Friday, April 20, 2012

Why I am an Atheist (part two)

This is part two of this article, you can find part one by following this link.

Part II: The Imagined, the fantastic, the miraculous and the ridiculous

As a child, I spent a lot of time living in my imagination, as I think most children do. I had a lot of toys when I was young, in fact rarely did a Christmas or birthday go by without receiving a complete set of some kind of toy. One Christmas it was M.A.S.K, another Voltron, and one Christmas I even got the complete set of these little bug guys with antennae on their head, called Sectaurs. It was kind of curious because I didn't ask for them, in fact I had no clue what they were, but I took great delight in the use of them in scaring my mother. There was one bug toy in particular that comes to mind, it was a weird plastic bug thing with a few legs, antennae and pincers.

You would take one of the toy bug people and mount him to a saddle that rested on the back of this bug, and you would insert your hand down a black sock like cloth mechanism that was fitted on the underside and allowed your fingers to be inserted into the back of this bug's head. It allowed you to work the bug much like a puppet and two rings attached on the inside could be pulled to open and close the pincers. As I said, receiving these toys from my mother was weirdly curious, after all, she made no secret her distaste for insects, arachnids, reptiles, or amphibians. In fact, as I recall, if it wasn't human she didn't really like it at all.

We never had pets growing up, though this might have more to do with the fact that my grandparents did not like them, than my parents, but of this I cannot be sure. I remember on one occasion, a gray cat having been curious, found its way on to the porch of our house. Being children, and not allowed to have pets and basically not allowed to play with animals, my younger brother and I would of course play with it. We started to feed it, which, although as a kid seems the right thing to do, as an adult I can appreciate why you don't do such a thing now. The cat returned day after day, meowing away, begging for food and purring when it received any kind of attention.

My father caught on to what was going on. He grabbed the cat, put it in the car, drove away and returned an hour later. Deeply unhappy at what was going on, both my brother and I questioned my father as to where the cat was, to which he replied, “I took it out to the woods and left it.” I can't really be sure what happened to the cat, but I had hoped wherever it was, it was happy and being fed. Thinking back, I wonder if my father really took it out to the woods as he said, or, and I hate to even think about it, disposed of the cat in some other way. My mother tells me, my father wouldn't have hurt the cat, of this I am unsure and will choose to believe her on that.

What's even more disturbing, years later a similar situation arose, now in my teen years, a skinny orange cat appeared on the porch crying, obviously hungry. And of course, I fed it, and it purred and rammed its little head into my hand, content in the love I had shown it. Not remembering the first time a cat appeared on my porch, I saw no need to hide what I was doing, and day after day the cat returned, crying and begging to be fed. When my dad found out, something different happened, he petted the cat and talked to it. He talked to it?

This was a man who as I remember it, had trouble talking to his own children, at least in any constructive manner. But as I remember it, he talked to it, much like a parent talks to a baby, and went on his way. Soon the cat was always on the porch, in fact, I doubt it ever needed to leave at all. As the weeks, then months went by, it went from the skinny cat to a fat cat. My father would bring it food and water and again, talk to it. The only thing I can say of this is that for whatever reason, something in him had either changed in his attitude towards small animals or something chemical or physical in his brain had changed. I presume the latter is most likely the answer, as a person suffering from Multiple Sclerosis(MS) finds memories, and attitudes change as the disease progresses. My mother would be quick to point out I'm sure, that I had a pet hermit crab, however, I do not consider this a pet, anymore than I would consider a rock a pet.

Although a hermit crab is cool to watch, the rare times it actually moves its shell, it is for the most part as much of a pet as a rock would be. You never really feed it, leaving its food in a bowl or corner is all that is needed. You can't really play with it, picking it up results in it jamming itself tightly into its shell so that nothing could pry it loose. Talking to it, you might as well be talking to a rock, you will certainly get the same reaction. As far as the crab is concerned, you are most likely a predator that wants to eat it, and it better keep clear of you.

