Archive | December, 2010

Religion is like sports

30 Dec

I can’t put it any better than Sam Harris:

How would you feel if there was no god?

30 Dec

This is directed at theists who might stumble across this post.

One of the most common accusations leveled against atheists are that they’re angry, so angry. For many of us that’s true, we are angry. Yet in order to understand why we’re so angry, let me ask you something.

Lets pretend for a moment, a little thought experiment if you will. I promise it won’t hurt or do anything to your faith, it’s just an experiment.

Imagine that you died, it doesn’t matter how, only that you’re now dead, and the afterlife is not what you were promised. Instead of heaven or closeness to some deity, you are made aware of the fact that their is no god, there never was. You look down at the earth, all the people on it, all the things we do to ourselves and each other in the name of a god; a god you have just learned never existed.

How would you feel? How would you react to the magnitude of the consequences and implications?

Sure you would see some good things being done in the name of this mythical god, but what about all the suffering? Suffering that is needlessly prolonged by those claiming to act in the name of a god you just learned never existed.

How would you react to this revelation’s implications? Think of all the time spent in pointless prayer instead of action, all the money spent building monuments and structures to a nonexistent being. All the money that lines the pockets of those who claim to speak for this being. What about all the wars, genocides, book burnings, shootings, suicide bombings, the death in perpertrayed in the name of this non-existent being? What about all the people who are forced to marry those they don’t love because of religious prescriptions? What about the millions of people who have their genitals cut in keeping with religious commandments? What about the honor killings? What about all the people who were forced to live in a miserable marriage, perhaps where they were even beaten, because their faith frowned on divorces?

How would you feel?

What about your life? What if you spent a large amount of time, effort, and money investing in something you later found out to be a scam? What dreams could you have accomplished if those energies were directed elsewhere? What about those things you denied yourself that you could have enjoyed? What about foods or drinks you refused to try for ultimately pointless religious reasons? What opportunities to live did you turn down in preparation for death, only to find now that you’re dead, those preparations futile, those opportunities gone forever?

Hypothetically, as all these realizations hit you like a tsunami, how would you feel as you slowly fade to nothingness?

I’m willing to bet you would feel an intense anger, possibly betrayal.

Hold that feeling in your mind for a moment. Now imagine that you weren’t fading to nothingness, that you weren’t dead. Imagine you were still alive, yet with this knowledge, and now you had the chance to do something about it. How would you feel? What would you do?

If you answered that you’d be angry and outspoken in your efforts to make the world a better place and end suffering, then you now understand where a lot of “angry” atheists are coming from.

God’s middleman

29 Dec

This is a really basic concept, but it was something that I wrestled with for a while when deconverting from Christianity. The night I became an atheist I laid in bed for several hours pondering hell and eternal damnation. The thought of letting go from the ledge and dismissing the intense warnings and threats of hellfire terrified me. Two realizations comforted me and led me to take the plunge. The first was that I must be able to trust my own reasoning skills. Without them I’m not my own person. The second realization was as follows:

Everything we know about religion and gods, we are told by other people.

 

Think about it. Who told you about god(s)? Your parents? Your friends? Where did they hear about it? Their pastor/priest/rabbi/imam/shaman? Who told them? Another person. But what about the books? People did. People claiming to talk for god(s). That’s all it ever was; one person claiming to know the mind of a supreme all knowing, all powerful super being that created the entire cosmos. All the books, the art, the music, the buildings, the dogma and doctrine, all of it comes from someone who heard about god(s) from someone else, who in turn heard from another someone.

Ultimately, if it were possible to follow the chain of he said/she said’s all the way back, you would come across a single person or group who started the rumors game.

What about this person? What credibility do they have? These are very serious claims they are making. They purport to know the mind of this supernatural being. Entire societies, gender roles, ways of living, eating, procreating, and dying are structured around the claims made by individuals like these. I say that makes it extremely important to determine if they’re telling the truth. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, so what is their evidence?

