My 6 Year Journey

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Hard to believe it’s the blog’s 6th anniversary today. When I started this blog I was so angry at religion. I felt such a strong need to speak my mind about it. The situation was made worse by feeling all alone in my beliefs. So the blog’s initial mission was anti-religion. I was pretty big on debunking the pseudosciences too. For five years and many breaks I was all about exposing religion’s poison. Not to say I didn’t have some posts I was proud of in the early days. Some of my favorites from early on include:

The Salvation Army post went viral and got the most views I have ever had to this blog.  Over the next few years I was on and off again mainly because I had started a family.I also wrote some really philosophical entries I am pretty proud of as well like:

I also have some atheism links that I need to add to the atheism page that I enjoyed writing. I also added the Humanism resource page, a work in progress. Overtime I grew to realize that what is wrong with religion was growing more widely known but alternatives to what religion provides just wasn’t out there. So a few months ago I changed the blog to trying to make information on alternatives to religion available. I also made the blog an effort to show that hope, joy and meaning are possible outside of a religious context.

The positive direction the blog is headed in makes me feel a lot better and it will honestly reach a lot more people in the long run than an aggressive anti-religion blog would. Going forward its my hope to add a ‘hope’ page and resources on finding that hope, joy and meaning if you don’t have a religious belief. It’s been a great six years and hopefully many more helping people let go of religion and find happiness on their own terms.

 

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Religious? We Love You Anyway.

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One day I came across this on a bumper sticker in Walmart parking lot: and loved it. I remember wanting to leave the person a note for getting what it means to accept a person regardless of their beliefs.  I started seeing it a lot so it really gave me a hope that I wasn’t alone in my thinking.  The message it purveys is nearly identical to humanism’s with the exception, of course, that religion is ok. The criticism’s of religion are still valid and we stand by the position that the world would be in much better shape if everywhere knew it’s dangers. However, we can accept the person and still reject the belief.

Why is religion so personal?

Without diving too deep into the psychology of religion here is a list of common reasons why someone might be religious:

  • Coping:  Coping with life and death.
  • Existential: Fulfilling spiritual needs.
  • Identity: Letting religious belief be part of who you are as a person.
  • Social: Belonging to a community that loves and supports it’s members.
  • Morality: Providing a morale framework by which to live.

A person’s entire life my rest on embracing a particular religion, it becomes a part of who they are. When religion spends so long comforting and alleviating fear there is no doubt as to why when a person’s religion is under attack they begin to erect psychological defence mechanisms. This is also why other religions can be so hard to understand. Once a person’s religion becomes a foundation of their psychological well being it can be difficult to see how another person’s religion, especially one a lot different, can be as good as your own. When one considers the human condition it easy to see why there is so much conflict between different beliefs. Even unbelievers who reject religion altogether run a very real danger of promoting conflict. The aggressive and negative attacking of religion that has been trendy in recent years has really helped open up discussion of the dangers of religion but this new kind of atheism, as Paul Kurtz pointed out, has some hidden dangers:

 The New Atheists, in my view, have made an important contribution to the contemporary cultural scene because they have opened religious claims to public examination…What I object to are the militant atheists who are narrow-minded about religious persons and will have nothing to do with agnostics, skeptics, or those who are indifferent to religion, dismissing them as cowardly.”

“While I certainly don’t believe that we ought to abandon our criticism of religious fanaticism or allow religious doctrine to dictate public policy, the future of the secular humanist and scientific rationalist movements depends upon appealing to a wider base of support”

Throw in the current state of civilization and violence seems inevitable. The coexist about page sums of the problem of people of different religions not understanding each other nicely:

Crisis of Understanding

Coexist was created to address the crisis of understanding that tears at the social fabric of societies around the world. Globalization has outpaced our understanding of one another, creating divisions that plague communities with prejudice, hate and violence.

These divides create instability that affects every facet of life, reducing global economic output, health, education, and progress in arts and science. In our interconnected world, a lack of social cohesion generates shock waves that damage not only the immediate region, but produce real consequences for the economy and job opportunities in communities on the other side of the world.

Understanding Changes Everything

Coexist is on a mission to advance social cohesion through education and innovation.

Coexist works at the faultlines of conflicting cultural identities to to strengthen the bond that holds a society together through a sustainable model of people working and learning together. This generates social cohesion that reduces prejudice, hate and violence and prevents conflict from emerging again. (source)

The situation with hatred, confusion and the resulting violence between beliefs can be fixed, in part, by separating the belief and the person. The belief doesn’t make that person who they are. There is growing research that we are born inherently good:

It goes without saying that some people are also born inherently bad and upbringing and circumstances can dramatically alter a person’s personality for better or for worse as well.  However, what all this research shows us is that religion doesn’t enter into whether or not a person is worthy of our love and caring. It becomes easy to separate the person from the belief once we know that their good nature is natural. Once we see their differing beliefs are a result of their personal circumstances we can understand that in the same circumstances we may have ended up with the same beliefs. Then we can and should accept a person regardless of their beliefs and we take a step towards making the world a better place.