As I said before my imagination as a kid led me to play with all kinds of things. From playing board games, to video games and sports. My younger brother and I and a bunch of kids in the neighborhood loved to play baseball in the park across the street from my house. It wasn't a park designed for baseball, but it was close and it had a design that created the illusion of a baseball park. Of course, this might have just been part of a kid's imagination at work.

During the summers we played baseball everyday, and as I recall I was quite good. My favorite baseball player was Mark Langston, a pitcher for the Seattle Mariners at the time, and even though I was a die-hard Boston Red Sox fan through and through, this did not matter, for whatever reason, this guy was my baseball idol. When I climbed our pseudo pitcher's mound, a bunch of dirt we piled in the middle of the park in the shape of a mound, I imagined I was Mark Langston always trying to get that illusive perfect game. In his career Langston never pitched a perfect game, but he is remembered as one of the all-time greats, having one of the best pickoff moves to first base.

After a few years, sports took a back-burner to something more interesting...role-playing games(RPGs). It was my older brother who first introduced me to the world of RPGs, the first being the game Dungeons & Dragons(D&D). Entire nights during the summers were dedicated to playing the game, sitting on the porch, drinking kool-aid and envisioning the worlds that existed only in this wondrous imaginary universe. Speaking with gamers now on the subject, I find most are Atheists, not all mind you, but most that I have talked to. It is a curiosity to me why someone that considers himself to be so grounded in science, would find pleasure in a world that is unlike anything real-world. It would make more sense that someone devoutly religious would gain more pleasure from the imaginary world of D&D than someone who bases their beliefs on the very opposite.

However, I must point out, in the 1980's TSR, the manufacturer of D&D at the time, came under fire by Christian organizations for its use of Satanism, witchcraft, suicide, pornography, and murder. As a kid playing the game, I must admit there is some violence in the game, but I challenge you to find too many games that are completely free of violence, at least the fun ones. I don't ever recall an occasion where Satanism was ever discussed, in reality or in the fictional world we would play in, in fact, I imagine, had just such a topic arisen, I likely would have objected to it purely on the basis that Satan is as real to me as God, and by this I mean the judeo christian version people belief in and not some fictional God in the game.

Since I believe in neither, and neither have anything to do with the game in which we are playing, it would seem to me such a topic would just be out of place. Now you could make the argument that none of the content of D&D exists in the real world, and you'd be right, after all Dragons aren't likely to be flying around anytime soon. The difference is that no one, with the exception of the very crazy, believe Dragons might be flying around amongst us, though many people believe in both Satan and God, without any evidence as to their existence.

As to matters of witchcraft, suicide, pornography and murder, all I can say is, witchcraft is only a part of the game as much as prayer to a fictional God is, they both happen in the game but neither is a central theme, or even a matter of importance to most. Those who find themselves committing suicide in the game, will likely find the rest of their time quite a boring one, watching others play, while you twiddle your thumbs, all in the hopes the Dungeon Master(DM) might see fit to resurrect your character in whatever comical way he or she sees fit. D&D and pornography is actually quite a laughable concept to me.

Though I imagine, that amongst very adult games with no children involved, this seems quite possible, we must consider that even in the real world there is sex. However, when I was a teenager the thought of mixing sex and games together was not even in the equation. Thinking back, I can't recall a single game where this happened, though now these days, it is arguably more common place. Lastly...murder. Yes, I confess I was responsible for many the death of orcs and bandits while playing D&D.

I find it odd that Christian organizations would protest the fictional murder of imaginary evil creatures, but say nothing of the very real world murder of millions of people all over the world every year. To me it is a travesty that children are murdered every day throughout the world and the only people seemed concerned are those related to the victims.

To me taking the life of anyone, is abhorrent, yet astonishingly most Christians find satisfaction in the death penalty. So, Christians seem more concerned with the fake deaths of millions of orcs that die each year in the world of D&D, than the sanctioned revenge-based executions of real-life human beings at the hands of the government. In even more ridiculousness, Christians seem overly zealous in their need to protect the unborn fetuses who's existence has not yet even been determined. Merely a few cells in a womb, comparable at worst to a flake of skin on the end of your elbow or at best the complexity of a frog.

