Blasphemy In Our Agnostic Nation

Religious beliefs and our rights of free expression to criticize those beliefs are on my mind lately with the Charlie Hebdo shooting. Fanatical believers tried to enforce religious blasphemy laws with their own hands in countries that don’t have those laws in their government.

I watched with interest as devout Christians in the US supported the right to be blasphemous against Islam even though the same people have cried about the need to restrict free speech when their beliefs were criticized or mocked. Some examples are in this Salon article about 5 times the right flipped out over blasphemous depictions of Christianity.

all great truths begin as blasphemies

Those Christians often try to claim the USA as a Christian Nation despite our clearly secular government. We even have Mike Huckabee claiming the country has become a secular theocracy which he needs to fight. The argument for a Christian Nation usually centers on the beliefs of the founding fathers and the majority of our citizens regardless of what was actually codified in the constitution and laws. It shouldn’t be disputable, but Huckabee claims our country’s laws (from and for the people) are actually the natural laws of his jealous God who demands no other gods before him. No thank you!

The “nation” isn’t actually secular. We have an awful lot of individual religiosity permeating our communities while our government and laws are supposed to remain neutral. We can’t ignore this fact in the unbelieving minority. The laws clearly allow us to not believe as the majority does while they also allow for the free exercise of religions by individuals and groups. This causes much confusion in government and the public square as we balance an overall freedom of religion with individual freedoms to do as they wish while not being forced to go along with other beliefs or disbeliefs.

Mike Huckabee’s call for a God-centered nation with God-given laws is equivalent to Muslim desires for Sharia law. It’s sad that so many Christians don’t see that purely biblical law has no place in our free and democratic society even though they’re free to use it in their churches. They can ban birth control and gay marriage in their church but they should quit trying to push those religious-based rules on the country. Democracy isn’t compatible with any type of theocracy and that includes Huckabee’s invention of a secular theocracy.

Freedom of religion doesn’t mean every public square should be devoid of religious expression. The public square is for the use of the public to come together as communities and hopefully celebrate their differences. Like it or not, a variety of religious expression is a part of being an American and that includes our non-Christian religions and non-religious lack of beliefs. Tax dollars shouldn’t be directly funneled to support any of these viewpoints. The right model is the town square that allows a variety of privately funded holiday displays. Street parades should be allowed for veterans, ethnic pride, gay pride, Christian pride, science, and everything else we can celebrate in this country! Banning all viewpoints to promote a sterile unbiased secular government is un-American.

In belief or disbelief, we should all be able to honestly agree that nobody truly knows. Nothing on the belief scale rises to the standard of knowledge. If everyone else can claim what type of nation we are then I can propose the most inclusive label. I see the United States as an Agnostic Nation with a secular government full of agnostic theists and agnostic atheists. Let’s have so much religious freedom that we all remain free to believe in ways that are blasphemous against other religions just as our neighbors are free to be blasphemous against our beliefs and disbeliefs.

The Muslim and Mike Huckabee alternatives to our blasphemous freedoms could take our nation to a theocratic society that’s simply too scary to imagine. Yes, Christians, a Christian Nation would be a terrible thing. All you have to do is pick a denomination you disagree with (Catholic? Mormon?) and imagine their religious leaders telling you how to live your life. Would you really want that?

Happiness and Religion

Religion has been described as the opiate of the masses. A recent study finds that religious people are much happier than others. Those “others” are all of us non-believers not going to church and not talking to a powerful imaginary friend. Are we missing out on a good opiate that increases happiness in our lives?

The study doesn’t give a clear answer:

The correlation between religiosity and happiness is clear, but explanations of the connection and possible causal relationship are less clear. One theory suggests that the social support that religious communities can provide may be a key factor contributing to increased happiness, since “religious Americans are more apt to be involved in their communities.” Yet even here, the study found “that those who attend religious services often are happier than their peers with similar levels of involvement in the community.”

I always assumed it was the common bond and support of a community that added to their happiness. The study has been repeated and still holds true so there must be something to it. It obviously doesn’t prove religion is right but it does show religion provides an extra something to people’s happiness that simply not being religious doesn’t replace. It’s something to think about during religious holidays with our secular observances. The article ends with:

One could almost predict that many of those celebrating Christmas will be merry, those observing Hanukkah will be happy, but those only recognizing the “holidays” will have a little less cause for rejoicing.

I’d like to see a study that delves into those that simply drop religion and ground themselves in humanity and atheism. I like to think I’m not just that kind of person. I still live in awe of the universe and the mystery of our existence.

Where atheism tears downs the wonder and miracle of it all, agnosticism simply says we don’t understand it. The human described gods aren’t the answer but no god at all isn’t necessarily the answer either. I just don’t know. Freethought should allow for all of us to believe as we choose as we’re all just trying to figure it out.

