Wednesday, April 17, 2013

It’s Our ATTITUDE That Counts

Our choice of the words we use can tell us much about our attitude and what is going on in our minds. Some of the words which appear frequently in our speech and our journalism are “fight”, or “battle”, or “war”. We use them so frequently and ubiquitously that we don’t seem to be aware of their implication other than their appeal to the human tendency to place warriors on a pedestal and to assure the flow of the adrenal hormone, epinephrine which energizes us and prepares us for combat.

Warriors, brave as they are, are actually the victims of our basal instinct to protect ourselves by using force. It is the warrior who pays the price of death, or mutilation, or captivity and suffering. It is also the warrior who causes death and destruction, often not of his own choosing, but at the bidding of a commander or ruler.

Wouldn’t it be wiser for us to learn new attitudes and more civilized emotional responses to whatever challenges we face instead of the genetic flight or fight tendency with which we were born? A change in attitude must come first and this will enable a change in behavior. We must convince ourselves, through introspection and good will, that (a) change is needed if we are to reduce the incidence of violence in the world, (b) change is possible, and (c) less violence will benefit us all.

A good start toward changing attitudes and reducing violence might be to avoid using words which connote violence when rallying to face any challenge—social, political, or international. Does every effort to correct a bad situation need to be phrased in violent terms? Would it convey our message in more constructive fashion if, instead of “fight” or “battle” or “war”, we spoke of our concerns and our intentions as goals or ideals and stated our commitment to constructive effort/cooperation in order to improve? Rather than a “war on poverty” we might call for a ”common goal to reduce the incidence of poverty”. Instead of a “fight against terrorism” we might advocate “a united effort to reduce the likelihood of terrorism”. I know, I know---this sounds soft and uninspiring—until we do enough of it to make us feel the positive energy and power that comes from joining together and realizing that we need not be savages in order to be effective; we need not resort to killing in order to reduce the action of would-be killers. We need not execute murderers (capital punishment) in order to reduce violence—in fact just the opposite. By refraining from using violence in our legal system, we can set the example that violence does not solve anything other than self defense.


What Is Knowledge? How Do WE Know Anything?

What is the relationship between faith and knowledge?

I do find it difficult, if not impossible, to see any connection between faith and reason, or between religion and science. I realize that there are many who claim that there is no conflict between these ways of thinking. There is a professor here at the College of Charleston who sees no conflict because, as he says, religion and science are just two different ways of looking at life. One has nothing to do with the other. I do not follow his logic. He seems to make it work for himself by what I would call “compartmentalizing” his life. He avoids dealing with the conflicts by not taking up both sides at the same time. He apparently can explore, and give credence to, the scientific idea that humans are the result of evolution from earlier forms of life, then shift gears and say that God created man, and then woman, relatively recently. If a person does not want to discard either of these possibilities, then he may keep both—separately.

Would you call this a “reasonable” way of thinking--rational? logical? I guess that all of these terms are relative; thus there will always be disagreement. For myself, this professor’s way of thinking has no value, is not helpful. It feels like a cop-out. Rational?—not for me. Is he an irrational person? He might be rational when it comes to math or economics or biology. But as to philosophy?—not to my way of thinking.

Can any person “know” some truth that no one else “knows”? How so? If truth exists, why is it not readily accessible to all—without any need for a “leap of faith”? Doesn’t an idea, or concept, require “faith” in order to believe it only because it is not provable, or replicable, or unequivocal, or “Knowable”? If so, how is faith different from fantasy or wishful thinking?

I use the term “knowledge” to mean information that is universal and unequivocal. I do not include ideas or concepts which are not replicable. For example, we “know” that if an airplane’s engine shuts down, the plane will come down. We “know” that, if a broken bone is reset and held in place for a given length of time, it will heal. We “know” that, if we don’t eat and drink, we will die. But we don’t “know” the origin of life, and we don’t “know” whether any kind of existence continues after we die. We can only speculate, and, if we wish to draw conclusions, we do what we call “having faith”. We choose to believe (hope?) in the unknowable. Is this latter different from fantasy? If so, how?

All this is not to say that faith, or fantasy, has no use. It surely makes life more bearable for some, but I, personally, have no use for it. Further, there have been too many times when people have killed others because they did not hold the same “beliefs” and saw them as a threat.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Proof of existence

The failure to disprove that something exists (such as a deity, the supernatural, etc.), when presented as evidence for such existence, can only be intended to deceive.  It may have crude value as entertainment, but even that is doubtful.

