hobbit-humanist

Humanism, atheism, some politics and lots of common sense.

Archive for the month “May, 2012”

The Battle Of Bridge Street

It was a lovely sunny day last Wednesday, I’d just been to meet my friend for a coffee and see her new baby. As we parted I felt good about life, seeing her new born daughter and holding her had a therapeutic effect on me. It really does make you marvel about life seeing a new child, how vulnerable and fragile they are and how much care and attention they need.
I crossed the street and headed down a short street called Bridge Street that leads to the bustling market square and there they stood, shouting doom and gloom to a few onlookers. The people in question doing the shouting? The local evangelists.
I paused and started to listen and a few sentences in I started to heckle and disagree. The guy talking motioned to another evangelist who quickly approached me and tried to answer the question the speaker had deflected and refused to answer. The man engaging me was old, a kindly natured but blinkered man who was hard of hearing, amongst the noise he really did struggle to understand what I was saying but did accuse me of being narrow minded when I refused to accept the literature he wanted to hand me so I accepted it and will indeed read it.
Another man drew up aside me and said he admired what I’d said, he was a christian himself he pointed out but didn’t like the constant condemnation of life by evangelicals and agreed with my point on they refuse to listen or compromise.
The main speaker soon finished and another less audible older guy started to ramble so I sought the first speaker out who was talking to another man. I  readied some clear points and rational arguments mentally and headed into verbal battle with him, after all he’d refused to answer my question earlier, I wanted satisfaction!
Without boring you guys with the conversation I can recall I will say you just cannot reason with evangelicals. Their mantra is always sin, sin and more sin, we are all sinners and if we don’t bend the knee we are doomed to hell. The bible cannot be challenged, it is the total and utter word, it is irrefutable. Lastly they talk about death a lot, they really are a gloomy fanatical bunch.
Opposite me was a guy that turned out to be a Catholic, he wants questions answering like me but the evangelical guy soon points out what he deems to be flaws about Catholicism.
My first line of verbal reasoning pointed out lack of real evidence for Jesus, especially historical sources external to the bible. I name several historians of that time, the roving reporters of the era and indeed area who don’t mention Jesus and add that should someone be performing miracles it would have been big news. Without hesitation he tries to refers me to the bible, that all knowing source of infinite knowledge despite hundreds of years of editing and endless contradictions. It’s a book that seeming has a phrase for every occasion or one that can be adapted easily.
He introduces himself as ‘Andy’ and I must say he seemed articulate, determined and often vague. He talked about calmness and mentioned the fact he turned the other cheek once when someone spat in his face yet under some questioning he was starting to lose his cool a bit, especially when I mention the likes of apostles such as Paul, Luke, Mark et al never actually meeting Jesus. My insistence on that point definitely had him rattled. The catholic man opposite takes a middle of the road approach, he supports much of what I am saying, especially the fact the bible isn’t really relevant in today’s world but he obviously has some faith so is adopting a neutral yet rational stance.
We debate things like Noah’s ark, the age of the world, evolution (which is totally dismissed) other gods (again totally dismissed) but soon the conversation returns to sin again. As he does I am already sinning again as a woman walks past me with a very ample cleavage on display!
Andy asks me if I lie? I nod and retort with even though I don’t like lying on occasion I do, particularly to protect peoples feelings or pride. I add that aeroplane pilots have lied so as not to cause alarm or panic for passengers. I give an example of a pilot that once had an equipment failure and the plane was behaving erratically. He obviously had to inform the passengers but decided to blame it on turbulence as he thought he could rectify the situation. As it happens he did so, the plane landed safely and nobody was any the wiser and more importantly no fears of flying or panic attacks for anyone.
We move on to morals and he asks have I ever stole anything? I nod again, as a young kid I vaguely recall snaffling a penny bubblegum in a corner store. Of course on hearing this he again informs me I am hell bound. I ask how does he know it is wrong to steal, ‘the bible says so’ he flatly replies. My counter to this is that I just know it is wrong to steal regardless of the bible, so on the fact I know it is innately wrong and he needs the bible to tell him so must make me more moral than him! He hastily changes the subject.
I raise the point once mentioned by Sam Harris, the atheist author and ask Andy that should I tell him that if I claimed his wife was being unfaithful or that frozen yoghurt made you invisible he want evidence? He nod and agrees and I add yet you are happy to sleep with the bible next to you at night, a book that contains very little evidence or proof at all.
Another point that irks Andy is when I point out how many different versions of the bible there are and the fact early versions didn’t really appear till the third century, hundreds of years after alleged events and then we know things were omitted, added to,  and it was heavily edited constantly through the ages. He can’t deny this and the fact the christian faith has countless factions and variations. The conversation was ranges far and wide but is starting to wind down now as all concerned become aware of the time that has passed. Andy dismisses other gods and faiths adding ‘There is only one true god’.
Did I like Andy? Yeah I did actually beneath his blind faith and fanaticism there seems to be a man of humour, he’s a pleasant man but totally consumed by the bible and objects to reasoning outside of it. He mentions when he turned to faith but won’t tell me the reasons why, adding they are personal and out of respect I don’t pry. I tell him he seems like a nice person but he can still be that person without faith, that he doesn’t need faith or gods to be a decent, kind and caring human being. He smiles but adds I’m the close minded one as I won’t read his literature, I point out I’ve already accepted it from his friend earlier. He asks if I want to consider more about god, no is my reply, I won’t ever be interested either. We part and shake hands. I walk off with the catholic guy and we shake hands too as we try and summarise the hectic verbal melee before saying goodbye.
I head off and gaze upwards to the sun, a sun that once was thought to revolve around the earth until science pointed out otherwise. I reflect on my friends newly born baby and smile. Life is infectious and for living and no christian doom bringer is ever going to spoil how I feel about life because its just too good an experience to waste!

