The Sense of Awe and Religiosity

Posted by Jim Newman on September 17th, 2014 – Be the first to comment – Posted in religion

mountain viewNear everyone has experience of vastness, mystery, and feelings of relatedness. We live in a world where there are things really small, really big, and really hard to understand. This is often called a sense of awe.

Barbara King started us out using two books she’d recently finished to dispel the notion that atheists can’t feel awe. She further argued that it’s an experience that need have nothing to do with the “sacred” but can be a pure response to science’s own unpacking of the world’s richness. Then, Tania Lombrozo picked up the ball by looking at psychological research showing how the feeling of awe has two characteristics: an experience of vastness and the need for an accommodation with that experience. Both the religious and non-religious have this experience of vastness, she argued. The real difference between them arises with how the subsequent accommodation is accomplished.

Often people combine this with our seemingly inherent need to explain things.

Marcelo Gleiser then drew from the ancient Greeks to explore how reason could be a gateway to a profound sense of spirituality but only if that sense eschews mysticism. In this way, Marcelo argued we might “rid spirituality of its supernatural prison.” Alva Noë finished the week taking a different path. In his meditation on the limits of rationality, he argued it’s imperative to see meaning and value as real in and of itself, something perhaps rationality can’t do.

There are a couple of things that bother me about this. One is

What makes the elemental human experience of awe significant is it is, first and foremost, an experience of meaning. It saturates the world with meaning. Explanations for the origins of that meaning must always come later.

This is not true for me and I don’t think it is for many others. I don’t sit at the top of a mountain and say “hey, there’s meaning” or “hey, what I am seeing gives meaning to my life.” Yes I do get that “wow the world is huge and I’m puny” sometimes and yes also “this is so incredibly beautiful.” But that doesn’t lead me to believe that my purpose or meaning in life is awe or based on awe. I can get that feeling from looking at the fantastic bizarre beauty of cancer cells or the amazing fuzziness of small mites that love to live on me. I can also have it at the profound worry that things are trying to kill me but it’s amazing how they do it, and I’m pretty helpless against it. Frankly the meaning of my life most of the time is food on the table, keeping people happy, and paying the bills with a few side glances and attempted mindfulness of the world at hand.

This desire to use awe as commonality misses the entire point of the distance between religion and non religion. Awe doesn’t lead to a belief in a sky daddy much less one as described in religious texts. Nor does it lead me to consider authority, hierarchy, and xenophobia as being entailed with a sense of awe. Of course we all experience awe and I guess that recognition is helpful.

But this tactic is like saying “hey, since were humans, we’re really the same.” The issue is how religions and those who practice them harm others with sacred certainty, why and how to stop it. Not humans will be humans.

Seeing a waterfall and saying it convinced them of god is as ridiculous as seeing a cancer cell and being convinced of satan. They are just using experience to reinforce what they have been raised to believe; not discovering anything.

Jim Newman,

Why Many Atheists Are Libertarians

Posted by Jim Newman on September 16th, 2014 – Be the first to comment – Posted in atheists, Economy

atheist libertarianFall is such a constriction of work. Fall harvests and winter prep combined with shorter daylight hours create an atmosphere of panic and impending failure. The work will not all get done. Meanwhile on the chicken-for-food front, the roosters I got were supposedly of a more friendly breed but they are now near killing each other. I am going to have to harvest some of the meanest early. Interesting in chickens that big roosters are more mean for the most part, and crow the most. Not always true. There is a small one that seems to have endless energy for fighting. Even in chickens one can make general observations that don’t hold true consistently. Have to learn every individual to make specific choices.

Many atheists are libertarians. A higher percentage than the average population. It’s also true that conservative libertarians have hijacked the libertarian conversation. Many of them want a big government too just in a different way. There are also the religious libertarians that trust a big sky daddy guarantees a small human government, substituting one huge authority for another.

Atheist groups are going through an identity crisis and it seems clear that atheism itself, especially in its activism, has been a privileged position.

According to the American Values Survey, a mere 7 percent of Americans identify as “consistently libertarian.” Compared to the general population, libertarians are significantly more likely to be white (94 percent), young (62 percent under 50) and male (68 percent). You know, almost identical to the demographic makeup of atheists – white (95 percent), young (65 percent under 50) and male (67 percent). So there’s your first clue.

This is not necessarily bad as activism from the top helps create change. The prince Peter Kropotkin had much to say about the importance of mutual aid. Creating space for others is painful but in the long run far more healthy

Libertarians suspicions of religious authority may actually want human authority. Much like the early anarchists that didn’t want government tyranny against human rights but government support towards human rights.

Your second clue is that atheist libertarians are skeptical of government authority in the same way they’re skeptical of religion. In their mind, the state and the pope are interchangeable, which partly explains the libertarian atheist’s guttural gag reflex to what they perceive as government interference with the natural order of things, especially “free markets.”

