8-12-13 9:09  •  Who's Fault is Addiction?

Maybelle: Who is really at fault when your life falls apart because you got addicted to drugs?

Are we really expected to feel bad for the Heroin/meth/crack/cocaine etc addict, jonesing for hit? Is that person really a victim of *evil evil drugs* or their own stupid actions?

Why do you figure it has to be one or the other?

Maybelle: Do I care? I have lived my life by making the choice to NOT do drugs...why should I have compassion for those who choose to use them and get addicted?

First of all, because being a more compassionate person is good for you.

Second of all, because people make mistakes. Sometimes they are ignorant. Sometimes they are stupid. Sometimes they are reckless.

You may have avoided mistakes with drugs, but I seriously doubt you have never made ignorant, stupid or reckless mistakes. You deserve compassion in understanding how you could have made mistakes, and so do they.

Sunny Daze: I have a hard time with drug addicts not being blamed for being an addict. THEY chose to take the first hit. They also chose the 2nd, and the 3rd.

As with most issues, it would be so lovely if we could take a huge pathology that affects a large percentage of every human group and say, It's all his fault, because he refuses to make a good choice! If people didn't do drugs, there wouldn't be a drug problem. Voila!

That's certainly concise. But it ignores the fact that humans are social animals in social groups being acted upon by a huge number of factors, like what their home is like, and how well they are treated, and what hope they have for a decent future....their pain tolerance, and their interpersonal skills, and who are the available choices for them to socialize with....their socioeconomic status, the quality of their education, the neighborhood they live in, and who they have to turn to to help them with their choices...not to mention the huge differences in the availability, toxicity and addictive potential of particular substances, and the wide variability of observable outcomes, from sudden wealth to no harm to problematic to hellish.

Not to mention the fact that our society glorifies drug intoxication and associates it with all that is fun, virile, patriotoic, sexy and celibratory in our culture - as long as the drug is booze.

Sure, the druggie made bad choices. But choices do not occur in isolation. It is not necessary to decide that every last shred of responsibility is on his choice, and there is no possible culpability that could rest with the fact that some people have very poor choices available, and very poor skills with which to make choices, and that some drugs really are horrible.

As with practically every issue, there are lots of factors at work and they all contribute.

Sunny Daze: No matter what drove them to it, they are still the one that decided to take that step. They're the one that decided to no longer care about themselves or those that love them.

Do you suppose when a teen considers picking up a beer, he thinks, "Well, I had just about decided that I no longer care about myself or those who love me, and this clinches the deal. Bottoms up!"

Or does he see everyone around him seemingly having a great time, and long to be a part of it?

I seriously doubt that anyone who tries a drug for the first time has made a conscious decision to destroy themselves and is just happy to have found the right tool for the job. In all likelihood, they are taking what appears to be a calculated risk.

Tina B: I know it's the addicts fault, because I have my own addiction. My body craves sugar constantly. Do I blame anyone else for my fat ass? Nope. It's my fault.

For the last several million years, your DNA was selected for survival by making the choices that give you the most energy for the least effort. Humans are designed to survive in an environment of harsh scarcity by partaking in all foods of opportunity and conserving effort wherever possible.

Now, in just a couple of generations we have invented ways to make food so rich and copious, and expending physical energy so unnessary, that the change is apparent across our entire population. The Chinese, who are about a generation behind us in achieving automation, are also a generation behind us in experiencing widespread obesity and the health problems associated with it. Now, they are catching up.

So, did almost everybody in the U.S. just happen to start making bad choices at the same time about a hundred years ago, and the Chinese all just happened to start making those same bad choices about fifty years after that? Or, does the massive availability of calorie dense food and the intervention of labor savers, coupled with the fact that humans are still running on a design that was made for a harsh life of deprivation, have anything to do with it?

Again, and as with most issues, there are many different factors at work and they all contribute.

Tina B: I know all that and it doesn't change my mind. I make the conscious decision to buy things that I know aren't good for me. No, everything I buy isn't crap and I get many fruits and veggies, but there is also brownie mix and ice cream thrown into the cart.

My fault, not the food industry's.

First of all, I don't remember blaming or even mentioning "the food industry." I was talking about our culture as a whole.

Second of all, words like "blame" and "fault" are so useless in this context.

Yes, the food industry - since you mention them - does contribute to the overall problem. But that doesn't make it "their fault." They are just an industry trying to make as much money as possible by selling as much product as possible. This doesn't suggest that they are purposely sabotaging health.

But they are still a part of the situation. They are feeding into the cycle in the same direction as a lot of other factors, which are all pushing us the same way. It is not necessary to pretend that they share no responsibility for the workings of a system they are a huge part of. We don't have to "blame them" to see that they are contributing. Neither must we view their contribution and then assign them all the blame.

I don't see that "blame" and "fault" have much use at the other end of the spectrum either. Food providers are one part, food consumers are another part. Is it so hard to imagine that both parts of a system can share responsibility for how the system works?

