Atheism 2.0: My Thoughts

I just finished rewatching a video titled ‘Atheism 2.0,’ a lecture on ted.com by Alain de Botton (the first time I saw this video was Sunday morning,at a meeting with a local humanist group of which I’m a member).  De Botton does make some valid points in this lecture–like the issue of religion and atheism need not be as divisive as it is–but I just wanted to share what I thought of it.

De Botton, in this lecture, is addressing a long-running false dichotomy:  the rigid line in the sand between religion and atheism, the one that states that if one gives up religion one also does away with all the nice rituals, the community, and everything else associated with religion. I’m not one of those atheists who subscribes to this or other false dichotomies:  I enjoy community (to an extent; I’m actually one of those lone-wolf types most of the time–but I digress), and, where anything religious is concerned, I like to think I’m capable of contextualizing it, and that I don’t have to be religious to enjoy it; in fact, from where I’m standing, this is one of those situations where ownership becomes a problem.  But I believe it is possible to enjoy rituals, community, and everything else traditionally associated with religion without the dogma–of any kind–and everything that comes with it.

De Botton mentions the atheist community should respectfully but impiously steal things from religion.  Do we really need to do this, though?  And do we really need to say we’re appropriating things from religion–especially since religion appropriated so much throughout its history, and even hijacked what it appropriated?  Christmas and Easter (originally the Winter Solstice and the Vernal Equinox, or Eostar), anyone?

Keeping some of the better aspects of what has traditionally been associated with religion, particularly rituals, may be good for some people, especially those transitioning out of religion.  But do we nonreligious really need to keep the religious stamp on what we do that many still associate with religion, such as Easter potlucks and listening to Christmas carols?  I don’t know if de Botton realizes this, but when he says we should ‘steal things from religion,’ he’s just reinforcing the belief of the religious, especially the zealots, that they own what he’s advocating we atheists adopt.  And that is a problem, since what the more fervently religious claim they own and only religion can give has always been available to the human species as a whole, with or without any faith tradition, religious or otherwise.

 

 

An Old Card Face-Up on the Table

‘Don’t reason in the mind, just obey in the spirit. Satan will attempt to fill your child with worry, reasoning, fear, depression, and discouraging negative thoughts. Satan frequently steals the will of God from us due to reasoning. The Lord may direct us to do a certain thing, but if it does not make sense–if it is not logical–we may be tempted to disregard it. What God leads a person to do does not always make logical sense.’–Joyce Meyer, Battlefield of the Mind for Teens

‘Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.’ –Voltaire

 

I know what I’m about to say in this post doesn’t come as any surprise to anyone who has ever even doubted religion–any religion–and any and all religious claims, but I just felt the need to comment on this particular rehashing of an old religious chestnut, because it gives religion’s game away, and, though recycled and passed off as something new, is still toxic to society–the idea behind it, anyway, which is that we should all just blindly, stupidly follow the leader, especially if we want to be rewarded after death.

I don’t know how recent the above Joyce Meyer quote is, but it’s a rehashing of the old–in this case, Christian–chestnut that anything even remotely resembling skepticism, especially when it comes to the claims of her particular brand of Christianity, is harmful, while keeping the faith–or, if we want to be accurate, being gullible–is a virtue. Atheists like myself are used to hearing variations of this hobby horse, ergo we know that the aim of those who make statements similar to the ones like the above Meyer quote is to gain power over people, and take their hard-earned money, by essentially demanding that they remain gullible.  (I’m well aware of the fact that Joyce Meyer and everything she spews is merely a drop in the ‘galling Christian hobby horse’ bucket, but, I felt I had to comment on the quote which started off this post.)