Contradictions

Staying with my earlier theme of the local newspaper column I want to mention a recent one, written by Lesley Marshall from the ‘Church of Promise’.
The article is called ‘You can have it all with god’. A wild boast if I ever heard one. The first mundane bit of the article mentions household decorating and preparation before we get swiftly to god.
‘We are not always perfect. All I can say is, thank goodness that god doesn’t have grumpy off days and puts up even with me when I am muttering darkly.’
I can think of several grumpy off days god has had, just read the old testament for plenty of proof.
‘And thank goodness there were no half measures and he didn’t cut corners when he created us. Because of course god is our creator.’
Evidence please? Oh of course, the bible, I forgot….
He took extreme care when he was creating us, down to the most infinitesimal details, including eons of planning and preparation.’
How is this known? And why all the planning when it only took seven days to make the earth? So much preparation in fact that god got Adam to name the animals!
‘In Jeremiah 1:4 god says; “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart”. I am completely bowled over by that. It seems like excessive preparation to me. But nothing is too much trouble for god when creating us; “Even the very hairs on our head are all numbered.” (Matthew 10:34).’
I’d argue much seems too much trouble for god, in fact almost everything these days, especially wars, famine, disasters etc. When it comes to these perfect creations what about the babies that don’t make it or have deformity? Anyway moving on because it gets much more ludicrous.
Gods creation is always perfect. As I write that I can hear your disbelief . We all know people who are not perfect; some have medical problems, some are permanently grumpy and anti social, some are immoral and criminal.’
Bang! There we have the contradiction. Perfect then not perfect, in fact its all a matter of opinion really on what perfection is but I noticed she slipped the ‘immoral’ word in, a sure fire favourite of christians. And next she comes up with this veritable gem.
‘I realise that doesn’t seem like perfection. But that’s our own fault and not gods.’
Incredible eh? Absolutely incredible. I guess we are bordering sin territory and all that rubbish or could any christian readers give their rational interpretation of the above?
The article rambles on a bit more on how god knows us better than we know ourselves and then ends with;
‘You can have it all with god.’
Well all I can say is ‘I’d rather not’. It’s articles like the above why I object to complete and utter rubbish being published in my local newspaper because religion is all about contradictions and excuses and folklore nonsense. I may seem harsh but seriously, what use is the above article to anyone? It is completely and utterly pointless.

Love Thy Neighbour?

Almost every week there’s a column in my local newspaper called ‘Credo’. I may have mentioned it before, the content is Christian and invariably points to all things biblical. It would make a refreshing change if the local Christian contributors diversified a little but they don’t which of course makes it a predictable read.
Do I think such columns should feature in local newspapers? No. I did voice my opinion in an email to the newspaper but received no reply. I can only assume if someone wanted to do a column based on Humanism or Atheism they’d get a similar answer or it would be met with almost certain outrage by the local religious community. Seemingly when it comes to tolerance religion fails more often than not, especially when it feels threatened. As we move to more secular times why do we need to read religious rants and witterings of the past in a local newspaper anyway, surely news is more important and god is definitely old news, and not particularly good news.
Recently when I was returning from my holiday abroad I sat waiting in the departure lounge of the airport. As you probably know it can be a protracted affair before you finally get to board. Sitting down I reached into my bag and started to read a book called ‘In Defence of Atheism’. Mostly I read without my spectacles so distance vision is blurred and as I put them back on momentarily to check my flight details I noticed a very disgruntled priest sat opposite who had obviously read the title of my book. His expression said it all, he upped and left for another seating area. It’s that ‘tolerance’ word again, I was happy to sit near a priest but he wasn’t happy sitting near me, purely on the basis of what I was reading. Love thy neighbour?