Kitty's Mom: I've seen people fail in rehab again and again. You KNOW they want to change, but they just can't.

They don't really know how. No one knows a method that works reliably.

This is a little mentioned point, but an important one. Our technology for getting people out of addiction sucks. Most rehabs, support groups and treatment programs have only about a 12% success rate.

Sunny Daze: No, it is their choice to abandon their family. If they become an addict, they choose to no longer care about themselves or those around them. Nothing matters except their next fix.

In the throes of addiction words like "choice" mean a lot less. I still don't think most addicts have conciously decided that they "no longer care." Many, if asked, would probably say that they do care. Clearly there are other forces at work besides a conscious choice of apathy.

Sunny Daze:Obviously a teen having a beer for the first time is not going to become an alcoholic from that first sip.

Every alcoholic had a first sip. And a lot of people sip their whole lives away and still haven't made a conscious decision that they don't care about themselves or others.

Plenty of addicts do care, and would change things if they knew a way how that worked.

Klee: Now, I can understand how someone might get addicted to painkillers when they have medical problems. I, myself, am at risk for this. I have fibromyalgia and may have limited choices as to what I can do in order to live a life with some type of comfort.

But the person who has choices that is the one I have a hard time feeling sorry for. I don't feel a bit sorry for a raving drug addict that can't remember to change their babies diapers.

Maybelle: Yeah, they made their beds, let them lie in it.


These answers are dismaying. Is the reservoir of compassion in your heart so small that you cannot spare a drop of it for people who have made mistakes and are suffering?

Klee: No I do have compassion for those who are suffering if they are trying to make the choices to fix it.

How can you know whether another person is trying, or has tried, or will try? There is no way to determine what their inner struggle is like and whether they have tried and failed or failed to try.

Is your reservior of compassion so small you have to part it out so carefully?


I'm sorry to hear that.

Klee:Who am I suppose to feel the most pity for?

Why is it a competition?

Klee:You expect me to have compassion? I'm not going to invite a repeat offender to stay in my house and possibly endangering my family with their lifestyle and the people in it.

Wow, people seem pretty confused about what compassion is.

It's quite a jump from "feeling compassion" to "inviting offenders to stay in my house and endanger my family". How do you figure those are equivalent?

Sunny Daze:What is your definition of compassion?

Here is a dictionary definition: com•pas•sion -

a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.

Here is what the Dalai Lama said about it:

"Nirvana may be the final object of attainment, but at the moment it is difficult to reach. Thus the practical and realistic aim is compassion, a warm heart, serving other people, helping others, respecting others, being less selfish. By practising these, you can gain benefit and happiness that remain longer. If you investigate the purpose of life and, with the motivation that results from this inquiry, develop a good heart - compassion and love. Using your whole life this way, each day will become useful and meaningful."

I would say there is nothing here that dictates how you must act on compassion, or specify that acting on compassion requires self-endangerment.

Sunny Daze: I guess I do have some compassion towards them, because I would feel the urge to help them, however after the first time, my compassion would diminish. I really don't see the point in feeling sorry for them though. That doesn't do anything for them.

I never recommended "feeling sorry for." And I think there is a distinction. Most people welcome compassion. Most resent pity.

Klee: Are you saying that you would actually feel compassion for someone who kills an innocent person over drugs?

The pope managed to feel compassion for the deranged person who shot him. If he could manage it, I can.

When I hear of such an incident, I can feel a moment of sorrow and pain and sympathy for everyone in the tragedy.

Klee: Well, I can't. You don't care about the innocent victims. If caring about innocent bystanders instead of some smelly addict makes me a bad person, so be it.

There may be a bit of slippery slope in this discussion. Feeling compassion = inviting criminals to your house to play with your kids. Having compassion for a person who did wrong = having no compassion for innocent victims. Not having compassion for strung-out drug addicts = "makes me a bad person."

Not everything is either / or.

The point is, we can have enough compassion to understand that addicts are not just losers who knew better and chose to throw their lives away. They are people who made missteps in a very difficult and dangerous minefield. We can have compassion enough to see the pointlessness of blame.

And as a society, we should have compassion enough to stop pretending that they are criminals who should go to jail.

8-12-13 7:07  •  Disagreement about Karma

Joleen: God's sacrifice for us is very easy to understand. Humans are sinners, our very thoughts are full of sin, and we have to pay the price of that sin.

My personal understanding is that God set up a system of justice. It is probably very similar to the Buddhist understanding - that all actions/thoughts/feelings are an energy that causes an equal response to return to the originator - bad for bad and good for good.

Bleh. Don't try to tar Buddhism with the same pathetic brush you use to paint the rest of your inanity. This is nothing like Buddhist understanding.

First of all, Buddhism does not describe thoughts and feelings as "an energy," as if they could psychically radiate directly out of your head and affect the world in some way separately from your actions. Karma means, literally, action, and describes how what you do affects the world around you. Your thoughts and feelings are part of karma to the extent that they influence your actions. They are not independent actors.