But conservative economic Libertarians seek government construction of markets.

There is much to cover here, but a jumping-off point is the fact that corporations are a government construct, and that fact alone refutes any case for economic libertarianism. Corporations, which are designed to protect shareholders insofar as mitigating risk beyond the amount of their investment, are created and maintained only via government action. “Statutes, passed by the government, allow for the creation of corporations, and anyone wishing to form one must fill out the necessary government paperwork and utilize the apparatus of the state in numerous ways. Thus, the corporate entity is by definition a government-created obstruction to the free marketplace, so the entire concept should be appalling to libertarians,” says David Niose, an atheist and legal director of the American Humanist Association. …

Reich says rules that define the playing field of today’s capitalism don’t exist in nature; they are human creations. Governments don’t “intrude” on free markets; governments organize and maintain them. Markets aren’t “free” of rules; the rules define them. “In reality, the ‘free market’ is a bunch of rules about 1) what can be owned and traded (the genome? slaves? nuclear materials? babies? votes?); 2) on what terms (equal access to the Internet? the right to organize unions? corporate monopolies? the length of patent protections?); 3) under what conditions (poisonous drugs? unsafe foods? deceptive Ponzi schemes? uninsured derivatives? dangerous workplaces?); 4) what’s private and what’s public (police? roads? clean air and clean water? healthcare? good schools? parks and playgrounds?); 5) how to pay for what (taxes, user fees, individual pricing?). And so on.”

Once again the issues are which regulations and not that there be none. Atheist libertarians still carry the spiritual baggage of wanting an authority. Very often they say people will band together to prevent bad actions. Yes, that’s what government is, a device for people to band together towards common goals. The issues are over which goals and not the banding.

Corporations pollute, lie, steal, oppress, manipulate and deceive, all in the name of maximizing profit. Corporations have no interest for the common good. You really believe Big Tobacco wouldn’t sell cigarettes to 10-year-olds if government didn’t prohibit it? Do you really think Big Oil wouldn’t discharge more poisons and environmentally harmful waste into the atmosphere if government regulations didn’t restrict it? Do you really believe Wal-Mart wouldn’t pay its workers less than the current minimum wage if the federal government didn’t prohibit it? If you answered yes to any of the above, you may be an atheist libertarian in desperate need of Jesus.

The source of atheist libertarian bleeds into social justice issues where one side wants government to guarantee social justice and the other side wants government guarantees that social justice not be enforced.

Jim Newman,

Daniel Dennett, Only Horseman Left Standing

Posted by Jim Newman on September 15th, 2014 – 2 Comments – Posted in Uncategorized

sexist atheistsIt’s been an overwhelmingly busy few days with preserving garden food, supporting a family full of colds, and continuing work. Yet, it is impossible for me not to extract some time to discuss the issue of sexism in atheism as it again rears its ugly head in some recent remarks by Sam Harris in a Washington Post article.

Way back in the neorenaissance of New Atheism they had a conference where they took a few of the big names in atheism and had a conversation. Four people showed up, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett. Ayaan Hirsi Ali was supposed to be there but could not. Otherwise there would have been five horsemen. That was the biggest mistake in this nascent movement (some say it wasn’t-isn’t a movement but usually to derail discussions of intents and purposes.) There were plenty of women atheists at hand, even well published ones.

Indeed, at that time more women were visibly present to the public than now; notably Ellen Johnson, Margaret Downey, Eugenie Scott, Rebecca Goldstein, Susan Jacoby, Jennifer Michael Hecht, Wendy Kaminar, Ann Druyan, etc. Though the boards did and do remain male dominated. While I was at that conference I can’t remember the exact list of women atheists available, at hand, but there were plenty to draw from.

Who knew that atheism would face an ontological crisis of inclusiveness of women, minorities, and humanist issues that many, usually men, said had nothing to do with atheism.

Perhaps the most famous woman atheist of old was Madelyn Murray O’Hair but there have been many and anyone paying attention would remember an even older time where Elizabeth Cady Stanton and her cohorts wrote a feminist bible.

With this in mind it is troubling that there has been pushback against women, in particular atheists who claim that women haven’t showed up because they aren’t naturally or culturally aggressive enough to enjoy the combative environment–as Sam Harris conjectured. It is true that women have stepped up and said sexism is alive, well, and thriving in atheism. Rebecca Watson in particular but also Amanda Marcotte, Greta Christina, Ophelia Benson, PZ Myers, and many others. In too typical way they were pushed aside with notions of prioritizing social ills in the attempt to return discussion to big issues like flashcards of the most obscene crimes on the planet, forgetting that it is often the everyday acts of violence that count the most.

Mark Oppenheimer’s article outlines this agonizingly protracted issue that has yet to be resolved.

