Irreligiosity does not mean Irresponsibility

I was chatting with an old classmate of mine recently, and I asked him what he was doing for the holidays. He said that he was reliving the good old days of first (freshman) year; he was drinking well into the wee hours of the morning nearly every other day. I rebuked him. I said to him, now is the time for us to live responsibly. That we were at a critical time in our development, and so we couldn’t squander it away in alcohol.
When we were freshmen, we lived irresponsibly. We would get drunk every Friday night to Saturday morning, then some more from Saturday night to Sunday morning. And maybe it was fine then, but it certainly isn’t anymore. Well, my life got a little more complicated just after the first year of medical school. First, I started feeling the weight of my academics more severely, then even religious guilt reared its ugly head.
You see, I was essentially living a double life; living differently with my friends at the university, which was a long distance from home; than the way I lived with my friends at home, none of whom went to my university. I was irreligious and liberal with my friends at the university, and quite religious and conservative with my friends at home. And I did this first as an experiment with a different lifestyle; but after a year, I was done with it.
Two things were going on here, irresponsibility and sin. I was both irresponsible and sinful. And now that I am twenty-five, I am more responsible. Sinful still, but responsible. I don’t get drunk quite as often, I sleep less, and I spend my time and money more responsibly. I bring this up because I have noticed quite too often that well-meaning people fail to make that distinction between what’s responsible and what’s sinful. They often mistake what is sinful for what is irresponsible and so make the erroneous conclusion that all sinful people, like myself, are irresponsible.
I come across this testimony a bit too frequently, by a person that gave their life to Christ (converted to Christianity), and it often goes like this. The person was living both sinfully and irresponsibly, and so their life was a mess. Then they had an epiphany and gave their lives to Christ. After their rehabilitation, their lives changed for the better. And all of this wouldn’t have been possible if they hadn’t converted to Christianity. After all, only God could bring about that change in a person’s life.
Duh, of course, their lives got better. They were living irresponsibly and now they are not. That doesn’t mean, however, that sin in moderation will inevitability lead you down the same path of distraction that these people were on. Getting drunk once in a while, fornication and a little dishonesty now and then, while they are all sins, do not have incredible potential to bring you misfortune. Sometimes one may be unlucky when they sin, but that’s all, bad luck. Not divine forces conspiring against you, just a bad hand.
It is when sin is done in excess that it becomes incredibly destructive. In fact, even good things done in excess can have the same destructive effects. For example, it is a thing in some Christian sects for people to pray overnight. They may go on from 9 pm to 6 am. While this is fine every now and then, say once a month, doing so weekly seems a bit irresponsible. Not to mention the numerous meetings that include but are not limited to; the Sunday service, lunch break fellowships, and mid-week services. And while I get that churches have all these meetings for the convenience of their diverse membership, some redundant youth are taking out all their time in unemployment to attend as many of these as they can. How irresponsible of them!
There is a challenge here, and I blame our upbringing for it. We were not given good reasons for good behavior in childhood. Many times, this is all we were told, bad people go to hell and have a lot of misfortune while good people go to heaven and enjoy God’s blessings. Which is total BS because nobody knows for sure what happens in the afterlife, if at all there is an afterlife, and bad people often don’t pay for their sins in this life. So why do good?
Because it is the responsible thing to do. I find the law of the land very helpful here. Unlike the Bible, and probably any other holy book, our actions or inactions are not either sinful or not but rather arguably good or bad. Drinking alcohol before the legal age is bad because one is not considered discerning enough to drink responsibly. And the most important thing about sex is that whoever is involved is consenting to it. And as a minor, you can’t really consent to it. You don’t have the understanding and emotional capacity to have sex. Not that that ever stopped teenagers from having sex, but neither did threats of misfortune and hell.
Anyway, this is my point all along. You may have been living both sinfully and irresponsibly as a Christian, but now you can live sinfully and responsibly. Your irresponsibility may have led you to much destruction, but turning your life around does not require you to stop sinning. Not that you shouldn’t stop sinning; you should if you want to, but you don’t have to. You do not have to be religious to live responsibly. You can be irreligious and lead a responsible lifestyle. After all, not all sin is irresponsible.