Second of all, there is nothing in the understanding of karma that suggests an "equal response," as if there is a magical cosmic retribution machine which evaluates your transgression and calculates a precise just return. The law of karma says only that how you act tends to affect what happens to you as a result, nothing more.

Here is my favorite quote about karma:

"Karma isn't a thing, which could be accumulated; it is an observation, that effects have causes. There is no one doling out paybacks or keeping score. Furthermore, since there are many players and the exact nature of cause and effect is not foreseeable, it really is more of a tendency.

All things being equal, right actions lead to good consequences. The more right actions and the more insight with which they are applied, the more likely one is going to see them bear fruit. But no guarantees - this is life."

Joleen:When you do/think/feel anything "bad" the "bad" must return to affect you.

This is ridiculous. You are trying to imply that if you think a bad thought it will somehow be magically projected outward from your head and then bounce back to revenge itself on you.

Christianity may try to get you on the hook just for "thinking bad thoughts" but Buddhism certainly doesn't. No Buddhist would suggest you have earned punishment from the universe just for thinking the wrong thing.

They are not even suggesting that you have earned punishment from the universe by doing the wrong thing - only that negative actions will tend to bring negative results into your life, and that positive actions will tend to yield positive results. It's simple cause and effect.

Joleen: You are thereby trapped in a punishment cycle unless you can manage to make yourself so perfect that you no longer do/think/feel anything at all negative in any way.

No Buddhist thinks this. It's repulsive. Using this gross misrepresentation of Buddhism to justify your Christiany explanation of "God's sacrifice" is seriously creepy.

Joleen: I realize that there are different understandings of Buddhism so I will give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that you are following one I haven't heard of before...

I practice Zen. You may never have heard of it but it's not exactly obscure.

Joleen: ...one that does not believe in reincarnation...

The Buddha himself did not teach reincarnation. When asked, he said that there was no way to know if reincarnation occurs, and that the question itself was a distraction from enlightenment. When pressed, he pulled a twig from the fire and indicted the flame. He said, "When the twig is consumed, where does the fire go?" This has been interpreted to mean that when the body is dead the flame of life simply goes out.

Reincarnation was a Hindu component, likely grafted on to Buddhism as "rebirth" because it arose in India. In any case, no one is required to have a faith belief in reincarnation and it plays no part of Zen practice or understanding.

Joleen: Are you saying Buddhism is not about the need for transcendence?

There are varying interpretations of "transcendence", but if by that you mean "perfection," it is not an important goal of Buddhism. Moments of "Nirvana" are a byproduct of meditative practice, and, while fun, they are not the point of it.

More importantly, I was taught that perfection, as you described earlier - "so perfect that you no longer do/think/feel anything at all negative in any way" - is unobtainable, and unnecessary for enlightenment. My teacher said, "Longing for perfection is just more grasping. If you wait for perfection to achieve enlightenment you will never get there. Nobody is perfect." He said it was more important to accept the arising of negative thoughts, and learn to allow them to cease without dwelling or acting on them, than to expect to reach a state where they never occur.

Joleen: Your teacher has no understanding of Karma.

Here is a quote from Karma for Buddhists 101 - Introduction to the Buddhist Understanding of Karma:

Buddhism teaches that there are other forces beside karma that shape our lives. These include natural forces like the changing seasons and gravity. When a natural disaster like an earthquake strikes a community, this is not some kind of collective karmic punishment. It's an unfortunate event that requires a compassionate response, not judgment.

Some people have a hard time understanding karma is created by our own actions. They want to believe there is some kind of mysterious cosmic force Out There somewhere, directing karma, rewarding good people and punishing bad people. Some religions may teach that, but not Buddhism. Buddhist scholar Walpola Rahula said:

"The theory of karma should not be confused with so-called 'moral justice' or 'reward and punishment'. The idea of moral justice, or reward and punishment, arises out of the conception of a supreme being, a God, who sits in judgment, who is a law-giver and who decides what is right and wrong. The term 'justice' is ambiguous and dangerous, and in its name more harm than good is done to humanity. The theory of karma is the theory of cause and effect, of action and reaction; it is a natural law, which has nothing to do with the idea of justice or reward and punishment."

Certainly the karma of the past impacts your present life, but change is always possible.

As you can see, it is very much as I described and could hardly be further from what you described: "My personal understanding is that God set up a system of justice. It is probably very similar to the Buddhist understanding." In particular, it does not describe karma as you do - as a "a punishment cycle " or a "hopeless trap."

Trying to claim that "Buddhist understanding" justifies the grotesque Christian concepts you describe - that God could only have justice if humans were perfect, but since perfection is impossible humans are "doomed", but God created a loophole in his own system by making a bloody human sacrifice of Jesus, so you could let someone else pay the price for your own transgressions - is, at the very least, highly misleading.

