Saturday, February 15, 2020

Who's In Charge Here?

Like many other people, I have lived in places and taken  jobs that I wound up hating.  Yet with some exceptions, such as my childhood location of  residence about which of course I had no choice in the matter, as an adult I was the one responsible for deciding where to live and where to apply for work. But once I was in, it was not easy to leave the former when I had a lease or a mortgage, or the latter in difficult economic times in which jobs were scarce or I was experiencing ''job lock'' due dependence on an employer's low cost health insurance that would have otherwise been unaffordable. Under those circumstances  I felt that I had lost control  and was no longer in charge of those vital areas of my life, and so I was very unhappy. Eventually, though, circumstances changed in my favor, including a timely retirement and expatriation.  And of course that made a major difference in my outlook. 

I think it's that very sense of ownership—or lack thereof—over our lives even more so than wealth which drives  our sense of satisfaction and happiness. When we allow others  to decide our fate thereby usurping our independence and personal sovereignty,  no matter how much we may gain materially in return, we can't help but feel hopeless and depressed.  There's a song "Silver Threads And Golden Needles" which captures this sentiment very nicely.

Similarly, as an atheist, one thing that I don't have to concern myself with  is the thought that my destiny is controlled by  an alleged supreme being. This is in contrast to  theists who are convinced that a god who's an all-powerful father figure, runs their lives. Having once been a believer myself l know  how restrictive that kind of a mindset can be. It means surrendering your personal autonomy  which is a vital part of one's being to a so-called higher power whose existence is not even proven.  And without that sense of wholeness, how can  people feel complete when they believe in a force that manipulates them like puppets on a string? 

A common reply by believers is  that "God has a plan" for them. But such  blind faith  just reinforces this sense of personal helplessness. In turn,  it's  that powerlessness which leads to despair. Note that America has a very high rate of god-belief and is in fact "the most devout of all the rich Western democracies"  However,  U.S also has one of the world's highest rates of depression.  Of course, correlation is not causation, but the the fact that both of these phenomena co-exist and in such high numbers at that can't help but give one pause.   

In short, a sense  of personal control over one's life doesn't necessarily guarantee happiness, but it goes a long way towards that end. On the other hand, a perceived lack of such ownership will almost certainly result in a life constricted by a sense of powerlessness and unfulfillment.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Why Is This Major Source of Global Warming Being Ignored?

Global warming is not a burning issue (no pun intended.) for me. This is not because I don't believe that anthropogenic climate change is a menace to humankind. It certainly is. But for one  thing as an old man, I don't think that I will live long enough to see its dire consequences.  However,  before you dismiss me as an unfeeling geezer, there's more to the story.

From the time that I became an adult over 50 years ago, I, have been conservation-minded, and  would like to think that compared to many other people, I,  along with my wife, have left a relatively small carbon footprint, simply by living a modest life style. All the vehicles that we ever owned had only four cylinders, and we commuted to work public transportation, years at a time, when it was feasible to do so. We've been responsible consumers of both material goods  and energy, such as by practicing  recycling and  setting our thermostat high in the summer and low in the winter.  In short, like others who care about the environment,  we've done our best to  walk the talk.

The proportion of climate researchers who support the theory that global  warming is caused by humans stands at 95%.  Accordingly, various movements have sprung up in an attempt to put the brakes on this man-made climate change. However, there is a serious issue that as far as I'm concerned makes their efforts ring hollow: the failure  to address the matter of overpopulation.

In fact in recent  years  the very topic of population control seems to have become unfit for discussion in polite company.   Yet some experts say not to worry about such growth  because overall the world's fertility rate is dropping, and further that the main problem is not too many people but overconsumption.  However, even in a report that takes this position, there's disagreement. on which way the trend of fewer children per family worldwide is really heading, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa. On the other hand, another report reflects the tie in between population growth, resulting energy consumption, greenhouse gases,  and  warming as intrinsically linked throughout the world.

But for the sake of argument, assume that our planet could sustain continuing population growth beyond the almost 8 billion people who are already here. What about the environmental havoc that such numbers of people will further wreak on the world?  Consider the ecological fallout from the recent fires that were deliberately set in the Amazon rain forest, or the trash that has been found in such contrasting points as the Mariana Trench  and on Mount Everest, and in the bellies of sea life.  . That reflects how little regard humankind has for what has been rightly called our only home. And yet we still want to crank out the  2 billion more inhabitants of this planet that are expected by 2050? It's true that the worldwide fertility rate is falling, but not fast enough to reduce the strain that already exists on our natural and man-made resources.

With that increase in mind, those who have remained child-free  as my wife and I have done, are well within our rights  to be especially critical of widespread irresponsible human reproduction in which people have children ''because it is God's will'' or just plain for ego, gratification, but for whom they cannot or will not adequately provide and nurture. It is such willful blindness that has greatly contributed to the population problem that the world now faces.

So how can we slow the population growth rate? One way is to change to the tax code in counties like the U.S. At present the IRS there rewards taxpayers for having large broods by offering  them a child tax credit child for every baby they pop out. That law should be revised such that people who have more than two children are penalized for every additional child that they bring into this world. Further, there  would be no tax penalty but no credit either for the maximum number of two children people wish to  have.

Another solution is for the Catholic Church to end its ban on contraceptives. This is especially vital in poor and overpopulated countries where the Church holds sway such as the Philippines. This is why it's absolutely ridiculous for  Pope Francis to profess concern about humankind's roll in climate change in light of his opposition to the utilization of this effective method in birth control and family planning.

Even if the need to reign in the world's burgeoning population is recognized, it's going to take will and determination on  a national and on an international level to carry it out. That won't be easy, but using that prospect as an excuse for inaction or continuing to pretend that there is no overpopulation problem will only spell doom for other efforts to control global warning and in all likelihood for humankind itself.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

A Special Anniversary

The following is a sligthtly revised version of my response to the "Atheist Revolution" blog post "Why Can't You Keep Your Atheism to Yourself?"

Aug. 27 marks my 14th year of living as a retired American expat in the Philippines which is probably the most devout Roman Catholic country in the world. Yet I'm still more comfortable as an openly Jewish atheist here than I was while living in California in the bright red Inland Empire and working in Orange Country at a company where evidently I was the only Jew and likely the only atheist among over 100 employees, many of whom were Christian fundies.

Not once since I've been here have I been seriously challenged about my ethnicity or godlessness, even by my wife's family who are almost all devoted Catholics and who I'm sure have seen my posts in Facebook stating my opposition to religious belief. My wife BTW is also an atheist but not as outspoken about it as I am.

However, even if I were rejected for my what and  who I am, that wouldn't be a reason to change my beliefs or even pretend to do so for the sake of appearance. But being accepted certainly makes life a lot easier.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Ruthlessness And Religion

A few nights ago, my wife Lydia and I went out to dinner at a restaurant down the street from  our residence.  About halfway through the meal Lydia got a small piece of shrimp shell stuck in her throat. She wasn't  choking, but it was painful and hard for her to swallow  The nearby clinics that could have taken care of her were  already closr the evening, so that left only one alternative--a trip to a hospital ER, the closest of which is about 5km (3 miles) from our area.