This is more highly regarded than the life of a fully developed, living, breathing, human being who's life although maybe tragic, is filled with a vast wealth of experiences and knowledge that in comparison to the experience and knowledge of an unborn fetus, is clearly more valuable. But this is a topic I will further discuss later in the article.

In 1993, a professor at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington by the name of Richard Garfield approached the CEO of a small gaming company out of Washington by the name of Wizards of the Coast. Garfield had been working on the game since his days as a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania. He had actually developed quite a few games, his first at age 13, but it was RoboRally a game he developed in 1985, along with Magic: the Gathering(MTG), that he was interested in publishing. Then CEO, Peter Adkinson, seemed more interested in MTG, than RoboRally, and on August, 5th 1993, MTG was made a general release to the public.

Although the game is far more complex a subject than I want to dedicate my time to talking about, I can give you a general synopsis of the rules and how a game is played. Typically, two players sit facing opposite each other. They each have a deck comprised of a minimum of forty cards. These cards are comprised of different aspects of the game. Some cards are lands, some are creatures, and some are purely spells. Players draw seven cards and take turns, drawing a card, and each placing a land from their hand on the table in front of them if they have one. Lands can be tapped (turned on their side) for mana.

Mana is the fuel that allows a player to put additional cards from his hand into play. There are five basic land types, each providing a different color of mana. Swamps produce black, mountains produce red, plains produce white, forests produce green, and islands produce blue. Each creature or spell has a cost associated with it, that determines how much mana is required to put it into play. Players tap their lands, giving them mana, and put a creature or spell into play. Creatures can be used to attack the opposite player. Some creatures have special abilities a player can use to gain an advantage in the game.

Spells can either be permanent, meaning they stay on the field of play, or they can only last until the end of the turn. Every spell has some special effect on the game, usually something that is advantageous to the player playing it. Players start with a life total of twenty. Each point of damage they suffer either by a creature, or spell results in a loss of one of their total life points. When any player reaches a life total of zero, they lose the game. Although this basically describes the game, it truly does no justice to it. The nuances of the game cannot be easily described. Simply put, MTG still holds out 19 years later as one of the best strategic games ever created. It has a massive following world-wide. Players from all over the world take part in tournaments, the larger ones for cash prizes.

Though D&D and MTG are very different games, they both seem to revolve around the same lore, which is easily comparable to the world created by J.R.R. Tolkien in the Lord of the Rings. Garfield admitted that he was highly influenced by D&D while creating MTG, and Gary Gygax, creator of D&D, stating he had not considered Lord of the Rings as a source of his material, it must be noted that several parts of D&D had to be altered to comply with copyright laws, because creature types and names had been directly taken from Lord of the Rings. So it is easy to see why I was so easily taken by MTG, having been such a fan of D&D.

For many years I collected the game, played it with a ruthless fervor, and allowed it to influence my tastes in other types of media, in particular movies and video games. For years I competed regularly, winning many tournaments and rising in the ranks amongst my peers. Over the years I have taken many breaks from the game, having been disenfranchised with some of the decisions made over the years. With the success of MTG, Wizards of the Coast became synonymous with household gaming as Hasbro, Atari, Nintendo, Milton Bradley, or Parker Brothers.

So it was no surprise to anyone when Hasbro purchased Wizards of the Coast. What did come as a surprise to gamers however, was one of the first things that Hasbro did was turn what had been a primarily teenager to adult game, because of its themes, into a game marketed toward younger children. And of greater astonishment was the callousness with which they arbitrarily changed the rules of the game.

The game had always been a game that involved a gambling aspect, before players actually drew their opening hands, they would ante the top card of their library as part of the stakes of playing the game. So each player had a reason to win the game, and play with a real competitive nature. After all, if you were truly unlucky you could end up with your Black Lotus as ante. Included in the game were devilishly delightful ante cards that altered the state of the game when you played them. Some allowed you to ante additional cards in exchange for an advantage, others allowed you to alter the card being anted in exchange for some disadvantage.