8-11-13 11:53  •  Bullying at School

Sam: My nephew gets bullied at school all the time. The teachers don't see it, and the bullying kids are very clever at making excuses. Nothing gets solved.

What can I do?

My son is extremely bright, and also a bit immature for his age. This is a combo that naturally leads to some bullying, because he's apt to get upset when he is teased.

I was searching the web for advice on how to handle it and I only came across one site which had any actual advice:

Bullies 2 Buddies - How to Stop Being Teased and Bullied Without Really Trying

I admit I was not thrilled with this when I first read it. What the author is saying is that since Columbine, nationwide anti-bullying programs of all sorts have been tried, and none of them have substantially reduced bullying. According to Dr. Kalman, the only way to stop bullying is for the victim to change.

This bugged the crap out of me. Why should the responsibility be on the victim!? It doesn't seem fair.

But I read through the site, and I came to see that there just isn't any other way. Scenarios like the one Sam described are common - no one saw it happen, the bully has a clever cover story, acts charming, etc., etc. Exercising authority against the bully is extremely difficult and rarely changes anything. Get rid of him and another bully takes his place.

Dr. Kalman says the only way to stop being a bullying victim is to stop giving the bullies what they are looking for - a reaction. The bully is bored, he's upset, he's insecure - he wants a diversion, and making another kid cry is exactly what he wants and needs to feel good about himself. He doesn't bully everyone...just the kids who give him what he wants.

As Dr. Kalman asks, what do the kids who don't get bullied do? Nothing. Everybody gets teased a little bit, but the more mature or less sensitive kids don't pay it as much mind. Bullying them is not nearly as interesting as bullying kids who get upset. So, they get a little teasing, like everyone, and then the bully moves on to a more satisfying victim.

The trick - according to this guy - is not being a satisfying bullying victim. Don't get upset. Don't tattle to the teacher. Don't react at all. The bully will tease you even more, at first, trying to get a reaction like what he is used to. But, according to Dr. Kalman, the bully will soon tire of the dull encounter and move on to victims who are more fun to torment.

You can read the site for a more elaborate explanation, but that's the basics.

WetCat: How can you act like it's the victim's fault!? The problem is with the bullies!


However, that realization solves nothing.

There is nothing anyone can do to rid the world of bullying. It is part of a social dynamic for competitive ranking that is played out by all social primates, including humans. It is present in every social group. Remove one bully and another takes his place. Make sterner rules against bullying, and bullies find ever more subtle and insidious ways to bully around the rules.

In short, there is nothing a victim of bullying can do to make the bullies of the world stop bullying. The victim is in charge of exactly one thing that he can control, and that is himself.

WetCat: Well, you claimed that "nothing else works." Check out this school-wide anti-bullying program...

That's great, if you happen to be at a school using the program. If you are on your own, you might have to do something yourself.

WetCat: Or, you could take the program to the school.

The program is set up to work throughout the entire community. You don't just put it in the school, you train everyone involved. You have a rec center? You put up the same rules there, train the main people at the rec center. Etc, etc, etc.

Um, that seems like a lot of work. And, suppose we got our whole community all trained up, and then we had to move? Then what...start all over?

My son needed a strategy he could do himself, anywhere.

I have nothing against top-down programs if they are effective, but we didn't want to make our lives about not bullying. We wanted to forget bullying. Teaching our son to handle it himself seems like it was the easiest way to do that. It's definitely the course I would recommend.

WetCat: The guy in your link said nothing else has been proven to work. He's wrong.

I'm glad. I hope the program you recommend catches on. In the meantime, I'm glad we didn't have to do all that.

Dr. Kalman's program is, How to Stop Getting Bullied Without Really Trying. It was that easy.

WetCat: It may seem like a lot of work, but honestly, I think it's better to do that work for the masses.

Well, I'm glad you feel that way, and I hope you have a lot of success at it.

But frankly, I don't see this as a practical recommendation for parents whose kids are getting bullied right now. They need a strategy that does not depend on what everybody else does.

Even if the parents get buy-in on a big program from everyone in their neighborhood, it's still not a long-term solution for the bullied kid. Eventually the kid will enter neighborhoods that his parents have not personally trained in anti-bullying. Then what?

Bullying will not be a problem now or then if the kid can simply learn how to handle it.

WetCat: I went to the site. I've seen kids try some of what was mentioned there. I've seen it not work. Wonderful if it worked for your son. I'm sorry for the children it doesn't work for.

Of course, who isn't? That doesn't make reorganizing the neighborhood a better solution for a parent than teaching the kid to deal.

Learning for themselves how to deflect aggression and not be intimidated is a vital life skill that will benefit kids everywhere they go.

8-10-13 10:20  •  You are the Universe

I was talking to Katy and Helen, enthusiastic Christians I speak to regularly.

Katy: God made human beings. He made their genes.