Just our luck it was a rainy evening, and taxis were hard to come by, but we finally got one. However, due to the cab scarcity, the driver  took  advantage of  our situation and demanded a high flat rate  instead of running the meter. Under the under the circumstances we had no choice but to accept.
Just as we got in and the driver was about to  pull into traffic, he crossed himself, which is a common  gesture here in the Philippines among devout Catholics beseeching God's protection at the start of a journey. 
A couple of blocks into the trip, Lydia suddenly coughed, which dislodged the shell, so no  need for the  ER after all. Even  the driver said something to the effect that  God is good. So we turned around and went home. However,  traffic was so heavy that the metered fare wouldn't have been much more than the driver's demanded amount anyway. So we paid it. And all things considered, we were just so glad that Lydia was okay that the fare wasn't worth arguing about. But the point is if the cabbie was so pious, he had a strange way of showing it by exploiting an urgent matter to squeeze extra money from his passengers. I can't help but wonder how much more he would have socked it to us if our need had been really dire.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Can Atheists Work Together with God-believers for a Common Cause?

The following originally appeared as a response to a post in "Atheist Revolution" on a different subject but I slightly revised it to discuss the following related issue..

In theory, atheists and god-believers should be able to  work together for a cause in which they both have a stake, such as promoting  a political candidate who equally recognizes both groups. Such was  the case with President Obama.  In his 2009 inaugural address  he stated "We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers...".

But this is a rare occurrence. What's more common are scenarios in which liberal atheists who support the Democrats had to put up with the likes of Hillary Clinton,  who during  the  2016 election campaign continually  harped on her Methodist faith, ("Why do Democrats keep snubbing atheists? We help drive the party")  In all fairness maybe she did that to win over the ''god and  guns'' demographics, but it obviously didn't work and it turned off a lot of atheists, including me. I can't imagine that it was much better for conservative non-believers who  were confronted with Trump's' and Christian evangelists  hijacking of the  Republican party.

And as likely as not, when working with Christian organizations, atheists will be marginalized, just based on their numbers which will likely be much smaller than that of their religious counterparts. The majority mentality of the latter may well extend to such procedural matters as insistence on starting meetings with a prayer, notwithstanding the awkward position such rituals place the non-believers in attendance. This is a common occurrence even in the public domain, such as city council public sessions, and for which, unfortunately the U.S.Supreme Court has already given the green light.

So atheists who want to join forces with theists need to go into such  alliances with eyes wide open and be prepared for a range  of  responses extending from initial acceptance to outright  rejection, with the latter a more likely eventual outcome.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

An Atheist's Perspective on Accepting Reality

As is likely the case with many other seniors, I often consider (but don't dwell on) my mortality.  I know that there's a chance that I could live into my 90's as did my maternal grandfather. But the odds that will happen are slim, and of course there's the matter of possible / probable deterioration in the quality of life itself, as my physical and mental health may fail even if I remain ''alive''.  That's the real world.

But most other elderly people whom I know are theists and are convinced that when they die, they will go to heaven and be with God and their loved ones for eternity. How sad that they can achieve peace of mind only from illusions like this.

I have to admit that it's a bit daunting to contemplate the probable reality that the life we're now living is the only one we'll ever have and that when we die, it's lights out forever. Yet, it's that same likelihood of complete ''finis'' that makes me realize that the good things that I have here and now should be appreciated and enjoyed.while I'm still able to do so.

This post originally appeared  as a comment in response  to the Dec. 26, 2018 "Atheist Revolution" blog  post "Welcome to the Real World''.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Would the Discovery of Extraterrestrial Life Clash with God-Belief?

A friend of mine commented that if the space object Oumuamua now whizzing through our solar system were proven to be a probe from a civilization in another star system as had at one point been speculated, that discovery could be the impetus for humanity  to unite in world peace-- "Or else" (sic).

I don't think that such unity would happen even if the object had been proven to be sent from another world. Here's why. If life, especially  more intelligent forms than we humans, in fact exists on other planets, this would (rightfully) cast widespread doubt on theism's view of man as the highest form of life, ("created in God's image") and perhaps cast doubt on the very existence of a supreme being itself as well. However, ultra-religious God-believers might then  become ultra-defensive and resistant to these findings to the point of claiming that they are a conspiracy against the very core of their beliefs and doctrines. This desperation in turn may cause them to riot and wreak havoc throughout the civilized world.

Maybe that sounds far fetched, but consider this:  When world peace and the brotherhood of man were first idealized after WWII, the major obstacles to such harmony were political and economic in nature, e.g. the struggle  between the communist and the non communist countries (basically East vs. West).  At that time, religious  extremism which now exists on an almost global scale was not even a blip on the radar, let alone the force that has since expanded into a source of hatred and disunity  within and among various nations of the world.

Well, the cold war ended, but due to religion-based intolerance, world peace and unification are more elusive than ever.  A  confirmation of extraterrestrial life may indeed be necessary for humanity to start considering the implications for our future and for the meaning of life itself as we've come to understand it, inasmuch as our illusion that we are the sole inhabitants in the universe would be shattered.

And as for the actual  likelihood itself of life on other worlds,. consider that astronomers  had long predicted existence of other solar systems before that theory was finally confirmed in the 1990's when the first exoplanet was discovered. Since then, thousands more have been detected, and and as telescopes continue to improve beyond what was once thought to be their performance limit only a few decades ago, still thousands more such worlds will likely be found. So the stage for the actual discovery of life beyond Earth  has been set.

But as long as god-belief  remains a dominant force in so many parts of the world, then proof of extraterrestrial life alone will likely not be sufficient for man to achieve a positive reordering of our existential priorities. And as one of the many prospective ''or else'' deterrents  to our advancement, the hindrance of theism may well be a daunting barrier against the realization of the  significance of finding life beyond Earth  and of its potential to  write the next chapter in the story of  humankind.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Why "God" Is Irrelevant to Our Understanding of the Universe

An argument for the existence of God is that life on Earth--and matter itself--could not possibly have come into being unless the universe were structured  just right.This belief is based on the "Goldilocks'' or fine-tuned universe proposition. In addition, Earth had to be just the right distance from the sun which itself had to have certain properties, as does the solar system itself as a whole. Further, our planet itself once created had to develop in a certain way for life come into existence and flourish. And without the the hand of God that made all these pieces of the puzzle fall into place, none of us would be here today.

However, consider this: If there were an all-powerful supreme being, he could have made the laws of the universe come out any which way he wanted for matter and life to exist. So with that in mind, the universe in which we live and the set of rules by which it operates are just one of the infinite number of possibilities of the way that he could have caused his creation  to turn out. And what makes us  humans think we're so special anyway?  Maybe there are other strains of life elsewhere in  the universe that are unimaginably different from Earth's carbon based creatures. As Star Trek's Spock would say to Captain  Kirk, ''It's life, Jim, but not as we know it.''

But we do know that there are likely millions of planets just in our own which itself is just one of countless worlds.   Who knows how many of them may host life?  Even if only a minuscule percentage  do, some of them may be home to sentient beingsCome  to  think of it, there are many forms of life right here in our own world that exist in extremely ''un-Earth-like'' conditions.. Two random examples are bacteria living in the gastric acid of our gut, and sea life creatures at the bottom of the Mariana Trench which has a thousand times the atmospheric pressure bearing down on it than (and hence pushing outward from their innards)  than at sea level.

