This was inspired by my friend I told him what I believed would be the best way to live, which - summarised - goes something like this: to find an impossible goal to accomplish and to spend the rest of your life trying to make it happen, and most importantly, enjoying the journey to the goal. He immediately replied by telling me it seems a very buddhistic way of thinking. I was raised a christian though, and I'm not actually Buddhistic as such, it's just the way of thinking that seems to be similar to Buddha's
It is often said that we must respect the religious beliefs of others. Simply put, I don't. That is not to say that I see religious people as less deserving of equal protection, but I do not see their beliefs as fundamentally reasonable and worthy of respect, and I think that this claim that we must respect the rights of others undermines our ability to have substantive debates on moral and political issues, by treating certain ideas as immune from debate and criticism. Why, as an atheist, should I respect those who believe, on religious conviction, that atheists should be put to death? Should I not show them the same amount of respect they show me?
The evidence in favor of most religions is weak or nonexistent. I focus on the religions I am most familiar with, but I have reason to believe that other religions have the same general flaws, as these flaws appear to be intrinsic to religion and not simply features of a few specific religions. One key flaw in religion is reliance on faith. Faith is belief without, or in spite of, evidence. Christianity treats faith as a key virtue, and denounces non-believers. It is repeatedly stated in the New Testament that those who do not believe in Jesus as their savior are bound for hell. The Old Testament repeatedly sanctions the killing of non-believers, as well as those who disobey any of a large number of commandments, such as by working on the Sabbath, disrespecting their parents, or even planting two different crops in the same field. Christians often dismiss the more draconian elements of their religion but fail to see that selective reading undermines their arguments. I am, of course, more comfortable around these cafeteria Christians than around someone who actually believes that people ought to be killed for working on the Sabbath, but I still see their position as intellectually indefensible.
Christians who invoke faith generally argue that the evidence is somehow inconclusive. A famous example of the approach that treats the evidence as inconclusive yet demanding our assent is Pascal's wager. Pascal posited that our only choices are to believe or not to believe (the agnostic stance of not taking a position is effectively treated as non-belief). Pascal tells us that if Christianity is true, then we have everything to gain (heaven) by believing and everything to lose (hell) by not believing. On the other hand, if it is not, then we simply die, and Christians will have at least led a good life. Pascal's wager might make sense if the evidence were genuinely inconclusive, though even in this case some problems arise.
First, his claim that we are better off believing Christianity, even if there is no afterlife, is unfounded. Christianity demands many things of its followers, including some fairly unreasonable demands. People who genuinely believe that they are bound for heaven may be better off, though their ability to reason properly is undermined by wishful thinking about the afterlife. However, even if belief individually makes people happier, rigid commitment to Christianity undermines pursuit of worthwhile goals such as scientific discovery. Scientific progress, including such real world benefits as discovering ways to cure or prevent fatal diseases, comes only by rejecting faith and considering the evidence on its merits. When faith is encoded into law, truth becomes heresy. It is not a historical accident that Galileo was subject to house arrest for life. The Bible teaches explicitly that the earth is immovable. The Old Testament says "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live." (Exodus, 22:18) Most people now accept that there is no such thing as witchcraft, but many innocent people died because this biblical commandment was taken literally.
It is not even clear that we are individually better off believing. Belief that one is bound for heaven may ease the fear of death, but do Christians really not at least entertain the possibility that they will go to hell? Even if you are convinced that you are going to heaven, you may worry that loved ones are not. Hell is meant to be scary. It is a threat meant to keep people in line. What of the alternative? There are numerous other religions, which undermines the dichotomy of Pascal's wager, but suppose we treat atheism as the relevant alternative. Epicurus said "Death is nothing to us, since when we are, death has not come, and when death has come, we are not." I think most people are unable to grasp his point, perhaps because we cannot conceive of nothingness, and perhaps because the idea of an afterlife is so ingrained in us that what we envision is not true nothingness but some zombie-like state. It is not comforting to think, for instance, that I shall never again see my dead father, but neither is the atheistic conception of death something to dread. (I am not sure whether Epicurus was actually an atheist in the modern sense.)