Friday, October 12, 2012

A CRITIQUE OF THEOLOGICAL THINKING Theology is the study of (logos) God (theos), or, as some have defined it, “the science of things divine”. In broad terms it is the field of thinking which deals with the attempt to answer the age old questions: Who am I? Where did I come from? Where am I going? Theology proposes that a creator/deity is responsible and then proceeds to supply much dogma to support the concept. To call theology “the science of things divine” seems to be an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. If science is the body of systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation (Webster), and things divine are concepts derived from myth or fantasy, there can be no conciliation of the two. Science does not deal in myth, and vice versa. To pretend that they do seems fraudulent. This difference in the technique of analytical thinking is the reason there can seldom be a constructive dialogue between people of faith and people of science. They begin with contradictory assumptions which make real communication impossible unless one or the other relinquishes his/her assumption. The person of faith admittedly believes in something that cannot be observed or demonstrated or replicated. The person of science does not believe this, but he cannot prove it is false. The result is an impasse which is not easily resolved. The best that can happen when two such minds meet is an agreement to disagree. Persuasion is out of the question, and any attempt at such quickly becomes harmful to the relationship. Some scientists, an apparent minority, try to handle this dilemma by compartmentalizing their thinking into that which is science and that which is theological. They claim that science and religion are simply two different methods of looking at life and are not to be mixed. Science will handle the physical, and religion (faith) will handle the non-physical. This way the questions are evaded but not resolved. We don’t have readily available, objective answers to the age old questions, but humans don’t cease to search whenever there is uncertainty. It is human nature to be attracted by those who have leadership skills and who profess to have knowledge to dispense and who pose as authority figures. Wherever uncertainty exists, there have always been some individuals who (a) think they have figured out some possible answers, and (b) benefit from peddling their solutions to the multitudes who will buy them--literally and figuratively. These peddlers become our theologians, and many have achieved popularity and acclaim both past and present. The demand for authority figures who could inform the masses as to the answers to the age old questions led to the establishment of colleges and institutions where such would-be authority figures could be trained. These are known as theological schools or seminaries, and their products are theologians and clergy. The establishment of temples, churches, mosques and synagogues over the past three millennia are the manifestation of the extent to which man will go in attempting to find answers. The fact that the founders of these religions each were convinced that they had the answers, yet were similar only to the extent that they each claimed one God, did not prevent them from creating different sets of dogma, ritual and myth. Each had its prophets who were idolized and deemed the ultimate authority, e.g. Moses/Abraham, Jesus, Mohammed, and more recently Joseph Smith and Mary Baker Eddy. Each of these claimed God-given knowledge as to the proper way to think and worship, and they prescribed specific behavior with regard to disciplining those who go astray or who are seen as heretics or infidels. Arrogance seems to be characteristic of such prophets, i.e. “God spoke to me, and I know------.”

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Thoughts On the Meaning of Morality

Ever since the mind of man developed the ability to reason, he has struggled to define ethical/moral right and wrong. Emperors, philosophers, prophets and priests have all promoted their particular versions of morality. Problems arise when the version promoted by one sect, say Catholicism, conflicts with another, like Protestantism, or when say Islam conflicts with Judaism. Each has its version of what to eat, how to dress, when and how to pray, to whom to pray, the proper use of sex, and the role of government in enacting control over people’s behavior.
For me, the determining of right and wrong behavior is based on one simple principle on which it is difficult to obtain a consensus. This principle is: we are all entitled to life, liberty and the opportunity to pursue happiness. Liberty means the freedom to do anything we wish so long as it does not infringe upon anyone else’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. What other basis can there possibly be for imposing any other limits? The challenge would be how to determine when one person’s behavior does, in fact, infringe on another’s rights.
If we can reach some consensus on this question, we could stop criminalizing people who are minding their own business and whose behavior we don’t agree with, e.g. drug users, prostitutes, gamblers, and start being fair to homosexuals who want to marry and to women who want to end a pregnancy. It could be as simple as: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

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Sunday, December 25, 2011

The American Dream?

The American Dream?

Politicians, pundits, patriots and people ordinaire often make reference to something boastfully called, “the American Dream”—as if everyone understands what that means, sort of like “apple pie” and “motherhood”. But not everyone means the same thing.

To some it means: a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage; a good-paying job; a house on Elm St.; a high school diploma or a college degree; a doctor and medicine for every ailment, etc. It means a government which ensures the availability of all these.

To me, it does not mean any of these things. Instead it means simply liberty and opportunity. The earliest Americans, mostly farmers and merchants, had no assurance of any of the niceties mentioned above, yet they saw themselves as being in an unequaled land of opportunity and freedom from oppression, either governmental or ecclesiastical. As evidence of this, note that neither the Constitution, nor the Pledge of Allegiance, nor the Star Spangled Banner, nor any holy writ provides a guarantee of anything but liberty, equality under the law, and opportunity to pursue all the rest.

Judging by the behavior and clamor of some, it appears that democracy has allowed too many of its citizens to equate “opportunity” with “entitlement”. They do not understand that opportunity is merely the priviledge of exerting oneself in the effort to succeed and advance with no guarantees and no favoritism. It requires risk, discipline, work and entrepreneurship.

Those of us who are receiving payments from Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, food stamps, or receiving free emergency room healthcare, are the beneficiaries of a giant, government sponsored, Ponzi scheme. We are being paid out of funds collected from those who are required by law to be the payers. What we may have contributed earlier comes nowhere near covering the cost of what we are receiving now. As long as we perceive these payouts as entitlements, the percentage of would-be immigrants who are attracted by the prospect of becoming recipients will be high. Only a change in our thinking, from wanting entitlements to wanting opportunity, will cause an increase in the percentage of would-be immigrants who seek opportunity rather than handouts. This is how to restore the real American Dream.


It is not all Either Black or White

It Is Not All Either Black or White

Politicians tend to present issues as a choice of either black or white. This makes it easy for constituents to support the politician’s choice because they don’t have to study the issue or wrestle with other options. The politicians know that they stand a better chance of getting people’s support by avoiding any discussion of the gray areas, e.g. possible long term consequences. It seems to me that many of the leaders of nations in history became leaders because they promoted an us vs. them attitude. This attitude may be a necessary approach to international issues such as aggression and war; but with intra-national and local issues, it leads to extremes, abuses and inequality.

