20 minutes to spare (30 in total if you watch both, and I can almost guarantee that the telly offers no half hour programs worth watching on a Monday evening), this TED talk by Alain de Botton is brilliant.

video

Clearly, I've been fervently surfing the web and have much more to share in due time.

Working on a new post as well, should be up before the day is out.

Cheers,
Mendelssohn




Sunday, February 24, 2013

Internet Revitalized


While doing some research on the web the other day, I came across a site that revitalized the beauty of the Internet. I was becoming increasingly concerned that the Internet (which was invented to simplify the exchange of knowledge and to increase accessibility of academic information) no longer serves its intended purpose, and instead has become merely a cesspool of social networking. The website Diigo.com, however, exhibits social networking at its finest.

You can easily figure out the details of the site by playing around with it, so I’ll shall spare you of an in depth explanation. Instead, I’ll tell you why I personally find it useful.

As an individual with a less than popular opinion on religion, I don’t often come across people who share my beliefs just by chance. I can Google search topics, but then only the big names show up in the results: Dawkins, Dennet, Harris… But with Diigo, I can find a multitude of everyday individuals who share my interests and exchange ideas and information with them simply by bookmarking pages I find interesting.

So, upon searching for some likeminded individuals, I entered “psychology, philosophy, science, religion, atheism” and voila, hundreds of matches. One of the first results was for a user named Todd Suomela, who was one of very few to include both a short bio and a profile picture (of a stormy blue and orange sky, naturally). Intrigued, I clicked on the link to Todd’s library to find that he has bookmarked over 13,000 web pages! And he adds new ones daily, sometimes more than one a day.

I realized at this point that this guy could save me a lot of time. I can search tags for topics he has bookmarked to find things that interest me, without having to sift through thousands of pages on a search engine. Better yet, for instances where I’m really pressed for time, Todd has highlighted and annotated articles.

For example, Todd bookmarked an article from 2007 written by Jonathan Haidt entitled “MORAL PSYCHOLOGY AND THE MISUNDERSTANDING OF RELIGION”. It’s somewhat lengthy and I stumbled across it (via Todd) at a point in time where I was much too occupied to read the whole thing. But through Diigo, Todd had highlighted about 5 takeaway points from the article. These highlights made me realize that the article would be worth returning to, so I did.

Haidt argues that, while he is an atheist himself, Dawkins and Harris have been too unforgiving of modern religious conservatives. In their respective books, Dawkins and Harris argue that religion does much more harm than good in establishing a moral framework. Haidt, disagrees, noting that religion does foster morality, but a different kind of morality from the secular liberals’ idea.

Sam Harris wrote a response article both for his own defense and to support the ideals of the “new atheists”. He retorts that Haidt had simply misunderstood the comments on the religious conservative sect and that in reality, the new atheists simple feel “the point is that religion remains the only mode of discourse that encourages grown men and women to pretend to know things they manifestly do not (and cannot) know”.

I found this debate fascinating, primarily because it featured opposing members of the same team. And since the two articles are from over five years ago, I likely would not have found them easily without the unsolicited and voluntary help of my Diigo friend, Todd.

The other major benefit of this site and of searching through users is that you can access interesting information you may never have searched for on your own. In Todd’s bookmarks, I came across the WordPress blog of a teacher about her experimentation with different teaching methods. I doubt I’d have ever come across something so obscure and interesting without Todd’s recommendation. And this is only one user of the site. Diggo has thousands of users, and hundreds that match the interests I searched. I look forward to seeing what else I can find. I’m thrilled that websites like this exist to revitalize the true beauty of social networking and worldwide communication.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Children are Always Learning


 But Parents Don’t Realize They’re Always Teaching

In the early years of life before adolescence, the human mind is only capable of inductive reasoning. Logic as an overarching rule for thought processes does not yet exist, and children must make inferences about the way the world works through direct stimuli. Abstract thought and meta-cognition develop along with deductive logic in the early teen years. Without these abilities, children accept the teachings of their elders as truth, since they lack the ability to discover these truths for themselves. 


This is why it is so easy for parents to convince their children that Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, and perhaps God, all exist. Until a classmate or older sibling shatters the illusion, the child believes in these mythical figures with their parents pretending to believe as well, for the child’s sake. Eventually the child’s parents renounce all “mythical” (perhaps “invisible” is more suitable in this sense) figures and their practices, except for one: God. This is largely why children, even as they progress into adolescence, follow the religion of their parents without much question.