Featured image from pexels

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Not for theists

A while back, my mum had dreadlocks. Then she attended a certain Christian women’s fellowship. And while at this fellowship, one of the speakers publicly called her out for it. The speaker’s argument was that the hairstyle was not befitting of a lady of her status. I bet even more inappropriate because she is a clergy man’s wife. My mum was so distressed by the speaker’s remarks that she took them out.

 

Why am I bringing this up though? Because maybe like mum, I care a little too much about what other people think of me. And by other people I mean Christians. In particular here, I may have been too concerned with what Christians would think of my blog to even blog well. And even if few people read my blog anyway, this has always been a significant concern of mine. Christians have actually been that important to me.

 

I was raised Anglican. So Christianity, and especially Anglicanism, was very important in my upbringing. So much so that when I broached the idea of going to a Catholic school for my secondary education, my dad wouldn’t even entertain the idea. Consequently, all that religious influence affects my blogging about religion. Even as an atheist, I retain a little but significant level of concern for how I am perceived by religious folk who also happen to be my folk.

 

I don’t want to offend Christians unnecessarily, which is not a bad thing. Problem is, I am not here for them. My blog, at least as of 2018, is more for atheists than it is for theists. It is primarily here to meet the needs of atheists. To reassure them that they are not crazy, confused, or possessed by the devil for thinking the way they think. To let them know that they are in good company, especially if they have a history with Christianity. Well, that is the altruistic side of it. The other and the probably more important reason I blog here is for me to process and vent my own thoughts and frustrations with Christianity and religion as a whole.

 

That being said, why should I be so concerned if it rubs religious people the wrong way? And my concern may be misguided anyway. I can scarcely imagine a Christian who wouldn’t take offense in such candid discourse as is already up on this blog. Yet it’s still so agonizing for me to post here as I do. As I blog, memories of the people I left in Church come to mind. I see them see me now as such a Judas. That I betrayed them or even was being dishonest with them while I was still with them. And it is true, I was dishonest. I was pretty much living a double life for the last four years I was a Christian. Not in bad faith really, but because I couldn’t let them know just how hard it was for me to keep up with them. Fortunately, I am now actually more honest than I ever was when I was still a Christian.

 

And being more honest especially with the people that are closest to me has actually proved to be a huge comfort. Like recently, I had a conversation with my mum about what exactly my views on God and religion were. Which is a conversation I had had several times with her before, but I guess one has to explain every so often this kind of thing. You really have to be patient especially with your parents. But at least she is trying to understand and accept my point of view. What is especially hard to explain is that atheism does not necessarily mean that one believes there is no God or gods but rather that one does not believe in any such God or gods.

 

It is also very scary being honest with the people closest to you; people whose approval you actually crave the most. But even if my mum had reacted negatively to my views, at least that would have taken the guessing out of our relationship. It really makes blogging and even living as an atheist a little bit easier. Now I know that there are people for whom honesty is much higher stakes than it is for me, and for them, I prescribe generous amounts of dishonesty. But for the rest of us, honesty will probably save us much-needed resources in our lives as atheists. For starters, we won’t waste time and effort trying to please people that can not, in fact, be pleased with us.

 

So what’s going to be different about this blog; a lot less sympathy for Christianity. I have been too sympathetic with Christianity in the past. Though to be fair, I had already started going harder at it with posts like ‘a new standard for a post-religious society‘. I guess this is simply a warning that there will be more posts like that. What I won’t do however is be too critical of religion. I think religion is severely flawed, but also some flaws tend to be nonissues. Like a lot of crazy shit in the Bible is not representative of Christianity today. It is however very important to know these minor but irksome details in the Bible since they are invaluable in an atheist’s arsenal against religious zealots.

 

In conclusion, this is not a blog for theists, much less for Christians. If you are theist and you read my blog, kudos to you because you are more open-minded than many of us here. And you are expanding your knowledge of the world by a great deal by engaging with people whose opinions are opposed to your own. That said, I will proceed much less like you are here than like you were not here. Nothing personal, just doing what’s best for me and my fellow atheists.

Featured image: A nod to the Satanic church. The church does not espouse any belief in deities including God and Satan. Rather, it uses the word satan from its Hebrew translation as a mode of behavior which is that of opposition to belief in deities.

