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Posts Tagged ‘Jon Baker’

Fun time at Hope Missionary Church

Posted by JD on June 16, 2008

I wanted to take the opportunity to thank Jon Baker and Hope Missionary Church for inviting Skeptigator and me to their church for a discussion with their youth group about atheism. It went very well. There were a lot of excellent questions posed by many of the young adults in the class.

All in all, this gives me hope for an open dialog between the religious and the non-religious.

Mr. Baker is trying to get proponents of different world-views to give lectures to his youth group as a way of exposing them to different belief systems. He already had a Muslim speaker and us. I believe a Hindu is next on the list with the possibility of speakers for Judaism, Buddhism and Christianity. This is a good idea that I applaud him for trying.

He asked us five popular questions in an attempt to study comparisons of the answers from the different groups. We didn’t actually follow the questions closely, but instead gave a basic overview of the branches of theism and non-theism along with some examples of positive atheist world-views such as secular humanism.

I decided to post my responses to Mr. Baker’s 5 questions since I didn’t have the opportunity to expand on them during the discussion:
1. If any, what is the goal/meaning/purpose of life?
If so, how is that goal/meaning/purpose obtained?

You will receive a different answer from every person you ask. That is how you know everybody’s meaning and purpose in life is different. There cannot be a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all answer, nor should there be. Even if the entire universe is random chaos and indifferent to life and existence, that does not mean you can’t find meaning in your existence or even that you have to. The fact is, if there were any place anywhere in the entire universe that was just right for life to come into existence, that is where that life would be; hence, earth. We should dedicate more time to figuring out where we are going and less time agonizing over how we popped into existence. Our origins are intriguing, but we do exist in the here and now and need to be more concerned with continuing and improving our existence than obsessing over why or how we exist.

It is up to you to decide what is important in your life and what it is that drives you and gives you a purpose. When you make the big decisions in your life those decisions should be based on what you think is important to you and what most excites and drives you. I have found the more I learn about life, the deeper my appreciation has become of the things that do give me meaning and joy.

It takes a lot of time and thinking and studying to develop your personal meaning of life. Trial and error and experience all help you figure out what is important. Everybody includes things like happiness, family, and friends as giving meaning and purpose to their lives, but not enough of us take the time and energy to find individual meaning. Too many of us are willing to settle for superficial meaning in God. It is much easier and more satisfying to believe we are the center of existence created by a God that has given us all of the answers, than to work to figure out our lives for ourselves.

2. If any, what is the divine/supernatural?

Anything that is supernatural is outside the considerable sphere of our collective knowledge about the observable and measurable reality of natural law. Anything that we cannot seemingly answer with a rational scientific understanding or that we cannot record or measure in any physical way is considered to be beyond nature or supernatural.

This pretty much covers:

Divinity: God(s), angels, demons, miracles, souls, reincarnation, astrology, animism, etc. Some belong in multiple categories like spirits and ghosts.

Paranormal: Ghosts, poltergeists, possessions, alien abductions, zombies, werewolves, vampires, ESP, telepathy, clairvoyance, etc.

Mythical: Fairies, ogres, trolls, witches, warlocks, elves, goblins, unicorns, pixies, sprites, cherubs, dragons, centaurs, gnomes, sphinx, giants, titans, etc…

Modern religions have slowly been distancing themselves from the supernatural as much as possible to remain relevant in the computer and information age of the 21stcentury. It is obvious over time how things that were once thought of as supernatural have become quite mundane after a scientific understanding of them.

Famines, pestilence, floods, lightening, the stars, earthquakes, volcanoes, a round earth traveling around the sun and the age of the earth are just a few of the things that have been explained with modern science.

Churches now refer to the Holy Ghost as the Holy Spirit. Churches now prefer the more friendly and harmless term spirituality over a loaded word like religion.

We now offer faith-based funding, not religious-based funding, to faith-based organizations instead of religious charities.

There is no longer a limbo for Catholic babies that die before they are baptized. This supernatural state of existence is no longer in acceptable fashion and has ceased to exist with a wave of the Pope’s scepter.

The supernatural is so unnatural and contradictory of everything we experience that all of the faiths of the world will never be able to agree on any of it. Even within a religion people can not agree on what is supernatural and divine, and what is superstition and hocus-pocus, so they fracture into competing sects. Even in Hinduism and Buddhism and Islam we find the all too human differences of opinion in the interpretations of scripture and revealed wisdom. These problems are all indications of why the supernatural is simply the imaginations and machinations of men in overdrive.

