Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Arrogance of Believers

An item recently popped up on my FB newsfeed .. an item posted here:

It seems that the relatively young man pictured is prepared to say that "sports nuts" and "money lovers" (among a host of other types of "sinners") are going to be consigned to eternal damnation when judgment day arrives.  He's sublimely confident in his own moral superiority and has decided to try to help you get over your sinful ways and join him in his arrogance.  Is he wise?  Or is he merely a twerp?  I vote for twerp!!

If there's any single trait among believers that riles me up, it's this arrogant condescension - they're saved, and you're damned unless you buy into their beliefs.  They exchange their favorite bible verses on social media, congratulating each other for being on the winning side and, apparently, expecting non-believers to be so inspired as to join them, utterly convinced by their quotations from the late Bronze Age, as translated over many generations.  They have the gall to say, "We'll pray for you." even though it's easy to show that nothing fails like prayer.  Prayer is a way to do nothing (except perhaps offer a sort of placebo effect 'comfort') and yet convince yourself you're doing something effective.  Personally, I see the statement "I'll pray for you." to be insulting, condescending, and very aggravating.

Believers demand that everyone respect their beliefs, even when those beliefs have the identical logical and empirical support as do UFO abduction fanatics and flat Earth diehards.  Apparently, believers think we must quietly accept the putatively inferior role of not having a book written by barbarians thousands of years ago to inform our morality.  They seem quick to ignore (or may be mostly ignorant of) the bible's sanctioned misogyny, genocide, infanticide, bigotry, religious intolerance, and a host of other behaviors that today we would call immoral, to say nothing of the now-irrelevant dietary rules, contractions and logical dilemmas.  And of course, the koran (or whatever spelling is now in vogue) is even more immoral than the bible!  In comparison to islam, christianity is in some sort of mellow old age.  But its past will forever be soaked in blood, and it still embraces fundamentalists quite willing to kill and destroy in the name of christianity.  Oh yes, christians have their terrorists, too.

Is this a meaningful foundation from which to command the lofty heights of ultimate moral superiority?  I think not.  Befuddled by the god virus, believers have the temerity to ask non-believers what keeps them from descending into utter moral degradation!  The very question suggests strongly that the believers are admitting they need both the carrot of entry into eternal bliss and the stick of eternal damnation to keep them from going on immoral rampages.  Apparently, like a common criminal, they can only be moral if the omniscient policeman is ever on the watch, with his hellfires stoked and ready for transgressors.  They can't admit the notion of a valid secular morality, or their lofty position could be forfeit.

But wait - no matter what massive evils you may have engaged in during your life, if you buy into the bullshit of christian belief on your deathbed - bingo!  Instant entrance into all the fruits of eternal happiness!  Hallelujah!!  Any of your victims who may not believe as you do are consigned to the flames and torture forever.  Now there's an important lesson in believer morality!  Reminds me of the deathbed conversion of Darth Vader - apparently all the evil for which he was responsible was wiped off the slate when he killed the Emperor to save his own son!  He may have been pretty evil for a long time - still, that little bit of good in him triumphed at the end!  Now he can pal around in the ghostly Force-world as Anikan Skywalker with Obi-Wan and Yoda for all time.  All is forgiven!  Sound familiar?  That is your morality, believers!  Your arrogance and delusions of moral superiority have as much substance as the mythical Force in a Hollywood movie/morality play.  I'm supposed to respect that?  No way!!

If you can accept the notion that the myths (more often than not inherited from your parents' efforts to indoctrinate you) of your religion are a collection of absolute truths that put you as a believer in a position of ultimate moral superiority - well, you have the right to such beliefs.  But that doesn't make you right and your confidence in your beliefs doesn't give you any right to claim moral superiority.  You need to stop looking down your nose at those who don't swallow your bullshit, or have the gall to prefer a different brand of bullshit.  You're not morally superior as a direct or even indirect consequence of your beliefs and have no call to force your morality on everyone around you.  Your only justification for doing so comes only from within your religion (spreading the god virus), and is not yet sanctioned by the laws of this secular nation.  I don't care what morality guides you or how you choose to behave - unless your beliefs are used to justify doing harm to, or interfering with the lives of, other people.  I respect your rights as Americans but I do not respect your beliefs!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

A profound experience from my past

More than 60 years ago, an issue of Collier's magazine initiated a series of articles about the new frontier of space exploration.  You can find the first articles here, and they were a huge influence on my young soul.  To this very day, the images illustrating that article have the power to send me on a trip into that imaginary world, where space exploration was not an item of Cold War propaganda but rather an expression of the soaring spirit of humanity to go beyond the confines of the Earth's surface and see the world through an entirely new vision.

I recall the excitement I felt with these images.  I yearned desperately to be a part of that exploration, to see the Earth from the viewpoint of a space station, to fly over tropical cyclones and look down deep into their eyes, to stare into the blackness of space and see the stars without the distorting effects of the atmosphere, to be a scientist on board and participate in the excitement of discovery from this amazing new perspective.  Alas, reality intrudes, informing me that will never happen.  I would gladly exchange two weeks aboard the International Space Station with whatever allotment of life remains to me.