The audacity of scepticism, by a clergy man’s son

About a month ago, I returned home from medical school. And home meaning that you have to abide by the rules of the home. Now I don’t have much issue with staying in line but I am also aware that I have changed in a significant number of ways that my otherness from the rest of my family cannot go unnoticed. Of course, I have always been returning home for the holidays while still in school so it is no shocker that I don’t go to church on Sundays. However, I still feared that when I was still in school, my parents were only ignoring my rebellion for a moment to allow me better focus on my studies. Then when I had finished, they would probably meet me more strongly. Fortunately, I was wrong.

 

A few days ago, I did something that I knew my Dad wouldn’t approve of. So when I did it, I most certainly expected some pushback. But there wasn’t. Honestly, in that moment, I felt a little less pleased with myself for what I had done. It was a moment of clarity, in fact. Was this just a phase or was I actually resolved in the way I wanted to live my life as an adult? Was it just the excitement of being a rebellious child that had inspired my leaving the church or was I actually being mature about it. And in that moment, the answer was clear; it’s a bit of both.

 

Yes, I am resolved to choose the way of irreligiosity as an adult, and that being of sound mind. But I can’t deny the thrill of being eccentric. I have always and still want to be a bit different. Especially in the values I hold, I don’t want to just receive some hand me downs from my parents. No, I want to forge my own, with some input from them, but my own values nonetheless. Fortunately, though, the rationality behind my choices on the subject of religion is far more compelling than the excitement of being eccentric.

 

And I am not so eccentric anyway. I know a great number of religious skeptics that I think that at least for my demographic, they might make up the majority of the religious people. And I don’t consider religious-religious skeptics to be much different than irreligious-religious skeptics like myself (it’s a bit confusing I know, but stick with me). Many would rather keep a respectable distance from irreligious people like myself and yet they are respectful nonetheless. It is this realization that makes me even more comfortable in my camp.

 

But this post is more about my being a clergy man’s son. Hard as it may be for some to understand, there is no irony in that. Whenever people get to know me before knowing my father, they are shocked to later discover that I am a religious skeptic that is actually a clergy man’s son. That is because of the presumption that he practices his sermons with us before going up to the pulpit, which cannot be farther from the truth. I actually haven’t listened to any of my father’s sermons in years.

 

Not to say that he is a bad father in that regard, but that he hasn’t taken so keen an interest in my spiritual life as many would expect him to. He is actually interested but not in a way that he has required of me to believe like he does. He has done the big stuff: baptized us, made sure we went to Sunday school and even took us to religious schools, especially the Anglican ones. He always gave me the funds I needed to go to religious events like camps and mission trips. And even when I preferred to go to a church a little farther away from home, he made sure I had the transport there. But after the church service, or the camp, or the mission trip, he never asked me what I’d taken from it. Maybe he just wanted me to be exposed and then be free to make my own conclusions about it.

 

My father and I have never had the conversation where I so directly state that I am no longer a Christian but instead some version of atheist. Even then, there hasn’t been much conflict. He has largely turned a blind eye to my rebellion over the past few years and I hesitate to say anything that would jeopardize this sweet arrangement that we have. If it ain’t broken, it don’t need fixing. Yet it seems to me that his attitude towards my spiritual life has what has largely enabled my audacity of skepticism, and I am very thankful for that.

 

I did the whole thing, Sunday school, got saved, got confirmed at twelve, served in the church, went to fellowships five times a week, went on mission trips, Christian camps and even started this blog initially to spread the word of God. But look at me now. See where all that led me, to religious skepticism. So to say that my skepticism is even in part due to my upbringing would be preposterous. No, it just wasn’t for me and that is more a consequence of nature; the nature of the religion I was raised in and much less of nurture; the way I was raised in the context of this religion.

 

A lot of you may be in a place like I am. You may not be clergy men’s children but your parents are pretty religious nonetheless. I hope you realize that you did your best to keep in line. I have personally made some big sacrifices in the past to preserve my religion and yet still left it. What I won’t have anyone do however is cast the blame on me or my parents for how I turned out. That they didn’t do enough or that I didn’t do enough and that maybe if we had done such and such a thing then things would have been different. In the end, I am content where I stand and wish the same for you as well.

 

Featured image: Three generations of the Grahams, from billygraham.org. Unlike myself, the Graham sons not only believe in God like their fathers but also work in the ministry. 