Alternatively,  deists believe that a supreme being created the universe and then it left alone to unfold on its own. Now  if one maintains that there is God but that the universe had to develop the way it did for life to have come into existence, then how can God be considered all powerful--or perhaps the universe and God are one and the same  in which case, so are  deism and pantheism.

Speaking of deism, an organization called the the World Union of Deists,  sees  the creation of the universe as the'' Word of God''  and hence a miracle but supposedly not in the biblical sense  but rather as ''This Deistic idea of a miracle, one in which a miracle is an act of The Supreme Intelligence/God, is based on reason and not on faith."

The universe is an amazing place all right, and since there's no scientific evidence for the existence of  a supreme being within the framework  of  natural law, offering a "God'', deistic or otherwise as an explanation for the the complexity of the cosmos just muddies the waters. Occam's razor  states that the simplest explanation of a phenomena is usually the correct one. In this case, that would eliminate a God from the equation. The simplest explanation in this case is that our universe with its own set of laws may be part of a multiverse in which other such universes have their own ''Goldilocks'' physical laws. In that case, then isn't it possible that a supreme being could have created the multiverse as well? Not really. If there's no evidence of that our own universe was created by a supreme being, why would other universes be any different?

Then  of course there are those who say that there has to be a supreme being because the Big Bang  couldn't have caused itself or just come out of nowhere (actually the latter may have been possible.  See  A universe From Nothing by Lawrence Krauss.)  Yet that leads to the question, if  God created the universe / multiverse, then  who created God? Believers will always fall back on First Cause and that God is eternal. But that's not an answer. it's a paradox that can only be resolved with a self-creating supreme being, which makes even less sense. And to muck things up even further it's debatable that time even existed before the Big Bang.

However, there is a future for the universe, and it's not pretty. Over  the next several trillion to the almost nth power years, the universe will either continue to expand, and eventually  the stars will die out, the galaxies will come undone and the cosmos will become a cold, dead entity, or on the other hand if gravity prevails, the universe will collapse back in on itself  in a Big Crunch. In either case, of course life will cease to exist. That leads  to the question: why would an eternal supreme being create a universe with a ''use by'' date  in  the first place?* 

Finally, the day well may come when humans make contact with beings from other worlds who are superior to our kind. The day may also come when biological sciences can create life in a test tube, and from there human beings (we're already part way there with rudimentary cloning) and other forms of life as yet undreamed of.  What will humanity's relationship  with these beings, both those that are extraterrestrial and those that  we have artificially created? And  What will be  the response of  those who claim that the ''hand (or word) of God'' is the only source of life--when man has also become an originator of living beings? And if human-created life evolves separately from mankind, will its descendants in some  distant future speculate on how their own seemingly anthropic universe came into being just as we do today in ours?

*See also ''The Universe Is Disappearing, And There’s Nothing We Can Do To Stop It" and ''How Will the Universe End? | Space Time'', two  excellent articles that I  discovered after I published this post.


Monday, July 16, 2018

Her Bias Is Showing

As per the title of this blog site, my posts are usually oriented towards matters regarding the U.S.and Judaism. However, I'm taking a side trip here to review an opinion column from  a newspaper in the Philippines, as  the topic is a problem that Americans face as well .

As a supporter of gender equality , I find it disturbing when feminists hijack issues that affect both women and men and in doing so, paint women as almost exclusive sufferers of such concerns as though males who experience the same hardships don't exist.

An example is  Columnist Rina Jimenez-David of the "Philippine Daily Inquirer" who resorts to this distortion to try to justify her perspective about the status of woman as victim. In her June 20 Opinion piece ''Standing without permission'' which discusses the Philippone government  crackdown against loiterers (known in the Philippines as tambays, (which is Tagalog term  adapted from the English phrase ''stand by''), she said that this action is anti--woman just because a relatively few number of people caught up in the controversial police sweep of suspected loiterers  were female prostitutes. But in fact the overwhelming majority of those arrested as tambays were men.

Then in her July 03 column  ''Gender factor in suicide'' Jimenez-David relates the phenomenon of the worldwide  increase in suicides among young women ages 15-19. However, the source that she references, the World Health Organization, also reports that the global suicide rate for teens overall is rising.  Presumably that includes males as well. But Jimenez-David  focuses only the greater percentage of adolescent and young adult females who take their own lives as though that statistic makes them more ''victim-worthy'' than their male counterparts. Yet, why must the tragedy rightfully associated with  suicide be framed according to gender?  Let's say for the sake of argument that the suicide rate is 3 females for every 1 male.  Just because fewer males die this way, does that mean that males who killed themselves are worth only 1/3 of the consideration that their female counterparts are entitled to receive?

And consider that perhaps the rate of suicide for young males is less because ''big boys don't cry''. Almost universally, males by their very sex are expected to just suck up their pain and get over it, ''and (they are told) anyway suicide  is for the ''weak'''' . But of course they can't get over it. Instead they may redirect their psychological suffering outward in forms of violence against others. That in itself may be a partial explanation for the high crime rate among adolescent and young adult males. But that's just speculation on my part.  However, "Philippine Star'' columnist Boo Chanco has some interesting thoughts about,  ''Depression and suicide'' along  with machismo, especially as how they are regarded in the Philippines.

But if we follow Jimenez-David's preference of focusing  on afflictions based on gender, then shouldn't, say, alcoholism be treated as a male disease since overall, especially in countries like the Philippines, the percentage of men who are alcoholics is greater than that of women? Of course not.  To the extent that this scourge negatively impacts society in general and individuals and families in particular, again not just in the Philippines but in many other parts of the world as well, it's everyone's problem.

The same is true for suicide. Accordingly then, it's pointless and one-sided for Jimenez-David to play the gender card whether it's regarding social injustice or social calamity  in order to satisfy her personal  agenda.  

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Atheism and Gratitude

There's a false impression among many (most?) god-believers that atheists can't feel the emotion of gratitude because we don't consider  a supreme being as a source for the ''gift of life'', ''blessings'', and the favorable outcomes that we experience. However, as I see it, it's  not an imaginary deity who gave me life. My parents did that. But no matter how I--or any of us  for that matter--view how we came into existence,  how would we know the difference if we hadn't?  There's a quotation attributed to Mark Twain in which he supposedly said “I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.” That reflects my sentiments exactly.

Also  I didn't  receive the memo that says I can't feel gratitude towards the people, most of all to my wife Lydia,  who have been there for me on the journey to my present stage of life.

Still another  perspective to my particular sense of gratitude is an awareness of that for all my problems, my situation could be a lot worse.

I also have a strong appreciation and sense of awe for the grandeur of the natural world which is awesome for its beauty and web of interconnectedness that ranges from smallest  the sub-atomic particle to the  greatest supercluster of galaxies in the universe.

