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Beliefs

Why Buddhism Gets A Free Pass

By | Beliefs | 30 Comments

banner_buddha-imgThere has been some discussion on /r/atheism recently about Buddhism. Specifically, why Buddhism gets a free pass compared to Christianity, which seems to be the butt of so much criticism. The crux of the argument is that Buddhism is just as much a spiritual belief as Christianity, it’s not just a philosophy to live by.

And that’s absolutely true. Buddhism does have just as many crazy beliefs as Christianity. Also, it can be argued that Christianity is just as much about compassion, acceptance and kindness as Buddhism. So why aren’t the crazy Buddhists copping a barrage of animosity and ridicule?

I mean, come on – we can all agree that reincarnation is a bunch of bullshit, right? So what’s up? Why does Buddhism get a free pass?

Well, there’s the obvious geographic argument. We are English-speaking Westerners, whose culture evolved around the Judeo-Christian faiths. Christians are in our collective sights on a daily basis, knocking on our doors, pamphleting our cars, yelling at us on street corners and campuses. We see them on our TVs and we are forced to live under threat of their outrage. They don’t like abortions, and they vote. They don’t like gay marriage, and they vote… They are highly mobilized, and should they manage to gain a majority on these issues, our lives are going to change.

So Christianity is the current battle. It’s the ideology that’s most likely to have an affect on our lives.

But it’s more than that.

A Christian will tell you that Jesus was all about love and compassion. So why is it then, that we don’t associate these traits with the average Christian? Why are they yelling at me all the time? Why do they feel the need to tell me I’m going to hell for my apparent sins? Even the moderate Christian will passive-aggressively tell you that they will pray for you. I mean, who’s that helping?

Christianity, like most religions, sets up an us-vs-them paradigm. There’s the good and the bad, the saved and the sinners, if you’re not with us, you’re against us. And that’s a dangerous place to start. It’s an argument that assumes that they have an absolute truth that we heathens just haven’t cottoned onto yet. Even though Christians may have the best of intentions when trying to convert us to their religion – they genuinely don’t want us to burn in hell for all eternity – we’re not part of the group yet.

That’s where Buddhism differs. Within Buddhism, there is no room for blind faith. It sets out a clear path for spiritual and personal development that anyone can undertake according to their own understanding and ability. Buddhism actually suggests its adherents think, question and develop acceptance based on understanding.

Dalai-Lama-1_1In the Dalai Lama’s own words:

“We must conduct research and then accept the results. If they don’t stand up to experimentation, Buddha’s own words must be rejected.”

Can you imagine a priest or bishop saying that about the Bible? But perhaps most telling of all is this:

When he noticed American author John Perkins reading a book about Buddhism, the Dalai Lama told him:

“Don’t become a Buddhist. The world doesn’t need more Buddhists. Do practice compassion. The world needs more compassion.”

The Dalai Lama – the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism – actually publicly advised someone not to become a Buddhist, but to try and make a difference in the world by simply practice compassion toward his fellow man.

Buddhism is a truly peaceful religion, it doesn’t prosthelytize, it’s is very much in harmony with modern science and it preaches independent thought. In fact, some argue that Buddhism’s philosophical teachings are more relevant today then they were thousands of years ago because we have more stresses in our lives than Buddhism’s original followers.

At the end of the day, Buddhists don’t seek to force their worldview on anybody, but they are willing to teach you if you are willing to learn.

And that’s why Buddhism gets a free pass when it comes to criticizing religion.

Why is religion bad?

By | Beliefs | 69 Comments

Today on Twitter, I was asked “Why are you so fixated on religion if you believe it is so untrue?”:

Twitter comment: why is religion bad?

Twitter is an amazing tool for engaging with people in real time, but it’s not brilliant for answering questions like this or really getting your point across, especially when I have a propensity for verbosity. I mean, in less than 140 characters, this guy asked three different questions and made two statements I disagree with absolutely. (And “so untrue”? There are scales of untrue now..?)

So let me attempt to do this query justice and explain in detail why I am so fixated on religion, even though I believe it to be untrue.

Or to put it another way, why is religion bad?

I used to be satisfied just smiling and nodding whenever anyone would begin on the topic of religion. After all, I’m a civilised man – there’s no need to argue with someone over something as frivolous as their supernatural beliefs. I mean, it’s just not polite, is it?