Lastly, the evidence is not as inconclusive as Pascal suggests. First, absence of evidence sometimes is evidence of absence. When there is no reason to think that we would have evidence of something, then the logical stance is agnosticism. We genuinely do not know if there are advanced alien civilizations out there. The extreme distances involved make communication, let alone interstellar travel, very impractical. Radio signals are simply not detectable at even a few light-years, and the energy required for interstellar travel is nearly impossible to obtain. The number of stars is vast, but it is entirely possible that the barriers to achieving a civilization as advanced as ours, let alone one capable of interstellar travel, are so high that civilizations such as those imagined in science fiction simply do not exist. However, the most reasonable thing to say is that we do not know. We do not even have the information that would allow us to assign a probability to the possibility of encountering advanced alien civilizations.
However, a God like the one described in the Bible would leave copious evidence. It is absurd to think that Joshua made the sun and the moon stand still in the sky for several hours, and even more absurd to think that ancient astronomers around the world somehow failed to notice. Even if we are willing to suspend the laws of nature enough to allow for Biblical miracles, many of them are of such scale that they could not have gone unnoticed. If every ancient civilization recorded that the sun and the moon stood still as recounted in the Book of Joshua, and they seemed to be in rough agreement on details such as when this happened and how long the sun stood still, this would be compelling evidence that this event really happened. However, this event would be so extraordinary that the absence of such accounts is compelling evidence, as if any were needed, that it did not happen. Numerous impossible events are recounted in the Bible. Even fundamentalist Christians reject many of the moral teachings found in the Bible. For them to assert that this book is divinely inspired, let alone literally true, is intolerable presumption. We do not owe them our respect simply because they are religious. Their teachings are not uncertain or even improbable but provably false. Pascal's wager is refuted because we can and do know that Christianity is false. Those who claim otherwise are forced into logical contortions to avoid acknowledging the obvious. If they really do believe, then they are delusional, brainwashed, or engaged in sustained and pervasive wishful thinking.
So why does anyone regard such beliefs as worthy of respect? One reason is tradition. Another is that we find it difficult to really accept that so many people can be so fundamentally wrong. We can accept that old scientific beliefs were in error, and that ours almost certainly are as well. It is harder to accept that a large portion of the population is deeply and profoundly irrational. However, the evidence is compelling that this is in fact true. Nonbelievers, though, should not be content in our conviction that we are the rational majority.
Just because you do not share the same superstitions and logical fallacies as the majority does not mean that you are rational, but only that you do not share the same irrationality as the others. Many atheists were once believers, and some atheists become believers. Many atheists simply lack religious belief, rather than having actively rejected it as I have. Some reject religion for reasons no more rational than the reasons that others accept it. Some atheists have diagnosed or diagnosable mental illnesses. Atheists are not immune from groupthink or wishful thinking. Similarly, religious people may be very intelligent and their faith may not be so strong and pervasive that it has destroyed their ability to engage in critical reasoning.
The world may be better off if people voluntarily abandon their religious belief, but it would not be better to forcibly convert people to atheism. Religious tolerance has served us well. It has kept the peace. Atheists benefit from non-discrimination laws and would do well to comply with them and promote religious freedom. But religious freedom and tolerance does not require treating religion with kid gloves. You can, and should, respect a person's right to hold beliefs that you consider ridiculous. It is possible to regard a person as fundamentally irrational but still a person worthy of respect. A person who is good for the wrong reasons is nevertheless good. Furthermore, I do not believe that anyone is truly rational. Maybe there is some super-intelligent alien race of truly rational beings, but they are not us. The most intelligent people are vulnerable to addiction, self-deception and other irrational tendencies. Human sexuality is not rational. All of us have irrational fears and irrational desires. Aristotle said that rationality is what makes us human. What a privileged existence he must have had. If you are willing to consider that you might be wrong, then you have taken the important first step toward becoming a wiser and better person. If not, then why should I respect you?
Religion has gotten too much respect. I argue here that religion is irrational, and that there is conclusive evidence against the truth of at least some religions. I end by showing how this can be reconciled with our convictions about religious freedom and tolerance.
It was a miserable, sweltering and dusty day in Texas. Clarissa ran up her porch steps in search of something tasty and refreshing. She was hot and tired from playing hard all day, and needed to rest.