So I have a many things in my life for which I am grateful, and  a realization that such good fortune should not be taken for granted. That may be the most important awareness about gratitude of all . 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Jewish Alt- Right Sympathizers, Trump, and Charlottesville

It  should come as no surprise that President Trump had to be dragged into finally criticizing the white nationalist violence that broke out at the Aug. 12 Charlottesville rally. But he then muddied the waters  with his retweeting a message from a right wing conspiracy theorist and then with his assertion that both sides in the melee were at fault.. However, what's almost certain is  that Trump doesn't want to alienate certain segments of  his support base, one of  which is  discussed below, which he has been egging on to such physical confrontations since his campaign for the presidency  began,  and his opponents should know that by now.  

It so happens that I got into an online shouting match on Facebook a few months ago with a couple of Jewish Trump supporters who strongly supported the alt-right Proud Boys in a campus clash at Berkeley  with the far Left AntiFa earlier this year and then at Charlottesville. Now personally I also have no use for AnfiFa, which is a radical left organization; but for Jews to  actually applaud a group at the other extreme that has ties to white nationalism and worse as the Charlottesville events confirmed is lunacy, especially in view of the fact that some of the participants  there were chanting antisemitic slogans!

As might be expected, the response by the Jewish sympathizers of the Proud Boys to my original  criticism of both them and that organization was at that time a salvo of ad hominems against me and  of non-sequitur attacks on Hillary Clinton  and former President Obama.  But if  after Charlottesville  they can still stand by their advocacy of such a hateful ideology along with its proponents, that says a lot more about them than it does about white nationalism--and Trump.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Mess Mutual

Whether you reside overseas or in the U.S. if you have a traditional IRA or a 401(k) account, upon reaching age 70 1/2 you may have to start taking required minimum distributions from your account on an annual basis for which, if you're an American citizen,  you will  receive  from your account administrator a 1099-R form at the end of the year to include with your tax filing  If you're a foreigner, you will receive a 1042-S form instead.

The administrator of my 401(k)   is Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company, aka Mass Mutual.  This is a multi billion dollar insurance and investment company,  but their customer service is of wretchedly low quality. For example, last year Mass Mutual made an error regarding my 2015 1099-R which I went to great lengths to correct. Well, not only did I have the same problem again for 2016 but MM made an additional blunder as well.

It all began when it occurred to me in February that I had not yet received my 1099-R for 2016. When I called Mass Mutual customer service about this delay, the representative stated that the form had not been generated because MM had no  record of my taking an RMD for that year, when in fact I had definitely done so. Fortunately, I had kept a confirmation record from which I furnished the information for Mass Mutual to dig deeper. In doing so they finally found the file for the transaction.

When  I then inquired how soon my 1099-R would now be forthcoming, the CS rep stated that I would not receive that form after all because of my foreign address. Instead Mass Mutual would issue me a 1042-S which is for foreigners who have accounts in the U.S.  subject to withholding. Well here we go again I thought. This is the same problem that I had with MM for my 2015 RMD.  I explained this time just as I did before that I'm an American citizen and no matter where I live, I should receive a 1099-R, not a 1042-S. The representative continued to argue the matter, but I stuck to my guns and even gave a change from my Philippines address on file there to my mail forwarding address in the that this issue wouldn't keep cropping up each year.  I finally prevailed and received my 1099-R for 2016 which enabled me to proceed with my IRS filing.

The other day I received correspondence from Mass Mutual: a second  1099 and under separate cover another document. Each communication still reflected my Philippines address. So I called MM and confirmed my suspicions that the change of address that I had previously ordered had never been processed.but I was assured  that it would be done immediately.

While I was editing this post,  I tried to pull up my 401(k) account on line to see if that correction had finally been, but instead I received an error message''We cannot process your request at this time. Please try again later.''

Oh, BTW. the other document that I received was a 1042-S form, about which the rep said ''not to  worry about it'', except now my name may be on file with the IRS as a foreigner, as one copy of that form is automatically also sent to Uncle Sam.

Finally,  I would like to add that the amount in my 401(k)  is chump change as is my required minimum distribution compared to most accounts that Mass Mutual deals with every day. If they can't keep proper track of simple accounts and basic transactions like mine, what kind of errors might they making on major accounts? If you do business with that company, that's something to think about.   

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

When Ill Fortune Befalls an Atheist

Like Many other atheists, I'm been told by theists that in a crisis, I will turn to God  (or in my case ''return'' as I was also once a God-believer) and beg him for help. This  assertion reminds me of the adage that ''there are no atheists in foxholes'', because in the extreme danger of combat, all soldiers fear for their lives and supposedly pray to  God for deliverance. That assumption is wrong.  There are indeed atheists in foxholes. In fact there is an it organization comprised of  such non-believers: Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers.

This unwavering resoluteness obtains with their civilian counterparts as well.. In my own situation, namely three cancer operations plus the removal of a kidney all within one year, I can attest that not once during that time did I ever consider renouncing my unbelief for the simple reason that I find no evidence for the existence of a supernatural being.  In other words, just because of difficult or  even life threatening health circumstances, why  should I abandon reason in favor of superstition? Any hope that I had for recovery  was based on my trust in the skill of the surgeons and the other members of the medical team who were involved with my case. And they are the ones who deserve the credit for the favorable outcome of my surgeries, not some imaginary sky-daddy.

But what about atheists whose family members or friends are stricken with a serious condition? It's one thing for the patient him / herself to refute the existence of a supreme being, but many (most?) theists think that the wish for the victim's well-being is enough to cause these loved ones to re-evaluate their own non-belief and instead resort to prayer for a successful outcome.  On that  they couldn't be more wrong.  My wife who's also an atheist and  who lovingly saw me through this critical period confirmed that all the while she remained steadfast in her non-belief for the same reason I did.

At this writing, I'm fortunate enough to be in remission. However,  that status can change any time, and I know that no beseeching of an imaginary supreme being can make that reality go away.  To put it another way, when there is a genuine commitment to critical thinking in the face of adversity, God-belief doesn't have a prayer.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Donald Trump, Israel, and Single Issue Voting

I recently read a post on Facebook written by a Jewish fan of Donald Trump who believes that he is a "great friend of Israel"(!) and that it is therefore disrespectful to criticize him, as I and other Jews have done in FB and elsewhere.

Followers  of Trump who support him just because they think he's a friend of Israel need to be reminded  that Trump is running for  President of the United States, not of Israel. Thoughtful Jewish American voters are rightfully weighing whether he is fit for the job based not only on such factors  as his proposed  policies, and perceived ability to lead our nation in terms of advancing its overall political and economic well-being and furthering its interests in international affairs, but also  his experience, background, and temperament.

Voters in Israel must do likewise in deciding their leaders. It would just as irresponsible for citizens there to select candidates solely on warm feelings of the latter towards America.

In short, it behooves everyone to carefully consider what's at stake when it comes to electing their country's head of state. Casting a vote for a candidate based his / her stance on a single issue (BTW this applies equally  to the decision whether or not to vote for Hillary Clinton based only on her gender) is short-sighted to the point of blindness.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Heaven: The Eternal Myth

Every so often, I see posts on Facebook commemorating the  birthday of a deceased loved one or friend that begins ''Happy Birthday in Heaven to (name of decedent)''. This sentiment reflects at best a childish yet typical faith-based misunderstanding on the part of many (most?) theists about death and a refusal to face the fact that there is no scientific evidence for an afterlife and that death means total oblivion of our mind and senses. Yet, while belief in God is on the decline in the U.S. belief in an afterlife is increasing.