Let’s say a 3rd grader is told by his peers, “Santa Claus is not real”. He returns home after school and asks his parents if this is true. His parents knew this time would come, and tell their child the truth.

The same 3rd grader is later told by his peers, “God doesn’t exist”. Again, he asks his parents if this is true. But this time his parents, who have raised him to believe in God, are believers themselves. They confidently tell their son that God is real, God is good, but not all the other kids believe in the same God the same way. Confused but comforted, the 3rd grader proceeds through his life following in his parents’ religious footsteps.

Whether it’s wrong or right, the problem here is not that the child will grow up to follow or not follow any given religion. The issue is that in many instances the individual is not choosing their religion because they think it’s right. They think their religion is right because it’s all they’ve ever known.

It’s kind of like Huxley’s Brave New World. Hypnopaedia has youngsters of every caste being trained while they sleep to believe their caste is the best, so that when they grow into adulthood, there is no civil unrest. “It’s great to be a Beta. Almost as smart as the Alphas, but with less responsibility. And Betas are much, much smarter than Deltas…” 

Children are not necessarily a tabula rasa, but perhaps a lump of clay. A parent may only have so much to work with from the outset. But every lump of clay can either be carefully tended to or shaped into something beautiful, or left to be distorted by the harsh weather of the world around it.

The scary thing is, this applies to much more than verbal instruction. Children acquire information and learn behaviors even when they are not verbally instructed. Observational learning (most famously displayed by Albert Bandura’s Bobo doll experiment), better known as “monkey see, monkey do”, is one of the major ways that children learn behavior. Correcting this phenomenon with “do as I say, not as I do” doesn’t work. Children learn even when you don’t want them to be learning. Every stimulus a child is exposed to has a magnified effect, more powerful the younger they are. And if parents don’t fill in the gaps with truthful answers to questions and explanations for behaviors, the child will fill the gaps in themselves. And to them, mommy and daddy are always right.
To be continued.

-Mendelssohn 

Friday, February 8, 2013

The Children are Our Future...


"So Let's Make Sure They're Just Like Us!" 


Perhaps I’ve been a bit hasty in judging religious culture. There is really only one overarching issue posed by religion: indoctrination. Young minds develop around the religion of their parents. Toddlers, knowing nothing of the world, rely on the wisdom of their parents to guide them safely through the unfamiliar world. Accordingly, young children have no choice but to regard their parents’ words as fact.

The documentary Jesus Camp is a prime example of this problematic indoctrination. Take the following clip for example: Evangelical Christians home school their children to shelter them from science and other beliefs outside their own.



Later in the film, Levi states that he could never befriend or get along with anyone who wasn’t Christian. Perhaps had he gone to school away from home, his closed-mindedness toward other beliefs would not be quite so pervasive. But from a very young age, the children in Jesus Camp are trained to be members of “God’s Army”, and the issue extends to politics. The Evangelical Christian voting block is 99.9% Republican, solely for the right wing’s promise to keep God in government. There are many political issues (beyond religion) that members of this voting block may never acknowledge, and certainly won’t ever consider when casting their ballot. 

By keeping their children from experiencing the world freely and making their own judgments, the parents of Jesus Camp are breeding an army of religious drones guided only by the word of God and their overbearing parents.

Or overbearing preachers for that matter; take for instance Becky Fischer, the pastor who runs the Jesus Camp for the Evangelical children and their families. Undeniably a passionate and powerful speaker, Fischer has kids in tears as she washes their hands of sin and deems Harry Potter an enemy of God.



A colleague of Becky Fischer is Pastor Ted Haggard. Pastor Ted is another fabulous Christian speaker, but is better known for his 2006 gay prostitute scandal. Oh, and he admitted to purchasing some meth from time to time.

Point being, no one is perfect. There is no reason to raise children to believe that “our way is the only way”. Without exposing yourself to opposing beliefs and ideas, there is no opportunity for progress. Dissent is the precursor to discussion, which is the precursor to resolution.

For reasons they don’t understand, religious zealots hate opposing religious zealots and start violent and political wars instead of just accepting the inevitable and necessary impasse. Nearly every war in history began with one religion’s disapproval of another. Everyone thinks their religion is the “right” one, but even if this were the case, how does killing, hating, and terrorizing members of other religions help anyone at all? If kids were brought up to take pride in their religion without disrespecting the spirituality of others, we’d have a much more peaceful world.