Spotting her mother cleaning on the porch, and her grandmother reclining in the shade, she politely asked for some lemonade.
Her mother was in a testy mood, and not at all up to doing more work "Can't you see I'm busy here?" she snapped at Clarissa.
Clarissa, taken aback by her mothers outburst, fell silent, but her grandmother spoke up.
"Now what's eating you Sarah?" Grandma asked her daughter
"This heat is killing me and I've been working all day! I'm exhausted, irritable and overworked. This has been such a godawful day!" Sarah got louder and angrier with every word.
"Honey, you know what they say. When life gives you lemons, make tasty lemonade!" Grandma chuckled at her own little joke
Sarah, cranky beyond reason, yelled at her mother "Don't be so naive, mom! Life doesn't give you lemons! Life doesn't give you anything! If you want fucking lemons, you have to go take them for yourself!"
"Oh dear!" Grandma exclaimed
Tired of listening to the adults argue, Clarissa went inside and poured herself a glass of Koolaid from the fridge. Finally, she was able to cool down.
Morale: Don't complain when life gives you lemons, just change the shopping list and go get something else.
Each morning we wake up and we make a decision. We make the decision to get out of bed when that alarm goes off and trudge through our lives for one more day. It doesn't matter if we're sleep deprived, sick, need a vacation, are heartbroken or stressed beyond comprehension. We get up and keep going.
Would it be easier to just lay there and stare at the ceiling allowing ourselves to drone on into nothingness? Yes, it would. That would be the simplest thing to do in the world. We all feel like doing that some mornings. At some point that loathing question snakes around our minds and takes control. Why am I doing this again? But, inevitably, we get up.
Because that's life.
It's easy to fall and give up. Nobody blames you if you do because we all realize that life is hard. If it wasn't we wouldn't be living in a Prozac nation where the doctors will prescribe you "happy pills" to make it through the rougher spots. The hardest thing in the world to do is to get up and keep going no matter what.
But we have the choice to do that.
It's impossible to think of a life where we wouldn't have the choice to mess up and try to fix it again. It's unheard of. But imagine a world where we weren't given that choice to mess up. What if our lives were all planned out for us and we had no choice in the matter whatsoever?
Now, some may argue that this is where fate comes in. I personally believe that even as far as fate goes there are a few paths that lead to different destinies. Even with that we are still firmly in control of our own outcomes. If we want to lay down and close our eyes, forget the world and stay holed up in our rooms for days at a time we can do that.
This is why I love the people they label as "emo". They're having a rough time and feel like expressing it. I say let them! Good for them if they have no shame in letting people know how they feel. When was the last time you were openly honest with society about how you were feeling? Maybe a little bit of self expression would help all of us.
There is no normal. We are all odd. Everyone makes mistakes. Each of us falls and gets back up again. It's a pattern that we all follow and each of us makes unique. The fact that we have free will to make us all individuals? I think that's the greatest gift we could ask for.
Do you remember all those years ago – when we first met? I remember it perfectly. I was so very close. So very, very close to my last shred of sanity snipping. And then I saw a peculiar little girl in white dress – you. Your left hand was occupied by a tattered doll. Your right was wet from wiping your tears. Your eyes began to water again, but I caught it for you that time. I still had a shred of humanity left, gnawing at my heart's strings to care for you, to pity, and to comfort. You were scared by my face, but I mustered a smile, and told you not to fear. You told me that you were lonely, that you were unloved.
And from that point on, I never left your side.
Do you remember all those years ago – when I saved your life? I remember it perfectly. The cursed fellow had threatened you, and I had intervened. You were bigger, but still, I needed to protect you. He chased you up the tower, calling you a monster, saying you needed to disappear. And then he drew his rapier. I had never moved faster in my life than I did grabbing that awful man by the brim of his ebony vestment. I had never acted as instinctively as I led him to the window. I had never whispered as softly as I did to you of reassuring, and to him of the pain of death. I had never been more deafened than by his scream as I cast him away.
Take away upon your black wings, bishop, for your mistress commands it.