This is almost certainly 100% wrong. It is possible to trace the development of DNA and it is extremely obvious upon examination that "genes" made themselves what they are, slowly, through a process of trial and error over billions of years. There is evidence that this is happening in every living thing and all that passed before which we can examine.

There is no part of life on this planet which could not be like it is except by "god." Everything which created and maintains the genes is naturally occurring with no sign of intervening intelligence. The design that is present is the work of neurons.

This entire incredible existence is before you, working in ways which can be understood. It's not the story you are telling, but it is a far more amazing and beautiful story, to me anyway, not least because it can be shown to be true.

Like I said, you seem like a cool person, but so much of what you say does not seem to be true. I was wishing I could find some way to make you care about this.

Katy: I believe all sins separate us from God. We have Jesus blood to cover all our sins.

I am so sorry you feel this way. There is nothing separating you from the universe, you are it. You are the universe become conscious and aware of itself, a beautiful thing. Your mistakes are unimportant, unless you fail to learn from them. What matters is that for this fleeting moment you are alive, breathing, a compassionate being, in a magnificent eden of our making. This stuff you are repeating about "Jesus" and "blood" and "sin" is not important. It is standing between you and what is really happening.


Helen: You said we make claims without evidence. But then you said, "You are the universe become conscious and aware of iteself, a beautiful thing. Your mistakes are unimportant, unless you fail to learn from them. What matters is that for this fleeting moment you are alive, breathing, a compassionate being, in a magnificent eden of our making."

What evidence do you have to support this statement, hmm?

Hello there Helen, thanks for asking.

That Katy is part of the universe and sentient are evidenced by the existence of her posts in this discussion.

That she is a compassionate being is demonstrated by the concern for others she expresses in her writing, and is applicable to humans generally as members of a social species. That she is using a computer is evidence that she resides within the grid.

That mistakes have value as learning experience is evidenced by the process of science, the history of discovery and by the personal experience of everyone I know. In any case, there is no evidence that mistakes are something "more" than this, ie, "sins" separating Katy from "god."

That being alive in this moment is what matters is evidenced by the "experience of now" being, after all, the only thing any of us really knows we have.

That this is beautiful is my opinion, shaped by an appreciation of what is.

Helen: You stated "You are the universe" which is different then saying "part of the universe".

Don't forget the operative part of the phrase. Kathy is part of the universe which is aware of the universe and therefore she is an example of the universe becoming aware of itself.

Helen: You then went on to state what matters.

Yes. What matters is both a value judgement and an assessment of significance.

Helen: My question was asking what evidence do you have to support your belief of what matters....

There is evidence that what I am valuing is real. There is evidence that what is real has value.

Helen:...and why is your belief right and Katy's wrong?

My judgement and assessment are supported by evidence.

First of all, I am choosing to value what is real over what is pretend. There is plenty of evidence that what I am valuing is real and consistent with observable reality, and there is no evidence at all that what Kathy is valuing is real or consistent with observable reality.

Secondly, there is evidence that what is real is more significant than what is pretend, since what is real can really kill you or really help you and what is pretend can't.

So, there is evidence to support my assessment that what I value is real and my judgement that what is real has value. There is no evidence that what Katy describes is real or has value.

Helen:Also have you considered that maybe Katy came to her belief that "all sins separates us from God" and "We have Jesus blood to cover all our sins" through her own personal experiences?

There is no evidence that this is real. It is not consistent with observable reality. It could be entirely made up.

Belief from personal experience can be wrong. That's why it's necessary to verify personal experience with outside confirmation.

Helen:And perhaps she has learned that she is alive in this moment for a purpose greater then self?

Being alive as a sentient being on the earth serves many purposes transcendent of "self," so your reduction has nothing to do with anything I am talking about. However if you think you are alive in this moment for some kind of magical purpose, that is not consistent with observable reality.

8-08-13 8:56  •  Evolution vs. Creationism in Science Class

Mary: Why can't the teacher answer questions about creationism in science class? I don't see the big deal.

Frankly, in science class, the only answer they should have to say about "creationism" is "It's wrong." It's outrageous if in this day and age we still have to pay lip service to myths.

Jeff: I think the answer should be "it's not relevant to the discussion of science."

Well, I disagree completely. If people are saying their creation story is true, it is directly relevant to science. Science is about the truth. It's about how we know when things are true and when they aren't.

Jeff: Whether it is "right" or "wrong" is not for a science teacher to say.

I disagree. I think that scientists and teachers have a duty to the truth.

The origin of this earth and lifekind is not a matter of personal judgement. It is a matter of very well-understood and established scientific fact. A direct examination of reality readily shows that traditional myth / intelligent design creation stories have no merit. Every single scientific discovery has pointed to the exact opposite.

There is no evidence at all for design, intention, or any kind of magical intervention at any point in the history of this world. All that has arisen can be seen to have come about naturally, working slowly up from less to more complex in a physical process of trial and error.

This claim is a truth which can be verified with a hundred thousand data points.

Why should any teacher have to gloss over this truth instead of saying it straight out?