To this day, I'm haunted by those images from Collier's magazine.  I still have powerful emotional responses to those images, in no small part because they stimulate my memory of my youthful first responses.  How could I not want to be a part of that process illustrated in those pages?  Give me 2 weeks on the International Space Station (ISS) and I could die thereafter a very happy man.  Despite the dangers of the process of getting there, I would eagerly risk my life to lift off on a journey to the ISS that now orbits the Earth more or less as envisioned in the Collier's magazine article (although it's not rotating to provide artificial gravity, for some reason).  Microgravity in orbit has proven to be a major barrier to humans spending much time in orbit - our bodies have evolved for a world with gravity and they deteriorate rapidly in the microgravity of Earth orbit.  This is a complication that wasn't envisioned in 1952.  I'm sure many more exist of which I'm unaware.  It's a hostile environment - being in orbit in space.

Nor did the vision of 1952 truly account for the huge expense of sending humans and their cargo into orbit.  A superpower like the USA is barely capable of paying for such costs and, as it has turned out, we Americans are no longer in the Space Shuttle business, but rather are dependent on the Russians to get our astronauts into space.  There have been no fiscal incentives of substance that can bankroll the cost of space exploration as envisioned in 1952.  Yes, there are many things like GPS technology and communications technology that are dependent on spacecraft - we can afford those, apparently.  But we can't afford paying for the dream of those early visionaries (including, of course, the rehabilitated Nazi, Werner von Braun) who saw a much more peaceful and scientific purpose for space exploration - not space exploitation.  We have lost our zeal for this vision and are no longer willing to support the cost of space exploration as we once did when inspired by the words of JFK (who apparently was using space exploration more as a propaganda tool in the Cold War than as a sincere desire to see that vision become reality).  We made it to the Moon - but killed our dream in the process.  It's damned expensive.  And we haven't been back to the Moon.

There are some private sector efforts to exploit the dream - pay big bucks and we'll give you a couple of orbits on the threshold of space - or invest in an effort to mine the asteroid belt for minerals.  Or whatever.  There's nothing inherently wrong about hoping to capitalize on space exploration, but it simply can't inspire anyone except perhaps those greedy for fiscal gain.  The initial investment is large and the payoff is uncertain.  Will the exploration of space be bankrolled by the corporations?  I doubt it.  They need to see profits on the proverbial "bottom line".

A big part of my emotional response to seeing those Collier's Magazine images again is associated with the nostalgia for my lost youth, I suppose.  The dream is alive, but struggling to deal with the reality of what we have become and how we have chosen to forsake our dreams for the "reality" of this Earth-bound life.  I see the death of my dream in the same way that I can see my own death - inevitable but not something to which I can look forward to with any particular joy.  I hope to live long enough to see the first up-close images of Pluto in 2015.  It's not obvious what new vistas lie ahead, as we seem more and more focused on a very restricted vision.  What vision inspires a 6 or 7-year old today?  I wonder if they can feel the same excitement I did in 1952.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

What divides us ...

As I see Facebook posts, I'm constantly reminded of what divides us.  I see posts from my friends that bother me ... a lot.  This makes me sad because I enjoy our friendship despite our different viewpoints.  It seems we see things very differently and that bothers me because I know you and I are not so different on a personal level, even as we seem to disagree on specific political issues.

I know you well enough that I realize your personal perspectives are not the same as mine.  Fine.  I can understand and accept that.  I embrace such differences.  What bothers me is your insistence on certain things that raise red flags with me on a personal level.  We have ideological differences, of course, but must you push those differences into my face?  Must you provoke me to respond in ways that will inevitably divide us?  Is it that important for your personal position that you make me respond to your provocative statements?

Yes, I know that I've made my own provocative postings.  But I try, in the process, to leave open the door that other opinions can exist that differ with mine.  Rather than damning your position, I want you to try to consider, as I have, that opposing opinions can exist and have some substance.  They're not always dictated by ideology but are in fact positions of conscience that are worthy of respect, if not agreement.

If only polarized positions are allowed to exist, there can be no reconciliation, no compromise, no mutual understanding.  When only polar opposites are allowed, that ultimately leads to civil war and damnation of any opposing viewpoints.  We may not agree about everything, but surely we can find some common ground, and from there reach some position other than total condemnation of the "opposing" side.  Can we truly believe that anyone who thinks other than we do is some sort of ideological enemy, worthy only of contempt and, ultimately, elimination?  Is your position so based in reality that anyone who opposes your perspective is worthy only of contempt?  Are you really that confident in what you propose?  Are you willing to let me be the victim of your intolerance?

Surely you must see that that perspective is ultimately fascist and leads only to crimes against humanity?  If you truly feel that confident in your position, then I feel only sadness that you have alienated yourself from what is rational and reasonable.  A rational perspective admits the possibility of error.  I find that especially disturbing in people whom I consider to be friends.  Can you accept that opinions can vary on legitimate bases?  Can you truly tolerate other viewpoints?  Or do you feel that anything other than your viewpoint is anathema and worthy only of contempt and being stamped out under the bootheels of repression and dogma?  Is the comfort of a society where everyone agrees with you worth more than a society where debate is encouraged and different opinions not only tolerated but seen as necesary?

I understand that we see things differently.  I try not to view opposing viewpoints as wholly wrong, but some of them are distinctly problematic to me.  Is it necessary to force me take issue with you?  Must you throw our differences in my face?  Must you characterize my position as totally incorrect and yours as totally correct?  Admission of the possibility of error is an important pre-condition to a rational discussion. Without that, we can have no basis for discussion at all.