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Secular compassion in a time of tragedy March 24, 2011

Posted by laïcité in International, Religion, Unbelief.
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4 comments

I came across this quote by Sam Harris where he talked about the disasters happening in Japan, and I just wanted to share it:

Either God can do nothing to stop catastrophes like this, or he doesn’t care to, or he doesn’t exist. God is either impotent, evil, or imaginary. Take your pick, and choose wisely.

The only sense to make of tragedies like this is that terrible things can happen to perfectly innocent people. This understanding inspires compassion.

Religious faith, on the other hand, erodes compassion. Thoughts like, “this might be all part of God’s plan,” or “there are no accidents in life,” or “everyone on some level gets what he or she deserves” – these ideas are not only stupid, they are extraordinarily callous. They are nothing more than a childish refusal to connect with the suffering of other human beings. It is time to grow up and let our hearts break at moments like this.

It’s only human to try and rationalize why things like these happen to good, innocent people, but we should resist the urge to do so. We may not go as far as to claim that the tsunami was a punishment from god, but even claiming that god had a purpose behind this disaster is bad enough. If I had lost my loved ones, my home, my livelihood, my possessions and my dignity in a catastrophe like this, the last thing I would want to hear is that this is all part of “god’s plan” to make me stronger. How comforting. Thousands of lives lost, all god’s disposable pawns, just to teach some people a lesson in inner strength.

Some people say that they can’t live with the idea that we are ultimately at the mercy of Nature; a force that lacks intent, purpose, or the ability to discriminate between the deserving and undeserving. But I say that it’s a better worldview to live with than one that involves giving a reason to the loss of thousands of lives and attributing it to a “benevolent” god – and in doing so, making light of the sheer extent of suffering inflicted onto other human beings.

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Christian evangelicals and their religious high horse February 20, 2011

Posted by laïcité in Religion, Singapore, Unbelief.
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4 comments

As a kid, I never enjoyed telling religious people I that was a “freethinker”. It wasn’t because I had any desire to be religious, and I sure as hell wasn’t ashamed of my freethinking. No, it was because my declaration as a freethinker almost always immediately brought about a look that was a mixture of condescension and pity, and – as if they were doing me a huge favour – was often accompanied by an offer: would you like to come to church with me some day?

For some reason, the word “freethinker” gave most people the idea that I was not (yet) exposed to religion, that I was brought up in a nonreligious environment and had not had my eyes “opened”, that my entire sense of morality, spirituality and philosophy had yet to be examined.

But by the time I was a Primary 3 schoolgirl (in a catholic school, no less), this was certainly not the case. I knew all the hymns, prayers, rituals and Bible stories. I even had friendly debates with my Christian friends about the existence of god during recess and we always came to the same stalemate: they were convinced, and I simply wasn’t. My status as a freethinker was not due to a lack of a religious influence, but a result of it. Believe me, if there was any 9 year old that could argue against the existence of a benevolent omnipotent being, it was me. I got so sick of the assumption that the only reason why I was a freethinker was because I had not yet been “awoken” by the Bible that by the time I reached secondary school, I felt it necessary to add a qualifier to my answer. Are you a Christian? No, but I went to Christian schools for the past 9 years, just to ward off the umpteenth attempt to invite me to church.

Perhaps this kind of assumption was a product of the religious demographics of Singapore. Many, if not most of the Christians here are the result of conversions and are “born again”. Or perhaps this was a byproduct of the religion itself; if Christianity is the one true religion, maybe believers cannot fathom why anyone would be an unbeliever unless they had not yet been exposed to the “wonders” of the bible. Either way, both mindsets probably play a part in believers looking at nonbelievers with condescension, as people who are not yet enlightened, as people to be “saved” from the abyss of unbelief.

In my teenage years, though I was comfortable with my unbelief, I was acutely self conscious of being openly atheist and subject to judgement by these so-called “enlightened” born again evangelicals. Even in a secular secondary school, it was almost as if going to church was “cool”, a sign that one was a member of the upper echelons of society. Being a Christian was synonymous with being English educated and intelligent enough to reject the pagan gods of one’s parents. Needless to say, things did not get much better in my Methodist junior college, where freethinkers, Buddhists, Hindus and Taoists alike were “fair game” for conversion; a goal with a motive and enthusiasm behind it not unlike that of the missionaries that sought to convert the primitive idol worshipping natives of the new world.

