Monday, September 29, 2008

Martin the Mean

I've come to a place where I don't care much for religion -- in my life at least. That statement might lead people to think that I no longer have a sense of morality or a guide for knowing right and wrong.

Many people think that a person cannot know right from wrong without having God or scripture as a guide.

I beg to differ.

I'm not saying that religion is always bad.

Take Martin Luther King, Jr., for example. He was a clergyman and used his religious (and yes, Christian) perspective to generate leverage against racial discrimination. King also drew from non-Christian figures such as H. D. Thoreau and Gandhi when he masterfully employed the tactics of civil disobedience and non-violent protest. But, King was clearly Christian and his great oratory skills seemed most powerful in a church setting. He used his hope and faith in God and the promise of a better future to inspire and encourage people of color to press forward in the journey for civil rights.

In this case, I'd say religion was a good thing and played a good role in a man's life and in a most important movement within American history.

I also want to say that I consider Martin Luther King, Jr. a great hero and I have great respect for him and his lasting accomplishments.

People have claimed that he kept a dirty little secret, though. He had problems with other women. He had at least one marital affair against his wife, Coretta Scott King. The FBI kept King under surveillance during his leadership of the civil rights movement because they wanted to pin him down as a communist. They couldn't do it . . . but in the process they did get some hard evidence of his adulterous activity.

And King also smoked cigarettes.

(Hey, smoking is a big deal to super conservative Christians. Not to mention, it's bad for your health.)

Nonetheless, none of these flaws keep me from seeing King as a great man. I can overlook these issues for the greater good -- he gave his life for a cause that desperately needed to be realized within the United States. I greatly admire him for that -- flaws and all.

So, like I said . . . religion isn't always bad.

Oh, but when religion does get bad . . . you can't tell the clergy from the devil.

Or, Hitler.

People want to say that Atheism only leads a person to become evil.

Again . . . I beg to differ.

Let's discuss a different Martin -- Martin Luther.

Even after my detachment from my own religious beliefs, I had admiration and respect for Martin Luther. I saw him as a great man who challenged the status quo and won a measure of freedom of religious expression and tolerance for people. He greatly shaped Western Christianity and is among the most influential clergy of all time.

I lost a lot of respect for him . . . and for the notion that religion creates only good in the world, when I learned that Martin Luther has a little secret, too.

But, King's secret is total innocence compared to Martin Luther's secret.

Martin Luther was the father of a wave of antisemitism that rippled so far into the future that ultimately Hitler was inspired by it! Hitler began his assault against the Jewish people in Germany on Martin Luther's birthday!

Martin Luther wanted to convert Jews to Christianity so much that he became embittered at their resistance! He ended up writing a treaties entitled On the Jews and Their Lies.

Luther gets really nasty. But, these ideas aren't just words he writes in a book . . . they turn into action. Luther becomes so angry with the Jewish people for rejecting Christ that he advocates their murder. He preaches it and terrorizes Jews in his community. Martin Luther's words and actions were the prototype to the Holocaust.

I'll be honest . . . I'm not one to think the Jews are God's chosen people and that they deserve special privilege. The political stage of the United States sometimes seems to lean this way.

(I suspect due to Christian influence. Christianity doesn't always turn into antisemitism. Sometimes Christian beliefs put the Jewish community in extremely high regard).

However, no people deserve to be brutally treated as someone tries to erase them from existence through genocide.

Religion can induce that sort of violence.

Many people fear mentioning that they are atheist because certain religious types feel they have a right to show some sort of divine retribution and take God's wrath into their own hands.

God needs your help to cleanse the earth of unbelievers?!

What kind of god do you serve?

First . . . why does he need your help? Second, why does he still insist on smudging people off the face of the earth anyway if he is so "merciful" and "kind"?

What if Thor commanded his followers to slay all Christians?

Don't like the sound of that, huh?

I must admit . . . the Lutheran church acknowledges the statements of Martin Luther and denounce them openly. I'm glad to hear that.

But, that doesn't change the fact that Martin Luther was an evil man . . . made evil by his fervent intolerance towards those "thieves and robbers who daily eat no morsel and wear no thread of clothing which they have not stolen and pilfered from us by means of their accursed usury".

"Martin the Mean".


Martin the dirty, rotten miscreant!

So, are we justified in purging the earth of Lutherans now?

You see?

Mindless and fervent religious belief can get really nasty, really quick.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

That Evolution Thingy

I suppose trying to conclude that God doesn't exist because of evolution is unfair. After all, one can still argue that God exists and simply accept that evolution is really how God created life. However, evolution imposes a great discredit upon the biblical text. You just can't take the bible literally if you accept the implications of evolution.