3. If any, what is evil/bad/wrong?

Atheism does not deal with matters of morality. Atheism is simply the lack of belief in a God or Gods of any organized religion. It is important here to note that a lack of belief in God does not mean a lack of moral standards. Belief in God is often associated with a monopoly on moral integrity with the assumption that to not know God is to not know right from wrong. If this were true, every atheist would be abhorrent in his or her behavior and prove morality is born from religion and is inseparable from God. This is not what we see. We see a group of people that are no more or less inclined to be immoral or to break laws than any other group. Atheists struggle with making moral decisions just like everybody else, but it is obvious not all atheists are out committing crimes with abandon, unconcerned for the results of their actions. I would say that for the vast majority of atheists it is quite the opposite. Without a God-given dogmatic, moral framework, atheists must take it on themselves to understand what is right and wrong behavior and why they should care about leading good lives.

So how do atheists understand morality? This question is much easier to answer than it seems. We use common-sense. We study philosophy, sociology, ethics, history and religion. We use empathy to see from others’ perspectives and to sympathize with their problems and needs. We make decisions based on all of the information available and based on the circumstances in every unique situation.

Most atheists understand you get what you give. If we all went around killing each other without concern, we wouldn’t last very long. But there is much more to it than that. We adopt natural moral frameworks that benefit all. Some of us are secular humanists, some are naturalists, some are Brights, and still others are something entirely different.

Everyone is capable of good and bad. It does not work to deal in absolutes. Life is too complicated for every act or decision to fall neatly into a category of Good or Evil, or right or wrong.

Just as our legal system allows for new laws to be made and for unwanted or harmful laws to be removed, people can learn, control and alter a moral framework based on careful, thoughtful observations of societies and a general consensus everywhere of basic rights and wrongs both in the legal sense and the moral sense.

4. If any, what is the afterlife?

The afterlife is the desire to exist forever. It is the desire to be reunited with friends and family and to love forever. It is the desire to see wrongs righted and transgressions against us punished. It is the desire to know all and to see how the rest of humanity and life plays out. In short, it is the desire to conquer death.

The afterlife is also what is promised to you for your obedience (or disobedience) to God in this life. It is the reward for doing everything that is demanded of you by your religion. It is also the threat used to keep you in line. Do what the God of our church says or you will fall from His and our grace and burn in Hell forever. It is your church’s trump card to every objection you have with your religion and your God.

Life is precious partially because it has a lifespan. That is why it is important to live your life to its fullest and to appreciate your one chance you get. It is unfortunate that not everyone gets a long life or even a chance at a quality life. Life really is not fair. But, if everything were equal there would be no variety and no individuality. If everyone lived forever, there would be no variety and no individuality. We all would experience everything and see everything and exist forever.

Death is the only equalizer. Everyone, whether they are rich or poor, happy or sad, good or bad, dies. The certainty of death makes the time you have precious. It makes you appreciate all of the good things in life while surrounded by all of the bad.

Religions cheapen life by saying this life is just a precursor to eternity. It makes this life seem less important somehow. It takes away our focus on making this reality a better place for everyone to live in exchange for only caring how to live now to make it into heaven for eternity.

5. If any, what texts are important?

All texts are important. Thoughts and ideas in general are important. Imagination, curiosity, and learning are what make humans so special. It is important to learn to think critically and openly. No book or text should ever be banned or burned because of its contents. If a book is truly offensive or ridiculous, then teach people why it is offensive or ridiculous and why we should not waste time reading it. Many people do not understand that reading and thinking about a taboo does not make someone more likely to commit that taboo; quite the opposite. It allows us to be better informed before we make a bad decision from not understanding why our actions would be wrong.

Censoring or banning thoughts or ideas hurts everybody. It is not enough to forbid your child or student from reading or seeing something you deem too offensive or dangerous. It is your responsibility to teach them why something is considered offensive and give them the resources necessary to figure it out on their own. Simply telling a child or student not to do something will only drive them towards it out of curiosity- without knowing why it is wrong. You cannot shelter people from everything bad or wrong and you really shouldn’t. Education is the best inoculation against eventual contact with life’s problems, not ignoring them or pretending they don’t exist.

Books and libraries (and the internet) are tools. Even the Bible and Koran are tools. A tool is something that is useful and beneficial to us. Just as most tools are useful, most tools can be misused and become harmful. It is the intent or the ignorance of the user that can make a tool dangerous. No tool need be worshipped or held in reverence. No book or doctrine deserves our worship. They are all man-made, inanimate objects that hold no supernatural powers or divine governance over us. They deserve a place in our history and wealth of knowledge just as all books do, but they too are books for our education and pleasure, not for holy reverence above all else.

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