Atheists, respect theists

You know that thing where a writer tells an elaborate story, and then turns around, in the end, to unexpectedly announce that it was all a dream? Well, that’s not what’s about to happen. Well, I also called myself a writer but let’s let that slide; you get my point.

 
So I had a crazy dream. Not the craziest though, I have had worse! They are why I often say that if God really spoke to me then it would definitely be through my dreams. In this dream, I was being an arse to my family as usual. I didn’t want to join them in their lame family gathering or their stupid religious rituals. So I was going on and on to my mum until she got disinterested enough for me to get bored. Then I moved on to another audience, kids! Not so young though but significantly younger than me. They are my nephews and nieces; teenagers.

 
Now my cousin, their father, seems to me to have only recently found religion, and he’s in it deep. I am very skeptical about it. In his house was all this religious stuff. Like a huge bible-shaped clock, a picture of those praying hands, bible verses on the wall… and it didn’t even look good. It was all crowded up in there in the living room. Then I in poor judgment start to pick his children’s minds on the whole situation.

 
“What do you think about your dad being so religious?” I asked. They gave me some vague answer that I don’t remember. Then we went on talking some more about their views on religion. But again, I don’t remember what was said, which is as most dreams go anyway. But after some time, my cousin, their father, walked into the room and called on me. He had some transparent pants for me to wear and I kid you not, it was not weird. Unfortunately, they didn’t fit. Even more shocking was the fact that up until then, I had not noticed that I was naked. So I looked up at him in shock, half embarrassed and fully ashamed of my indecency before his young children. And that’s when he boiled over.

 
Turns out, he’d been listening to our little conversation on religion from just outside of the living room and he was not impressed. Basically, he accused me of undermining his authority and intelligence in front of his children, more so in his own home. In my defense, I protested, they are teenagers. They are beginning to come into their own. They are not so young as to have no impressions on the validity of the religion their parents would have them subscribe to. But he wouldn’t have any of it! And by the time I woke up, I’d gotten his point.

 
Thank god it was a dream because it isn’t so unlike me to act in such a way. Of course without the whole nudity stunt. Maybe bare-chested but nothing more. Anyway, his point was this, that we are compelled to act in a certain way simply because it is the nicer more respectful thing to do. Maybe I don’t believe in God, and maybe his kids are having doubts, but to ‘stumble’ them down a road of faithlessness, especially as minors, more so in his own home against his wishes as their father was overstepping my bounds and not nice. And even if you think, like I do, that children should be free to choose their religious beliefs or disbeliefs, I am not sure at what age that kind of freedom would be appropriate.

 
Interestingly, this cousin of mine actually knows about my irreligiosity in real life and he’s very respectful of it. This dream then came to me as a heads up for what I should do in respect for his religiousness when it comes to dealing with his kids. Also, I will have you know that I am not some weirdo that actually believes he is receiving divine messages in his dreams. I subscribe more to the theory that dreams are a product of our brains reorganizing the information in them. And that by analyzing them one may better understand their psyche, their emotions, and motivations. So I take them seriously, especially the crazy ones, but not as messages from above.

 
Where is the place for respect in our religious discourse? I say it is quite important that we respect the views of people that disagree with us. Unless they are clearly being irrational or malicious in their beliefs. Which is quite hard because either side of the debate tends to think that the other is being irrational and malicious. But if we begin from a point of respect and niceness, we tend to have less friction between us and them. For example, because my cousin respects my skepticism, we are bound to have much fewer falling outs over religion than if he didn’t. What obviously remains is for me to respect his religiosity.

 
It is what it is. We have different views, there are different schools of thought and peace would be impossible if we demanded that we all agree first. Not to say that we should never fight. No, people who don’t vaccinate their children should be reprimanded for threatening public health; a father who honor kills his daughter that has been raped does not, in fact, love her; and freedom of religion is also freedom from religion. We can not fight for good in such areas without rubbing each other the wrong way. However, in the midst of all this war, some battles are rather unnecessary.

 

Featured image: Ken Ham, the Ark Encounter, and Creation Museum president. He is a young earth creationist well known for his scientifically inaccurate arguments.

A new standard for a post-religious society

There is a paragraph (probably the only one that I know) from the declaration of independence that I really like for what it reveals about humanity, that “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…”

 
We are all capable of empathy, and out of empathy are borne tenets like “do no harm.” Why, because it really hurts the other person, period. It is from carefully considering the well being of others that we can universally come to the conclusion that some truths are self-evident and don’t need much arguing for to be accepted in practice. It is because of this empathy that we don’t need everything written down for it to be acceptable, and neither need to limit our goodness to what has already been written down in laws.