As the bible becomes discredited, what do you use to uphold your religious beliefs? Religion then, becomes subjective and personal. That's why I think the founding fathers elected to keep State and Church separate – regardless of how religious or non-religious any of the founding fathers might have been. But . . . that's a future blog.

I had lots of doubts about evolution most of my life. Okay, okay, I just simply never accepted evolution; it just sounded stupid. “Geeze”, I thought, “isn't it obvious that we don't come from apes and monkeys”? I was convinced that scientist were taking fragments of fossils and erroneously building up these crazy skeletons straight from their wild and desperate imaginations.

But during my gradual descent (assent, perhaps?) into apostasy, I visited various religious message boards in an attempt to hold fast to my faith. As I was soul searching, I read an exchange on a message board that stuck with me:

Person one: I still want to believe in God and keep my faith, but that evolution thingy is kind of convincing”

Person two: Well, remember, it's called the theory of evolution. Theories are supported by evidence and their ideas have made predictions that are verifiable and proven. You have to disprove a theory before people turn from it. So in the case of evolution, it's a fact – not something people are still trying to prove.

(this is a paraphrase, but you get the point . . .)

I didn't quite agree with Person Two.

That is . . . until I met Sue. Sue totally changed my outlook.

You know Sue. That menacing T-Rex that you can visit at the Chicago Field Museum. Scientists excavated every bone of Sue and rebuilt her skeleton. The end result is a menacing eating machine staring down at you.

She's mean looking, too.

I had a little more respect for what scientist would dig up out of the dirt.

Then, I would start to pay attention to primate findings. These findings were not as incomplete as I had once thought. Forensics can revel a lot of reliable information even on bones hundreds of thousands of years old.

At the Field Museum, I did notice hominid bones were on display, too. Unfortunately at the time, I didn't pay too much attention to them. I still wasn't too convinced about that "evolution thingy". But, my interest in archaeological finds grew by leaps and bounds and I came to trust what scientists say about the bones they find and examine. Granted, you can't trust every thing you hear. And one can forget that scientist are making suggestions much of the time. Not everything scientists conclude is ready to be labeled a fact.

But some conclusions have been proven for a long time now.

Sorry to say -- but I really, really think that evolution thingy is actually real.

On top of all the other evidences of evolution, this point sealed the deal for me:

Scientists have found a way to extract DNA from Neanderthal bones. You know, just like they do to find out if that person really committed that awful crime.

Or, when they find out who your baby's daddy really is.

That is the same type of DNA evidence that lets us see how and why a tiger and a lion are so similar, yet different. Yes, this was extracted from Neanderthal bones. That same information that illustrates the way a lion is genetically different enough to be another species, yet is still a cat like a tiger, was extracted and examined from Neanderthals!

And what do the DNA results say?

Neanderthals don't seem to be major contributors to the homo sapien's DNA. We are not decedents of Neanderthals -- but rather -- we are cousins! DNA extracted from Neanderthal remains are too different from homo sapiens found during that same era to be the same species. Again, it's like finding the bones of a tiger and a lion! They're both cats – but different! Well, we've found that Neanderthals and homo sapiens were both human – just different!


Wait. Did you say two species of human?

Well, what makes us human, exactly? Well, according to Joseph Campbell, the capacity to look into the metaphysical and to use reason makes us human. To look out into the universe and attempt to explain it with mythology, religion, or reason (ironically) is a unique human trait. None of the other animals seem to do this. Neanderthals most likely had this capacity. They drew on the cave walls and expressed mythological symbols. So, Neanderthals displayed human qualities no different from the earliest appearance of modern man hundreds of thousands of years ago. And this is all based upon archaeological information.

Being human isn't the same as being a hominid. Hominids are an order of primates that include the human ancestry as well as man's primate cousins like chimps, gorillas and orangutans.

Neanderthals are also hominids and are our closest DNA relatives that we've found to date. They are such close relatives that they are a separate species of human. Chimps are our closest living relatives based on DNA – since Neanderthals are now extinct. We don't consider chimps to be human despite how much they remind us of ourselves. Nonetheless, chimps are hominids of the primate family and can at times act strikingly human.

Archaeological finds show that Neanderthals and modern man (homo sapiens) shared artifacts like jewelry, pottery and tools – as if they traded or bartered goods together. This indicates that Neanderthals were just as human as the homo sapiens.