Jeff: I also think that there are many different interpretations of Creationism and it would likely upset parents if the teacher told the kids a version with was not in keeping with the faith of the parents.

Well now that you mention it, I'm a parent and I sometimes get upset about my children growing up in a world that doesn't understand or value reason. However, nobody seems too concerned about my upset, so I get over it.

People getting "upset" about the truth is why this stupid "controversy" still exists. If people are upset about the distance between what their faith says and what the facts say, I would suggest it is that gulf they need to examine. Because that distance is creating a lot of error in our society.

There is no, exactly zero, evidence of any kind of creation, and mountains of evidence of life by natural processes. This is the fact that science teachers should be telling kids, no matter who gets upset.

Jeff: Just keeping the science teachers out of it seems smartest.

Science is not out of it. Science is in it. Telling the truth of the science should be a priority for science teachers.

Jeff:Then they can get to teach science, which is their job.

Science shows conclusively that lifekind has arisen from a natural physical process. That is the point of the theory of evolution. Teaching this should be their job.

If more people understood what we know and how we know it, this would be a more rational world.

8-03-13 10:20  •  Life After Death and Animals

I was discussing with Greta, a Christian, the idea that after death some humans go to hell and some to heaven.

Greta: I do believe some people will go to heaven and some people to hell.

What about animals? Animals, mammals in particular, are extremely similar to us. They eat, excrete, respire, grow, and age. The closer they are to us on the tree of life, the more behaviors they have in common too - primates love, hate, comfort, fight, steal and share. Except for having a spoken language they are obviously not set apart from us in the natural order in any way.

Do animals have a different afterlife than people? People are animals too. How did death, which faces every thing that lives, get to be the Great Divide among humans that sorts the good from the bad?

Greta: Maybe they go to heaven maybe not.

I have thoroughly studied the biology of life. There is just nothing at all really different about humans from other animals. Their cells divide, their organs function, their nervous systems transmit, their brains administer in exactly the same ways. I have also observed animal behavior, and I have seen the emotion of chimps, elephants, wolves, whales and even sea lions, when a member of their group passes. They are clearly grief-stricken by loss in the same manner as humans. They are all exactly the same "thing" that we are.

There is just nothing that can be seen to suggest that anything that lives gets a "different" fate at death than anything else. In the same manner that animals meet a death exactly like the death of humans, I would say that all humans meet exactly the same fate at death as all other humans. Death is a physiological process which clearly affects the same physiology in the same way.

Other than a few words some people have uttered, there is just no evidence at all that death is the Great Divider that separates for all eternity the "good" from the "bad." It just doesn't make any sense. As for the reason people think otherwise - because someone said so - I find this to be very weak. People say a lot of things. Sometimes they are lying. More often they are simply wrong. I don't think that the words uttered by a few humans should be allowed to negate the obviously universal nature of death to life.

Look at it this way. If all of the biology textbooks on the earth suddenly disappeared, it would be necessary to rebuild our understanding of biology from scratch again. However this could be done, easily, by simply examining life itself for the answers. They are all there, before us.

If all the Bibles suddenly disappeared, however, there would not be any way to re-construct the conclusions by observation. The things the Bible states cannot be observed in nature. There is no way you can observe life and earth and the stars for answers and arrive at "Jesus died for our sins" or "some go to Heaven and some go to Hell." The only way to get that conclusion is by listening to someone say it.

If this conclusion was valid, surely there would be some way to discover it, derive it, discern it, confirm it, some possible way, outside of the Bible. The fact that the Bible is the only place this information can be obtained leads me to suspect that the information is just something some people wrote down.

Greta: Raver, I think you are a wonderful person. If I was God, I would let you in.

I am honored that you would say so, thanks. You are easily as cool as God, maybe cooler.

Greta: Raver, I think you are a wonderful person. If I was God, I would let you in.

I am honored that you would say so, thanks. You are easily as cool as God, maybe cooler.

Greta: It's just that I get so much joy from my beliefs. I would love for you to have that joy too.

I would like to know why you think I don't have it.

Greta: I just know that my faith in Jesus assures my salvation.

I understand that this is what you believe. I am sure you would not believe me if I were to tell you that you do not need salvation and that there is nothing Jesus is "doing" to give it to you. I don't expect you to take my word for it, why should you?

But I would suggest you take that same skepticism and apply it to the authors of the Bible. Why should you believe them either? Don't take anybody's word for it!

You have suggested that you prefer to go directly to the source. This is just what I would recommend. Examine life and nature and being for yourself, and see what conclusions are presented by what is. This is the source, the open book, and the information within it cannot possibly be wrong, because it is what it is.

Thank you again.

5-05-13 9:11  •  Why not believe in Santa?

Zacayam: The Christian God is real enough to Christians, because they believe and put enough energy into this to make it real.


Zacayam: A God becomes a God by the power that people give him/her/it, in a way.

That would make my husband a god.