Odd though, that men could talk about atheist issues pertinent to their own worlds yet were unable to consider atheist issues in women’s worlds. I can see the goal was to show just how magnificently evil religion was on a global scale. Richard Dawkins exclaimed surprise that so many came to him and thanked him for giving them the courage to come out. That so many missed the importance of coming out on local levels evidences the blind eyes these men had to their own gardens.

Richard Dawkin’s inability to empathize with the real problems of women who were trying to change the world on local levels as well as national levels made his sincerity sound beyond shallow but vicious. And so it has been in his many oddly inchoate ramblings on logic and social justice, where women should just feel guilty, stupid, ready for schooling, for not thinking right.  And then categorizing all who don’t get him as radical feminists, an old term of specific meaning that now just means feminist. Dawkins has taken Mansplaining to a glorious new high, as if women weren’t far more aware of these issues than he ever will be.

Hitchens famously said women have no sense of humor. His point was that women have been so oppressed, even biology has made their lives more difficult then men’s; they burden most of the ills of the world while working more then men. How could they be humorous they were too busy being oppressed? This sideways homage to women caused his downfall. Mostly because his point was lost in the lack of truth of the statement. Nor was it a matter of statistics looking at how many of one versus the other were present in popular culture. It was casting an inevitability, a wrong one, to women.

Hitchens further lost it when he thought women should stay at home, unless they want to work. That last phrase was completely lost because so many women were choosing to work at great sacrifice because economic power is political power. Women well knew the cost of economic, political, and governing engagement. They didn’t need to be told that staying at home was really the ideal. Especially when that is equally true for men. Especially since that was the crap conservatives were spouting to support their particular form of vicious patriarchy.  Neither of what he said has much to do with reality today, sounding more like a romantic sentimentality of some particular, and rare, egalitarian, forager society that can’t possibly exist now, or in any kind of near future. It’s the kind of talk you hear at renaissance festivals, not politics.

Sam Harris in another inchoate response to “where are the women,” the question itself sounding like a Steve Martin skit on Saturday Night Live, responded by saying the atheist world is a competitive world, and women are more nurturing supportive types. Saying this to a growing audience of feminists is beyond absurd. Basically he shot himself in the foot while chewing the other up to his knee. More pertinent is sexism exists in atheism in greater numbers than anyone thought. It took women to show this because of incredible confirmation bias on the part of men. Addressing this directly would have been incredibly helpful and far more accurate.

The only person left is Daniel Dennett who has gone on in his work. Reminding me of Santayana he maintains an Olympian gaze to the world below while he finishes up his tenure. His exaggerated and annoyed response to Sam Harris playing philosophy in his musing of free will shows just how annoyed professionals get when amateurs play expert. Aside from this, Dennett is also the only working professor and educator of the bunch, which means he long ago learned how to analyze and deal with an audience as well as how to educate rather than pontificate. He has certainly shown a curmudgeon responsiveness. He famously quipped he didn’t see how it would be socially useful to study people who meditate 10 hours a day. A perspicacious clue as to why many women find fault with Buddhism, precisely because it has been a male separatism from not just the world but women and the families they often leave behind in happy bliss.

The last salvo has been about the #EstrogenVibe against Harris. I can say the best remark on that was by Debbie Goddard who said she would like to imagine that meant something more pleasant.

Jim Newman,

Imprison Women for Watching Male Sports

Posted by Jim Newman on September 12th, 2014 – Be the first to comment – Posted in Sharia Law

Ghoncheh-GhavamiIn Iran, since 1979, they imprison women for watching male sports. Women shouldn’t be exposed to male lewd conduct and it’s lewd conduct to do so. She got 41 days of solitary confinement.

A British woman has been in an Iranian prison for more than two months for trying to watch a men’s volleyball match. Ghoncheh Ghavami, 25, was arrested along with more than a dozen women as they tried to enter a stadium where the Iranian national men’s team was playing Italy on 20 June.

Is this an acknowledgment that women are so lascivious that they will become sexual beasts from seeing skin or is this so men don’t have access to women because men are uncontrollable lascivious beasts? But we can’t blame the perpetrator of the act. It’s the victim’s fault because they become so filled with lust they chase down men. Really? I never knew women raping men was such a problem. They just have to show up to induce rape? If men are so uncontrollable maybe they should be looked up at home.

“In the current conditions, the mixing of men and women in stadiums is not in the public interest,” said Iran’s head of police, Esmail Ahmadi Moghadam, according to the Fars news agency.

“The stance taken by religious scholars and the supreme leader remains unchanged, and as the enforcer of law, we cannot allow women to enter stadiums.”