Meyer, like other evangelists, makes an obscene amount of money from selling her brand of snake oil (I know, I’m stating the painfully obvious here).  Much like marketers and advertisers, she needs to create brand loyalty, and, to do that, she needs to do what marketers and advertisers do–that is, as the saying goes, catch them young and hit them hard, and hit them often; and, much like her fellow evangelists, she needs to keep people gullible, so the money will keep flowing her way. Hey, she needs to maintain that private jet somehow–otherwise, she’ll have to subject herself to the ‘discomfort’ of flying commercially. (I flew commercially to New York City back in May, but seeing as I don’t make the kind of money Joyce Meyer and her ilk make–I actually hover around the poverty line–I guess I should consider myself lucky I was able to get on any airplane at all. But I digress.)  I am well aware that many adolescents, including those from fundamentalist religious families, do tend to question the faith they were raised in; Meyer is apparently well aware of that, too, ergo she makes statements like the one above, and writes tomes like the one mentioned above, in an attempt to nip any critical thinking on the part of these kids, and anyone else, in the bud.  You know, to keep business booming.

But statements like the above Joyce Meyer quote are also disturbing, and even dangerous: People who buy into that kind of thinking can do illogical, and even quite heinous, things, based on nothing more than a belief in something without demanding proof that it’s true. (And you religious zealots out there who may one day read this: Don’t feed me that line that, as an atheist, I don’t have anything to base my idea of ‘heinous’ on–I’ve heard it before, and other variations thereof, and it’s a load of crap. Real morality isn’t based on a system of reward and punishment.) The above quote by Voltaire, I believe, was quite prescient when it comes to the lines spouted by the likes of Meyer–think of every religious sect you have heard of who encourages parents to deny their children much-needed medical care, who encourages people, including children, to bomb themselves and innocent people sky-high, who assumes a ‘blame the victim’ mentality whenever anyone in their ranks experiences any kind of abuse or mistreatment, even if they don’t dare speak of it…the list goes on.  Another example of how, as the late Christopher Hitchens pointed out in his book, god is Not Great, religion poisons everything. And–I’m about to mount an atheist/antitheist hobby horse here–there’s the question of how anyone knows Meyer and her fellow Christian evangelists are serving the right god, and the right brand of Christian god at that.

I leave you with a quote from Marcus Aurelius: ‘Live a good life. If there is a god and he is just, then you will be rewarded. If there is a god and he is not just then you should neither want to, nor should you, worship him. If there is no god then you will have lived a good life and will be remembered by those who love you.’

Free Will Vs. Agency

These are questions I’ve resumed wrestling with since returning from New York, but probably should have dealt with during or immediately after Imagine No Religion 4:  Is our ability to make decisions called free will or agency?  Is agency the result, product, or byproduct of free will, or vice versa?  Are these terms interchangeable?

The question entered my mind during the INR 4 panel discussion on free will, which took place the evening of May 16 of this year. The panel didn’t address the questions I’ve asked in the previous paragraph–and I realize it wasn’t meant to, but I figured if I didn’t put the questions out there, nobody would.

So here we are.

At this juncture, I don’t know if my questions on this topic will ever be answered, and satisfactorily–well, in my lifetime, anyhow. But I felt the need to ask.

Bill C-24 and Me

A couple of weeks ago–if memory serves me correctly–I received an email from a petition web site, asking for my signature on a petition against Bill C-24, the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act, sponsored by the current Minister of Citizenship and Immigration and MP for Ajax-Pickering, Chris Alexander.

As far as I can tell, from reading at least one version of the bill itself and the Canadian Bar Association’s (CBA) response to it, Bill C-24, if passed, would, among other things, lengthen eligibility to apply for Canadian citizenship from three to four years, and would strip multiple citizens of their Canadian citizenship if they are convicted of crimes, for engaging in activities ‘contrary to Canadian interests’ (without explaining, or going into any great detail about, what said activities might be), or for any other reason the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration might feel is worthy of loss of citizenship.

There’s more, but I want to focus on the consequences Bill C-24 might have on dual and multiple citizens, because those consequences apply to me.

The week I spent in New York City confirmed my desire to one day make a home there; but I don’t want to give up my Canadian citizenship, or my home base in Vancouver. (I know the United States government doesn’t encourage multiple citizenship on principle, mostly because of the complications it poses, but that government doesn’t necessarily discourage it, either. But I digress.) In any case, I’m wondering what complications Bill C-24 might pose on my plans to divide my time between Vancouver and New York City, even though I do stay on the right side of the law, Canadian and American. The way the bill is worded now, if I go through with my plans, I’ll be walking on eggshells for the rest of my natural life–as will every other multiple citizen who claims Canadian citizenship.