 

 

 

 

Make Smart Sexy, It Could Save Us All

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For any thinking person sometimes it seems as though we’re drowning in a sea of stupidity. Anti-intellectualism has gotten so bad that a growing movement of people believe the Earth is flat, a staggering 12 million Americans believe alien shape sifting lizard people rules us and the president of the most powerful country on Earth is so frequently incorrect that it is hard to keep up with. Anti-intellectuals have managed to root into western culture the idea that intelligence, reason and science are cold, robotic, boring and difficult. Ideas that could save lives are often easily dismissed in favor of theories and conspiracies that appeal to emotion and not reason.

Richard Hofstadter, Dabiel J. Rigney, Diane S. Claussen defined three types of anti-intellectualism:

  • Religious: Viewing various scientific endeavors as unholy, sinful or against scripture in various ways.
  • Populist: Undue skepticism of ‘the establishment’ and intellectual elites.
  • Unreflective Instrumentalism: Valuing education that leads to immediate monetary or material gain over humanities and social sciences.

A historical examination  shows that anti-intellectualism has been been a problem since the Enlightenment:

For all these thinkers, rationalism was the source of the evil: it led to ‘‘materialism,’’ to utopias, to the supremely pernicious idea that man is able to change things. It killed instinct and vital forces; it destroyed the almost carnal connection between the members of an ethnic community and made one live in an unreal world. ()

It doesn’t help that people are entertained by people acting stupidly, from simple slapstick to dangerous stunts (Jackass 1 and 2 made over 130 million at the box office). The success of these types of movies and T.V. shows helps glorify stupidity and enhance the cultural tumour of anti-intellectualism. The dangerous results of this anti-intellectualism are not hard to see:

  • Anti-Vaccination: The Anti-Vaccination movement, started by one falsified study, has caused the resurgence of preventable diseases like whooping cough, rubella and measles worldwide. Thousands of people are getting sick and many are dying as a result.
  • Global Warming: We are on the brink of a global disaster. If global warming continues we will see more frequent and severe weather, higher death rates due to illness exasperated by  heat (such as cardiovascular and kidney diseases), worsened air pollution, more frequent animal extinctions, more acidic oceans and higher sea levels. 

Anti-Intellectualism is linked to lower quality of life (human development index), higher incarceration rates and high teen pregnancy rates.  The Catholic church and other religions have put us behind scientifically, by some estimates, as much as a thousand years.

Fighting Anti-Intellectualism

Given the strong and pervasive nature of anti-intellectualism prevalent in modern Western Culture fighting it could be a daunting task for it will require a multifaceted approach that attacks many part of western culture itself. The first step is to start taking it more seriously. The current backlash against the Trump administration and its supporters could have the hidden benefit of showing everyone why anti-intellectualism is such a big problem.  But more raising awareness is needed to truly counter it. Everyone is capable fighting the fallacies common to anti-intellectuals such as appeal to emotion or fear, pandering and appeal to emotion.

In fact, especially in a democracy, the fight against anti-reason can ultimately be won only at the grassroots, via a general population that recognizes it, rejects it, and demands more rational public policy that reflects real human interests. (David Niose)

Niose recognizes  four areas in western culture that need changing to stem the rising tide of anti-intellectualism:

  1. The Government: Using our votes and pressuring our representatives to pass rational policies.
  2. The Corporate Sector: Using media to distract people and promote mass consumption and using their wealth manipulate government.
  3. Fundamentalist Religion: The sometimes vague nature of religious scripture can leave it open to interpretation leading to opposition of everything from music and beauty products to stem cell research.
  4.  Ourselves: Recognizing our irrational thinking and not letting it lead us.

The corporate sector also realizes that an entertained and poorly informed population is much less likely to engage in political activity that might oppose corporate-friendly public policy. Distracted citizens will passively allow large corporate interests to dominate government. As such, anti-intellectualism is the magic weapon that the corporate sector has used to maintain control. (Niose)

From the Game Mastermind

I would suggest a fifth approach: Making intellectualism more appealing, even sexy. In Western culture sexy is currently tied to wealth and beauty, a standard defined primarily by the mass media. The entirely impossible modern standards of sexy where women are expected to be impossibly thin and men are expected to be buff and/or ‘rugged’ and both must dress a certain way (usually requiring wealth). All of these modern standards of sexy are purely physical. Magazines don’t feature cover models for their IQ and very few movies and television shows make their main characters sexy based on their intelligence (although this is slowly changing). A shift in appeal to intellect as attractive would have enormously good long term benefits for everyone.

Whatever our approach stemming the tide of anti-intellectualism is in everyone’s best interest. A cultural change won’t happen overnight and our human nature wants us to take the easy route but anti-intellectualism is a dangerous weed we must all do our part in rooting out, our future depends on it.

Humanism and Positive Psychology

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One of the primary purposes of this blog is to help people lead more meaningful lives outside of religion or superstition. So I have always kind of wondered why there isn’t a branch of psychology, or perhaps sociology, that focuses what helps people live more meaningful lives. It turns out there is such a branch called humanistic psychology:

Humanistic psychology (humanism) is grounded in the belief that people are innately good. This type of psychology holds that morality, ethical values, and good intentions are the driving forces of behavior, while adverse social or psychological experiences can be attributed to deviations from natural tendencies.