But for the sake of argument, let's examine some of the popular beliefs about life after death, starting with the above birthday greeting. Isn't that normally a salutation by which we mark the beginning of another year in a person's life and add a number to their age? How can we do so when they're already dead?  Moreover,  inasmuch as the departed will be in Heaven for eternity according to religious folklore, wouldn't time itself must be a non-existent phenomenon there anyway?

Then, for the typical believers, ''going to heaven'' seems to be just some kind  relocation, sort of  like moving to a better neighborhood, and one where they will be reunited with their beloved deceased family members who they picture as remaining the same in age and physical appearance as at the time of  their death (despite their birthdays in heaven). But if, say, one has a parent who died at a relatively young age in their adulthood, and the son / daughter lived on into his / her senior years before his / her own death, then of course the child will become older than than the parent. That has to be an interesting encounter when the two meet in Heaven.

Speaking of  relocating to Heaven, that place is popularly depicted as being up in the sky  from which angels are ''looking down'' on their beloved living relatives.  In fact at one time stars were thought to be the lights of Heaven. We now know the true nature of these and other celestial phenomena, and that they are nothing like what they appear to be to the naked eye, which of course until about 400 years ago, that's all that humankind, including the writers of the bible, had in order to gauge the world around and the sky above them.  In fact cosmologists learn more about the wonders of the universe everyday (ditto with the findings of geologists in confirming no Hell at the Earth's center). Their findings of course refute the tales of the bible and leave no basis for a rational  belief that there's a place such as Heaven as described in that book. Yet theists still refuse to accept this, or at best they  resort to compartmentalization when confronted with irrefutable facts about the physical  composition and scope of the universe.  

Finally, when it comes to a portrayal of what the afterlife must be like, leave it to country music writers to picture Heaven as an extension of this world.  In one such C and W song, a mother pleads with God to spare the life of her dying child.  In her prayer she asks that if the little girl dies, ''who will hold her hand when she crosses the Streets of Heaven''? What, she might get run over by a truck there and killed?  This is not to mock or belittle the grief of  parents whose children predecease them.  I can only imagine what a horror such an event must be. Aside from the loss itself, it defies a kind of' natural order in which children are supposed to be able to thrive to adulthood and outlive their mothers  and fathers.  But perpetuating God-belief based fantasy tales, especially ones involving bereaved parents,  no matter how appealing such stories may appear to be is not the way to help them cope. The excuse that there's no harm in doing so because it comforts the bereaved is lame at best because foisting such nonsense on religious believers no matter whom they've lost subverts their human dignity by keeping them from dealing with the overwhelming evidence that death is the end of life. It is not a new chapter. 

In short, it's a waste of time to pin our hopes for ourselves and our loved ones on the foolish notion that we will be taken to a better place when we die. Once we accept this reality we can better value the one life that we have and live it to the fullest accordingly. 

Thursday, December 3, 2015

When "Christian Terrorism" Isn't

As a Jewish atheist who resents Christian privilege in America and as one who finds Christian teachings ridiculous, I'm not especially fond of that  religion. But if we're going to criticize it, let's do so objectively.
The regressive Left, which reflexively defends Islam no matter how often Muslim extremists commit violence against others, wasted no time in pouncing on  Robert Dear who attacked the Planned Parenthood center, as an example of Christians who also commit terrorism ("See? They do it too").  And some leftists are even calling Dear a "White Christian terrorist"

The difference is that Muslims who terrorize others as in the recent assault on Paris openly acknowledge that they are doing so in support of  Islam. So far Dear has not justified his actions in the name of any religion or race. Instead he simply said "No more baby parts".  Non-religious motivation was also definitely true for example, of the Oklahoma City bomber, Extreme Timothy McVeigh, a right-wing extremist. His reason was hatred of the U.S. federal government.  In short these two were  not using Christianity as an excuse for committing their heinous crimes. That's why it's inaccurate to label them as Christian terrorists.

To put it another way, don't we atheists object to the cliche that we often hear that "Stalin and Pol Pot were atheists, and look at the atrocities they committed."?  Our response is yes they were evil men who did terrible things, but they did not carry them out in the name of atheism. Likewise, that is the same standard that we should apply to Christians and members of other religions whom we condemn as terrorists for their heinous acts: Did or did they not do so so in the name of these beliefs?  If not then let's not use religion as a target if there's no basis to do so.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

They've Got To Change Their Evil Ways

My cousin Morty in Israel reminded me about the recent rantings by U.S. presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson who recently stated that instead of being built as a burial place for ancient Egyptian royalty, the Pyramids were actually constructed by the biblical character Joseph for the purpose of grain storage. This story also was covered by media here in the Philippines which is also following the U.S. election.

In a recent "Atheist Revolution" post about Freethought vs. Tribalism, the moderator discussed why it's not a good idea to be bound by ideology, and in keeping with this philosophy he shares certain opinions with both  the American Right and the Left, depending on the topic. He further states that no political party has all the answers. For the most part I concur with him.  However, here was part of my response:

 "...I agree that it's foolish to totally accept the creed of a given political party, only because it's that party's ideology. That's why I don't go along with all of the Democratic party's "progressive" / liberal tenets, e.g. in re illegal immigrants. But I do uphold many of them. However, I reject the Republican party out of hand as it has become an obscene mockery of its previous values. For example, at one time its leaders were. willing to moderate for the greater good of America, not shut it down. IMO its most prominent members are political and socioeconomic perverts who want to impose Christianity as the national religion and who almost destroyed the middle class in 2008 while they profited from the resulting depression--and are still doing so."

And don't even get me started about their regressive attacks on reproductive rights, health care, and social security. 

Ben ​Carson who by the way is also a creationist extraordinaire and as it turns out a liar about his background, is just one of many of a string of GOP misfits which goes back decades.  So I suppose that I should be used to Republicans' rantings by now.  But the utterings that come out of their mouth still floor me, e.g.  "Texas Congressman Wants To Put Gay People On An Island To See If They Die Out". And as further evidence of this party's homophobic leanings, see (and hear) "Republican Candidates Speak at Event Hosted  By  Pastor Who Wants Gay People To Be Put To Death".

As for the Texas representative's proposal I have a better idea. Let's put all the GOP politicians on an island. With their aversion to socioeconomic cooperation and sharing  which they would likely  disparage as "socialism",  maybe in time they'd die out.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Two Perspectives on the Middle East Refugee Crisis

A cousin of mine, Morty,  who lives in Israel, and I have been discussing via email the migration of people from the Middle East (predominantly Syrian)  who have been pouring into Europe. The situation has reached crisis proportions as the countries  where they have entered can't accommodate further arrivals. Following is a dialog between Morty, and me, which shows different points of view regarding the plight of these refugees, and how and even whether it is comparable with that of other groups who have fled from their homelands in recent history.