I marvel at the mystery of it all during winter solstice, Yule, Christmas, or whatever this season is to me. I’m thankful to be alive and have my family and friends. I hope that whatever makes you happy with religions or no religions isn’t hurting anyone else and that you all are free to be yourselves. I wish for freethought and joy for everyone during this winter season!

winter happiness

The Last Question

It’s interesting how ideas flow around and echo off each other. I had read Scott Adam’s God’s Debris in the past decade and wrote about it here before. I completely forgot about a somewhat similar short story from Isaac Asimov called The Last Question. I must have read it as a Christian teenager since I read most everything from him at that point of my life. I saw this story referenced today on Reddit and now I’ve read it again after losing my Christianity. I think I need to reread Asimov with fresh agnostic eyes because it gave some new meaning to the story for me.

Both stories describe the collective intellect of the universe as the intellectual spark for it’s own existence. Both are beautiful examples of plausible reasons for the universe existing if there is a reason. The universe doesn’t require a reason to exist but it is interesting to contemplate some possible reasons. I find these sorts of stories more compelling and believable than the primitive religions and mythologies of our ancestors. No story should be believed just because it’s somewhat plausible. All of the various fictions from science and religion are excellent food for thought for open-minded agnostics searching for reason in chaos.

On this same day I happened to watch a documentary about Stephen Hawking including his theory of the Big Bang from a singularity. I can imagine the singularity being placed more directly into the end of Asimov’s story after having just read it again. Entropy had to reach it’s chaotic end for it to be reversed by the universe’s collective consciousness surviving in hyperspace in the story. The collective intellect of everything figured out how to recreate itself in an endlessly pulsating existence of entropy and chaos. Sure, it’s just science fiction but I think it’s an interesting fable better than any of the popular religions I see around me. I guess I’m just weird like that.

This story is currently living on the Internet at Multivax.com. I can imagine an artificial intelligence taking in these stories in the future and working through the logic to see if they could become a reality. I asked God many questions when I was a believer and God never answered. Google answers all kinds of questions for me now so I trust the wisdom of the Internet over the wisdom of ancient text. You can ask Multivax how to reverse entropy and it currently answers just like in the story:

There is as yet insufficient data for a meaningful answer

Is it a sign that one day it will say “let there be light” like Asimov’s prophecy predicts? :-) I jest, but there’s bits of truth in fiction and humor. If religious people can selectively pick out their bits of truth in religious texts then why can’t I pick out truth as revealed to us in science fiction?

There is as yet insufficient data for a meaningful answer. IInsufficient data for meaningful answert’s an appropriate answer for many questions that religions claim to answer. Why do we exist? How did it come to be? What is outside of or before this universe? What is my purpose for living? We don’t have the simple answers so we should keep collecting data.

There is as yet insufficient data for a meaningful answer. Perhaps this should be an agnostic’s mantra.

Hawkings and many other brilliant minds are collecting the right kind of impartial data to answer the grand questions. Asimov and other imaginative minds contribute additional considerations to spark our curiosities and expand our thinking. Hawkings and Asimov are more inspirational teachers of possible truths than any religious teachers I’ve ever encountered.

Eventually we may know enough and think big enough to some day understand existence. Perhaps, through a universal awareness and understanding, we could in the end create our own existence in the beginning. It’s not really that strange of a notion to consider infinite time and space folding back on itself so the end is the beginning is the end. It’s an interesting thought and one of the many reasons I’m happy to simply call myself agnostic to describe the limits of our human knowledge.

 

An Agnostic at the Vatican Museums

DSC_0366I recently visited the Vatican Museums in Rome, Italy. It was a revealing experience as an agnostic and ex-Catholic. I was surprised to see so many antiquities related to the mythological religions of the Romans, Greeks, and Egyptians. Viewing them with the related collections of Catholic antiquities served as a visual allegory revealing the underlying truth of religions. All of the Christian art and symbology fit well with the rest of the collection to tell us that it was all developed from human imagination. They simply stand together as the mythologies of our ancestors. We’re often told by religious people that we just need to open our eyes and the truth will be revealed to us. I was open to whatever messages were around me and this is what I took away from my Vatican visit.

sarcophagus relief

Sarcophagus front for a married couple with Hades door ajar from 240/250 AD

Our tour guide told us this rich couple had this sarcophagus front made to depict their journey to death escorted by Zeus and Hera. It’s not unique to claim the gods have a personal interest in our lives and deaths. This couple believed they were special and they had the money to memorialize it. Doesn’t this center of the universe viewpoint sound familiar? Don’t we see echoes of this human vanity over and over again in other religions where the god or gods exist relative to our own simple existence?