Don’t Fear The Reaper

This week I had some minor surgery to my eye and the experience made me reflect on medical attention I’d had in the past. Over the years I’ve had quite a few operations to various parts of my body and I feel a huge debt to the National Health Service here in Britain which is free to all, it’s a great achievement and something envied around the world.
Anyway, without digressing too much, surgery in the past has involved anaesthetic. The amazing thing about a general anaesthetic is that you feel nothing, a peaceful blackness envelops you and you are whisked away to a void, bereft of consciousness and pain, one thing for sure it puts the brain into deep slumber and all is peaceful. Often on coming out of an anaesthetic and being reintroduced back to the world and pain again I’ve yearned to return to the black serene void to escape reality.
I imagine death to to be like an anaesthetic or the closest living experience we can get to it, do I fear death? No, perhaps I did once but once you come to terms with the one certainty in your life, the fear subsides. Do, I want to die? Of course not, who does? (Apart from crazed religious fanatic suicide bombers perhaps?)
Death gives us impetus and inspiration to live life, a realisation we must set goals, targets and live very much for the present as despite religious claims nobody is really certain what lies beyond, it’s always been the eternal enigma and indeed fear of mankind, it’s also been the obsession and prime controlling method of many religions.
One of the reasons I no longer fear death is that I have no control over it and neither can I do nothing about it so my conclusion is why worry or dwell on it?
I’ve seen death first hand. Some years ago I consented to my mothers life support machine being switched off on the advice of doctors. A nurse led me to her bedside and explained the procedure, she pointed out the blood pressure monitor on a panel and said when it dropped below a certain number my mother would be dead, it was all very matter of fact. I held her small cold hand, her partner sat opposite me the other side of the bed, the nurse left and the monitor beeped as my mums pressure dropped. We sat, we waited. Tears streamed down our faces and we both spoke to her even though she couldn’t hear us. Looking back now, I recall us blaming her for wasting her life, for indulging in excess alcohol and throwing it all away at such a young age. The reality was she was the only one to blame for destroying her health by her own volition.
The monitor stopped beeping. My mother lay dead, we fell silent.
I didn’t for one second think she had gone to some ethereal paradise but I did think she had at last found peace from the torment she had in the real world.
A few days later and the bitter irony was I had to take my mothers mum to see her daughter lay in the hospital mortuary. She was frail and leaned upon me and when she entered the small room where my mother lay she raised her walking stick and blamed my mum for wasting her life before breaking down into tears. It was something I never want to repeat. Again though, concern for the validity and gift of life was voiced by my grandmother.
A few years later that same old lady, my grandmother passed away, the thing was I mourned her loss more than my mothers for several reasons. Before she passed away we spoke of death, the fact was she longed for it, craved it’s solace away from her aches and pains and failing body, she had no fear of death.
Everything must end, nothing lasts forever even though we want it too. The Bible describes an celestial paradise but the reality is there’s few details but lots of imagination. The Koran gives offers more details. nubile houri’s, mountains of food, lush flowing rivers and many rewards.
Do I believe in an afterlife or heaven? No. I can see why an afterlife is appealing but lets be honest here, the practicalities of immortality are absurd.
I pretty much think Christopher Hitchens description of heaven being a celestial North Korea is very appropriate. After a lifetime of bending the knee we’d be presented with yet more, that’s when subservience would really begin. If it existed I’d imagine it to be something Orwellian, a sombre dystopia of identical homes and town built around yet more churches and statues, sirens calling you to debase yourself before your dictatorial benefactor and eternal life giver. There’d be no bars, no vices, no rock concerts, no cinema’s, nothing at all that could stimulate our base urges and enable us to further explore our humanity. It would be a sterile affair with constant subjugation and observance.
We’d be thrust into an eternity of abasement spent with relatives we never got along with in the real world. An eternity to do nothing but worship more, and with all the time you needed there’d be no inspiration to undertake anything because the concept of time would be redundant.
This is what I imagine a heaven to be like.
Valhalla of course, now that sounds an interesting place, feisty wenches, duels, roaring fires, flagons of wine and songs drifting up into smoky wooden beams of a Viking hall.
When you look at different religions they all have various takes on an afterlife, all are hopeful speculation based on the human imagination.
As for the here and now? Live it to the full, experience all you are able and when your body is old and broken and a full life has been lived welcome the peaceful nothingness that follows, after all, you’ve experience something wonderful that is life, a miracle in itself, you’ve done your bit, played your part and nothing lasts forever.
As the iconic Blue Öyster Cult’s song says – Don’t Fear the Reaper.