As for the claim that, without Bill C-24, Canadian citizens will have less of an attachment to Canada, my response is that’s the biggest line of baloney I’ve heard yet. First of all, you can’t legislate attachment to one piece of land. Secondly, even the desire to have citizenship elsewhere doesn’t lessen one’s attachment to one’s nation of birth or other home bases (I’m speaking from personal experience here). As far as I’m concerned, this is just fear-mongering.

Even if there was a purpose for Bill C-24–and, personally, I don’t see it–there are still some wrinkles by way of its wording that need to be ironed out before it can continue on its way to being made law. Some areas need clarification, and law-abiding multiple citizens–and aspiring multiple citizens like myself–need reassurance that we’re not going to be punished simply for calling more than one area of Planet Earth home.

Unemployed

During my time in New York, I gave some moments of serious thought to the definition of unemployment. We say anyone who doesn’t have a paying job is unemployed, but that could just mean they’re jobless. Are they really unemployed?

For instance, I don’t have a paying job right now. But while I was in New York, I was out and about, sightseeing and taking photos of everything and anything that interested me. I wasn’t exactly sitting around somewhere doing nothing. I might not have been working for pay, but I was still occupied.

OK, I know I’m quibbling over semantics at this point. But I think it’s sad that we (I’m speaking strictly about Canada and the United States here) live in a culture where any activity that makes money is considered the only worthwhile activity.

Home Sweet Home (Be It Ever So Humble)

I know I should be sleeping off my jet lag right now, but I guess I got too eager to get on with things. Besides, I can take naps throughout the day.

I got up at 4:30 AM New York City time (1:30 AM Vancouver time) yesterday, so I could catch a cab to LaGuardia Airport and thus be on time to catch a 7:00 AM flight. Not having access to a printer before I arrived at the airport, I printed my boarding passes at the airline kiosk, but forgot to check my suitcase, so one of the clerks helped me. Upon leaving the scanner and gathering my things in the security area, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a young woman get arrested. From then on, it was smooth sailing–or, in this case, smooth flying.

Until I got to Seattle.

At Seattle-Tacoma Airport, I tried calling the station where I was dropped off last Monday to see if I was to catch my train home there, but nobody answered. I wandered around until I found an information booth, and there learned about Seattle’s LINK Light Rail, and thus took that downtown; I’m pretty sure if I’d known about LINK Light Rail when I first arrived in Seattle, I could have saved myself some money on cab fare, and some worry in New York about how I was going to scrounge up cab fare from Sea-Tac. Once in downtown Seattle, I asked a couple of police officers to direct me to the train station–which was indeed where the bus from Canada dropped me off last Monday–where I sat it out for the next five hours–and had some empty calories to ward off hunger pangs. But then, how was I to know they would serve food on the train, and I could get what actually passed for a meal (a veggie burger and a cola)?

My train got caught behind a freight train some time along the journey, and apparently the freight train moving faster than it did (molasses, I’m sure, would have moved faster) was too much to ask, because the train I was on was basically on stop-and-go (slowly; though it did gather speed at some points along the journey, only to have to stop again). Couple that with the time I spent at the border checkpoint–which, by the way, is at the Pacific Central Station here in Vancouver (something else completely new to me)–and it was after midnight this morning when I finally got home and fell asleep. Oh, and I caused myself some embarrassment on my declaration card, when I initially overestimated the monetary value of the goods I had purchased in New York which I was bringing back into Canada, and added that value to the amount of money (US) I still had on me. So many lessons to learn for next time.

I love New York City, though I’ve only been there once, and I have every intention of returning, hopefully sooner than later. But Vancouver has its charm, too, and, like I’ve said to so many people over the years, I’m in no hurry to leave. And it feels so good to be home.

