Atheism

11/23/2016

Atheism is on the rise in the United States.  Though examining religious beliefs in the general population can pose difficulties, according to the Pew Research Center, more Americans than ever don’t consider religion an important part of their lives, and over half say that it is not necessary to believe in God to be moral.  But more importantly, atheists tend to be younger than the general population, so atheism is likely to continue its ascent in years to come.

The majority of atheists report that they never or seldom discuss their views with religious people.  But there are some pretty vocal atheists who would proudly bluster against the evils of religion.  So a dialogue on religious beliefs seems to have opened.

If we consider atheism to be a “cause,” I believe that religious people in the U.S. have, by and large, fueled it by painting an image of themselves as sometimes distastefully conservative, science-denying, harboring their own definition of history, and constantly striving to implement their views in government institutions.  But that’s not what religion necessarily is, or has to be.  Apart from its social function, religion can just offer a way to contrive more meaning out of life, whether or not you believe in the existence of the divine; like in much of Europe, religion doesn’t have to dictate social conservatism or replace science.

Let me be clear: I have a lot of respect for atheists.  To me, it seems that a reasoned atheist has thought out life more than someone blindly religious has.  But I think a few arguments against the existence of God are worth addressing.

In particular, one argument is the prevalence of injustice.  Injustice manifests everywhere, within our borders and abroad, in more ways than we could ever define.  What does that mean for religion?  As the argument goes, if God exists, the prevalence of injustice can mean one of two things: that a) God is unjust, or that b) God doesn’t have enough power to enforce universal justice.  The unfavorability of both options has nudged some toward the atheist, or at least questioning, side.

But I think there is a resolution to this issue.  For several reasons.  For one, reincarnation (alongside our friend karma) provides a simple explanation for the injustice around us: because we have each led many lives, what we experience now can be the result of our activity in past lives.  More generally, our vantage point can never give us the full picture.  So with reincarnation, it is certainly possible that justice does reign, though we will never be able to see its full context.

But before we even get to reincarnation, I think something more fundamental fails the argument that the prevalence of injustice disproves God.  What is injustice?  What does it mean?  For simplicity, let’s define injustice as good things happening to bad people, and bad things happening to good people.  We know that both happen, so it seems injustice prevails… right?

Not so fast, honey.  “Good” and “bad,” like “inferior” and “superior,” are only constructs of the human mind, so they have little objective significance.  They can mean pleasant and unpleasant, or agreeable and disagreeable, or beneficial and detrimental, or desirable and undesirable.  Moreover, we myopic humans have little capacity to know what will be good or bad for us in the long run.

To demonstrate that “good” and “bad” are relative (and mostly unhelpful) constructs, Swami Mukundananda offers the following allegory:

A man lives on a small farm with his son and earns most his living from a single cow.  Then one day, that cow runs away.  The neighbors express their regret on the man’s bad luck, but he dismisses them.  “Good luck, bad luck, I don’t know,” he says.  But the next day, the cow brings back several more cows.  The neighbors celebrate the man’s good luck, but he again dismisses them.  “Good luck, bad luck, I don’t know,” he says.  But the following day, one of the wild cows attacks the man’s son, breaking his leg.  The neighbors once again lament the man’s bad luck.  “Good luck, bad luck, I don’t know,” he says.  But soon after, the son is conscripted into a war—but his broken leg excuses him from military service.  The neighbors once again congratulated him for his good luck.  “Good luck, bad luck, I don’t know,” says the farmer.

The point of this is, we don’t know what is good or bad for us.  If you still think justice and injustice are strictly definable, immutable ideals, you may not agree with this, but I will extend the allegory’s message to say that it may be difficult for us to judge whether or not God bestows justice upon this world.

However, a few steps back in our logic, another interesting point arises.  We can throw around all the arguments about God we want, but atheism and religion don’t have to be opposing parties.  For example, though Buddhists worship him as God, Buddha never himself claimed to be divine, and for the most part, Buddhism and its spiritual focus have provided many with insight into life that could almost be considered secular.  Though its standing pales in comparison, Hinduism also shares that secular tinge: there are many atheist, agnostic, and humanist Hindus.  The takeaway is that religion doesn’t have to alienate atheists as much as it seems to; faith shouldn’t be a stipulation, but an opportunity to explore the relationship between one’s mind, intellect, and conception of God–or lack thereof.

On the topic of faith, let me raise one last point: according to my understanding, a significant reason someone would subscribe to atheism is that, for the most part, there is no evidence for religion.  Our tools for proof can only quantify the material, and God is not material.  So, by syllogism, God literally cannot be proven.  But by the same token, God cannot be unproven, either.  We almost use faith and religion interchangeably, but does that fairly reflect what “faith” actually means?  Not really.  Where there is no proof, belief in something’s existence requires just as much faith as belief in something’s nonexistence.  So atheists are, in a very real sense, just as faithful as the religious.

Why the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election is Rigged

11/07/2016

I apologize if I am straying from the territory of this blog, but this election is a historical one.  Election Day is tomorrow. It’s been a long and astonishingly ugly campaign season that many are ready to see end, to say the least.