The present struggle in Washington over what to do about the problems of unemployment, high costs of health care, a sluggish economy, whether homosexuals should have the right to marry, campaign finance reform, and tax reform, runs the risk of decisions being made which are as harmful as the original problem because the decision makers did not consider the gray areas such as all possible consequences. If long range consequences had been made a part of the consideration, this might have called for a compromise—something which present day politicians, especially those of whatever party is in the minority and trying to regain the Presidency, avoid at all costs. It might make the other party look respectable.

Too many people, in my opinion, either don’t want, or don’t have the capacity, to think analytically about complex questions. This makes them vulnerable to whatever adamant, emotion-arousing leader comes along, however good or bad he/she might be. It is easier to choose one of two options than it is to choose one of six possibilities. We take the easy path at our own peril.


Friday, September 9, 2011

How I Came To Be a Non-believer: a History of My Philosophical Evolution

This is a compilation in chronological order of my notes written over the years as I struggled to clarify for myself just what I believed with regard to the theology I had been taught all my life. My philosophical evolution is revealed in these notes.


(April 9, 1958)

I do not cease to be amazed and somewhat disturbed by the divergence of ideas and conceptions which men can have concerning the same subject where the same information is available to all. There must be some factor which causes this other than the differences of heredity or environment.

(Year 1959)

Questions in my mind:
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Monday, July 25, 2011

Arrogance: Can It Ever Be Constructive?

Webster defines arrogance as a feeling of superiority manifested in an overbearing manner or presumptuous claims. Has there ever been an instance in which an attitude of superiority has contributed to a resolution that was fair and beneficial to all?
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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Why Differ on the Source of Principles and Values?

Christians often imply that only Christians can have principles and values, and that a "relationship with God" is essential for overcoming "original and enduring" evil. As long as this attitude prevails, that Christians are right and everyone else is wrong, how can there ever be peace and harmony? How is this any different than the Muslim belief of the same ilk? Must we all become either 100% Christian or 100% Muslim in order to get along?
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Saturday, July 16, 2011

Where Are We Headed?

Where are we headed?

This scenario is offered with the hope it will help us to focus on the issues of government and social concerns. Most people, the world over, would say that they want (1) everyone to have access to proper health care, (2) everyone to be able to make an adequate living, (3) everyone to have sufficient food, clothing and housing, and (4)everyone to have access to a good education.
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Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Meaning of Liberty

The Meaning of Liberty

Ask yourself: what aspect of your life do you value most? When I ask myself this question, I think of family, friends, health, wealth, country, and more; but the aspect that is essential to all, for me, is liberty. The Declaration of Independence emphasizes man’s right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. For me, without liberty, life would not be desirable and the pursuit of happiness would not be possible.

So, let us ask: what is liberty?
It is obvious that we don’t all think of this in the same way. How can liberty, for someone who has always been free, be the same as for someone who has just been freed from slavery or captivity? How can liberty for a person steeped in the dictates of Catholicism, or Islam, or so-called fundamental Christianity of any denomination, be the same as for someone who has never been made to feel guilty for being alive?

It is obvious that the founders of the US, those who wrote the Declaration of Independence and/or the Constitution, did not all see liberty as meaning what most Americans today mean. After all, only white males were guaranteed the right to vote when the first ten amendments were adopted in 1791. It was not until the adoption of the 15th Amendment in 1870 that the right to vote could no longer be denied to anyone because of “race, color or previous condition of servitude.” It was still another 50 years before the 19th Amendment was passed prohibiting the denial of the right to vote on the basis of sex. It took us all these years to reach the awareness that we were not living up to our declared intention that all men are created equal and have certain inalienable rights.

For me, liberty means the freedom to live life as I please with the only limitation being that my actions do not deny or infringe upon anyone else’s right to do the same. It means freedom to choose my behavior and comes with the obligation to be responsible for any consequences. Thus my moral values are determined by how my actions affect others both far and near. Liberty, in the setting of one’s city, state and nation, means freedom from oppression and from all limitations by law other than those laws needed to protect the rights of all others to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Some people believe that they have the right to protect others from themselves, e.g. laws requiring seat belts or helmets. Some also believe that government should legislate morality, e.g. laws making it a crime to possess drugs or for prostitution or for terminating a pregnancy. To me, this is not compatible with liberty. Even if I favored this way of thinking, I would not know how to choose those who would decide what morals to legislate. I am much more comfortable with this being left up to the individual to decide for himself.

When we say, “This is a free country”, we imply that there is freedom for everyone. But is this really true? We all claim our right, given by the Constitution, to practice our choice of whatever religion appeals to us. There is a mutual respect between believers in all the Judeo-Christian denominations which derives from an understanding that all insiders have a common belief in a single deity. “We are all God-fearing.” But what happens when we encounter those others who believe in multiple deities (e.g. Hindus) or those who have no God-belief? When a non-believer makes himself known, he/she often becomes an object of contempt and exclusion. His/her freedom begins to be jeopardized.

The US Constitution guarantees for every person freedom of, and from, religion (one can't have one without the other), and freedom of speech and peaceful assembly. It guarantees there will be no government sponsored religion, which implies no government favored religion (otherwise the freedom of all religion is compromised). This seems clear until we find ourselves in those situations where one person’s exercise of liberty infringes on the rights of others. In these areas it is obvious that there must be some limits on how one exercises his/her rights. The right to freedom of speech, for example, cannot go so far as to allow the shouting of “fire” in a crowded theater when there is no fire, nor so far as to allow slander or false accusations. The right to privacy does not go so far as to allow the withholding of information which could prove another’s guilt or innocence.

