Shaking Things Up: Atheism and Buddhism


Now some time ago, I wrote in a post that I would be studying up on Eastern religions and their concept of God; because, typical arguments against God in the West only really work towards the monotheistic Western deity of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Now, I have been reading up quite a bit between my studies at university. I can’t say that I’m finished studying up on these interesting and highly complex religions, but I will go over where I am, personally, at the moment.

Let me start out by saying, I was always leaning more towards existential nihilism to begin with and less towards humanism. Humanism sounds great, but for various reasons I found it problematic. Maybe I just don’t share Humanism’s optimism, but I digress.

So let’s talk about Buddhism. Buddhism, unlike many religions doesn’t require an all powerful, all good, and all knowing creator. Now, this doesn’t mean Buddhism is naturalistic. To assume this, would be far from the truth.

There is no “soul” and the “self” is an illusion, but the mind is not materialistic in nature. It is eternal, and we have all been through an infinite amount of deaths and rebirths due to bad karma. (Karma here being the law of cause and effect.) The earth is not the only place one can be reborn. Minds can be reborn in the lower realms, “hells,” or higher realms, “heavens.” Neither of the former are places people go for eternity.  However, the aim of Buddhism is to reach enlightenment, “nirvana,” and the end of the cycle of death and rebirth NOT to end up in heaven or hell.

Now, this is where the Buddha comes into play. The Buddha was someone who reached enlightenment, and then proceeded to teach others how to do so themselves. The idea is that we can all become buddhas.

Now perhaps interestingly, I, a materialistic nihilist, went to a Buddhist Sangha, a gathering of Buddhists. Why? Well, for one there is no better and easier way to learn about a religion than to go to their religious service. Secondly, I seek to meditate properly, as mediation has many beneficial effects. Thirdly, and most importantly, I am an open minded person.

I am starting to realize that the Buddhist view of human nature seems to be quite accurate. Human beings are not “fallen.” Still, every  intentional action has moral significance, and we would all be happier if we learn to control our mind. In a nutshell, it’s not the situation that’s the problem, it’s what we think about a given situation that’s a problem. If you think a situation is horrible, terrible, or unlivable it is. If you think the situation isn’t that bad after all you won’t suffer as much. Now, if you don’t believe me about the thinking part, consider asking any psychologist. I have. However, their supernatural claims are another story.

The Western monotheistic deity I, certainly, see as false. (See many of my other posts.) Still, I am playing around and toying with different ideas. I am not saying I am converting to Buddhism, but so far, it’s been fun!

 

 

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Objective Morality without God?


A typical argument for God from theists is that claim that without God there is no objective morality. The only morality, in this view, is Darwinian in nature, and some atheists actually agree. Most atheists, who I’ve heard, do not think there really is objective morality. Many people balk when they hear this. Of course, everyone wants to hear that pedophilia and murder are unequivocally wrong, and those deeds are actually wrong. The problem is using terms like “objective morality” in the first place.

I would argue that morality is more complicated than just either being objective or relative. Furthermore, I think the term “objective morality” is a little like the word “evil.” We want to call Hitler evil. We don’t want to think of him just as a bad person who did horrible things, but the term “evil” tends to evoke supernatural or other thinking that is not in the arena of reasonable thinking. Thus, I want to talk just about morality in general instead of arguing against objective morality. It’s just not a useful topic for what I’m trying to say, and I suspect discussing it is a less useful conversation than people tend to think.

What are morals? Morals, I suspect, had it’s origins in biology, but like I said before it’s more complicated than that. People are smart, and as such, inventive. Some amount of morality is certainly hardwired into us, but people are smart enough to out smart their biology. It’s too simple to say morality is objective, or morality is just an evolutionary byproduct. People can and have invented or changed what it means to be moral, as well. Slavery went on for a long time, but now it is seen, almost universally, as the terrible thing that it is.

The problem with morality now is that it still appears to be in it’s infancy. Many people disagree about morality. Many people use religion to decide what is moral. Others pick a moral philosophy, and still, others don’t even think about morality. We all have a long way to go, and I doubt we’ll ever reach perfection. However, my point is that morality is complicated. It’s more complicated than just biology. It’s as complicated as trying to figure what works best for humans individually and as a whole, which is no small task. Still, the shock people feel with atheists saying that there is no objective morality is not useful. The theist is simply shocking their audiences’ emotions, and atheists need to talk more clearly about morality.