Take the war in Northern Ireland: decades of violent conflict between the Protestant British majority and Catholic Irish minority. The conflict didn’t begin to reach a resolution until the Protestants realized that the Catholic prohibition of birth control would soon leave them outnumbered. And to this day there is bad blood between the Catholics and Protestants in the UK.

The resolution is simple. Let kids learn, let them explore, and let them learn for themselves what is the right way to practice their chosen religion. So much of an adult’s life is reflective of their upbringing. This issue is not widely regarded as crucial, but in weeks to come I will discuss the importance of childhood and proper parenting. But without a doubt, the absolute worst thing for a child is indoctrination. Children should enjoy the right to question, critique, and examine, for this is the beauty of higher intelligence! 

-Mendelssohn 

Friday, February 1, 2013

Religiolution


Why Religion Persists Against All Odds  

Any middle school science student can tell you about Gregor Mendel’s peas and Charles Darwin’s finches. But there is much more to heredity than genotypes coding phenotypes, and there is much more to evolution than survival of the fittest.

Reproduction is every organism’s ultimate goal. But why would an organism aware of its own imminent death pass the suffering on to a new generation? Similarly, why would complex organisms, humans for example, behave humanely toward their own kind, or other kinds, if their demise were unalterable?

The religious sect is indoctrinated by a centuries old state of mind that was created to numb the people’s overwhelming fear of death. When humans evolved enough to develop feelings, language, complex thought, logic, etc., we also gained awareness of our own mortality. To temper the fear enough for our species to continue to reproduce, religion was created.

Christianity and the Bible serve as a framework for morality. Without a strict handbook to distinguish right from wrong, many people would not behave rightfully. The strongest animal instinct is self-preservation; protecting one’s own life is the only law of nature. But with religion, the human priority becomes serving God, more so than preserving and bettering one’s own life.

In a more primitive world, living by the code of a higher being would be an advantage for species survival. Christianity motivates the human species to join forces and serve God in the quest for eternal life. The moral guidelines of Christianity (theoretically) keep people from killing one another, and instead band the savages together for a common cause. There is power in numbers, and a large community is much stronger than living individually.

As the community expands and becomes knit more tightly, the Christian doctrine becomes more central to the identity of the group. Members are welcomed and protected, non-members are excluded. In today’s world where politics conquer nature, non-membership in a powerful group doesn’t really qualify as a life-threatening issue; you can simply join a minority faction and get a long just fine despite some potential political marginalization. But in a pre-political society, when the land was governed by natural right, being an individual could hinder your odds of survival.

Even in the pre-modern, but certainly civilized, era (i.e. Renaissance, Enlightenment, Scientific Revolution), scholars of the time identified as “theologians” for fear of being sentenced to death by the Catholic crown. The government and church were so intertwined that excommunication from the church was synonymous with capital punishment. Refer to Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion for a more specific list of suspected atheistic scientists.

In the modern world you won’t exactly be killed or exiled for admitting you’re not Christian, but there are still consequences. Identifying with an Abrahamic religion has become such a norm that people are wary to admit otherwise. The stigma attached to Atheism is more negative than any other group. Surveys have suggested that Atheists are the most hated group in the United States; Muslims and gays rank higher. Additionally, less than .1% of the population admits to being Atheist.

The God Delusion provides evidence that many of today’s scholars and politicians merely wear the mask of Christianity to earn research sponsorship or voters, respectively. The stereotype of Atheism is that it goes hand-in-hand with immorality and Satanism. Accordingly, no politician is willing to run on the Atheist ticket, even if they are one. This is similar to the phenomenon featured in the documentary Outrage, in which a team of bloggers “outed” hypocritical gay Republican politicians who voted against their true constituency to maintain their political image. But lucky for the LGBT community, the public seems to be gearing toward a more liberal view of sexuality. Sadly, Atheists still feel the need to hide; for centuries there has been no way to live in the Western World at all except as a Christian.

But humanity has progressed and we don’t need God anymore. We don’t need the idea of God anymore to keep people civil. This is not to say that religion should be eliminated; it still serves many moral and social purposes for those who really do need a deistic influence in their life. But for those too intelligent to have real faith, don’t force it. It is natural to fear death, and it is natural that this fear drives even the smartest among us to believe in God. Reason burns in the mind and belly of the intellectual, but even the intellectual will suppress logic in search of eternal life.         

-Mendelssohn 
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