Zacayam: In a way, I agree. Santa is real to children, when they grow out of their faith or are convinced otherwise he becomes a nice fairy tale. Same with any God, if you believe in them they have a power.

I'm glad you agree that gods are like Santa. However I hope you can see that having grownups and decision-makers who believe in Santa is very detrimental to society. Here's why:

1) Santa is obviously false. There is zero evidence to support any kind of supernatural being who gives presents, and all tales ascribed to this being are obviously impossible according to all that we can observe. Trying to keep the Santa story believed, with zero evidence and in contradiction of observable reality, drains a huge amount of effort and will to reason out of society.

2) Believing that there is a magical being who will give you what you want, in contradiction with all the laws of nature, shows a profound departure from understanding actual reality and real cause and effect. Not understanding what is really happening is a great source of error.

3) Believing that there is a magical being who will give you what you want changes people's approach to getting what they want. For example they feel they will get what they want if they write letters or beg for it, or that they will get what they want if they are very, very good. However this also represents a profound departure from understanding reality. And, is extremely difficult to continually rationalize.

4) Particularly troubling is when people make decisions based on what they think Santa wants, or what will get them on The Good List. Since there is, in fact, no observable Santa, every person attributes their own personal agenda to Santa and then says it's from Him. There is no reality check on what makes The Good List as decided by "Santa."

5) Believing different details about Santa is very devisive. Is Rudolf real too? Did he really save Christmas? Some people think you have to believe in Santa AND Rudolf, and some don't. Who is right? There is no way to check. Such conflicts are forever unresolvable and are a never-ending source of friction and violence.

6) Believing in "Santa" correlates very negatively in measures of societal health. Countries where belief in supernatural beings who give you what you want is low end up having higher measures of social success, such as better health and fewer social problems. The gains of understanding actual reality and understanding what works are measurable.

Zacayam: And since I don't -know- that it's all in their mind...

It looks like it's all in their mind. Surely you can see that acting on anything that could be all in their minds would be dangerous, and that it is far, far better to act based on what we KNOW is NOT all in their mind.

Zacayam: ... I see no reason to try to convince them he's just a fairy tale..

That is why I just gave you six reasons.

2-22-13 2:33  •  God's Punishment

It has often been suggested to me that the seemingly cruel actions attributed to God are actually just a kind of punishment. When I say it's cruel to send people to hell, or to destroy entire towns OT style, I am told that it's no different than me punishing my children.

Well, if I resort to punishing my children, it's so they can learn something and do better next time. How are people supposed to learn from their punishment if they are killed, or sent to Hell? There is no next time. How could the purpose of God's punishment be to teach a lesson?

It seems the main purpose of God's "punishment" is to hurt people, to give them what they "deserve." So, it really is nothing like me punishing my children.

MayWest: This is a very good point to ponder. I dont have an answer, I wish I did! :( .

There is an answer and it is extremely obvious.

Galilee Gal: G-d relates to us, and we to Him in several ways. He is "King" and we are His subjects, He is Master and we are His servants, He is as a Father and we are His children.

Hurting people is not acceptable from kings, masters or parents.

Galilee Gal:He rules the universe with the two qualities of justice and mercy. And He sees all His creations as good.

Except there is no, zero, absolutely not one shred, of evidence that this is occurring.

Galilee Gal:And we don't know what His plans are for any given individual, or how that fits into His overall plan. Besides we are not bigger, or more clever than G-d so we can't understand the actions He takes.

And here are the moral knots people have to tie themselves in to explain how this immorality by God could somehow be acceptable. Even you can see that this behavior seems horrible. But you are required to excuse it, to write it off, in any way possible. And why? Because it's part of your story, and you can't let any part of your story be questioned. It's in the book. It MUST be true. Even if we have to look on behavior that is clearly insane and call it "good."

This, as I see it, is the main problem with faith religion. It puts you at odds with moral reality.

Think of it this way. You don't see anybody standing around claiming how it was "good" for Zeus to turn himself into a swan and rape Leda. Why not? We're not bigger than Zeus. He's a supernatural being, infinitely more clever than us. So we just cannot understand His great plans and the truly benevolent and masterful reasons for His rapes. Anyway, it's in the story, it must be true. Who are we to question it? Right?

Your story is exactly like the story of Leda and the Swan.

2-22-13 5:20  •  Big Reasons Belief Messes Things Up For Everyone

Galilee Gal:If you think G-d is imaginary, why discuss Him at all?

Because you and about a billion other humans are acting delusional. That affects everyone. It should be discussed.

Galilee Gal:I still do not understand how my belief in G-d and keeping His commandments affects everyone to the point that "it should be discussed".

I am happy to explain. Here are some big ways belief screws things up for everyone.

1) Laws.

People make laws and run the society based on what is written in their holy books. In my country this means disenfranchising a significant portion of the population from marriage choice. It means increasing STDs and teen pregnancy with inadequate sex education. It means degrading the quality of our science by obfuscating the facts with fantasy in the science classroom. This affects everyone, not just the religious.