But what Christian evangelicals often fail to realize is that this desire to evangelize is presumptuous, disrespectful, and sometimes downright insulting. Who are evangelists to assume that just because I do not subscribe to a particular religion, it means that I have not given each religion a considerable amount of thought and based on my own reasoning, rejected them all? Who are evangelists to judge Taoism, Buddhism, Hinduism, ancestor worship (or other more mystical beliefs of their parents) as beneath Christianity; beliefs that should be outgrown? Who are evangelists to assume that my life as a “heathen” is any less fulfilling or meaningful than that of a believer such that I would need a belief in a deity to fill some kind of purported emptiness in my life?  Whether or not they realize it, believers who keep trying to convert the rest of us are making these condescending and patronizing assumptions. They are sitting on their religious high horses, with the belief that their worldview is superior, that one cannot possibly be spiritual, moral, or contented unless one subscribes to their philosophy.

Today, I’m perfectly happy to describe myself as a freethinker because I now see the word for what it really means – I think freely; free from doctrine, free from conformity to a status quo,  free from an authority telling me what to think or do. But this doesn’t mean that I sit on an atheistic high horse either. Granted, I may never agree with the beliefs of Christianity and some of them may even seem nonsensical to me. But one thing I’ll acknowledge is that its believers, through a combination of personality, personal experiences and brain chemistry, hold those beliefs to be true. All I am asking is for believers to give me that same respect to acknowledge that the tools I use to seek the truth – science, reason, rationalism – have meaning to me, make sense to me, are true to me, and that my atheistic worldview is at least as valid as their theistic worldview. To assume that they have the monopoly on truth and morality is mere arrogance. It is unfortunate that many sects of Christianity emphasize the importance of evangelism, but in such cases it really is up to the individual to choose: is it more important to be a good Christian, or to be a tolerant, respectful and empathetic human being?

Footnote: I was inspired to write this post when I was looking through old comments and found this “gem” here: “The only mandate we Christians have is to lead godly lives and share the gospel with the unsaved. I thank God that He sent someone do that for me because 25 years ago, I was just like you and your readers.” Maybe the author was purposefully making a passive aggressive insult. Or maybe he was simply oblivious to how patronizing he sounded. It always reminds me of how evangelists make me feel when they talk down to me as a “lowly” unbeliever.

An atheist’s holiday message December 31, 2010

Posted by laïcité in Rants, Religion, Unbelief.
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2 comments

I had originally wanted to pen a post on what it means to be an atheist during the holiday season, or rather, what the holiday season could possibly mean to a godless, souless heathen. You see, this is the time of year when excessive public displays of (the Christian) faith is supposed to be socially acceptable. It is CHRISTmas, after all, as many of them like to point out, oh so unaware that the practice of Christmas was actually a pagan festival adopted (or hijacked) by the Christians, and that December 25 is nowhere near the estimated birth date of Jesus. And what kind of holiday encourages you to lie to your children about a fat bearded man in the North Pole watching to see if they’re naughty or good? Probably a holiday adopted by people whose entire moral system is based on a bearded man in heaven deciding who gets to go to hell.

But I digress. All that was supposed to be in my original rant, but I decided not to be a Grinch. Let the Christians have their Christmas, stolen rituals and all.

Then I came across a holiday message that I really did want to share. In his holiday message, the comedian Ricky Gervais shared about why he is an atheist in the most eloquent, non-inflammatory and yet non-apologetic way. I loved his message so much that I even posted it on my facebook, something I rarely ever do, which them prompted some nasty self righteous comments calling me a fool and a corrupter – but that’s another story.

Anyway, the point is that I’m glad that I did not go ahead with my holiday rant because I could not have possibly put things in a better way than Ricky Gervais did.

Wow. No God. If mum had lied to me about God, had she also lied to me about Santa? Yes, of course, but who cares? The gifts kept coming. And so did the gifts of my new found atheism. The gifts of truth, science, nature. The real beauty of this world. I learned of evolution -– a theory so simple that only England’s greatest genius could have come up with it. Evolution of plants, animals and us –- with imagination, free will, love, humor. I no longer needed a reason for my existence, just a reason to live. And imagination, free will, love, humor, fun, music, sports, beer and pizza are all good enough reasons for living.

 

Forgiveness is probably the greatest virtue there is. But that’s exactly what it is -­‐ a virtue. Not just a Christian virtue. No one owns being good. I’m good. I just don’t believe I’ll be rewarded for it in heaven. My reward is here and now. It’s knowing that I try to do the right thing. That I lived a good life. And that’s where spirituality really lost its way. When it became a stick to beat people with. “Do this or you’ll burn in hell.”

You won’t burn in hell. But be nice anyway.

Ultimately, we cannot assume, and we cannot let Christians assume, that all that we strive to achieve during holidays –  goodwill towards mankind and peace on earth – can be monopolized by one faith alone. Ironically, perhaps the only way we can achive those ideals is to abandon such faith-centric mindsets in the first place.

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