Do you remember all those years ago – when you saw my face for the first time? I remember it perfectly. Soul of black I had retrieved, and offered it to the gentle flame I did. My flesh was deep and wrinkled no more. I turned to you, and you seemed shocked at my form. You were my height, and we were both exceedingly young. I could even remember a flicker of attraction…but no. I refused desire. My love for you was of parent to child, or of sibling to sister. And it was good that I refused, for you grew, oh so very fast. Soon, you towered above me, and regardless, I still guarded you with my life.
I made a promise to you, Priscilla. I promised that I would never let you see darkness.
Do you remember that short time ago – when the people gathered? I remember it perfectly. Ariamis gathered, and desired your pure blood. How shocked I was. How scared you were. They hurried to the theatre, where you and I often met. How ready I was. How well-hid you were. The crowd broke through, and I met them head-on. How ravenous I was. How aghast you were. Ariamis fell to my feet. How alive I was. How frightened you were. After I finished, I ran to you, and embraced you.
I fell the entire city as the ax man does the forest. I was invincible.
You would be safe forever.
Do you remember that short time ago – when I found the red rock? I remember it perfectly. I had slain anyone that came near you. Everyone was a threat, as everyone was present at the theatre that fateful night. And then you began to cry, for you were lonely again. I did everything I could to comfort you. Yet you ran from me, from your sole friend, terrified. So I brought new friends. I tempted those with Lifedrain to pursue me, as their master tempted them with the very art they wielded. I brought many new friends for you to meet.
I will do anything in my power to keep you safe, Priscilla.
Do you remember the fall of Ariamis? I remember it perfectly. The city crumbled under the assault of the Crimson Ones. All through the onslaught, you sought me. You found me in the theatre, and I greeted you merrily. But then you turned your blade on me. Your beautiful scythe sliced the air beside my head flawlessly. I was blank. My only friend wanted me dead. I begged you to stop as I evaded cut after cut. You screamed at me, calling me a monster. You claimed I was nicer when I looked to be a monster. You called all humans monsters. And then I held my weapon to receive a blow from the elegant scythe.
And that was perhaps the greatest mistake I ever made.
Your immense size…It threw me an admirable distance.
And then, you hooked your foot under my torso, and threw me off the edge with it.
When I finally landed, tears fell from my eyes as I felt my body fade, and the fiery ring burn brighter…
…I am back, Priscilla. I have come to fulfill my promise to you…
A short story about the Painted World of Ariamis, and it's fascinating inhabitant, Crossbreed Priscilla.
I say "fascinating" because unlike other bosses in Dark Souls, Priscilla lets you walk away without a scratch, only if you return the favor. Therefore, I made a little connection to the character and Priscilla.
*NOTE: This is in no way real Lore. Only a theory that was expanded into a writing.*
What should a priest do if he were to find Satan himself laying beaten, bloody, and broken in a ditch? One would think the answer is simple. Any priest should leave the villain to die on the side of the road and be happy at the good fortune of the universe, right? Wrong. A wise priest would stop be the bleeding prince of lies and think for a moment. No Satan means no Hell, another plus. Wait, if there is no Hell there is no damnation. If there is no damnation there is no punishment for sins, then the wise priest begins to realize something that never occurred to him. If fear of Hell is all that holds back sinning, then is the saint unnatural, inhuman and fearful? Is the sinner natural, human, and fearless? Then the priest realizes that he is lying to himself and his very human nature by being a servant of light, no a slave to fear of the dark. Disliking this train of thought, the priest begins to ponder the fallen angel before him. He thinks of all the sins that Satan has committed, trying to convince himself that he is above the infernal beast. But then he realizes its crimes only make it more noble, more brave, and more powerful than any other being imaginable. For Satan fights a battle he knows he will lose, but fights it because he knows there are things more important than winning. Things like freedom and courage and the natural order of things. The priest then fully realizes that god would die without Satan to oppose him. And that maybe the dark lord is more courageous than the king of kings himself. The priest feels ashamed and arrogant to think of himself as higher than the proud, infernal, noble being before him. He picks up the grievously wounded demon, who unlike god, is dedicated to something greater than itself and it's ideals. The priest takes Satan to the abbey and heals the demon's wounds and mends his bones. When the fallen angel is healed he thanks the priest and heads on his way.