Morty: Well, here they go again. I just heard Tom Tancredo (a former member of the House and 2008 candidate for the GOP nomination) on Fixed News say that Trump is the right guy because he will keep the Moslem refugee immigrants out of the States.
Now change the time to the 1930s and Moslem to Jew and what do you have.
Yes, I know that he is on the fringe of things which is why Fixed News trotted him out. But, I would bet that many of the bozos who support Trump think the same way.
Mexicans, Moslems, Chinese, Jews, what not. They are all the same.
And, things here are not better. The asshole who is Prime Minister has said that Israel is a small country and we don't have the money to help the refugees. But, we do have the billions to build a wall between us and Jordan.

Rick: Yet I wonder how desperate some of these "refugees" really are. After arriving in Southern Europe, they weren't satisfied just to be out of harm's way. Instead they went on to pick and choose the countries they wanted to migrate to, usually in Northern Europe, and then went there by any means necessary, including braking through security fences to the Channel Tunnel and  stowing away on trucks bound for England. So in effect many (most) of these people are economic migrants rather then political refugees. And now as it is, Hungary and parts of Germany are being overrun with migrants to the point it's getting more than they can handle. Is that their fault?

As for comparing the plight of Muslims now to Jewish refugees in the 1930's and Chinese immigrants too for that  matter, neither group turned into terrorists against the host countries and instead assimilated and became productive citizens, in stark contrast to Muslims  particularly North Africans in Europe. Likewise, America went out of its way to rescue and resettle Somalis beginning in the 1980's mainly the Mpls-St Paul area. And here is the thanks the U.S.  has gotten:The Twin Cities have an ISIS problem.  Not only that but Somalis in the U.S on welfare have complained because food banks don't offer halal selections. If observant American Jews who are getting government assistance are demanding kosher food, I'm not aware of it.  

Addendum: Here's another goody I forgot to include:Islamists in Germany trying to recruit young refugees.The fact that recruiters would even spend the time to make this effort indicates that they must have had success in their endeavors. Else why would they bother? In turn, that says a lot about at least some the migrants' leanings. I wouldn't look for a high assimilation rate among these people.

Morty: Yes, Rick, they are not so happy at getting out of places where their lives are really in danger and into a place like Greece. After all there is no possibility of work or any of the other things that makes life livable.

Only foolish people would not set their sights on someplace where work is available. And Germany is that place.

As to recruiting among the refugees, well what can I say. If you have young people who are alienated from their surrounding society, then they become fertile ground for this kind of behavior.

Or the Jewish thugs who fir bombed the house in Arab Jerusalem where the mother, father and one of their kids died from their burns. And, most likely their one surviving son will not survive.

Rick: The point about the migrants managing to arrive safely in Southern Europe is and then hightailing it for Northern Europe is more than just about jobs. It reflects their ruthlessness to enter countries like Germany and the UK by any means necessary endangering not just their own safety and welfare but that of others, e.g. users of the Channel Tunnel and the drivers of trucks in which migrants have stowed away. Further, one can only wonder whether  these  migrants upon arrival at their chosen countries will even try to assimilate into the respective cultures where they reside.

And as you probably know, Germany among other countries has been so overwhelmed by the flood of refugees that it's had to institute border controls (sound familiar?) to stop the influx. Yes, even the liberal EU countries have reached their breaking point on this issue. In short future migrants who may have been motivated to head north  by their predecessors' success in entering  those countries with an "accept first and verify later" policy have become victims of the earlier arrivals' success.

As for young refugees being recruited because they feel alienated, good grief these  people "just got off the boat" so to speak. How could they already be estranged? If they're being solicited by Islamists at reception centers, that must mean they've only been in their new country for a few days--or less.  And if they're in reception centers, that means that their not scrounging desperately on the streets as would happens to immigrants in less enlightened countries. Sounds more like a character issue.

How this recruitment activity for both the Islamists (who are probably living comfortably in the country they hate)  and the refugees themselves relates to the Jewish thugs who committed the vicious crimes that mentioned is unclear. 

Morty: I guess this is another area that we will continue to disagree on. The impact of being a refugee is a complicated one. And, oddly enough something that hasn't really been studied.

As to alienation, well imagine yourself as a 17, 18, 19 year old who has been uprooted from your home for whatever reason. How would you react?

Rick:  How would I react? Well, I'd like to think that I'd show gratitude to the country that gave me refuge and not join an organization that hates my rescuer.  BTW correct me if I'm wrong, but so far I have not heard about any kind of  expressions of thanks from the migrants to Germany or to the other countries that took them inor where they barged  in. 

Morty: I would suspect that most refugees do in fact express the gratitude. But, they aren't as sexy as those who turn radical.

Germany (at least West Germany) had a major refugee crisis after the Second World War. They had to absorb a few million German expellees. These were mostly Germans who had settled in conquered territory in Eastern Europe and after the defeat of the Nazis they were kicked out along with Germans who had lived in the areas for generations.

They had a very difficult time adjusting to life in West Germany and many became supporters of the Christian Democratic Party and neo-nazi groups.

So things change but then again they don't.

Rick:  I tried googling phrases like "Syrian refugees thank Germany" and   I came up with only one hit, which was a migrant who was thanking the UK, not Germany. So I don't know whether this fruitless search proves your point or mine.

As for returnees to West Germany having a hard time adjusting, the beat goes on. As you probably know former East Germans and East Europeans are much less receptive to the migrants than Western Europe. In Hungary's case, they want to keep the place a "Christian country". So all those decades under the atheist USSR never took in the local culture?  But then Russians have also regressed to religious belief as well..
Finally, I remember another group of boat people, the Vietnamese refugees who fled their country and were brought to the U.S. where they settled and successfully assimilated into American culture. They did not make demands along the way such as accommodations for language differences or special treatment for their religious beliefs.  Such is not the case for certain  ethnic groups in the U.S. and Europe respectively. 

The bottom line is that despite my misgivings,  I only hope that  I'm wrong  and that the boat people who crossed the Mediterranean  under perilous conditions into Europe will likewise make the effort to acculturate into the host countries that so generously have given them a new lease on life. 

Friday, July 31, 2015

How Atheism Can Lead to a Happier Life

A recent post in the blog site "Atheist Revolution" discussed the topic:  Would You Rather Be Happy and Wrong or Unhappy and Right?  Personally, I think that it's not only wrong to hold on to false beliefs just because they make a person happy, it's also unhealthy. I think that theism falls into this category. And because the delusion of god-belief is so predominant in places such as the U.S. and for that matter especially here in the Philippines, millions of people are living in a fantasy world. Sure,  there's a lot of subjectivity in deciding whether a particular  belief is true or false. But so many traditional religious tales, especially the Scriptures, are so patently absurd that there's really no room for debate about whether there is any truth to them. Yet believers accept them just because "it's in the bible". 

What's behind this mass delusion? Brainwashing, obviously (actually "socialization" as my sociologist cousin corrected me). Beginning at an early age, most theists have their beliefs instilled into them by their parents and religious leaders. So by the time they're adults, they are almost totally conditioned, Yet somehow, some of them (myself included) whether by exposure to new ideas or a by a traumatic event eventually lose our faith in these ridiculous notions and learn to accept the reality that there is no proof that a supreme being exists, let alone intervenes in our lives.