But over time, I started to see what religion is doing to the world in which we live.

I’ll admit, at the grassroots level, it almost seems like a good idea; certainly, harmless enough. Religion provides a good deal of charity to communities, it offers support and guidance to those in need, and it fills advocacy roles which may be missed in government policies.

But at what price?

Before we continue, it’s not my intention to pick on any one religion – most of them have the same attributes: 1) belief in the supernatural, 2) a moral code with supernatural origins, and 3) the need to spread their “truth” to the uninitiated.

The only religion that doesn’t fit the above three characteristics is buddhism. Buddhism’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, is quoted as saying “Don’t become a Buddhist. The world doesn’t need more buddhists. Do practice compassion. The world needs more compassion.” Can you imagine the Pope saying don’t bother becoming a catholic?

(More: Why Buddhism Gets A Free Pass)

But let’s be clear here: christianity is the most pervasive and influential of all the religions, and their fundamentalist members are probably the biggest threat to civilised society. Islam is influential in that civilised society feels the need to tiptoe around their beliefs, and extremist muslims may appear prone to committing acts of violence, but muslims don’t hold the same amount of sway as christians do in the west.

So back on point: why is religion bad?

Well, here’s the thing – it isn’t so much what a person believes, but what follows as their behaviour that is harmful.

Westboro Baptist Church

We’ve all seen the members of Westboro Baptist Church picketing military funerals, their kids in tow, waving their “God Hates Fags” signs. I think it’s safe to say, everyone outside of the WBC congregation find this behaviour appalling. Most of us would categorise these people as extremists, so perhaps they are an extreme example, but do you reckon they think they’re doing the Lord’s work?

So let’s look at some of the moderates: the Catholic church. They are opposed to using contraception because of a belief that dates back to the first centuries of Christianity, that sex must only be for procreation. Therefore, the only form of birth control permitted is abstinence. This hardline stance lead the current Pope Benedict XVI to claim that the use of condoms could make the African AIDS crisis worse. Every single study (not funded by the Catholic church themselves) has concluded that abstinence-only education does not lead to abstinent behaviour.

In fact, in the United States, where teen pregnancy rates are falling, teen pregnancy is highest in states that only offer abstinence-only education. A lack of sexual education also contributes to the spread of the disease. Abstinence-only is a fundamentalist christian-backed policy, and this abstinence-only education policy is an example of how it hurts society.

Another policy broadly supported by all the Abrahamic religions is the belief that homosexuality is wrong. In this modern age, it is understood that homosexuality occurs naturally, not only in humans, but all the animal species. (Homophobia, however, only occurs in one…) And you know what? There’s nothing that happens between a homosexual couple that doesn’t happen between hetrosexual couples.

But now we are getting closer to what I believe to be the answer to the question: why is religion bad?

As we’ve learned more and more about the world in which we live, the need for a supernatural explanation for questions on where we came from and why we’re here has diminished. It’s known as the “god of the gaps” argument: if science can’t explain how something happened, then god must be the explanation. Two thousand years ago, god was the explanation for a lot of things. These days, god has become an ever-receding pocket of scientific ignorance that’s getting smaller and smaller and smaller as´╗┐ time goes on.

And thus, as we learn more and more about the universe, our need for a supernatural explanation should be being diminished. Bertrand Russell said, “Religion is something left over from the infancy of our intelligence. It will fade away as we adopt reason and science as our guidelines.”

It should be fading away, but it’s not.

Religions are fighting back, recruiting the naive and the uneducated, and attempting to discredit the science and have their supernatural explanations taught alongside. For me, this is what makes religion so bad.

Someone didn’t just “make up science” one day. Everything we take for granted today, started out as an observation, which became an hypothesis, which lead to experiments, repeated experiments, the results of which are eventually submitted for peer review. Should the results eventually pass peer review and get published, other scientists (hoping to disprove the results) analyse the data for years, looking for inconsistencies. Should a hypothesis survive this treatment, only then does it become a scientific theory.

So when I hear “Evolution is only a theory” I’m just dumbfounded. That’s exactly right – what’s your point? As Tim Minchin says, “it is only a theory, it’s good that they say that. I think, it gives you hope, doesn’t it? That… that maybe they feel the same way about the theory of gravity, and they might just float the fuck away.”