Last Day

Knowing I had mere hours to see more of the city, I once again got up early, showered, then walked about three blocks to catch a bus to the ferry station so I could get some photos of the Statue of Liberty. I had another somewhat embarrassing moment when the bus driver informed me I needed a receipt as proof of purchase to ride that bus, as it was a special bus, regardless of the fact that I had an unlimited New York City transit card; he was nice enough to wait while I obliged. It also helped that there was someone else riding the bus, and he helped me to navigate the machine nearby so I could get the receipt I needed to board the bus. (My right knee was–and is–doing much better, and my feet held up as best they could, under the circumstances.)

I decided to take a ferry to Liberty Island so I could get a decent photo or two of the Statue of Liberty; I paid twenty bucks, then, along with the huge crowd there, went through self-described airport-like security; one of the officers pulled me aside so he could check my laptop for any dangerous materials, then let me go as soon as my laptop was cleared. It was worth it, though, because I got some decent photos of the Statue of Liberty and a portion of Liberty Island, as well as Ellis Island. I was only one of two people who did not get off the boat on either island, but instead returned to the mainland.

From Battery Park, I went straight to Times Square, where I got some photos, particularly of the Port Authority; to be honest, I don’t know what the big deal about Times Square is–other than the Port Authority, the theatres, and attractions such as Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum and Ripley’s Believe It or Not, as well as the New York Times office, it’s just a collection of stores and businesses, particularly those people here in the First World can find practically anywhere in the First World, and I can’t understand why that’s the first place people hit when they come to New York City, when there are far more interesting places to go. (It helped me, though, that the first place I saw upon exiting the subway station was a Walgreens–my camera insisted it needed new batteries).

When I had had my fill of Times Square, I traipsed down 42nd Street in search of Grand Central Station; when I found it, I took photos of its exterior and interior, and located and exited out the station’s Lexington Avenue exit, thinking I could catch a bus to 50th Street from there. Little did I know there was a car-free spring celebration on Lexington Avenue, ergo I had to walk to 50th Street, to see, and get photos of, St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Rockefeller Center. I found St. Patrick’s Cathedral easily enough; it’s under construction, but I still managed to get some decent photos (I didn’t go inside this time). I wandered around looking for Rockefeller Center, then finally decided it was in my best interest to ask one of the cops at St. Patrick’s Cathedral for directions–which one of them very nicely gave (he even let me know I addressed him correctly, as ‘officer’). It still took me a while to find Rockefeller Center, though, and I needed to use one of the city directories. But find it I did–and got some great photos.

After that, I decided to head to Greenwich Village; I located the New School and Union Square easily enough; at Union Square, I asked a couple of police officers to direct me to the Flatiron Building–one of them told me it was north of where we were, necessitating another subway ride north.  Before that, a gentleman guessed I was from Puerto Rico–I think he said San Juan in particular, but I don’t remember now; when I corrected him and told him I’m from Vancouver, he told he and some other people know it as ‘the purple city,’ because its skyline appears purple at night.

From Union Square, I soldiered on towards Washington Square and New York University; after consulting one of my maps several times, I found Washington Square Park, and photographed the buildings across the street which were affiliated with NYU before heading to the subway station. Upon exiting the 23rd Street subway station, I lost my sense of direction until I gained my senses and headed in the right direction of the Flatiron Building–which, if I’d been thinking, I would have seen, and thus photographed, on Tuesday, as I had been in the park across the street from it–Madison Square Park–then. Another live-and-learn moment.

I decided to hop on a bus after locating the Flatiron Building; the one I took went to Franklin Delano Roosevelt Drive. I took some more photos of a couple of gems after getting off that bus–a portion of FDR Drive, Peter Cooper Village, and Stuyvesant Square Park (which I saw on the cab ride to my hotel from LaGuardia Airport, and decided I wanted a permanent record of–now I have it); afterward, I stopped by a burger joint for a veggie burger, fries, and cola, then boarded a bus to Cooper Square to get pictures of Cooper Union and the Village Voice office; by then, it started to rain, and steadily, so I’m hoping those pictures turned out OK. Then it was one more photo–of an intersection I’d seen in the movie The Devil Wears Prada, which only yesterday I realized was mere blocks from my hotel, and not in Soho, like I thought it was–then it was back to my hotel to shower, take care of some business, and prepare for tomorrow, and my trip home.