“Just trust me…”

Seriously, that’s it. Sometimes they’ll throw in a little incentive like “or you’ll burn in eternal hell-fire!” Sure there are stories of miracles, but these miracles are never documented outside of the story books claiming them, nor are they anything beyond what would impress the local population of that time and location. Water to wine? Multiplying fish and bread? Walking on water? (I’m using christian mythology because that’s what I’m familiar with. There are plenty of other examples from other religions) Those are miracles? Why not something like curing amputated limbs, or transporting people to Alpha Centauri, or dividing by zero? And while you’re at it, just so their can be no confusion or doubt, make sure it’s well documented by a large variety of independent sources.  Unfortunately the people who were around when these belief systems were invented didn’t ask for such evidence. They were quick to believe and slow to doubt.

One of the hardest things to wrap your mind around is how just so many people could be so wrong, and yet so sure they’re right. This was another thing I struggled with. “Look around you! Look how Christianity is everywhere! Look how many people believe! It can’t possibly be based on a lie! It’s unthinkable that it could all be wrong! Surely its ubiquity must attest to some level of truth?”

People who are surrounded by Islam think the same thing. So do the people who are surrounded by Buddhism, Toaism, Judaism, animism, voodoo, etc. The people who were surrounded by the worship of Thor felt the same way. As did those who grew up in ancient Egypt with Ra. Your location, your cultural preferences, they are not the world. For ever million believers who think like you, there are just as many equally fervent believers of another faith. They make the same justifications and rationalizations that you do, but they change the name of the god(s).

The problem is that the system reinforces it’self.  One person starts a rumor, then more people spread it, and then more until it spreads exponentially.  Eventually everybody in a location knows the rumor and it becomes common knowledge, common truth. Children are then raised in a society saturated in the rumor and it’s taken as a given, a natural existence.  The more people who believe in the rumor, the more the individual believer feels secure in their belief.

No matter how many people believe something, no matter how many books are written, buildings built, and songs sung, it all goes back to that one individual, god’s middleman.

“Just trust me…”

Age old confusion over relationships

24 Dec

As usual with these types of entries, I should be asleep but I can’t stop pondering this. I know this might come across as kind of weird, but I honestly don’t care, I just want to know.

Something’s been puzzling me lately. I’ve never had a girl who was just head over heals for me. Maybe I have, perhaps some ex girlfriends of mine were at one point and I just have a pessimistic confirmation bias; I don’t know, but it just feels that way.

What brought this on? Well I just recently talked to one of my old friends and she mentioned all this stuff she did for her boyfriend. It ranged from little nice gestures to more adult themes, if you get my drift. She raves about him, but he doesn’t seem to do anything out of the ordinary. It’s not just her! I’ve talked to other friends of mine who love to talk about their boyfriends. They all seem very loyal and excited to be dating him, and it’s not the “new relationship high” because they’ve been dating for a while.

I don’t feel like I ever get that from women. Ok, that’s not fair. I can think of a few times when past girlfriends have gone out of their way to do something nice for me, but it seldom happened. From talking to my friends, it seems like they are often thinking of their boyfriends and nice things to do for them. I just don’t get it. What is it about their boyfriends that inspires so much love and loyalty?

In the past, I always strove to be the absolute best boyfriend possible. Just ask any of my exes. I would get them cards and flowers for no reason other than I cared, I would cook them dinner and breakfast in bed, would drive them anywhere they needed to go, take them out for ice cream, go out at 3am to the store and get soup if they were sick, I did it all. I was always thinking of little things to do for them, but I never felt it was fully reciprocated. Sure they’d tell me they loved me and every now and then they would get me a card or a piece of candy, but they never seemed as excited about being with me as my friends are about being with their boyfriends.

I realized later that perhaps I was setting way too high a standard, doing so much and asking for it back in equal measure; I was setting myself up for disappointment. I also realized that by doing stuff like this all the time, I was inflating it and thus devaluing the gestures.