With liberty comes obligation. Liberty without obligation is license--the freedom to do as you please without regard for consequences--the realm of tyrants.

When legislators take it upon themselves to decide what limits to impose on individual liberty, they are often carried away by their sense of power and the ego satisfaction they get out of assuming the role of parent. They become patriarchs/matriarchs eager to control others.

I like this quotation attributed to Judge Learned Hand: The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which seeks to understand the minds of other men and women”.

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I Am

I rise. I brush and splash. I walk. I sip, read and think. Cogito, ergo sum. Yes, I am.

I turn it on, look and watch--the numbers change constantly before my eyes.

I think of Frances, and I ask myself: is what I am doing helping her--to cope? To prepare for the future? Or for the end? I think so. I hope so.

I think of my children, step children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. What kind of world will they be living in? What can I do to make their lives as pleasant and fulfilling as possible? The goals may be unattainable, but I must try.

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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

My Development As a Non-believer

My Development As a Non-believer

Polls have shown that approximately 79% of Americans profess a belief in a deity or creator. Most Americans were brought up in homes where such beliefs were held by the parents and taught to the children, whether Christian, Jewish or Muslim, and I was no exception. In my family, my parents, grandparents and great-grandparents were churchgoers. I never had the opportunity to hear any of my grandparents or great-grandparents say what they actually believed. My parents did make it clear that they were believers and devoted to the Presbyterian Church. They took me to Sunday School
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Sunday, July 3, 2011

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Friday, June 24, 2011

Answers and Uncertainty

Is it the plight of mankind to be slaves to the desire for certainty? What else can explain why we so quickly and willingly attach ourselves to those leaders who dare to tell us what is truth, what we should believe, what kind of government we should have, and what we need to do to solve our problems? We love authority figures--especially those with charisma. A would-be leader who comes across as an attractive authority can convince us of almost anything they wish. We want to accept their answers without question-- and we do. We are more comfortable having somebody else to figure out the hard answers for us; or maybe we just don’t trust our own judgment, but we can’t seem to bear being uncertain.
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Philosophy As a Way of Life

The early, so-called “great”, philosophers saw philosophy as a way of life, meaning not only a means of livelihood, but more especially a pattern of thinking, a way of perceiving oneself and the universe, and a guide to ethics and morality--a way of deciding how to live and relate to others. They searched, discussed, experimented and labored over trying to develop and teach a method for doing these things. They each sought what they called “truth”, but few ever felt that they were satisfied that they had found an unequivocal answer. Most of them, at various times in their lives, were popular and sought after by some and seen as dangerous heretics by others.
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Monday, May 30, 2011

How Reason Works

"You can not with reason convince a person out of a position which they did not use reason to get to in the first place." (Source unknown)

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Saturday, May 28, 2011

What Price Anger?

Anger comes naturally to us humans when someone causes us pain, and the
experiences of childhood and youth are replete with painful situations. As young children we want, and need, not only our parents’ love, but also their affirmation. We need to be told, and demonstrated to, that we are valued as a person. Parents often, out of their own need, do not affirm us enough; and the more we feel (consciously or unconsciously)unaffirmed, the greater our craving for it. The denial of affirmation, all the way to actual abuse, causes us pain to which we respond with anger because we have not learned that we can do or feel anything else.

Most of us, if we are spared outright abuse, learn to get affirmation by being obedient, cooperative,
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Saturday, May 14, 2011

Excessive Corporate Compensation

Where do you find businesses where some of the employees get to set their own salaries and compensation packages? You’ll find them in all the large corporations such as General Electric, General Motors, IBM, Bank of America and, yes, even SCANA, etc., etc., etc. In all such shareholder-owned corporations, the compensation packages are designed by a committee of the board of directors and approved by the total board, the officers of which are employees of the shareholders. A CEO’s compensation may be “negotiated”
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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Fact and Fantasy


Humans have developed a system for using their minds to distinguish fact from fantasy. We call it science, and it includes math, physics, chemistry, geology and astronomy. Information gathered by these methods can be demonstrated and replicated, always with the same results, unequivocal. We all know from experience
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Free Thinking Behooves Us All

Albert Schweitzer is reported to have said, “Truth has no special time of its own. Its hour is now, always, and indeed then most truly when it seems most unsuitable to actual circumstances.”

Since I see truth as not an absolute but an ever expanding manner of observing all existence, I would offer a slightly different expression by substituting the word “inquiry” for “truth”: Inquiry has no special time of its own. Its hour is now, always, and indeed then when it seems most unsuitable to actual circumstances.

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Amendment Needed

POLITICS is the term we apply to our system of selecting our governmental representatives and to their actions once in office. We also use it to refer to the maneuvering for power and control in non-governmental organizations and institutions. Except in cases where a decision is unanimous, it always involves a power struggle.
The subject of politics comes up in our day to day conversation with family, friends and acquaintances because everybody has their own pre-conditioned viewpoint about social, legal and governmental issues.
Politics has been called “the art of compromise”, which, at its best, it is. At its worst, it involves injustice,
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God Bless America?

Jan. 30, 2011

President Obama closed his speach last week with the words, “May God bless America”. I wish he had not done that. Here are my concerns.