As for me, am I any less happy for losing the crutch of false belief?  Not at all. Delusions are in the end really mental burdens, and because atheism has enabled me to shed that load, it has also simplified my outlook on lifeand death too for that matter. There is no evidence for an afterlife which means of course that when we die, it's lights out forever. Well, that inevitability doesn't bother me in the least. As Mark Twain aptly put it:  "I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it". 

Was I happy when I was a believer? No. Belief in a God actually made life more difficult because it wasted my time by diverting part of my attention from my problems to this mythical entity who I hoped would help me, when I should have been fully focused on solving matters at hand instead.

The universe is indifferent to human needs and wants, and randomness happens in our lives all the time. But to the extent that there's no evidence for the existence of a God who manipulates our fates like a puppeteer and whom we must obey lest we be punished, this  is one less barrier in striving to achieve personal growth and happiness.

And that sounds right to me.   

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Should Atheists Applaud a Religious Leader's Endorsement of Science?

There have been many articles and discussions in the media about Pope Francis encyclical supporting protection of the environment. One such post caught my  attention because of its gushing title "Pope Francis just took a huge step to uniting religion with science".  Here was my response to that essay: 

"Sorry. Science and religion still don't mix. One is based on rational inquiry, the other on subjective faith. As for the Pope's stand on the environment, even a stopped clock is right twice a day. In this case however, Francis is only half right. For as long as the Church continues to oppose the right to artificial contraception and family planning, then overpopulation and poverty will continue to degrade the environment."

A cousin of mine who had also read about the Pope's pronouncement  reminded me that the relationship  between religion and science is more complex than meets the eye, and he mentioned that there have been many individuals  in various fields of science who also had ties to religious institutions, e.g. Roger Bacon, a monk who innovated the scientific method. This was my reply:

Yes I know about the blurring of lines between the members of the clergy and scientists. Gregor Mendel was a botanist and a monk. The founder of the astronomical observatory here in Metro-Manila, Federico Faura, was a  priest. But usually these "hybrids" as I call them credit God as the ultimate force of nature which it seems to me would inhibit their scientific objectivity e.g. in cosmological issues , e.g .involving the cause  of the Big Bang or what it means to say that not even time existed before then.

Also I wonder how would theistic physicists deal with the uncertainties in quantum mechanics or the theory that the universe does not have an eternal shelf life: It will eventually end in either in the Big Crunch or in an ever expanding universe wherein the galaxies themselves will unravel and all the stars and living things will eventually die out, leaving "God's creation" as a lifeless entity.

On the other hand, if the universe collapses back to a singularity in the Big Crunch, a subsequent Big Bang could the start the cycle of a new universe all over again. And maybe the universe  we're living in now is not the first one. There could be an infinite sequence of Big Bangs and Big Crunches. But in each such collapse,  life is snuffed out. {"The Lord giveth  and the Lord taketh away"repeatedly? That's quite an obsessiveness-compulsive complex).. Oh, and what about the existence of a multiverse or parallel universes which some cosmologists hypothesize is a distinct possibility. In these scenarios, is there one god per universe, else why would a supreme being need to create more than one such entity?

And how does a God-believing biologist deal with the fact that as the result of evolution by natural selection and catastrophic occurrences, 99.9% of all  beings since the beginning life on this planet have gone extinct?. What kind of supreme being makes that much trial and error and has to just about start over from scratch each time?  Then there is the brutal fight for survival among many of "the good Lord's" creatures "Nature red in tooth and claw" as Tennyson put it which conflicts with the religious belief of God's love for all living things. 

Probably the easiest way for"hybrids" to deal with these contradictions between theism and science is compartmentalization, this case the mental division of religious faith and systematically acquired knowledge into separate methods of thought processing.. Another tack, which is the one that I took  when I was a theist but still also pro-science,  is to consider  God as the ultimate source of  scientific explanations, e.g. God created evolution. This is akin to the attributing God as the first cause of nature as discussed above but refining it to accommodate scientific theory as well. .

But in the end these ruses  are mere denial of the elephants of reality and logic in the middle of the room. In the matter of natural selection for example why would God go through all that time and trouble to develop man when he could have created all life forms that now exist including humans on the spot instead of over billions of years?

In short no matter how religious believers including theistic scientists may try to assert that a supreme being  is the final cause of the universe's existence, they have no evidence to support their claim. And  although religious leaders may make scientific sounding statements that are really only half-hearted and half informed, there's no substitution for critical thinking, and the application of the scientific method in understanding the natural world. To date this objective procedure has found absolutely no evidence of a heavenly creator, and  it's highly unlikely that it ever will.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Threat To Enlightened Judaism in the U.S.

I recently came across a post "Bad for Jews, Bad for America" by Sandy Goodman. The premise of the article is that Jewish life in the U.S. is being pulled in two different directions: toward complete assimilation and disappearance through intermarriage on one hand, and Ultra-Orthodox extremism on the other with the middle of the road  (Reform, and  Conservative)  movements coming apart at the seams.
As a secular Jew, I have to say if this alleged tug of war is the case and that it will continue to the bitter end, then sadly, it would be better that Jewish life in America fade away altogether than fall completely into the clutches of the ultra-Orthodox fanatics who instead of moderating their beliefs  are becoming more rigid with the passing years to the point that they would extinguish the lamp of Haskala (the Jewish enlightenment and its gains)  and turn Jewish life into an oppressive counterpart of  that under Islamic Shari'a law. (BTW this fanaticism isn't confined to the U.S. There's a Chasidic sect in London that wants to prohibit its women members from driving. Shades of Saudi Arabia.)

Further, according to the article,  the benighted  "ultras" may win out in the U.S. just by sheer numbers as they do not believe in contraception and consequently have large families that often include 7 or 8 children(!)  But the main issue is that Ultra-Orthodox  culture is characterized by anti-intellectualism, male dominance,  unemployment, and a  society that tries to shut itself off from outside contact or influence. This life-style is one reason that as I indicated in my post "Change the Channel"  it's self-defeating for rational Jews to offer any type of support to the likes of these reactionaries.
Anyway, I don't think that the future for Jewish life in America has to necessarily turn out the way Goodman claims it will.  Secular Judaism in America is not without its own resources. For example there are organizations such as the Society for Humanistic Judaism that have long supported Jewish continuity but without the trappings (and the trap) of theism. Further, leaders of the MOR branches of Judaism are sensible, and if there is a decline at present in maintaining synagogue membership, I think they will find a solution. Moreover, Mainstream  American Jews, whether observant or secular, have traditionally have opted for the exercise of reason and a quality life style. And if they fully realize what's at stake, I don't think that  they will  go quietly into that dark night of dominance by the ultra-Orthodox.

Goodman has done a service by pointing out that there is a  struggle, but in the end I think that Jewish progressivism can prevail in America, especially if we consider that the alternative outcome of a Jewish Dark Ages is not acceptable and is one for which  the moderate wings have a huge incentive for working together  to  prevent from happening. 

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Fault Lines: The Blame Game And The "Draw Mohammed" Contest

As a political progressive, I don't often agree with the likes of Pamela Geller, the organizer of the May 3 "Draw Mohammed" cartoon contest and exhibit in Garland, TX.  Geller is confrontational and abrasive. But nothing she did justifies the Islamic terrorist attack on that event in which both assailants were killed before they could enter the building. As she pointed out in a debate with hate-inciting Muslim cleric Anjem Choudar, followers of that religion have no right to try to impose Shari'a law,  including (especially) the prohibition against creating images of Islam's founder, on others.