Now this parable is largely based on a story in Kahlil Gibran's book the Prophet. Yet it has been greatly modified to more clearly illustrate my point. The hero and villain are less black and white than they might seem. The hero requires a villain to survive and the villain requires a hero, and depending on who you ask the one you see as a villain may be the hero in their eyes and vice versa. This is my philosophical opinion on the matter of heroes and villains, and may not be yours. Feel free to complain that I don't conform to your views, or that your views don't conform with mine. I could really care less about how much you dislike this. But if it makes you feel better about being a slave to fear then go ahead and take it out on me.
i'm a girl and you're a sunrise, letting me watch you burn across the sky. i'm not pretty enough to be you, not smart enough to catch you when you fall. i dig my fingernails into your palm, not wanting to let you go. you know how it is. you're a boy, and i'm something that could have been.
you curl your fingers over the frets. we could've been something great. my guitar's hanging next to the television. i wonder if you sold yours. was it too painful? there's still static, smoke curling across a frigid landscape. i used to write songs, you know. don't get too confident; they weren't all about you.
gosh. it seems like eons ago. autumn nights are so cold on the island, but we're warm. the cabins are empty, because no one takes a vacation in october. you know how it goes; we're both falling. not in love, but out of it.
i miss you like i miss not breathing. you don't notice it, but it's there. i let myself forget you a long time ago, but you're still here. an echo, maybe, still bouncing off the walls in my consciousness. it's somewhere, deep down there. you're soft and dim, sepia-toned and worn away. cliffs wear away if the waves crash against them long enough.
we sat on the swings a long time, that afternoon. people ask me why i don't play guitar anymore, and i never know how to answer. i wonder sometimes if you miss me, because i liked you. i really did.
so, one day i thought, "hey, wouldn't it be a good idea if i actually tried to submit my deviations to the correct folders?" because i realized not all of my stuff is philosophy / perspectives. most of it is. but not all of it. so, hey.
1. feelings. tell me how this makes you feel. 2. tell me about her voice. who or what does the narrator sound like? how does she feel? 3. does it feel pushed-together, too quick, too sudden? is the pacing all right?
The man who works at the coffee shop looks like you. I noticed this some time ago and have since frequented the place. He recognizes me now. He smiles at me when I come in. His smile even looks like yours. He doesn't say hey though- you always said hey.
I still work at the library even though you're not there. Sometimes I look over to your desk and expect to see you typing at your computer, but someone else is there now. It's not you.
Sometimes someone will come in who looks like you. Maybe he will have the same hair, same stature, same profile, same laugh, same voice. It's never been you.
Sometimes I drive myself crazy. I pull at my hair and scream 'till my lungs burst. I scream for and at you. I ask how you could have left me here.
Sometimes I allow myself to believe that I will see you again. By chance we will run into each other in a Wal-Mart far away.
I go to the coffee shop on Tuesday afternoons. I order a small chai tea with milk.
Sometimes the man is working at the cash register. He smiles at me as he rings me up and tells me to enjoy my day.
Sometimes the man is arranging pastries in the glass display. He looks up from the sugared doughnuts and slices of pound cake to give me a warm smile. I feel a pang in my stomach and my smile borderlines on grimace.
I take my tea and sit myself in one of those fancy armchairs.
Sometimes I bring a book and read. I send myself far away while sipping warm, spicy tea.
Sometimes I bring a poem I've been working on. I scratch out lines and rewrite and rewrite again.
I stay until the place closes. I toss my cup in the garbage and file out of the shop with the other late night customers. He smiles and asks me to please come again.
I hide I hear everything too loudly I am falling apart I grew up too fast I am still a child I cannot stand still I see every detail I panic I cannot remember what I'm doing I talk about dinosaurs and doctors and darkrooms I cry for no reason I do not have the ability to cry now I see the world differently I wish you saw it like me I have a puzzle to put together I wonder if you'll help me I hear a song and must sing it I see a picture and must take it I see a world, a broken world I want to fix that, too I want to play I need to work I close my eyes and fall asleep I remember everything I forget my head I stand in blue light I see the world in shades of blue I am lost I have been waiting for you I am the empty child Are you my mommy?