1. I think that when politicians use the expression “God bless America” or “so help me God”, they do so mostly because they believe it to be (to use an over-used cliche) “politically correct”, i.e. they think that it will get more votes than it loses.

2. The expression sounds exclusive, audacious and arrogant.
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Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Missing Expression

"The Week That Was" is a discussion group which I attend.

The Missing Expression

At the last meeting of "The Week That Was" we discussed how we thought the subject of VJ Day should be treated. Most of us agreed that the dropping of the atomic bomb was the right thing to do under the circumstances, and that we were proud to be Americans. I tried to express the idea that there was something missing from our discussion by asking whether a child who listened to us for a few minutes would see us as peace-loving people.
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The Skeptic

The Skeptic

He was 15 years old, in high school, and had participated in the program at school assembly that day. When school let out, he was walking toward the street where his mother was waiting in the car, and a voice called out across the yard, “You did good in assembly today, Frank”. He did not answer. When he got into the car, his mother asked, “Why didn’t you thank that girl who complimented you?” He did not have an answer. It seemed trivial to him. In later years he learned to see all such compliments as honest efforts to affirm and be supportive--not trivial at all.

Over the years, the memory of this experience led to some further self-examination.
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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Religious Dogma

I have come to realize that the single most destructive and abusive piece of religious dogma ever foisted on the mind of a gullible young person is the idea that all mankind (this means you) are sinners and thus unworthy of anything but death. Once convinced of this mistaken image of himself, the person becomes a slave to the religious authority which indoctrinated him, and then he has to spend his best efforts, in his most potentially productive years, learning how to cope with guilt and feelings of inferiority which the concept engenders, not to mention the loneliness, fear, anxiety and depression also accompanying.

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Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Creation Viewpoint


The question of the ages is: how did all this get here and from whence did the universe come? My thinking has led me long ago to the position which follows.

If we say that the universe must have been created and the only possible creator is God, then we are still left with the question: where did God come from?

It seems to me that any answer which might be given to the second question could, and should, be given to the first question. It also seems obvious that any attempt to answer the question (thus far in man’s existence) is mere speculation. Terms such as "eternal", "forever", and "infinite" are words invented to indicate the limits
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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Believers and Non-believers


Philosophy, according Webster, is the rational investigation of the truths and principles of being, knowledge or conduct. Any discussion of philosophy eventually boils down to one or all of the following subjects: religion, sex, money, and power. Politics involves them all, and the one which presents perhaps the greatest hurdle to constructive dialogue is religion.

Here is the problem. Most, if not all, religions contain the idea of "faith" or "belief". Webster defines these as: faith--belief that is not based on proof; and belief--confidence in the truth or existence of something not
 susceptible to rigorous proof. So, if we are going to give credence to, and claim as reality, things which we can only imagine, e.g. God, then what are the criteria for judging the merit of any idea?
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Sunday, July 26, 2009

Who is entitled to the water in a river?

South Carolina’s attorney general, Henry McMaster, recently had an article in the
paper concerning the legal battle between South Carolina and North Carolina over the use of water from the rivers which come through N. C. on the way to S.C. He pointed out how the granting of permits by N. C. to certain cities and utilities for the diversion of millions of gallons of water per day could endanger the availablity of water to the citizens of S. C. He called the federal law suit which he had filed a "fight for S. C. rights".

My question is: how can such a conflict be resolved in a way that is fair to all without also coming to grips
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Sunday, July 19, 2009

A Way to End Wars

I was just listening to a Mozart symphony, and had this thought.

I have noticed that most symphony orchestras are made up of people from many ethnic backgrounds. I see the faces of white people (who could be English, Russian, Italian, French, Spanish, American, etc.), black people, East Asians, and who knows what who are coming together to make music. If music can bring people toghether like this, then I would like to see the leaders of ALL countries selected from the field of music---maybe former conductors or composers.

I can not imagine that leaders like these would ever want to go to war with anyone. They could work out their differences while playing music or listening to a symphony.


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Constitution's First Amendment: What Does It Mean?

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion----" is usually interpreted to mean that the government shall not establish any religion as the official religion of the state and shall not favor any one religion over all others.

If this is the proper interpretation, then how do we justify putting "In God We Trust" on our coins and currency, or inserting the words "under God" in the pledge of allegiance? Both of these were acts of Congress, and both favor theism over Budhism, Hinduism, paganism, wicca, atheism and plain non-belief.

Is this not a violation of the law established in the Constitution?


Sunday, July 12, 2009

Justice and Vengeance: what is the difference?

A reading of the dictionary definitions of the words justice and vengeance reveals why there is so much variety of opinion on this subject. It becomes clear that we have no objective standards by which to make a distinction between justice and revenge, and the two become equated. Our opinions are charged with emotion, thus are subjective. It seems that we will never have a consensus with regard to the state executing a criminal (so-called capital punishment) unless we can evolve beyond the primitive desire for revenge.
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Saturday, July 11, 2009

In Search of Truth: Distinguishing Reality From Fantasy

In a world in which its inhabitants rely so heavily on fantasy and myth to supply answers to the eternal questions of (1) who are we?, (2) from whence did we come?, (3) where are we going?, it behooves us to be skeptics if we wish to arrive at anything resembling the truth.

All of the efforts to encourage pluralism, tolerance and cooperation are steps in the right direction. The question is: can we have a society (world) which provides liberty and equal treatment for all when we have such diverse fantasies and deem our particular fantasy to be the right one? Can we have diverse fantasies and still protect individual rights?