I also appreciate the way that Geller put Chouder along with his advocacy of Islamic extremism in his place with clever rejoinders to his vicious accusations against both her and Western culture.   The debate itself  was hosted  by Sean Hannity who not unexpectedly  was not an impartial moderator.  He also roundly condemned Chouder for his atrocious views.

There are those who contend that Geller deliberately provoked the Garland shootout by organizing the Draw Mohammed occasion in the first place. But that assertion  misses Geller's point, which is that  Islam is unique among the world's major religions  in that its response to censure and refusal by non-Muslims to follow its dictates is murderous violence. In fact,  Geller herself is the target of a fatwa- an Islamic order for her execution. What other significant belief (or non-belief)  system imposes such penalties for blasphemy, especially against outsiders?

In short those who would pin the blame on Geller  for the deadly confrontation that happened in Garland should instead put it squarely where it belongs: on radical Islam and its adherents. And at least the outcome was that there are now two fewer Muslim threats in the world for us "infidels" to have to worry about.

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Relativism of Religion

In almost all  religions, especially theistic ones, often a faction of believers take what is described as an extremist position that supposedly differs from that held by the moderate mainstream membersor what outsiders are told by apologists is the mainstreamespecially when the dissenters verbally disrespect or commit an act of violence against "infidels". When such divisions occur, these extremists are sometimes accused of hijacking or distorting the message of those religions. Recently, President Obama and Jordan's King Abdullah both denounced ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) as a fanatical organization that does not really represent Islam. And Abdullah's wife, Queen Rania, has gone so far as to advocate dropping the letter "I" for Islamic when referring  to ISIS' for that same reason.

But IMO, the hijacking accusation misses the point and is irrelevant.  To begin with, there is the matter of relativism:.  There is no objective standard for determining the claim of validity for any god-based religion's "true" tenets and doctrines. On March 7, there was a commemoration ceremony to mark the 50th anniversary of "Bloody Sunday",  a civil rights march in Selma, Alabama whose participants were viciously attacked by white law enforcers who were upholding a then legal system of racial segregation against black Americans that was prevalent throughout the South at that time.  These white Christians and the culture that they represented  justified their long standing rabid opposition to racial integration on their interpretation of the bible as their antebellum forebears did to support the institution of black slavery.

However, the   overwhelming majority of blacks in the South have also been Christians since that era as the result of this belief being imposed on them by their masters and since then had long submitted to and suffered under white supremacy. This changed when civil rights leaders exemplified by Martin Luther King, a  Christian minister, finally used the same bible to strike back at segregation and discrimination and to demand an end to these unjust legal and social barriers. In short, each side took their respective courses of action firmly convinced that they were doing so with God's blessings.


Almost every theology claims to be divinely inspired and is dismissive of other nonconforming dogmas as heresy. Yet the contents of almost all holy books are open to a gazillion interpretations and are published in various versions, none of whose followers, however, try to  back up any of them as correct or true based on any verifiable data and sound reasoning. Instead, the understanding and acceptance of the meaning of these
texts are filtered through the believers' personal or group perspective which is entirely subjective, and whose faith in which can become unwavering: "God said it. I believe it. That settles it." Further, if there are enough of these individuals who share a like-minded creed that differs from their majority follower counterparts, their  radical belief of today  may become tomorrow's establishment-accepted religion. But in time some of the worshipers of that congregation will also become spiritually restless and will splinter off to form yet a new congregation, ad infinitum. 

In contrast to these religious scripture with their often vague wording and with the sometimes bitter and even violent disputes among their followers as to which is the "right" meaning, all that's ever really been required to be an atheist is merely non-belief in a supreme being, or at least a conviction  that there is no proof for the existence of one.  And for those nonbelievers who live a moral life, doing so without the need of a supernatural coercion  or contradictory and confusing texts is the simplest and most logical choice to living and importantly a non-relativistic one as well.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Pope Francis' Words of (Dis)comfort

It would not  be a surprise that if in nine months, there's a spike in the number of births in the Philippines, thanks to Pope Francis' overall reaffirmation of the Catholic Church's stand against family planning via the use of artificial contraceptives. Although he acknowledged that Catholics "should not breed like rabbits", he advocated that couples use such undependable birth control methods as "natural" family planning,(more popularly  known as Vatican roulette for obvious reasons). The Pope made these pronouncements during and following his just completed visit to this predominantly Roman Catholic country where he is extremely popular and his millions of followers hang on his every word. So those Filipinos who have been using  or considered using reliable artificial contraceptives, which are more reliable for pregnancy prevention, might now cease to do so.

This is despite the fact that the Philippines is poverty ridden and very overpopulated. For example there are over a million street children throughout the country. In Metro-Manila, there are  thousands of these kids some as young as three years old(I have seen them myself) who have been abandoned by their families and left to fend for themselves. There is a government Department of Social Services, but that bureau can only do so much.

So why are there no Catholic orphanages to get these kids off the streets?  In fact at a rally for the Pope, a former street child who was fortunate enough to have been rescued even asked the him directly why God allows such a fate of  homelessness, drug addiction, and prostitution to befall theses kids. Francis'  response was one of double-talk and evasion, saying that there is no answer, and by golly the people should know how to feel pity for these children. But he didn't say one word about getting the Church to actively help these unfortunates by utilizing its immense wealth towards this end. For example in the Philippines, the Church owns shares in such companies as a local bank, a mining company,  and major real estate developers. The Archdiocese of Manila itself is also well off, and Cardinal Antonio Tagle who heads this Archdiocese is also a major investor in the above mentioned bank.  So one can only conclude that this institution doesn't really care about homeless children. Otherwise it could build enough shelters to take them all in.   Evidently, the Catholic Church which claims to be pro-life in its opposition to abortion loves fetuses, but once they're born, they're on their own.

To make matters worse, half the population in the Philippines is under age than 23 years of age, and one in 10 women between age 15 through 19 are already mothers or are pregnant with their first child.   Unless the recently passed Reproductive Health Act, which was recently implemented in the Philippines after a 15 year struggle in Congress and vehemently opposed by the local Catholic hierarchy, and by the Pope as well, starts making a dent in these demographics,  imagine how the number of births will explode in a society that already can't  take care of its people.  BTW, while in Manila, it so happened that the Pope was hosted by Cardinal  Tagle, one of the RH measure's fiercest opponents, Well, birds of a feather and all that.

The irony--or the failure to connect on Pope Francis' part--is that he has also expressed concern about the need to protect the environment and about global warming. But one of the biggest causes  or at least a major factors of environmental degradation and climate change is overpopulation.  Natural resources in the Philippines such as forests and rivers are being depleted because conservation which is given lip service is ultimately not a priority here. The main reason for deforestation, for example, is that there are too many people chasing too few means of food and shelter.

The Pope comes across as a compassionate prelate. But at the end of the day, he's just another brick in the wall against rational thinking and family planning in the Philippines. He  is gone now, but the demographic and resulting socioeconomic problems that his words may well have aggravated will remain indefinitely.