The tour guide said the partially open doors symbolizes we don’t know what’s beyond the doors in death since we can’t see what’s through those doors. The partially open doors are a fitting allegory for agnosticism describing our lack of knowledge about death until we pass through the doors. I saw many Christian depictions of crossing over to death in the rest of the museums, St Peter’s Basilica, and the Sistine Chapel. They also spoke to me about our lack of true knowledge regarding our deaths.

We’re not allowed to take pictures in the Sistine Chapel but you can see and read about Michelangelo’s paintings including the Creation of Adam and Last Judgement elsewhere. I was told he used real people as models for these scenes. Once again we see how we project our common selves into grand stories and mythologies. How this art was created serves as an example of this.

Traditional art of Michelangelo’s time depicted people dressed according to their social status. He reveals a deeper truth by stripping humans bare and equalizing us in our nudity. The Last Judgement showed final journeys into heaven and hell but I didn’t feel any profound revelation by this any differently than the sarcophagus above. Reading the Bible describing this scene is as revealing as reading about the ancient mythologies. You can not only see but also feel the similarities of these beliefs when you physically put them together like this. The experience deepened my feeling of agnosticism if it can be described in those terms.

I didn’t find any profound truths when I viewed all of these things together through the lens of agnosticism which is accepting the limits of human knowledge regarding anything supernatural. We’re often told by the religious that we just need faith. We shouldn’t view reality through the lens of blind faith and accept the mysterious unknown as a truth. We should judge reality with impartial logic. The requirement for faith to believe in religious claims perfectly describes the lack of verifiable facts or truths in those claims. I put my faith in knowledge and visiting the Vatican only served to strengthen my faith in knowledge.

Death & Reincarnation

There’s a new website being built by an Agnostic called The Nurtured Agnostic. Check it out for it’s quick little overviews of beliefs and keep an eye on it for contributing to the agnostic dialog and our collective exploration of truth.

The author claims to be an agnostic deist so there are already a few beliefs there that go beyond the bounds of primary agnosticism. I always find religious people cherry-picking what they believe with their faith so I shouldn’t be surprised to find agnostics selectively adding faith-based beliefs to their acknowledgement of the limits of human knowledge. The Nurtured Agnostic believes in Near Death Experiences and Reincarnation.

Well, what do we actually know about Near Death Experiences (NDEs)? The first thing I imagine is that a Near Anything Experience isn’t an achievement of that state. Could I feel almost like a vapor or a vampire? I wouldn’t be a full vapor that pulled myself back into a human form like Dracula or become the actual bloodsucking undead just because I almost feel like it.

What about an out of body experience? I’ve woken up feeling like I fell back into myself but the feeling in my body doesn’t prove anything happened outside of it. We often take something we don’t understand and project something we know over it. My brain can throw the sensation of falling over some odd feeling in my body or my mind I was having as I slept and dreamed. I do know that dreams aren’t physical realities and NDEs could be something from a dream state.

The state of nearly being dead is the same state as still being alive with at least a partially functioning brain. Complete brain death is when our synapses are no longer firing. Electricity and chemicals in the brain no longer flow and the storm of consciousness and thoughts ceases to exist.

If the laws of thermodynamics are correct then the energy of our consciousness is returned to the universe. It doesn’t make sense to me that it retains any sort of cohesion when we die since it currently exists in a physical structure (the brain) and appears to require that structure to work. I honestly don’t know because I haven’t died yet. I imagine being near death is the slipping away of that cohesion while still having a hold on consciousness. A NDE could be the sense of self on the edge of losing cohesion, which should give us some interesting feelings about it once we snap back to a fully alive state.

NDEs, out of body experiences, and anything else that contributes to understanding the relationship of our consciousness with our physical bodies are good areas for scientific study. These things could really expose the truth of our existence and relationship to the natural universe so they shouldn’t just be dismissed as unbelievable. They could help prove or disprove what some consider to be in the realm of the supernatural that just may be parts of the natural universe we don’t understand.

We don’t truly know what happens after we die and return our materials and energy back to the universe. That leads me to believe that reincarnation is unknown since it’s based on knowing we retain something of ourselves when we die. I can’t say that it’s disproved even if I personally consider it unlikely. If we die and the energy of our consciousness can maintain some cohesion of self, then what remains of that consciousness could be reused in another form. It’s a weak house of cards to build a belief on. There’s a lot there that’s well beyond human understanding and isn’t something we can turn into a verifiable truth. It’s not worth stating a definite belief for it even though we should remain open-minded about the possibilities in that area.Welcome Back mat to Reincarnation Studies Center