The historical record is that our differing fantasies have caused us to engage in much strife, e.g. the Crusades, the Inquisitions, the Protestant Reformation, witch hunts and court battles which endure to the present day. Shouldn’t we consider living without such fantasies and admitting that we actually don’t know the answers? This would at least give us fewer reasons to mistreat each other.

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The Role of Tradition in Our Lives (good and bad)

Tradition, in its many forms, has always played a part in how we see ourselves, how we see life, others and the world. Sometimes this is constructive, and sometimes destructive. Some traditions make life easier for all of us, and some favor a particular group st the expense of other groups.

Traditions such as those which celebrate birthdays, anniversaries and family reunions can be joyful, goodwill producing and provide a healthy sense of identity.

Traditions which attempt to control how we think, or which promulgate prejudices, are destructive and contribute to conflict and distrust. Examples are: public prayer; the teaching of the Bible, the Koran or the
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Saturday, July 4, 2009

What Price Growth?

What Price Growth?

The economy of this country, and probably the entire world, is built on population growth and the ever increasing demand for products and services. Capital is invested on the supposition that such growth will continue into the future.

State governors, city mayors and chambers of commerce all clamor for “growth”, i.e. more businesses, more tourists, more construction, more sales and more jobs. All well and good, but few are giving any thought to the negative aspects of growth.

When the population grows, so do the problems of waste disposal, polution of air and water, traffic congestion, destruction of forests and natural habitat, and drain on the water supply. Is it worth it? Can we learn to live with zero growth?


Sunday, June 21, 2009

Dialogues? Why?

Dialogue? Why do we do it? 6/21/09

Isn’t it a part of human nature to want to compete? We participate in sports in the hope of winning; we play card games, enter talent shows and beauty contests, participate in spelling bees and quiz shows---all with the goal of emerging as victor. Isn’t our motive in a dialogue the same as in a debate, i.e. to present the better argument and hopefully to persuade the other to our way of thinking? If so, then the challenge is: how to go about this constructively so as to avoid alienation and instead build trust and goodwill.

Here are some things to avoid:
1) a superior attitude (I’m OK, you’re not OK)
2) closing the door on new ideas or info.
3) put-downs; making the other person feel unvalued.
4) hidden agendas; not being honest.
5) being defensive, or causing the other to be defensive (acting out of emotion
rather than reason)
6) interrupting.

Things to do:
1) listen and give feed-back: “What I heard you say is____. Did I hear
2) ask questions: “What do you think about____?”
3) give credit where credit is due: “That’s a good thought,” or “a challenging
idea”; or “I can tell that you’ve given this a lot of thought”.
4) define your terms to avoid ambiguity.
5) be honest about feelings, yet respond from reason.


Population Growth and Its Effects

Population Growth and Its Effects

The economy of this country, and probably the entire world, is built on population growth and the ever increasing demand for products and services. Capital is invested on the supposition that such growth will continue into the future. State governors, city mayors and chambers of commerce all clamor for “growth”, i.e. more businesses, more tourists, more construction, more sales and more jobs. So far, so good. The problem is that few are giving any thought to the negative aspects or the various costs of “growth”.

When the population grows, so do the problems of waste disposal, pollution of air and water, traffic congestion, destruction of forests and natural habitat, lack of adequate water supply, etc. With the population of the world doubling every 40 years, how much longer will it be before the planet becomes such an unhealthy place to live that the death rate increases enough to reduce the total population? It now seems that we will not face up to our prospects willingly while we still have time to head this off. We could learn to live with a zero population growth if we put our minds to it and resolved to change our expectations about our life style. Here’s hoping we do this before it is too late.


Saturday, May 30, 2009

Separation of Church and State, part 2

Separation of Church and State, part 2

The concept of separating the affairs of government from the affairs of religion, and vice versa, is intended to prevent the government from ruling the church and the church from ruling the government.

The writers of our constitution were only one or two generations removed from governments in England which had been ruled by monarchs who variously promoted the power of the Catholic church or the Protestant church over the laws of the land. Heirs to the throne fought each other because one wanted the state to be Catholic and one wanted the state to be Protestant (James II vs William III c. 1688). The Protestant, William III, won and Parliament subsequently passed a law that no Catholic, or anyone married to a Catholic, could become the monarch.

America’s founders, as do some present day folks, failed to be objective enough. They put into the constitution that “Congress shall make no laws respecting the establishment of religion--”, meaning that there
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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Executive Compensation: are stockholders being ripped-off?

Executive Compensation: Are Stockholders Being Ripped-off?

The compensation paid to the CEOs of some of the largest banks and auto manufacturers, all of whom have been having big problems with profitability recently, were reportedly:

Vikram Pandit of Citigroup: $ 38,237,437 in 2008*
Kenneth Lewis of Bank of America: 9,857,723 in 2008*
Jeffrey Immelt of General Electric: 9,280,935 in 2008*
Richard Wagoner of General Motors: 19,761,874 in 2007*
Alan Mulally of Ford Motor Co.: 22,750,385 in 2007*

(*I am using these figures because they were the ones available at website. Some of the pay was down from the previous year, and some was up.)

Executive compensation at all corporations is determined by the corporation’s board of directors, the members of which are largely executives of other corporations. The explanation usually given by the directors
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Sunday, March 22, 2009

Confronting Misconceptions: To Do, or Not To Do?