Why I Disagree with Utilitarianism


Utilitarianism is, basically, the philosophical notion that our morality should consist of maximizing pleasure and minimizing suffering. At first glance, this sounds like a good idea. It certainly doesn’t sound nefarious. After all, who wouldn’t want “the most good for the most people.” However when taking utilitarian notions to their logical ends, leads me to say that I disagree with this philosophy.

For example, we can all agree with that the Holocaust was immoral, and of course, it wasn’t just immoral because it resulted in the death of millions. There were cruel and painful experiments forced on the victims. Now, take into consideration utilitarianism. If these cruel and unusual experiments could result in a large gain in pleasure, in the future, they are allowable. After all, the victims were going to die anyways, or so the argument could go. I cannot agree with this kind of logic.

Secondly, I don’t find utilitarianism practical. Utilitarians, usually, see the need to treat everyone equally, which sounds great, but it is problematic. Can anyone ever, really, value a stranger the same as they value their own mother? I doubt it.

As an atheist, I have to think critically about moral philosophy. I cannot just trust a book as infallible, and while I know utilitarianism is popular, I have to disagree with it. This is not to say I agree with Kant either. Instead, I find myself delving into other moral philosophies to try and find something I can salvage. I, also, find that the practicality of any moral philosophy is usually understated. What good is it to have a moral philosophy that is logically consistent but can’t be implemented?

For now, I will state where my thinking is. I am for differentiated caring, which I am stealing from Confucius. It is not that it is okay to not care about all people, but everyone, can’t value everyone equally, in my opinion. Thus, we should continue to value those close to us the most, but we shouldn’t stop caring for others with our spare emotional and materiel resources. I believe there are plenty of these spare resources around, and most of us are just selfish.

As always, let me know what you think!

 

 

Is God Evil?


“Killing must feel good to God, too. He does it all the time, and are we not created in his image?” -Hannibal Lecter from Hannibal

The above quote is from the short-lived show Hannibal, but it is very similar to quote from Lecter in the book Red Dragon by Thomas Harris.

Anyways, I’ve been reading the Hannibal Lecter series, and I’m well aware, as far as books go, the Lecter series is mostly just “junk” entertainment. Still, Hannibal’s view on God did make think. The God I usually consider is the western monotheistic concept of God. That is to say, he is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent. He’s also self existing and eternal. So, most of my arguments of God do not consider that western philosophy of religion and theology are patently wrong about the properties of the deity, but what if a deity that is evil or just simply not omnibenevolent existed?

Well, there would still be the problem of omniscience paired with omnipotence. However, the problem of evil would completely dissipate. I find this interesting.

Now, I know the Hindu deity Shiva is said to be both a destroyer and benevolent entity. It would be interesting to debunk Shiva or Shiva like conceptions of deities, but of course, I’m from the west. So, I haven’t had much need to do this.

I’m NOT saying I just converted to Hinduism. I still doubt there is a deity. What I am saying is that it is interesting, and it leads me to think that I haven’t paid enough attention to Hinduism as far their argument for a deity.

I think at base. We could manipulate any characteristics of God into anything we want, and we could call this entity a deity.Still, it would be a created entity and not a God.

I guess I’m rambling now, but I thought it was interesting. And, I thought I would share my thoughts with my readers. Please feel free to comment!

“War on Christmas:” It’s that Time of the Year


It’s that time of year again, and us atheists really need to decide on how we plan to ruin Christmas this year. (Obvious sarcasm.) Truthfully, I usually go on media blackout around December. I’m incredibly tired of hearing about the “War on Christmas,” “Keep  the Christ in Christmas,” ” It’s merry Christmas not happy holidays, “and more to ad nauseam.

1.) As far as the so-called war on Christmas is concerned, some of the things certain atheists have done certainly have been a little petty. Some of it has been completely justified, but I really think, most of the time, Christians really just need to get over it. I, for one, don’t like a lot of the religious billboards posted during Christmas, but you don’t hear complaining about a war on atheists. The US is not a theocracy, and people have free speech, sorry. People disagreeing isn’t war. I didn’t bomb your nativity scene.