Fear not, I’ve since grown out of this. It just really frustrates me because I often hear women say how much they wish their boyfriend would do stuff like this. Now I know it depends on the person, but if the ones I dated in the past said this, they were lying. They obviously didn’t want a guy to do all these things for them. Maybe they thought that was what they were supposed to want and so they said it. Perhaps in reality it was just annoying.

Another thing I have to consider: I’ve never dated a fully independent woman before. I think things would be a lot better if I did. Most of my past girlfriends were when we were both in high school. I was always the only one who could drive and had a car. I dated one girl for three years in college, but again, I was the one with the car. I was constantly taking care of her and driving her places. I’ve noticed that, in all of my past relationships, I’ve always been the one doing the leg work, going to the girl. Only twice in my entire life has a girl I’ve been dating driven across town, or further, to my house to see me. I saw the same pattern online as I aimlessly browsed through dating sites, looking at profiles and messaging people. Why am I always going after them? Why am I always initiating first contact, yet I never receive first contact messages myself? Why is it not the other way around? Those guys my friends are dating don’t seem to do anything, and yet the women go out of their way to be with them. Why can’t I inspire the same kind of loyalty and excitement?

This just really confuses me. I know this isn’t supposed to be something you ask out loud in public, that you’re just supposed to “know,” but I honestly don’t care. Perhaps that’s paradoxically attractive, whatever.

Perhaps things will be better when I finally date a woman who’s living on her own, earning her own money, and has a car. Perhaps then I’ll find somebody who’s willing to put an equal amount of time, energy, and money into being with me. I’m tired of always being the one doing the majority of the work to keep a relationship going.

Where are the conservative comedians?

22 Dec

Driving to work today I heard about how Jon Stewart single handedly got republicans to finally give 9/11 first responders health care, after almost a decade of telling them no. I was thinking how great it was that we have guys like Stewart and the republicans have people like Rush Limbaugh , then it hit me: conservatives don’t really have any political comedians. Why is that?

Conservatives rule the radio waves and utterly fail when it comes to comedy. Liberals fail on the radio, but are the kings of comedy. Why is that? Why is it that the format of radio works better for conservatives whereas the format of comedy and satire work best for liberals?

I think the answer is obvious, short, and blunt: Conservatives are blow-hards.

Ya, ya, not all conservatives are blow-hards. I know plenty who are very nice people, but as a general rule, the majority of them have a stick up their ass and are so authoritarian they don’t understand satire. The format of an overweight pill popping bigot screaming into his microphone about gays, feminists, blacks, and the ALCU straight to an eager audience of drones waiting for instructions  works perfectly for the conservative message of conformity, order, and respect for authority. It doesn’t work so well for people who are trying to step back from the world and examine the absurdity of what’s happening.

Political humor is great for that, for taking deadly serious issues and pulling us out of that serious mindset so we can really see what’s going on. Stopping, thinking, and making jokes at authority’s expense is antithetical to the conservative mindset of “march in line.”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying there are no conservatives who are comedians, being conservative doesn’t prevent you from having a sense of humor, but there aren’t any conservative political comedians. I think being a conservative comedian really limits your act as well. If you’re conservative, you’re probably also concerned about the “family image” and thus tend to keep your act on child friendly topics. Conservative comedians tend to avoid not only politics, but issues like sex and religion. Sure you can still be funny without mentioning those topics, but it really cuts out a huge chunk of what it is to be an adult. Sex, politics, religion, and swearing are adult issues. Adults want to hear things that are relevant to their lives. We get coddled and sheltered as children; part of being an adult is coming to terms with those issues and dealing with them. I can’t help but feel that the conservatives who are made uneasy by such things are stuck in an immature state.

Instead of trying to elaborate further, I think it’s only appropriate to let a comedian get my point across. Here’s Lewis Black on conservatives and humor:

Bechdel Test for Video Games?