Because of the nature of the game, altering one's ante was considered an act of evil and as such most ante cards were black. Since I haven't mentioned it before, I'll do it now. The colors in the game represent the different characteristics of gameplay in the fictional world.

White is the color of order, righteousness, healing and law. Blue is the color of illusion, intellect and trickery. Black is the color of power, greed, ambition, and death. Red is the color of chaos, fury, and war. Green is the color of life, nature, evolution, and instinct.

Once Hasbro took over, cards that depicted demonic-like figures were phased out of the game, the act of gambling was phased out of the game, and cards that featured text that made any reference to anything that could be considered controversial, were also removed. It was, as I referred to it, the Pussification of Wizards of the Coast. It took many years before Hasbro allowed a demonic-like figure, or even the word demon to appear on a card. Ante cards have never remade an appearance. I still play the game at times, but I have retired from competitive play for now.

One thing that I can say was that when we played the game, we never considered that we were playing with demons or devils or anything religious, to us they were just cards and idea that a picture of a demon or the word demon should rise to the level of a ban, especially in the light of the game becoming more compliant with a younger audience, seems ridiculous. After all, how many millions of children attend a church each week, sit in their seats, and listen to a preacher talk about the devil and demons and some pretty disturbing things. And here is the best part of it, NO ONE can claim that MTG depicts anything but pure fiction.

No reasonable person would believe that the cards are meant to be anything but the work of pure fantasy, however the religious people who visit church each week, read their bibles and preach their religion believe all of it. That means in their eyes the bible that they read to their children is real, contains real stories and events and depicts tremendous acts of cruelty and evil at the hands of not only men, but God himself, the Devil, angels and demons.

I'll take it a step further and say any parent who would allow their child to watch horrific movies depicting violence, death and evil acts, speak with hateful, bigoted and incendiary words, or deliberately choose ignorance over knowledge is a bad and possibly abusive parent, certainly one that shows delinquent behavior. Most people, and I'm guessing a lot of religious ones, would agree with that statement, however the Bible depicts all of these things. The bible is filled with violence, death and evil:

And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him. - Genesis 4:8

And the LORD plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai Abram's wife. - Genesis 12:17

And they journeyed: and the terror of God was upon the cities that were round about them, and they did not pursue after the sons of Jacob. - Genesis 35:5

And I say unto thee, Let my son go, that he may serve me: and if thou refuse to let him go, behold, I will slay thy son, even thy firstborn. - Exodus 4:23

And my wrath shall wax hot, and I will kill you with the sword; and your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless. -Exodus 22:24

Leviticus alone is filled with passages over and over again, depicting ritualistic animal sacrifice. Obviously there are tons of passages I could have added here but frankly I didn't have to go through very much of the Bible to actually find these. The Bible contains countless references to hate speech:

If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them. - Leviticus 20:13

Pour out thy wrath upon the heathen that have not known thee, and upon the kingdoms that have not called upon thy name. - Psalm 79:6

Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? - 2 Corinthians 6:14

For ye, brethren, became followers of the churches of God which in Judaea are in Christ Jesus: for ye also have suffered like things of your own countrymen, even as they have of the Jews.  Who both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary to all men  - 1 Thessalonians 2:14-15

I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan. - Revelation 2:9

Many people will contend that the Hebrew text, that is the old testament is a depiction of God before the birth of Christ, and that many of these things are gone with the birth of Christ, and the introduction of the New Testament. I would like to point out that the last line there was a quote directly from Revelation as one coming from the mouth of Jesus Christ himself. In that one line, Jesus calls the Jews lying Satan worshipers. I should also point out this isn't the only passage in the bible where Jesus Christ speaks with such words. And as to the contention that the Bible is filled with ignorance just read these five passages:

Make thee an ark of gopher wood; rooms shalt thou make in the ark, and shalt pitch it within and without with pitch. And this is the fashion which thou shalt make it of: The length of the ark shall be three hundred cubits, the breadth of it fifty cubits, and the height of it thirty cubits. - Genesis 6:14-15

But all other flying creeping things, which have four feet, shall be an abomination unto you. -Leviticus 11:23

Then the earth shook and trembled; the foundations also of the hills moved and were shaken, because he was wroth. - Psalm 18:7

And after these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree. - Revelation 7:1

And the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star fall from heaven unto the earth: and to him was given the key of the bottomless pit. - Revelation 9:1

In the first passage, Noah is tasked with making an ark that is 450 feet long, that will be able to hold two of each species of animal from all over the world. Maybe it works like Santa's toy sack, but I don't know. In the next passage God declares that all insects are an abomination, the only problem is that insects have six appendages not four, and God should know that if he created them.