Though I’m looking forward to going home, I had a great time here In New York City, and I can’t believe I have to leave, and so soon; I don’t want to leave. And not because there’s so much more to discover. Shit, I only covered Manhattan. But I’m determined I will return to New York City–it’s just a question of when.

Endeavouring to Persevere

I got caught in a thunder-and-lightning storm getting off the bus a block away from my hotel, so I don’t know how long I can stay here–and I still need to upload photos onto my Facebook page.

Despite my feet being sore from popped blisters, I managed to photograph almost all of Central Park, as well as parts of Harlem, Morningside Heights–including Columbia University–and The Cloisters; while I was looking for The Cloisters, I learned it’s actually in Fort Tryon Park, in Washington Heights. Unfortunately, I could only photograph the outside–I’m sure I didn’t have enough money to pay the admission, and still have money for the rest of my stay here in New York, and for my trip home.

I had a hard time finding Columbia University, but only because I had royally confused myself whenever I looked at the map in one of my New York City guidebooks; as I once again consulted the map in said guidebook, a complete stranger offered me assistance (which looks like it could be a recurring theme here), and pointed out Columbia University was right across the street from where I was consulting my map!  It turns out Columbia University takes up four city blocks, if not more, in Morningside Heights.  Needless to say, thanks to that stranger who helped me, I got some great photos.

While strolling, as best as I could on aching feet and sore right knee, along Central Park North, a couple of streets along that stretch taught me Central Park North borders Central Park and Harlem; but I guess that should have registered with me this morning, when I should have noticed better than I did that, immediately after Central Park North, Central Park West turns into Frederick Douglass Boulevard, which stretches along Harlem. So it’s too bad I only noticed Central Park North borders Central Park and Harlem when I noticed Adam Clayton Powell Jr. and Malcolm X Boulevards–which I saw in Harlem earlier today when I was looking for Marcus Garvey Park–went as far as Central Park North. Live and learn, I guess.

I had a Becky Bloomwood-esque moment getting on the bus at Fifth Avenue and 109th Street (I’m going by memory here, so please bear with me) so I could see, and get photos of, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Obelisk, and the fare receiver noted I had no money on my fare card, but the driver was nice enough to wave me on to the bus. After getting some fabulous (if I do say so myself) photos of the Met, and the best photo I could get of the Obelisk (which had scaffolding around it), I walked until I found the closest subway station, and attempted to refill my transit card via machine, which wouldn’t cooperate, so I went to the attendant, who informed me, because I had gotten unlimited time on my card (smart move on my part, now that I’m recalling this), and it won’t expire until Sunday, it doesn’t matter if I have no more money on my card. Bullet dodged. After that, though, my feet and right knee decided it was time for me to call it a day–but not before I grabbed a bite to eat.

So, here I am, nice and dry in my hotel room–though my shoes, socks, jeans, shirts, and jacket are thoroughly soaked–and I’m going to give my feet and knee some hours to rest before tomorrow’s sightseeing adventure.

Out and About, Day Two: Getting Lost, A Missed Opportunity, and Sick Feet

I decided to check out Central Park today. What an undertaking that turned out to be; I needed to refer to directories interspersed throughout the park several times, and I still missed some spots–Mineral Springs, Belvedere Castle, Cherry Hill. After losing my way a few times, I decided to throw in the towel, and just get a map from The Dairy Visitor Center and Gift Shop; with help from the map, I actually managed to locate the Central Park Zoo and the Tisch Children’s Zoo (which are both in the Central Park Wildlife Center)–but not before my feet decided to remind me they’re blister-prone, and how, necessitating in me purchasing a box of bandages and taking a rest before trying again to locate the zoos. (I view zoos as a moral grey area, by the way). I should add that I unknowingly got off the bus ten stops before I was supposed to, but, if I hadn’t, I would have missed a couple of gems, one of them being Carnegie Hall.