Confronting Misconceptions: To Do, or Not To Do?

In the course of an email conversation, one of my friends told me that he did not see it as his job to correct other people’s misconceptions. We have not pursued this thought any further, but it got me to thinking: if it is not his job, or my job, to correct what we see as misconceptions, whose job is it? If it is no one’s job, are we not setting ourselves up for abuse?

I realize that it accomplishes nothing to offer advice which has not been requested, and it often leads to alienation. Hence my dilemma: what contribution can I make when I perceive other’s misconceptions which affect my life/liberty in a negative manner? Is there any constructive way to persuade those who, for instance,
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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

"This is a Christian nation"?

“This is a Christian nation”?

How often have we heard or read these words? It is usually expressed with an air of defiance---sometimes arrogance. What does the expression mean?

Does it mean that everyone in this nation is a Christian? Obviously not. Does it mean that our government is Christian? This cannot be because our country’s controlling document, the Constitution, does not mention Christ or Christianity. Does it mean that our country’s laws are based on “Christian ideals”? This is partly true, but it is not sufficient to call this a Christian nation when the same ideals are found in Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, humanism and other philosophies.

So, what is the intended meaning of “this is a Christian nation”? Could it be that the one who utters these words is trying to give power (essence) to his personal religious preference, Christianity, out of fear that it might be losing its dominence over other religious or non-religious groups? If so, how can a non-believer respond to this without widening the divide? Any suggestions will be appreciated.

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Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Separation of Church and State

Thoughts On The Separation Of Church And State

Consider this:

1) Has there ever been any religious person who, if he could have it his way, would not have liked to see governments run by people whose theology was the same as his own?

2) Since the existence of a deity can not be proved, i.e. substantiated by scientific evidence, can there ever be any consensus as to what is theological truth?

3) If there can be no consensus, doesn’t it make sense to have a secular government in order to insure that no one theocracy dominates the rest?
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Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Trouble With Speakers

I distrust the judgment and motive of any speaker who rants, e.g. Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Rush Limbaugh. Am I justified in doing so?

It has been my observation that speakers who are straight-forward and well informed do not need to rant in order to to be convincing.



Thursday, January 29, 2009

Concerning Dialogues, Evidence and Proof

Concerning Dialogues, Arguments, Evidence, Proofs

First, let me say that I am an atheist, an agnostic, a non-believer---all of these. So, I have no religious fantasies to defend.

Second, for some reason unknown to me, I have developed the habit of approaching all new ideas (new to me) with skepticism. I use whatever skills I have to analyze, reason and search for evidence. By “evidence” I mean that which can not be disputed by the vast majority of rational beings. That said, I realize that there will always be some who will dispute what I accept as evidence and who still think of themselves as rational. All of which goes to show that even concepts like “reason” and “rational” are somewhat subjective, thus leading to the conclusion that “evidence” comes down to that which most people believe is true. In this light, can there be proof of anything?
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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

More On Term Limits

More On Term Limits

Term Limits alone may not eliminate all the conflicts of interest, but they are a necessary first step.

A most obvious example of the corruption caused by a conflict of interest is deficit spending. Our legislators seem so addicted to power that they can not bring themselves to explain to the people the calamity that lies ahead if we continue to spend more than we take in (see Germany in the 1920s and Brazil and Argentina more recently). Talk about a PONZI scheme! And the people don't want to hear it because they are living their lives in just such a scheme--borrowing and spending until the lenders stop lending. Then comes the collapse with tragic losses. While the Ponzi scheme is working, everything seems rosy. Nobody wants to hear about the bad news ahead. They may not "kill the messenger", as people used to do, but they just don't re-elect him/her---which is worse than death for the power-addicted careerist.]
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Sunday, January 25, 2009

What does it say about us?

What does it say about us Americans that our national anthem is all about victory in battle? It exhorts our "banner" (an emblem of battle), and brags about our "rockets red glare" and "bombs bursting in air". Contrast this with a hypothetical national song which would celebrate our being people who relish freedom, equality and peace. Which would creat the most constructive attitudes in the minds of our youth? Which would place our values in the best order of priority? Which would create the best image in the eyes of other countries?

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

We Are All In This Together

A glance at human history reveals that man has been engaged in mortal conflict from the earliest of times, and for most of the time with few short intermissions. Bloodshed has been the primary means for solving problems and settling differences. The impetus for conflict has run the gamut from conquest and power, to religion, to the quest for freedom.
In this day of so-called enlightenment, we find ourselves not far removed from the aggressive tendencies of the past. On one hand we have the highest living standards ever; on the other hand, we still treat each other with savagery and disdain. War has been with us continuously. The USA alone has been engaged in at least 12 wars since we became a nation, not counting numerous battles with American Indians.
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Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Legalization of Prostitution, Gambling, Drug Use

On the "Legalization" of Prostitution, Gambling and/or Drug Use

I dislike using the word "legalization" because it implies, to many people, approval of the action in question, and this makes it difficult to focus on the question of individual right. The term "legalization" most often refers to the elimination of laws which make criminals of those who participate, not to give approval of anything. So, how do we decide what should be a criminal offence and what shouldn’t?

To me, the basic premise is the right of individual liberty. It is one of the three rights mentioned in the Declaration of Independence along with life and the pursuit of happiness. Our Constitution states that it’s purpose is "to secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity----", and that no State shall
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Thursday, December 11, 2008

More on Being a Non-believer

Sometimes someone says to an atheist, "You are always talking about what you don't believe. I never hear just what it is that you do believe."