2) Outdated morality.

The very religious are stuck in a morality from thousands of years ago, before most of the error correction we have accumulated kicked in, with no avenue for moral progress. This means, among other things, that ancient superstitions and prejudices are still used today to shame and scapegoat people within the population, for perfectly normal and naturally occurring behaviors. This affects everyone.

3) Unresolvable conflict.

Much of the warfare between and within nations is in-group / out-group divisions based on religion. For example, whole nations - including mine, the U.S. - are driven to make policy by the ludicrous and selfish and dangerous fantasy of a "Holy Land."

Because they consist only of mental constructs, such conflicts cannot be resolved by compromise or checking. They are forever unresolvable, a source of never-ending struggle and refusal to cooperate. This affects everyone.

4) Waste of Time and resources and mental energy.

Tremendous amounts of effort - not to mention staggering amounts of money - are wasted in furthering religious thought. People have their mental wheels spinning constantly about nothing real.

Think of the time Christians in my country spend praying to Jesus, talking about Jesus, thinking Jesus saved them. Think of all the time they spend just churning all these thoughts in their heads about Him being the Messiah - thoughts which, according to you, are just plain wrong and a usurpment of your own stuff. Think of all the channels on American cable that are Christian, all the Christian music, all the Christian music radio and Christian talk radio, everybody talking about how they are saved by this Messiah, and you can be too, if you just believe, and if not, it's hell for you, yes, you.

Don't you think they are wasting a huge amount of time and effort and emotional energy over something wrong? Spinning their mental wheels over imagined gods? Well, it's not just them.

This huge and constant drain on human resources deprives everyone.

5) Error.

Here's the big problem with faith religion. It appears to be wrong. There is no evidence that any particular set of religious claims is correct. They are completely unsupported. They don't make sense. They are inconsistent with observable reality.

Trying to keep the religious ball in the air with all the things we know now is creating problems. The distance between what the religion says and what the reality is creates a lot of error and conflict. From the days when the church dragged its feet for centuries on whether the earth or the sun was at the center of our planetary system, to today when they can't even figure out that birth control is okay, people are constanly misled and wrong and jumping at shadows and doing the wrong thing because they don't understand what is really happening.

Religion strangled progress in believers for over a thousand years, producing the Dark Ages. It took the light of the Renaissance to shake off a millenium of dogma and start figuring out how to make things work again.

The error affects society at a functional level. The more sway religious thought has over the population, the more they are fraught with social ills. Even today, the healthiest societies on the planet are associated with the least religiosity. This affects every society.

6) Reason. (Lack thereof.)

And here is the root of the problem, from which so many other problems stem. Religious belief requires that people abandon reason, the only system that really works for understanding things and making things work.

When people do not base their decisions on reason, they don't have to have a good reason for anything, and ideologies come to rule the day. So, major countries, like mine and others, are highly conflicted by political divides based on conflicting ideologies. A simple look at what works and what doesn't in social policy would resolve many issues, but people don't care for a reasoned discussion of what works. They stand on ideologies like "America has the greatest healthcare in the world! Go capitalism!" instead of acknowleding an easily observable reality - that other countries get better health for less money with social health systems. Etc, etc.

Religious people who are not grounded in reason are leaders in major countries. These countries make decisions for stupid reasons, based on ideologies that don't work. Lots of people get killed and kids are made homeless and the biosphere gets trashed and it's all because of unreason.

Religion opens the door to unreason by requiring that people hide from reality. It doesn't work.

Since our laws, our public morality, the conflicts between our nations, the waste of our resources, massive misunderstanding and the abrogation of reason are all precipitated by religious faith, we should definitely be discussing ways to mitigate the harm. Enough is enough.

Galilee Gal: And it seems not just "discussed", but that I should be actively dissuaded from my beliefs to believe in nothing.

Should people be disabused of insane ideas which don't correspond to reality and cause lots of problems for everyone? Of course. If I care about you, and about the world, could I do otherwise?

How could I know what I know, and not try to make it possible for others to see? It's the truth, as determined by the system that works. The truth matters. To everyone.

Galilee Gal: It is your opinion that I am delusional...

You are the one claiming that a god raped a woman while disgused as a swan, or "punished" a city by destroying it, or some such thing. Got anything to back up your supernatural claims, besides words?

Galilee Gal: I think atheists and paganists are delusional and irrational.

Luckily, it's not a matter of opinion. When you want to find out if what people are saying is true, you can check. Which claims are supported by publicly verifiable evidence? Which claims are unverifiable, inconsistent with observable reality and indistinguishable from folktales?

Galilee Gal:I guess we will just have to agree to disagree, or I will have to stop reading your posts.

That's your answer? Hide?

I don't have to ignore people who don't agree with me. I can still talk to them. I'm not afraid to hear what they have to say. Why should you ignore people who don't agree with you?

Read more in the Archives.