 
That said, we still need laws and we need these laws to be enforced for them to be of any effect. Take for an example my country. We have a really bad habit of littering. People don’t mind throwing trash out of the windows of their automobiles and even right in the middle of your compound when they come to visit! (Yeah, it happened.) But that is because the laws are not enforced enough to coerce people into doing the right thing, to put the trash in the trash can. I, therefore, posit that in countries where people are conscious of where they put their trash, they do so because there are constant reminders not to do otherwise.

 
So we need constant reminders of what is good. These reminders are the laws that we make and the enforcers of these laws. And we need to teach these laws to our children. When they are young, gullible and malleable so that when they grow older, they will not do otherwise. Many times I am shocked to find an adult doing something so obviously wrong when I’d have expected them to know better. Simply put, they don’t know better because they were not taught like I was in childhood.

 
Certain things are rather obvious like though shall not kill another human being probably because of the strong emotions such actions elicit. Other things are rather benign, like cleaning up after yourself and so need to be actively taught. Still, some things that one would consider obviously wrong elicit no negative emotions in another person. Take for an example genocide. The perpetrators of genocide may be so perverse that they have lost all sensitivity to the emotions that killing another human being evokes. For such people as these, we have to state even the obvious in our laws.

 
Now I don’t think I need to argue for the utility of laws in building communities. Like laws prohibiting your neighbors from playing loud music on a Sunday night when you have to sleep early because you have school the following day. What I hope to illustrate though is that laws are made by the people, for the people. It is rather obvious, but I’ll go ahead and state it because you just don’t seem to get me.

 
Let me take an example from the Bible; take for example the suggestions put forth by Paul to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. I bet you those guidelines banning women from speaking in church served that community alright but now we have to consider whether we can follow the same in our modern churches. Does this law serve the people it is made for? I suggest that we do away with laws that fail to hold up to their purpose of aiding us to live better with each other. And note that I didn’t say we should re-interpret them. I think that by maintaining the obsolete texts, especially holding them up in such a place of importance as we do, we only create confusion. True, there will always be a bit of confusion with interpreting any law but I am still of the view that we can do much better than the Bible in some cases.

 
In setting standards, personal and institutional, I think the most important guideline should be that they cater for the good of all men they affect. This calls for the highest levels of empathy. And I don’t think that any law, holy or otherwise should be exempt from the test of empathy. The way we treat minorities, the weak and underrepresented should reek of empathy no matter what the laws that already exist dictate.

 
By the way, these laws are made by the people. On close inspection, I see much of the writers’ context and limitations of insight and knowledge littering what we consider to be guidelines from God. And by refusing to acknowledge this, holding that these laws are perfect, we only stifle progress by constantly looking back to what Paul or whoever wrote these things said. Because some things are really self-evident, like the fact that all men are “created” equal, and that no man should be enslaved by another even when the bible condones it (Ephesians 6:5-6, Colossians 3:22, 1 Timothy 6:2, Titus 2:9, 1 Peter 2:18,). There is definitely some good stuff to keep but that which we keep should be arguably empathetic and beneficial for progress as an ethical and productive species.

 
It really hurts me to see good people take a license from the Bible to do bad things. It honestly saddens me more than it infuriates me. Cos I could be angry at a person that means malice but completely flabbergasted when faced with a person that is oblivious to their fault. Now how do we begin to reconcile with them? When I think of the harm that we’ve caused minorities in our societies simply because we didn’t pause to empathize with them, I am ashamed. Worse still, we may continue to cause such harm and more for as long as we are given license to do so by our archaic ‘holy’ books.

 
But what if these books were not so holy? What if these texts were written by men without divine intervention? We’d be free to reinvent them. We’d be free to be good to our fellow men. I remember myself being so distressed by the vagueness and impracticality of religious practice. Taking a break from all these laws, loosening my reverence for them, took me a long way in bettering my mental health. This is what I hope for all of you fellow doubters then, that you’d take a chill pill as well.