Humanism incorporates a variety of therapeutic techniques, including Rogerian (person-centered) therapy, and often emphasizes a goal of self-actualization. (source)

Humanistic psychology originated in the 1950’s after a growing group of psychologists began to view the two most popular fields of psychology at the time, behaviorism and psychoanalysis, as having serious limitations. Abraham Maslow and Clark Moustakas spearheaded a campaign to start a professional organization dedicated to humanistic psychology. In 1961 they founded The American Association for Humanistic Psychology which states as its mission:

In it’s first iteration, AHP and Humanistic Psychology, in general, focused almost exclusively on the growth of the individual. While we believe that principle continues to be necessary, in the words of one of our founders, it is no longer sufficient. We also recognize the importance of change and growth in relationships, families, communities, societies, and in a global context.

As a result of this progress, AHP is re-envisioning its purpose and responsibility to its members and supporters. It is now time to reach further into the awareness of individuals and communities, and to reach higher into the sphere of translating new knowledge, policy, and practice into humanistic terms. The impact of humanistic psychology will be strengthened through the use of social media and other technologies that will allow AHP to increase its visibility and accessibility to the public; helping them to integrate humanistic ideas into their lives on multiple levels.

This approach will also provide a platform for the creation of online learning communities designed to enrich the humanistic work of groups and communities, professional networks, and government organizations. Our primary focus will be in bringing together new knowledge and practices from a variety of emerging fields (science, policy, education, politics, the arts, therapeutic/healing practices, community and cultural growth, and personal and spiritual growth), and translating those new ideas through the lens of Humanistic Psychology.

Full Vision Statement

Humanistic psychology, while certainly not perfect shares goals similar to our own and so we are happy to have found it. A full examination can be found here.

There is a really great variation of humanistic psychology called Positive Psychology. Founded primarily by Martin Seligman, during his tenure as president of the American Psychological Association and supported by Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi and Christopher Peterson.

Positive Psychology is the scientific study of the strengths that enable individuals and communities to thrive. The field is founded on the belief that people want to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives, to cultivate what is best within themselves, and to enhance their experiences of love, work, and play. (source)

Seligman outlined an approach he calls P.E.R.M.A.

Positive Emotion: Developing an optimistic view of life.

Engagement: Engagement in activities that encourage learning,  and personal growth

Relationships:  Building and maintaining relationships with people that support, encourage and love.

Meaning: Developing meaning and purpose.

Accomplishments: Setting and achieving goals.

A More Detailed Look

Humanistic and positive psychology share goals too similar to our own not to include them in Humanist resource page and other lists around the site. Another great resource in our effort to help people move away from religion and superstition.

Heaven On Earth

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An evangelical friend of mine likes to say ‘See you in heaven’ and my reply is always ‘I hope so.’ I’m not trying to be funny when I sat that, I really mean it. Imagine a place of eternal joy, who wouldn’t want that? Saying that place can reached in the afterlife in exchange for good behaviour is pretty smart. Then all you have to do is define what good constitutes good behaviour and threaten eternal suffering for bad behaviour (which you also define) and you’re all set, you will control your followers.

Religious concepts of heaven and hell are based on at least three unproven ideas:

  • We have a soul.
  • Our soul leaves our body when we die.
  • Our soul has the ability to find heaven and hell and experience them.

This use of heaven and hell is an abuse of useful concepts. Heaven and hell do exist but certainly not in an unproven afterlife. Even Pope Francis once admitted that heaven and hell aren’t literal places, they’re experiences. Telling people that heaven is achievable in the afterlife diminishes the motivation to appreciate heaven here on Earth. While what constitutes heaven on Earth is different for each person there are nearly countless ways to achieve a heavenly state right here and now. There are too many people, places and things that can bring about happiness and contentment to list but the University of Sussex and the London School of Economics studied this and made a list of 33 things that make people happy:

The 33 things that definitely make us happy (% increased happiness)

Intimacy, making love 14.20%

Theatre, dance, concert 9.29%

Exhibition, museum, library 8.77%

Sports, running, exercise 8.12%

Gardening, allotment 7.83%

Singing, performing 6.95%

Talking, chatting, socialising 6.38%

Birdwatching, nature watching 6.28%

Walking, hiking 6.18%

Hunting, fishing 5.82%

And 23 more  Even though this is culturally biased, it’s a start. There is actually an entire branch of  Psychology dedicated to ‘the scientific study of the strengths that enable individuals and communities to thrive’ (source). This is what we are all about too and so have added to our list of useful links.

Heaven is absolutely here on Earth:

People

Places

Nature

Once we understand that we don’t need to wait until we die to have heaven we take away religion’s ability to control us with promises of it in the afterlife. More importantly we enjoy life more simply by taking it all in and appreciating all the great things it has to offer. Even the little things become more enjoyable and life becomes easier.