Jenga Faith

I’ve returned from my sojourn to the island of Malta in the Mediterranean, so what did I learn from the experience?
Well I learned many things. It was an interesting holiday, I did lots of exploring and devoured whole chapters of books whilst sat on my balcony overlooking the sea. It certainly was a great place to absorb things and think.
One particular day I was on the very small barren island of Comino, which north of Malta. There was little vegetation, it was rocky and quite barren, almost desert like. I imagined a camel train sauntering through a desert landscape, the scorching heat bearing down upon robed and hooded people as they made their way through in inhospitable terrain. It confirmed in my mind that religions formed in the Middle East where in fact born of the desert when men imagined something better, a paradise beyond their baked earth that had abundant crops, lush rivers and shaded groves weighted down with ripe succulent fruit – another world from their brutal and harsh existence, a heaven of their imagination.
Malta has a very religious past, St Paul is alleged to have landed there, though I find the bible passages in Acts and the actual terrain of the island at odds with each other. The bible mentions beaches and there are none on the side of the island he supposedly landed (in fact very few on the whole island). In Acts it mentions the locals gathering wood and Malta is almost bereft of trees. Poisoned snakes are also mentioned (Paul was bitten by one) and yet none are evident on the island today. Whilst the island may have been different geographically then I feel he could have landed at any island in the Mediterranean. Malta would have been called Melite back then and was under Roman rule, on reading Acts 27-28 it is referred to as Malta. I can only assume later Roman editors and writers of the Bible shoe horned Malta into things as a known christian location rather than an unknown one, either way biblical sources are brief and vague and the facts don’t really marry with the island.
Malta is a lovely place, it has great architecture and some fantastic period churches. On a small island off St Paul’s bay is a statue of St Paul, I didn’t get too close but passed close by whilst on a boat trip, a trip that further confirmed the rocky coastline of the area.
It seems the Maltese are moving away from christianity albeit slowly. Evidence for this? Well, the divorce is now legal and wasn’t until recently, the Maltese are embracing western fashions (denim shorts et al) as the younger women are only to happy to show, no bad thing as they are beautiful creatures indeed. The Maltese are quite materialist I’d say, they love their cars and fashionable clothes and there’s a feeling when talking to young Maltese they they are becoming quite modern in outlook and indeed secular.
Back to the reading. It only seemed fitting that whilst in Malta I read more about the man himself, St Paul, aka Paul of Tarsus or in his own words a foreign diplomat for christianity. Paul’s promulgation of myth’s of course has had world wide repercussions that are evident today. I shall blog more in depth on Paul at a later date but in brief we can say Paul was insular, bitter, delusional and neurotic and basically had a sombre vision of the world.
I did a lot of reading regarding Jesus and learned quite a bit more of the mystical man-myth creation. The more you investigate Jesus the more you discover he was a concept character invented during a time of civil unrest in the area, when you examine the history of the era of Jesus you learn their where many such prophets that basically kicked off against Roman authority, and of course all were put down in due course, most of those were recorded at the time, Jesus of wasn’t historically recorded at the time as being a revolutionary until much later of course where his fabrication takes a written hold. I hope to blog later when I’ve made more notes together regarding the deconstruction of the myth of Jesus.
I left Malta feeling more knowledgeable in my atheism, lots of sunshine, reading and thinking made me come to a clear conclusion regarding the Christian, Islam and Judaism faiths. That is they are all quite similar and much like the wooden blocks game of Jenga, once you remove the blocks of fabrication, fable and fiction then it all comes tumbling down.
Anyway, enjoy the gallery of some photos I took below, as you’ll agree some great looking churches. On the positive side I didn’t burst into flames on entering them. There’s also a photo of Paul’s statue on an island in the bay, if only he had been shipwrecked there for eternity sparing the world of his hysterical rantings!

Interlude

Well Folks, I am off for a well deserved holiday abroad. I’m going to the sunny Mediterranean to a little island jewel called Malta. Don’t fear, I shan’t be gone too long, it’s only for a week or so. Malta is allegedly 98% Catholic so there’s plenty of churches and the Maltese take religion very seriously. I’m staying near St Paul’s Bay where the saint supposedly landed, so hopefully I will be taking photos and posting them in the near future. Until next time, take care!

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