2.) As far the angst felt by people being wished a happy holiday is concerned, do you even know what the word “holiday” means? It means holy day; although, admittedly, it has come to mean  any federal day off. Still, this not worth getting upset about. Personally, I don’t have a problem being wished a merry Christmas. Christmas is probably the most observed holiday, so it seems reasonable to fall back on that greeting. However, what’s wrong with people wanting more inclusive towards other people? At least, Christians get their major holidays off, as they are federal holidays. Other religions don’t receive that benefit, so using the greeting”happy holidays” is a small concession to make.

3.) It’s Christians who are ruining Christmas. Why do Christian radio stations have to play pop and rap versions of Christmas classics? It sounds terrible! The classics were classics for reason. (Yes, I’ve been known to enjoy “O come, O come, Emmanuel.”)  Plus, getting upset at every little Christmas inconvenience or annoyance ruins the so-called Christmas spirit.

Am I an Ebeneezer Scrooge? That’s quite possible. Have a happy holiday! (I was referring to Thanksgiving by the way.)

Conservative Media and “Secular Progressives”


It seems that the media hates atheist, especially conservative media such as Fox News and The Blaze. Apparently, all of us atheists are progressives. Progressive of course is almost a curse word in it self. Atheists are seen as aligned with the “far left.” Being both an atheist and a liberal would seem to be one of the worst things a person could be.

When pundits demonize a view, they often describe the opposing group as  “secular progressives.” Of course, they forget that many people who are pro-choice,pro-same sex marriage, and so on are in fact liberal Christians or true Libertarians. Both Christianity and being a Libertarian are usually seen as highly good attributes. It is as though the media forgets that not all Christians are conservative or what a Libertarian actually is.

Then of course, they claim that Christianity and America at large is under attack from these “secular progressives.” They seem to forget that Christians are in the overwhelming majority. However, what really bothers me is when they say they are being persecuted. No, they are not being persecuted. Christians in the pre-Constantine days of Rome were persecuted NOT Christians in the United States today.

Yes, many atheists are very concerned about the separation of church and state, but this is a legitimate issue. I guarantee that if Christians lived in Muslim dominated society, which had separation of church and state, they would be fighting to impose it. As an atheists, if this were they case, I would help the Christians’ cause.

As far I am concerned as well as others, I don’t have a problem with Christians. I have a problem with Christianity and political dogmas being forced upon the population. People, for the most part, should be allowed to do and think as they please. That’s called freedom. If I recall correctly, that’s a value the founding father’s would have fought and died for.

The Burden of Proof


Recently, I hosted an AMA entitled, “Ask an Atheist.” I only received one question and not from a theist. (Hey, I tried.) This person asked about how to respond when a theist tries to shift the burden of proof onto the atheist. I’ve seen this done on YouTube debates, particularly with William Lane Craig.

I think, to be honest, that this is a dishonest move. Usually, the theist will try and define atheist as a positive claim that “God does not exist.” This is, instead of, atheism being defined as a “lack of belief.” Many times the theist might try to claim that history or language back up their claim. The theist, then, may try and get the atheist to claim agnosticism, or they might outright derail the debate by demanding proof that a deity does not exist.

My response? It doesn’t matter what the history of the word atheism is, and the theist is not in  the position to define atheism. What do I mean? First, words evolve over time, and even if the word atheist meant something different in the past, it means “lack of belief” now. Why? Lack of belief is the common way the word is now used. When someone tells a fellow unbeliever that she is an atheist, the unbeliever will understand it as “lack of belief.” Secondly, what matters is what a person means when they use a particular word, especially when they are describing themselves. A theist is not in a position to start labeling the atheist. It is up to the atheist to explain their views and describe themselves NOT the theist. Unless the plan is to bring a psychologist to the stage to interview the atheist, the person who knows the atheist best is the atheist.

Furthermore, if the atheist were using the term atheist to both mean “there is no God” and “lack of belief in God,” that would be dishonest on the atheist’s part. Only then, would a debate over the term atheist be justified. I can see no other reason why the theist would have a legitimate reason to try and argue over what the word atheist means.