After seeing a third of Central Park, I went to an event suggested by a local humanist group (on their web site), different from the one who hosted last night’s meeting; I had to pay to get in, but I definitely didn’t get my money’s worth, as I was hoping to meet some people from this group, but instead had to endure speeches interrupted by the occasional musical act. It was a worthwhile event–commemorating the life and legacy of folk musician and progressive political activist Pete Seeger–but would a period of socializing before the event been too much to ask? I ended up leaving before the event was over–mostly because one of the performers of a musical act decided to give yet another speech before he and his band performed. I don’t mind speeches per se, but they shouldn’t be a preamble to musical acts or literary readings, nor should they be very long–five minutes, tops.

I’m going to give my feet several hours of rest, then I’m going to get up early tomorrow, and do some more sightseeing–and see if I can’t tackle the rest of Central Park, map in tow. I have only two days left here in New York City, after all, and I need to see everything I can before I begin my trip home.

P.S.:  My cell phone is now operating on New York City time–for now.  And I’m roaming, for now.

Out and About, Day One–And Some Comparisons

I got up at 7:00 this morning–though my iPod Touch and cellphone insist on staying on Vancouver time, and thus insist it was 4:00 AM–to get in some exploring time (I must say, though, my iPod has become my best friend at this point, though I’ve only used it as an alarm clock once). I decided to start with South Street Seaport and the Financial District, as those areas were closest to my hotel, which is on Bowery–though it did take me long enough to find South Street Seaport, and then the 9/11 memorial. But I’m here to explore, right? I think it may be tourist season here–I had such a hard time getting a photo of the Charging Bull sculpture in Battery without anyone posing with it, crowding around it, or climbing over or hanging off of it; a lady, who I surmise was a tourist, had to step in and ask everyone to hold off on rushing to the sculpture until she, and I, had a chance to take photos of just the bull (though one of the other tourists got a little overly eager while I was taking my photo–my photo shows her rushing towards the bull).  About the Financial District:  it could easily be New York City’s version of Yaletown in Vancouver–the streets are so narrow. After lunch, I headed to a subway station on Broadway to purchase a Metro card, so I can use transit while I’m here (I got the seven-day pass).

I got lost on my way back to the hotel when I was done in the Financial District; a very nice gentleman tried to help me–and even gave me two guidebooks with maps–but I still wandered quite a bit, and had to use directories dispersed through the streets to help me find my way back. I did find some gems during my back-to-my-hotel wanderings, including City Hall, which has a park surrounding it (I’ll have to check out the area surrounding Vancouver City Hall when I get home). I stayed at my hotel only long enough to shower, then I got on the bus to do some more sightseeing before attending a meeting of a New York City secular-humanist group, which involved watching a lecture on DVD about the DAWN mission to study two asteroids, named Vesta and Ceres. After the DVD lecture, one of the people at the meeting welcomed me to ‘America,’ as he phrased it, and gave me a suggestion of where to go before I return to Vancouver.

Now for a couple of comparisons between New York City and Vancouver.  There’s constant horn-honking in New York City, as there are also constant traffic snarls and what Christopher diCarlo calls ‘undulating idiots’; I wonder if Professor diCarlo’s idea regarding traffic control–that motorists be no more than two feet in front of or behind other drivers (as I recall it–Professor diCarlo, if you ever read this, you can correct me if I’m wrong)–would work here in New York, even if the person presenting the idea isn’t a native New Yorker; there are traffic snarls and horn-honking in Vancouver, but not as much as here in New York, and, in Vancouver, it’s all chiefly limited to rush hour; though I can’t promise I won’t even mentally bitch about Vancouver traffic anymore, I will try to remember New York City traffic whenever I feel like Vancouver traffic is trying my patience. Also, on the first bus I boarded, I noticed the driver was encased in a glass cage, to protect him from potentially belligerent passengers; buses in Vancouver don’t have glass cages for drivers–I’m guessing the New York City transit system doesn’t have the honour system that TransLink in Vancouver does.  One similarity I’ve noticed between New York City and Vancouver is that no one feels they can rely on the transit system. That’s all I can think of for now, but maybe I’ll see more similarities and contrasts between Vancouver and New York as I traverse the city for the next two days. For right now, all I can say is, though I’ve only seen a portion of New York City, I have a feeling Vancouver is going to feel like a small town when I return.