This year, Americans are showing unprecedentedly little faith in American institutions. Donald Trump blusters that the election is “rigged,” and an October poll conducted by Politico revealed that as many as 41% of voters think the election could be “stolen” from him due to widespread voter fraud.

However, the Washington Post reports that there have only been 31 credible cases of fraud out of the last billion ballots cast; in other words, as an adult citizen, you would be more likely to be injured by a toilet than to commit voter fraud this year (a 1 in 10,000 chance, compared to a 1 in 32,000 chance). Besides, the decentralization of the United States election system would make it impractical for any party to use dishonest means to determine the outcome of an election. Yet somehow, as always, the facts seem to have no relevance. As Obama would say, the “truth” needs more “eyeballs.”

But the system is rigged. When it’s not uncommon for voting districts to be drawn to diminish the impact of minority voters, when voter ID laws (struck down by the Supreme Court this year as unconstitutional) were designed to prevent African Americans from voting, when Trump has received an estimated $2 billion in free media, much of which entailed insufficient fact checking, when–while the KKK endorses Donald Trump and while Russia is putting forth efforts to get him elected and while more women come out with allegations of sexual assault against him and while he undermines the foundations of democracy–we continue to talk about Hillary’s latest email scandal (when it’s unclear if she’s even involved), the election is most certainly rigged.

To put Donald’s whining about the biased liberal media into context, the media have served as one of the Trump campaign’s best assets, almost certainly playing a major role in his rise. Only recently seeing their mistake, the media has scrambled to repent, doing everything they can to stop him (all it takes is the truth and coverage of his own eruptions); for example, many prominent conservative news outlets have broken a pattern of decades by refusing to endorse him. It’s pretty simple: if this man–who as president would define a party he is at odds with, much like a dictator–is elected, no one wants to say they could have done more to prevent it.

But Trump still has a viable path to the presidency: false equivalency, the idea that “both candidates are bad,” so Donald isn’t worth stopping. There is this pervasive idea that Clinton is some lying, evil conspirator with no sense of ethics, whose election would bring about an American apocalypse. Sure, she used a private email server in office–as did Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, Scott Walker, and Marco Rubio, among others–but after what conservative online magazine American Thinker estimated to be $20 million of investigations, the FBI concluded that she did nothing illegal or dangerous to the American public–and she has more than paid for her mistake. (And, interestingly, her use of a private email server might have actually protected classified information, because the Russians managed to hack the official government server.)  As for the idea that Hillary is a serial liar, that is based on an incomplete thought: the nonaffiliated organization Politifact has rated 27% of Hillary’s statements during this campaign as “mostly false” or worse, compared to Trump’s 70% (Bernie Sanders was at 28%).  And, of course, though the Clinton Foundation has created conflicts of interests, according to Fortune Magazine, it has also provided treatment for over 36 million cases of tropical disease and provided maternal and child survival care for 110 million people, alongside other humanitarian work.  Yet, many Americans see Hillary as a criminal, and passionate chants at Trump’s rallies have escalated from “lock her up” to calls to have her executed.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump has retweeted white supremacists, has said he would be open to using nuclear weapons on Europe, has attacked the family of a deceased veteran, has said he would instruct the military to commit war crimes (by torturing the families of terrorists), has stiffed small businesses and is notorious for fraudulent business ventures, owns an organization that is guilty of illegal practices and has donated nothing to charity, has been used by ISIS as propaganda to gain recruits, has inspired the so-named “Trump effect” in which teachers are reporting more bullying in school, has encouraged his supporters into violence against those who disagree with him–and has gone so far as to kick a baby out of his rally.  If Hillary did any single one of these, would we consider her eligible to be president?

Overall, the idea of false equivalency fails from the start; Trump entered the national stage being sued for housing discrimination, while Hillary first attracted attention giving a progressive valedictorian speech she wasn’t supposed to give. She literally started her political career as anti-establishment, while Donald Trump is of a class of billionaires entrenched in their wealth, having no stakes in the working class. There is simply no comparison between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. And if you do choose to support Donald Trump, that choice will be an expensive and dangerous one: even Fox News reported that Trump’s policies would add $11.5 trillion to the U.S. national debt (compared to Hillary’s $200 billion, according to an independent analysis), and research by the Economist Intelligence Unit rates a Trump presidency as the sixth greatest risk to the world, the same level as the effects of jihadi terrorism on the world economy and 50% more risky than an armed conflict in the South China Sea.

Donald Trump has no experience, not a single Republican economist, not a single military general, and, to be frank, hardly a single fact on his side. In contrast, Hillary–a woman who has fought her entire career for the silenced, a woman with more qualifications than almost any incoming president in history, a woman with cowardly men assailing her from all sides, who has never flagged as the “establishment” has striven for decades to end her career–deserves your fair consideration as a woman to vote into the office of the most powerful person in the world. But keep in mind that even if she wins–the most likely scenario–the fact that Donald Trump will have won probably at least twenty states is an indisputable indicator that the system is, in fact, rigged.