First, a comment. Everyone is an unbeliever (atheist). Some don't believe in Ra, Isis or Zeus; some don't believe in Krishna; some don't believe in Buddha; some don't believe in Allah; some don't believe in Jesus or God. Those who are willing to be known as non-believers (atheists) simply don't believe in any of the above.
Here are some things I do believe:
(1) There is much that we don't know, e.g. the origin of the universe and of life. Time itself may be an illusion.
(2) We are all in this (our existence) together. What affects one affects all. My morality and ethical standards are based on this understanding.
(3) Life is difficult and challenging in many ways, and we live happier when we can feel that we are a part of a community of kindred hearts and when we can find a place of love and respect.
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The Importance of Being a Non-believer

The Importance of Being a Non-believer
I ask myself why being non-religious is so important to me, why do I want other non-believers to come out of the closet, and why do I think it would be a good thing if those who are presently believers were to become non-believers. My reasoning is this:
I value liberty as much as life itself. By liberty I mean the freedom to speak and act in any manner I so choose so long as my words or action do not infringe on the rights of all others to do the same. It seems obvious that many of the threats to liberty originate in religious dogma, e.g. (a) our right to freedom of and from religion (you can’t have one without the other), as guaranteed under article VI and Amendments I and XIV of our constitution, is violated whenever prayers are conducted in schools or at meetings of governmental bodies;
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The Dangers of Religious Dogma

The Dangers of Religious Dogma
It is impossible to prove that something does not exist when the description of such is too vague to be testable. Thus the human mind is free to have fantasies and make claims about the existence of a creator and a life hereafter, and no one can prove them wrong. So, what difference does it make in the affairs of man whether anyone has such beliefs?
Recorded history and archeology have demonstrated that man has held such beliefs and has added the concepts of worship, sacrificial offerings, prayer, obedience, original sin and the need for redemption, all to support the God-concept and thereby ease the anxiety of our unexplainable existence. Such beliefs require all sorts of dogma, e.g. a virgin birth, a triune God, an omnipotent and omniscient God, God-inspired scriptures, a church, priests and prophets, resurrection from the dead, in order to maintain the religious organizations which come to power. Without such dogma, these organizations would lose their influence and religious ideas would soon dissipate.
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Freedom From Religion

Our Declaration of Independence asserts that all men are endowed with the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Most people will agree that the exercise of these rights must be limited to the extent that they deny or infringe on the rights of others. You are free to do as you please as long as it is not at the expense of someone else. At least this is what most of us profess. But is it what we practice?
Some would make a woman and her doctor criminals for aborting a pregnancy. Some think it is right that we have laws making a criminal of a woman for selling sexual favors, or of anyone who (1) plays cards for money, (2) smokes pot, or (3) uses cocaine. Some would have our public schools, school boards, county councils and Congress to conduct public prayer. Some would deny civil rights to gays and lesbians. Do any of these activities infringe on the rights of anyone else? If the motives for the above come from religious faith, then maybe Sam Harris is right. It is time for "the end of faith".
The imposition of a reference to "God" on our coins, currency and in the Pledge of Allegiance is a further indication of our unwillingness to see that any expression of religion made by government encroaches on the liberty of some, in violation of the Constitution. De we really think that believers have rights that non-believers do not have?

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Campaign financing

Re: Campaign financing March 21, 2008
Much has been said about the need for reform in how political campaigns are financed. The legislation which requires a candidate to choose between using public funding and private funding was an attempt to deal with the problem, but, in my opinion, has accomplished nothing useful. Most political candidates can raise lots more money from contributions from the big money interests than would be allocated to them if they accept public (taxpayer) funding under the present system. Thus, the advantage goes to the monied interests, i.e. wealthy candidates and big corporations. The less wealthy, particularly challengers, have less money for campaigning than do the more wealthy and the incumbents. Few careerist politicians want to change this system, because they like the advantage it gives them.
What if the rules were changed to allow only public money to be used for campaigning---no personal or
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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

How We Keep Ourselves at Odds With One Another

There are so many forces which tend to divide us when peaceful co-existence is so greatly needed. To make matters worse, we seem to emphasize the things which divide us and which cause us to see every situation as "us vs. them". Some examples are: liberal vs. conservative, Republican vs. Democrat, Christian (or Muslim or Jew) vs. non-Christian (or Muslim or Jew), American vs. foreigner, male vs. female, straight vs. gay, etc. In each case the goal , too often, is to prevail at the other's expense..
These are not the attitudes which produce peace, harmony, prosperity and happiness in our lives. Instead, these are the attitudes which keep us in constant conflict with one another, and usually have negative results for all. Creating winners and losers seldom resolves anything.. Resolutions are more likely when we create a win/win situation. Our attitude is the key.
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Getting Along Together: Using Emotion and Reason in Problem Solving

Most people have at least some emotional response to every one of life’s experiences--from childbirth, to a pay raise, to an athletic event, to politics, to religion, to disappointment, to death. The degree of emotion runs from very little to highly exaggerated. When it comes to resolving our differences, we often let our emotions cancel out what little reason we may possess, and the result is not resolution but fighting.

An example of the non-constructive use of emotion can be seen in the TV soundbites of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s ranting (I don’t know what else to call it) about America’s racial discrimination past and present. I do not blame Rev. Wright or any black person for feeling angry about this. I am concerned, however, when it
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