Below are some articles that spell out the DNA findings. I find the placement of their excitement interesting. The articles express that the real break-through is the reliable extraction of DNA from a specimen tens of thousands of years old. The fact that the Neanderthals' DNA confirmed a different species of human causes a stir mostly because so many hypothesized that homo sapiens were direct descendants of Neanderthals.

But you know what really stood out to me? I noticed no excitement about how this finding further confirms evolution. The lack of excitement concerning the notion that this “evolution thingy” is true is old news.

I think the excitement in the scientific community happened after they all finished reading Origins of the Species back in the 1800s.

Just so you know I'm not pulling everything I'm saying out of the air -- check out these links when you have time:

DNA Abstracts
National Geographic: Last of the Neanderthals
Meet 'Wilma'

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Religion, Spirituality, and Atheism

Time for an English lesson:

Religion: noun

  1. a Belief in and reverence for a supernatural power or powers regarded as creator and governor of the universe.

    b A personal or institutionalized system grounded in such belief and worship

  1. The life of a person in a religious order.

  2. A set of beliefs, values, and practices based on the teaching of a spiritual leader

  3. A cause, principle, or activity pursued with zeal or conscientious devotion

Antonyms: (That means opposite, by the way . . . .)

agnosticism, atheism, disbelief

Spiritual: adjective

1. of, relating to, consisting of, or having the nature of spirit; not tangible or material

2. of, concerned with, or affecting the soul

3. of, from, or related to God; characterized by divine or godlike nature

4. of, or belonging to a church or religion; sacred

5. relating to or having the nature of spirits or a spirit; supernatural

Now . . . . lets start our e-musings in light of these defined terms.

Religion is a set of beliefs or practices. I assure you that the beliefs and practices within the same religion don't always match. For instance . . . Resurrection Sunday doesn't always fall in the same month with Passover – which was essential to the crucification and resurrection of Christ. Tradition trumps beliefs and has caused Easter to follow it's own schedule which only matches Passover most of the time.

Spirituality deals with matters of spirit – the immaterial, metaphysical, or supernatural. But, not necessarily with any specific religious rules or dogma. Many times, yes, but sometimes, no.

Fundamentalism is considered to be strict adherence to a belief set within a religion. The belief is often taken literally and accepted unquestioningly. Usually a religious text and spiritual leader give the layout for the religious rules of the fundamentalist group. Fundamentalism usually involves spirituality.

Fundamentalist believers of religion have no room for opposing viewpoints within or from outside of their sect. As a result, such religious groups often splinter due to disagreement over doctrine. These disagreements often turn into power struggles for authority. This, in my opinion, is to be expected; Imagine the difficulty of turning metaphysical things into rigorous rules upon which everyone must agree!

Try getting a group of people to gaze at a cloud and insist they all perceive the exact same image. Everyone is entitled to an opinion – especially with finding shapes in clouds, wouldn't you say?

Spirituality minus religion allows people to acknowledge the metaphysical and experience the metaphysical without strictness of any sort. Everyone can see whatever image they desire from the cloud in the sky. Why not? After all . . . it's just a cloud. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, right?

Of the three great religions – Judaism, Islam, and Christianity – fundamentalist belief is most exuberant and (I dare say) most dangerous. All three fundamentalist variations of these faiths lean towards the expectation of a cataclysmic series of events. These events will herald the act of God taking back control of the earth (Taking back? What happened to his omnipotence?) War and conflicts are almost welcomed – at the very least, expected. Thus, invasions, suicide bombings, terrorism, and military retaliation are viewed as necessary to fervent, radical fundamentalist believers. Some even think that these events can accelerate the advent of the Apocalypse.

Am I saying that the world would enjoy total peace if all the Jews, Muslims, and Christians disappeared?

No, absolutely not. I am saying, however, that fundamentalism needs to largely disappear. Spirituality is welcomed to stay – regardless of the religious faith.

Oh, and as final note – I really wish people would stop buying into the idea that atheism is a religion. Atheism can only be considered a religion to the degree that someone is devout or zealous over a concept or idea. Concerning the true definition of the word “religion”, atheism is no more a religion that my devotion to keeping myself caffeinated with fresh brewed, organic, 100% Arabica coffee made from fresh ground whole beans.

No instant, pre-ground, or stale coffee – please.

Religious? YES!

A religion?


Religion requires a deity as the object of worship and often has a leader who is the object of leadership towards the rules and acts of worship and adoration to the deity in question.

Atheism is the opposite of religion. A-theism. No belief in a deity or god. No object to worship or adore or serve. No religion to follow, as a result.

If you are one that says atheism is a religion, then what is the opposite of religion?