That’s right, you know? There is just as much evidence for evolution as there is for gravity. Think about that for a minute…

The “creation” theory, on the other hand, does not stand up to peer review, no matter what you’ve learned in church. The bible is not proof of anything, the bible is the claim, or hypothesis. If it were to stand up to scientific scrutiny, I’d be more than happy to look at it, but the simple fact is, it does not.

Penn Jillette says this on the subject of science and religion: “There is no god, and that’s the simple truth. If every trace of any single religion were wiped out and nothing were passed on, it would never be created exactly the same way again. There might be some other nonsense in its place, but not that exact nonsense. If all science were wiped out, it would still be true and someone would find a way to figure it all out again.”

The Dalai Lama has the right attitude about his religion: “If science proves some belief of Buddhism wrong, then Buddhism will have to change.” All other religions see science as a threat. But a threat to what?

It’s a threat to their vested interest, their way of life, their income, their livelihood. If people stopped going to church, and stopped tithing, religion would shrivel up and die. These new mega-churches don’t pay for themselves, you know..?

I find it ironic that the guy who asked me the question today – @GospelGuidance on Twitter – is launching a new website in the coming weeks which offers “gospel guidance” on a per minute rate, like a spiritual 1900 number… no, that’s not cynical at all!

Creationism is a last ditch effort for religion to remain relevant in an increasingly educated and secular society. While attempting to discredit the science, creationists only manage to muddy the waters, instilling enough doubt in the uneducated masses that their alternate theory might seem just as convincing.

And therein lies the problem. Why is religion bad? After centuries of scientific advancement, there is a movement afoot to drag us backwards so a supernatural belief system can survive another few years before finally fading into obscurity.

It would be a quaint notion, if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s affecting society as a whole: bans on condoms and abortions threaten families; bans on using stem cells holds back medical research; justifying sexism and homophobia create an atmosphere of hate and separation; and forced genital mutilation of children is just about the single most fucked-up, barbaric throw-back to the bronze age I can think of.

Finally, amongst any group, you’re going to have your extremists. Islamic extremists are in the news a lot, but the fact is that it’s right-wing extremists (often fundamental christians) who commit have committed the most acts of terrorism in recent years:

The bottom line is that, as religions attempt to remain relevant, they are – whether inadvertently or deliberately – actually hurting our society.

Richard Dawkins says “I am against religion because it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world.” Well that’s true, but I’m afraid religion is far more insidious than just wanting to stick their collective heads in the sand when it comes to the scientific evidence.

Religion matters to me as an atheist because it imposes it’s capricious morals on me in the form of laws.

Religion matters to me as an atheist because it acts to stifle funding for progression in science and technology. For example, religious institutions are pushing to prohibit stem cell research, which is one of the most promising medical fields known to us today.

Religion matters to me as an atheist because it imposes all sorts of psychological turbulence on it’s members, and cages children’s minds with indoctrination.

Religion matters to me as an atheist because atheists are actively discriminated against in supposedly public institutions. Take for instance, the boy scouts – a tax-payer funded institution – which do not allow atheists to take part in it’s program.

Religion is trying to remain relevant by discrediting scientific fact in order to dupe people into believing their lies. Religions are wrong, they are lying to you, and we can no longer afford to smile and nod politely.

How’s This For Proof?

By | Beliefs, Science | 2 Comments

I used to play on a Christian soccer team, not for any philosophical reasons obviously, but more out of convenience and availability, and boredom… I am no longer welcome on that team. But back then, I was involved in a friendly, post-game argument with the team captain over an after-game beer.

So you’ve all heard that the universe is only 6,000 years old, right? From Wikipedia:

Young Earth creationism is a form of creationism that asserts the Heavens, Earth, and all life were created by direct acts of the Abrahamic god during a relatively short period, sometime between c. 5,700 and 10,000 years ago. Its adherents are Christians and Jews who believe that God created the Earth in six 24-hour days, taking a literal interpretation of the Genesis creation myth as a basis for their beliefs., and include around 10-45% of American adults, depending on various polls. Some adherents hold that this view is supported by existing evidence in the natural world. Those adherents believe that the scientific evidence supporting evolution, geological uniformitarianism, or other theories which are contradictory to a literal interpretation of this creation myth, are either flawed or misinterpreted.

