Wednesday, August 29, 2007

A fate worse than hell

I've just finished watching an hour-long BBC documentary - in six segments on YouTube, here's the link to part 1 - about the Westboro Baptist Church. This is the small religious community in Kansas headed by Fred Phelps and made up mostly of his family.

I tell you, I've never see a horror movie that scared me more. Just the idea that there are people out there (over 70 of them!) who honestly believe what they believe is terrifying. It completely astounds me that someone can say, in all seriousness, that the sky-god made 9-11 happen because America tolerates homosexuality. They say they rejoice whenever anything bad happens to anyone because it's sky-god's work in action, wreaking his judgment. The younger generation doesn't even consider the option of marriage and children. What's the use, they say...the end-time is coming very soon and all of "this" will be destroyed. They firmly believe that the 70 of them there in Topeka, Kansas are the only people in the world who are going to heaven because everyone else loves gays and worships the dead so we're all going to burn in hell for all eternity. And they say it while laughing at you.

But the thing that has brought all the attention on them, that has made them "the most hated family in America," is the fact that they picket outside the funerals of fallen soldiers, waving flags and singing songs about how "god hates fags" and "America is doomed."

I just can't get my head around the fact that people can really, honestly believe that stuff. It's almost as impossible for me to conceive of as a sky-god is...the only difference being that I have the evidence of the Phelps family right in front of my eyes. Truth really is stranger than fiction.

There were scenes in the documentary showing people passing by in cars, giving them the finger, screaming obscenities at them, and you could just feel how strong their anger was against these monsters who are being so disrespectful of the dead and their families. I kept wondering what I would do if I drove by one of those picket lines. I wish I could think of something so scathing, so undeniably true, so cutting, that they would pack up their evil signs and go home and drink poisoned Kool-aid in remorse.

I wish I could fix it so these hateful, deluded psychotics would have just a moment's awareness after they die to see that there's nothing there. Nothing. Just blankness. No glory, no sky-god waiting with open arms to lead them through the pearly gates. No eternal comfort in the knowledge that everyone else down there on earth was burning in hell. Wouldn't it be the perfect punishment? Even going to hell, for them, would be preferable to that, because they'd figure the sky-god had some reason for it, they must have done something to deserve it. To find out that even hell doesn't exist would be the worst punishment imaginable.

Oh, I wish I could make that happen.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Atheism -- it ain't for sissies

I kind of envy believers. That's not something you'd expect most atheists to admit to, but maybe I'm a little different from most atheists.

The reason I envy believers is that they're so comfortable in their belief that they'll go to heaven when they die. They'll rejoin lost loved ones, live in paradise for all eternity and never suffer hardship or disease or pain ever again. Many of them actually look forward to dying.

And that's why atheism ain't for sissies. Because every day we live with the fact that this is all there is, baby. There ain't no afterlife, there ain't no great reward. No lounging around on climate-controlled clouds for all eternity eating bon-bons and playing canasta with Mother Theresa.

Being an atheist is like living in a drafty cabin at the top of some remote mountaintop. There's no room for delusions and you sure can't pretend the doorbell is going to ring and some heavenly pizza guy is going to deliver you from evil. Being an atheist means you're mostly on your own. There's not that many of us out there - about 18% in Canada, and far fewer in the U.S. Then again, it's hard to say how accurate any stats on atheism are because many studies lump the "non-religious" and the agnostics in with atheists. I strongly feel that atheism should not be lumped in with agnosticism. They're very different things.

Being an atheist is a wee bit like being gay. You mostly have to keep your atheism to yourself in case someone is offended enough by it to make your life difficult or unpleasant. I don't deliberately try to keep my atheism a secret, but I haven't been in the habit of going around making it a public issue. I'm not ashamed of being an atheist, but I usually don't bring it up unless it's logical to do so in a conversation. That may change. This blog is the first step in that.

It just seems to me that the faithful are doing far too much damage and getting far too much power. The separation between church and state, especially in the U.S., is becoming almost impossible to distinguish. The fanatics are getting more fanatical and the results of that are becoming more and more frightening and dangerous. I think it's time for me to stop being so coy about being an atheist.

In this blog I will not refer to "God" or "Allah" as proper nouns. If I ever do use the word god, it will be as a regular noun. A god, a deity, whatever . I will refer to the deity of the Christians or the deity of the Muslims, etc. I may use the term sky-god.

I'm becoming tired of what Sam Harris speaks of as a taboo against challenging people's faith. We've all been brought up to think that it's highly improper to discuss religion in polite society or to *gasp* suggest that you think someone's religion is nothing more than mythology. I think it's time to break that taboo, regularly and firmly, while maintaining a firm adherence to diplomacy and reason.

One of the things I really dislike about most of the atheist "experts" like Richard Dawkins is that they can become quite nasty at times in their refutation of religion. I don't think that's necessary. Personally, I'm not here to destroy religion. But I would like to destroy the stranglehold it has on the minds of most of the world, the damage it's doing to all of us, and its presence in our political spheres. I am willing to live peacefully with the faithful if they're willing to keep their faith contained within reasonable boundaries.

And that is how I feel personally. I will leave you with a definition of atheism that I found on the internet:

The following definition of Atheism was given to the Supreme Court of the United States in the case of Murray v. Curlett, 374 U.S. 203, 83 S. Ct. 1560, 10 L.Ed.2d (MD, 1963), to remove reverential Bible reading and oral unison recitation of the Lord's Prayer in the public schools.

“Your petitioners are Atheists and they define their beliefs as follows. An Atheist loves his fellow man instead of god. An Atheist believes that heaven is something for which we should work now – here on earth for all men together to enjoy.

An Atheist believes that he can get no help through prayer but that he must find in himself the inner conviction, and strength to meet life, to grapple with it, to subdue it and enjoy it.

An Atheist believes that only in a knowledge of himself and a knowledge of his fellow man can he find the understanding that will help to a life of fulfillment.

He seeks to know himself and his fellow man rather than to know a god. An Atheist believes that a hospital should be built instead of a church. An Atheist believes that a deed must be done instead of a prayer said. An Atheist strives for involvement in life and not escape into death. He wants disease conquered, poverty vanquished, war eliminated. He wants man to understand and love man.

He wants an ethical way of life. He believes that we cannot rely on a god or channel action into prayer nor hope for an end of troubles in a hereafter.

He believes that we are our brother's keepers; and are keepers of our own lives; that we are responsible persons and the job is here and the time is now.”