And since we are on the subject why would God create anything, only to declare it an abomination later? Since he is God, would he not have known this before creating it, and thus not create it instead? In the third passage, and it is said in many many passages after, whenever God is angered earthquakes are created. By this rationale, God must be very angry at the people who live in California and Japan.

In the next passage the Earth is referred to as having four corners, depicting a flat Earth. Something that was believed to be true for a long time, until a man by the name of Christopher Columbus set sail toward the horizon and discovered the Earth was actually round. The flat Earth reference is made more than a few times throughout the Bible.

And in the final passage I have listed, an angel spots a Star falling to the Earth. As large as the Earth may seem, it pales in comparison to the stars, not to mention a star moving toward the Earth, would not fall so much as use its gravity to pull the Earth into its Corona, destroying it. Now I have left two important passages out which I chose to rather talk a little bit about instead, because these two things in the Bible cause the biggest controversy amongst people, In the beginning... and the virgin birth.

According to the Genesis creation account, God created the Earth, than he created the light and the stars. Then he created birds and whales, and then he created reptiles and insects. These events are in direct contradiction to science. We know that first came the Universe, then the Galaxies of Stars, then the systems of planets. Once the Earth formed, a long process of Evolution took place creating many things before insects and reptiles, and certainly the birds and whales. Birds are descendants of the reptiles, and whales are mammals which didn't form until much much later.

If you take Genesis as a factual account you are left with some odd problems, for instance, God makes light, which he turns into day, and darkness, which he turns into night on the first day. The problem is that God then waits until the fourth day to make the stars, which are needed to produce the light he creates on the first day. God also blunders by making plants on the third day, when they won't actually thrive, because the photosynthesis that plants all need to survive won't come until the fourth day when he creates the sun and stars.

The virgin birth is a problematic concept, the idea being that fertilization of an egg is possible with only one parent. In asexual reproduction such a thing would be possible, however humans do not reproduce this way, sexual reproduction requires that a male be present to fertilize the egg the female produces. Thus it makes the entire sequence of events impossible. Now Christians contend that God miraculously made Mary pregnant.

Miracles are a great thing because they are capable of flying in the face of a millions years of evolution and scientific progress and understanding. So let's say for the sake of argument God is invisible, this would allow him to move sight unseen into Mary's bedroom. See even if God could do this, he would still need biology, because we are biological creatures, subject to the laws of biology and evolution. What's the point of creating the universe, populating it with all these laws, and not following them. It seems more likely that such a being would also be subject to such laws, at least while within this universe that has them.

That means sperm is needed to fertilize the egg, so the invisible God would have to, without being felt, we'll assume she was asleep, insert his miraculous penis into her vagina, without tearing her hymen of course, after all she is still a virgin when Jesus is born, and inject his miracle sperm into her. Hmm, by any account if that story was told to someone and you didn't use the words God or Invisible, he would be a rapist and Mary would be his victim. After all, she refutes having had intercourse, though she is married to Joseph, and is suddenly pregnant, and oh yeah God is the father, but she doesn't remember it.

So either God is seriously light on his feet and Mary has a sleep disorder, or he used a magic pill and roofied her. Or Joseph impregnates his wife, Mary is not a virgin, and Jesus is not the son of God. There is a principle of science referred to as Occam's razor. It basically states whenever faced in any given situation with the possibility of multiple explanations, choosing the simplest explanation over the more complex one tends to be the right one.

In part three I will continue to look at the events that shape our lives, and some of the ones that shaped mine, as well as further continue my descent into religion.

UPDATE: You can find part three here

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