19 Dec

The other day I read an interesting review of the new Tron movie by Ashley F Miller. In her review Ashley mentioned the Bechdel test. What is the Bechdel test you ask? It’s simple:

This got me thinking, what about a Bechdel test for video games? I searched around but couldn’t find anything much besides this blog post by .tiff.

My question is this: how would the Behdel test apply to video games? Would it need to be modified? .tiff points out that one of the biggest ways video games differ from movies is in the player’s control of the character. Whereas in a movie we can only sit and wait for two women to talk to each other about something other than a man, in a video game it’s up to the player to make that interaction happen. This then brings up the issue of whether or not the game developers make it necessary to talk to a named woman about something other than a man in order to advance the story, or not.

Someone in the comments of .tiff’s blog post also brought up the point that many video games don’t have much talking at all, at least not by the main protagonist. How would this affect the Bechdel test when applied to video games?

What about video games that have female main characters? How would this affect the test if you had the ability to choose to play as a female or if you were required to play as a female? RPGs like Oblivion, Mass Effect, and Dragon Age let you choose to play as a woman, whereas other games like Portal, Bayonetta, and Mirror’s Edge require you to play a woman. Should these be counted differently? Should one be weighted more heavily than the other?

I think it’s important to keep in mind that the Bechdel test is only about gauging the involvement of women, not about the portrayal of women. I’m tempted to ask questions about how the video game has women dressed, how their bodies are built (are they normal people or super sexualized?) and whether or not they need rescuing in some capacity. (sidenote, if you play as a female in the Mass Effect series, there are a lot of times you have to rescue the helpless male, which I find extremely refreshing)

I think recent RPGs have really been doing a good job as far as including women goes. Games like the ones I mentioned above have a lot of female characters in them, with a bunch of quest important named females. (Not to mention the fact that you can play as a female, and in the newer RPGs can engage in relations with NPCs without regard to the gender binary) However, this still brings us back to the question of whether or not the bar should be at different levels for different genres of games. RPGs need a good amount of women in them to create a realistic world feel. (Because, surprise, women make up half the population in the real world) Should a game like that really be weighted the same as say an FPS that has a large female presence? Should the game developers of an FPS get more credit for including women in a genre largely devoid of them? (Whereas women are standard in RGPs)

Thoughts?

Current life goals

19 Dec

So as some of my friends know, I just recently got my first real job. I started yesterday and so far I love it.  For the longest time I was utterly depressed about my situation. I felt like I was condemned to living in the movie Groundhog’s Day. For months every day was the same lonely routine with no sense of direction, interrupted once or twice a month by get-togethers with my local atheist group which was, as pathetic as it sounds, the only times I felt happy and like I belonged. I felt like if I did manage to find a job, it would be yet another minimum wage job usually done by highschoolers. I imagined being damned to a life of always working highschooler jobs.

Well now that’s changed and I’m ecstatic. I’ve made the leap from service jobs into office jobs. I don’t have to do any physical labor, I sit in a nice comfy chair in a beautiful building, and get paid more than if I worked at a store. With my adult life finally starting to take off, it’s time for me to re-evaluate my goals.

Short Term Goals

1. Get my own place. This is my most immediate goal. Realistically I aim to have this happen by February. I need to figure out my budget, build a financial buffer for safety, and then find a good apartment. Ideally I’d like to find a 1 bedroom apartment with a gym on site or near by. I’ve really wanted this for ages. I still haven’t full absorbed the fact that it’s finally going to happen. It’s crucial for me to keep developing, and for women to seriously consider dating me. ~_^ “Yeah, I live with my parents” = instant fail. I’ve also been day dreaming for years about how I’m going to decorate my apartment. I always hated how messy my house was at college. I would always try to pick up and make it look like adults lived there, but inevitably my housemates would drag it back down into the realm of “giant man children live here and can’t pick up after themselves.” I’ve got a bunch of pictures and other pieces of art in storage that I can’t wait to set up in my new place. I want it to look like a cultured anthropologist’s apartment. (Something like Daniel Jackson’s place in SG-1)

(Click to enlarge)

2. Lose 10 pounds. Mainly for my health and happiness, but also wouldn’t hurt in finding somebody.

3. Set up savings accounts that will help me achieve my long term goals. The sooner I start saving the better. Once I get my apartment I plan on automatically adding 5% of my income to an IRA. I then need to set up other saving accounts that will help me achieve mid-range goals.