It’s in the public interest to keep women out of view because men have uncontrollable urges and because women will seduce men once they see some skin. Even the eyes can be treacherous seduction. Iran could take notes from Saudi Arabia where the niqab is not only fully occlusive but black. The color of death. But hey let’s cheer women up and give them a prize.

saudi woman

Alya al-Shumari was given an award for saving a man in a car accident. Of course she can’t drive because the Saudis pamper women and think they should be chauffeured. Protecting the jewel from view where it will be stolen. Protecting men from view so women won’t become seductresses. This is so deeply f–d up.

But we’re not supposed to impose Western values? Further these values aren’t inspired by ideology but are reacting to Westernism? Further that men choosing jihad are just seeking cultural vitality and honor in the world? It’s not all Muslims; sounds like men saying #notallmen. I don’t care why, it’s just wrong. How could anyone look at this photo and consider it appropriate?

Jim Newman, @jimnnewman

Willie Robertson Pushes Convert or Die

Posted by Jim Newman on September 9th, 2014 – Be the first to comment – Posted in Uncategorized

Wilie-RobertsonLast night I steeled myself to clip the wing feathers of a small flock of Jersey Black Giant Roosters so they wouldn’t fly out of their pasture fence. When I have ignored this task our chickens have taken to the trees, and been eliminated by predators. Chickens can fly pretty high but ultimately trees don’t save them. The roosters were calm since it was night–which  is why they are so easily predated in the dark. I’d thought to clip them during the day but these quite large roosters are intimidating when awake and clear eyed.

A cousin’s dog broke into a pen and got one a couple of weekends ago. It made a fine roast so looking forward to these roosters as winter food. When ready they should weigh out at 8-10 lbs. My daughter helped me do the clipping and all went without a hitch. The other rewards are a little more freedom for them and a little less feed reliance for me. Natural food adds flavor.


Willie Robertson of Duck Dynasty is the silent executive producer of the new “Left Behind” film coming out, starring Nicholas Cage. Aside from further proof that Cage is not a likeable actor, it’s mind boggling that so many wish for the sky daddy’s son, self, tripart-oneness, to come back and slaughter the rest.

“Like most Christians, my family and I can truly say that we’re excited about the soon return of Jesus,” he says. “And I’m sure if you’ve been watching the news lately, you know that that return could be any day now.”

The news is not pleasant. Almost everyone is awaiting an extinction or some sort of global disaster. But we didn’t sterilize the planet during the cold war, proving that negotiation here and now can work.

Willie would rather hope, demand, prophesy, for a sky daddy to come do it for them. This is hopelessness, giving up, and blaming others.

“It’s a warning to those, if it happened today, would be left behind, and I believe people are going to make that life-changing decision to follow Christ on the way home from the theater on Oct. 3,” Robertson said. “Let’s all make sure we bring some friends and family to see this movie – people who need to see to believe.”

Because a fictional movie and book series that aren’t even accurate are the words of sky daddy? Not to mention making violence sacred–positively Islamist, Christian Jihad.

Willie is echoing Phil Robertson’s recent demand that *we* tell Muslims to convert or die. Anyone not following their sky daddy will die. Hopefully soon. It’s pathetic gibberish that threatens peace.

image source

Jim Newman,

Atheist Airman Denied Reenlistment

Posted by Jim Newman on September 8th, 2014 – 2 Comments – Posted in religion

united-states-air-force-oathSeveral days without internet and the entire family went ozone. Finally, I call Frontier again and they say oh, yeah, it’s working. Not in our house. Turns out not only were modem and RJ-11 jacks fried by lightning but the line through the wall to the first jack. I fed a long line through a window. Family is no longer threatening to move to hotel. Service says Frontier has to come out and swap line to first jack, they installed it.


You can’t fight for your country unless you believe in a sky daddy.

The American Humanist Association is threatening to sue the Air Force on behalf of an atheist airman at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada after he was denied reenlistment into the service last month because he refused to say “so help me God” in the Oath of Enlistment.

An Air Force official explained in a USA Today report that taking the oath to God is a statutory requirement and the only way the atheist airman can opt out of acknowledging God is if Congress changes it.

A “statutory requirement?” Really? All these changes being made in the various military corps and they found one the requires an act of congress?

The government cannot compel a nonbeliever to take an oath that affirms the existence of a supreme being,” Monica Miller, an attorney with the Appignani Humanist Legal Center noted. “Numerous cases affirm that atheists have the right to omit theistic language from enlistment or reenlistment contracts.”

The Air Force did their bureau-hand-waving.

AFI 36-2606 “is consistent with the language mandated in 10 USC 502. Paragraph 5.6 (and) was changed in October 2013 to reflect the aforementioned statutory requirement and airmen are no longer authorized to omit the words ‘so help me God,’” she added.

So you can be gay but not believe in a sky daddy?

image source

Jim Newman, www.frontiersofreason. com  @jimnnewman