I suppose the discrepancy between 5,700 and 10,000 is held because we’re not sure whether they knocked up children back then, or waited until today’s legal age of consent.

Anyways, the stock standard argument when talking to Young Earth creationists resolves around the question “Explain dinosaurs?” I took this argument one step further.

“So God created the heavens and the Earth right? Like, he created the whole universe in one day? That’s pretty amazing! The universe is HUGE! Our galaxy alone has 200 billion other stars in it and the nearest star to Earth (besides the sun) is more than four light years away! That means, light from that star travels four years at the speed of light just to get to us. We’re seeing the star as it was four years ago… Amazing yeah?

“And our galaxy – with 200 billion stars in it – is 3,000 light years thick! And guess how wide it is? 90,000 light years. Man, that’s huge! Like, that means it takes light 90,000 years to travel from one side to the other.

“On top of that, the nearest galaxy to ours is the Andromeda Galaxy, which is more than 2 million light years away! Light travels 2 million years from there just to get to us. We’re seeing it as it was 2 million years ago!

“Oh wait – how old did you say the universe was?”

The point being, if God did create the entire universe 6,000 years ago (all the 200 billion stars in our galaxy, plus the more than 170 billion other galaxies in the observable universe), he would have also had to fill the void between those stars and us with a constant stream of light directed into our skies to make it appear like these objects were millions of years old. But, of course, they’re not, right? Like dinosaurs…

In fact, not only would he have had to create light waves between us and them, he would have had to stretch the waves, because when he did create the universe 6,000 years ago, he set everything in motion to make it appear like it expanded out from a single point about 13.75 billion years ago. But, of course, it didn’t, because it wasn’t around 13.75 billion years ago. The universe, with its more than 170 billion galaxies and its more than 9 billion trillion stars was created in 24 hours around 6,000 years ago.

Just like dinosaurs…

The Best Argument For Atheism?

By | Beliefs | 71 Comments

Below is what I consider the best argument for lacking belief in any religions or gods. What makes this argument so powerful is that it covers any religion, and best of all, I don’t make the argument, you do. How strong the argument is really depends on how honest you can be with yourself. In fact if you’re a theist, you probably already know this argument, but have various ways to avoid facing it. So if you’re ready, let’s go through the argument as an experiment. The only one you have to answer to is yourself. You’ll know if you’re being honest with yourself or not.

Let’s imagine we’re sitting together having a relaxed, honest and open discussion about religion. On the table is a huge stack of white index cards and on each index card is one of thousands of different religions, gods, belief systems, along with arguments for believing in that particular religion or god. Maybe a card has a current religion, or maybe it has a older religion that no one believes in any more, or is largely forgotten. It doesn’t matter – the point is that they’re all here in this great big stack, except for the ones that you believe in – you religion’s not in this stack.

One at a time, I draw up a card and I read you the religion and god and arguments for why you should believe in it and you respond with the reasons you dismiss the arguments and why you don’t believe the religion or god, and I’ll write the responses down.

So we go through every argument ever made for every other religion, their gods, supposed holy books, witnesses, miracles, profits, saviours, prophecies, testimonies, answered prayers, faith claims, affects for good, archeological support; whatever the argument, we go through it. We note all your counter arguments and dismissals on the back on each card.

It won’t take long before we realize that there is a pattern. Your argument for dismissing one religion will likely be similar to a previous answer. We won’t need to write anything down any more – we can just refer back to a previous argument.

Once we get to the bottom of the stack, I take another card out of my pocket. This card has your religion and god on them, and all the arguments that you think support them. We go through that card and they are refuted referring back to arguments you made before, just as we did with all the previous cards.

The fact is that you’re an atheist in regards to thousands of other religions and gods. You already know everything there is to know about dismissing religious arguments. You’re an expert already. You rationally dismiss thousands of other religions or gods just like any atheist does. The difference is you don’t turn that critical side of your mind to your own beliefs.

This realization is all anyone needs to know to recognize their faith doesn’t stand up any more. It’s just question of how honest you can be with yourself.