Mid-longer range goals:

1. Find somebody. I’m not a fan of being alone. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that I need to be with somebody to be happy, I don’t, it’s just that I would like somebody to share my life with. I count this as a midrange goal simply because it’s not necessary that I date some right at this moment. If I found the right person then I would be interested in dating them now, but it’s not urgent. I know what I’m looking for, so I don’t mind taking my time. Ideally I would like to find a woman who is witty, intelligent, well educated, liberal, feminist, passionate atheist, a geek,  blogger, who wants to travel,  and enjoys art. Age isn’t too important. That’s only half the problem. The other half  is finding a woman like this in South Carolina who is available and interested dating me. :p (I dare say that’s the harder part)

2. Move out of the United States, or at least to some place more liberal than South Carolina. My entire life I’ve lived in conservative areas of the United States. I hate it. I hate it with a passion. I’m tired of the bigotry, the religiosity, and the thick air of sexual repression and gender determinism. I really want to move to a place where people don’t have a stick shoved nearly as far up their asses. Ideally I’d like to live in one of the northern countries in Europe, but I’d settle for Canada or a dark blue part of the US. (Though I’m throughly convinced this country is absolutely fucked and is about to go through a very dark period of social and economic regression)

3. Build my own house. I’ve been dreaming of this since I was a little kid. When I spent summers at my grandmother’s house I would bide my time with drawing up floor plans for my castle home. I had an elaborate idea of exactly what I wanted. I remember at age 12 telling my parents that I was going to live in the back of a truck and avoid women as a way of cutting down on expenses in order to save up and build my castle home. (I know, I know…I was 12, cut me some slack) ~_^ Growing up I played games like Thief 2, Oblivion, and Diablo and fell in love with medieval inspired interiors.

(Click to enlarge)

I think it would be so amazing to have a warm and cozy house like this. It’s my goal to build one with my own hands. I would of course put in all the modern amenities, but I would do so in a way that it would keep the ambiance intact. There is actually a family in Wales, UK that did something like this. Their house is beautiful!

4. Expand my art business.  Yesterday I made my first sale! I really love creating things and experimenting with art mediums; I want to expand upon this and make it more central to my life.

5. Lose 50lbs. This ties in with my short term goal of losing 10lbs. I figure it will be a lot easier to do if I just try 10 lbs at a time.

6. Travel!!! Everywhere, anywhere. Right now on the top of my list is to go up to Canada and see the northern lights. That should be relatively easy considering I’m already on the right continent and I speak the language. The thing is, and this ties back in with #1, I’d really like to have someone to share these experiences with. Camping in the Canadian winter, under clear dark skies, seeing the northern lights and the milkyway, would be an amazing experience, but it would be even more amazing if I had somebody else who would appreciate it and share it with me.

7. Learn to fly. When I was a little kid I wanted to be a fighter pilot. Well I hate roller-coasters and my eyesight isn’t perfect, so that was  out. However, I then saw the movie “Fly Away Home” about a father and daughter team who have ultra-light planes and guide a flock of geese home to Canada and thought “That’s it! I want to build one of those!”

You can get the plans for planes like this for about $100 and they cost anywhere from $3k to $10k to build. Then add on the cost of some flying lessons and I can do it for less than the price of a new car. ^_^

Those are pretty much my main life goals at the moment. They’re subject to changing depending on what happens in my life and who I meet. I’ve got some smaller more trivial ones like buying my dream sword, getting an espresso machine, becoming fluent in German, and driving an electric car, but I won’t go into details about those.

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