Featured image by Rene Asmussen from Pexels

Losing Faith was inevitable

I was having tea with a classmate when we started reflecting on the five years of medical school now nearly behind us. I told him, I don’t consider these to have been five long years as many would expect me to. I mean, it was expected; that is what it would take to become someone that is responsible for preserving human life. However, when I consider how far I have come since I first joined medical school, indeed it has been long. And I have changed a lot in one particular way that has been a subject of contention among my peers, and that is faith.

I told him, perhaps that was also to be expected. It could easily be a side effect of my training. Notice how we have been trained to disregard people’s claims of being bewitched or miraculously healed when clerking patients. We have been told that the highest form of evidence is that which is generated by experimentation. And even if we were to simply observe natural events, they’d have to be statistically significant to amount to any scientific evidence. The keyword here is ‘science’. We have been taught to trust science and little else. So if somewhere along the way I grew out of my faith, it is not so surprising.

Sam Harris says this of religious scientists, they are frauds. To think that you can suspend reason on Sunday only to pick it up again on Monday morning every single week is akin to having one’s cake and eating it at the same time, I paraphrase. In fact, I wonder how there aren’t more atheists and doubters in science. Are the religious scientists actually bad scientists? Well, that’s a question for another post. Which is, are nonreligious people smarter than religious people? For now, I’d like for the atheist to appreciate what parts of their experience have inevitably led them to the conclusion that God’s not real, or dead, or at least not all that he’s been cracked up to be.

I am not talking about all the facts or nonfacts in support of the claim that there is no God, but rather, the thought processes that make you less likely to see the world from a religious person’s point of view. I have already explored science, now let us talk about morality.

Morality is not as solid as religious folk would have us believe. Take for example the recent royal wedding between Prince Harry and a divorced Meghan. Why again did King Edward abdicate the throne? Did it have nothing to do with him wanting to marry a divorced woman no less? How about Princess Margaret and Peter Townsend? Remind me again why that couldn’t happen. And why is Prince Charles still first in line for the throne (even after marrying a divorced woman)? Isn’t the simple answer actually that times, as well as morality, have changed?

My point is this, I like the Royals. In striving to keep in favor with their subjects, they have left us all morally confused. Better still, they have set a precedent for all that want to challenge the rules and traditions of the Anglican church. Actually, that’s not my point. They can do the hell they like as long as I am still a citizen of a sovereign democratic state (at least that’s what my president would have me believe). Well, they still affect me in a way but not as much as if the queen was as queens used to be and my queen at that.

My actual point is, times have changed as they were bound to. The morals by which biblical Israel lived more than 2000 years ago do not serve the case for a just God today as they did then.

For example, it was then acceptable to have a state-sponsored religion to which everyone had to be a part. An arrangement that even Christians in Islamic countries would frown upon today. And I know that the situation in the Middle East is a little unlike Elijah’s time but there is an interesting denominator, and that is lack of freedom of religion. For instance, Elijah would be completely justified in murdering the prophets of Baal when they dared worship another god that is not the official God of Israel (1 Kings 18:17-40). Nowadays, we abhor extremists burning churches in the Middle East.

Now maybe that example is too severe. So consider this, children born to an Israelite by a foreign woman were second class citizens because it was against their law to marry non-Israelites (Deuteronomy 7:1-6, Ezra 10). They could be sent away at any time of spiritual reformation. How could such segregation grow into something like apartheid? Could disregard for the basic needs of people unlike your own be common to both Ezra’s time and apartheid. But forgive me for ever insinuating that the time of Ezra was anything like apartheid. Surely the Israelites handled their sectarianism much better than the British handled their racism.

Let’s bring it even closer to home, back to a time when the nation of Israel was yet to be born. Ishmael was sent away from the home of his birth simply because he was not a child of the promise. He and his mother were such a discomfort and an inconvenience to the child of the promise and his spoilt entitled mother. So since he was a second-class son, the choice was simple. He had to wander off in the wilderness with no father, no trust fund and no inheritance (Genesis 21:8-20). Such injustice!

But again, it was a different time, and a different understanding of what it meant to be good and just, and God. Now we have set a standard to which the God of the Bible could not possibly rise and that has made us rather unlikely to see Him and revere him as the Israelites did. Yet judging him and his people then by our current moral standards would be historical revisionism. That wouldn’t be fair.

And this is why I consider myself a perpetual skeptic, I am incapable of approaching the case for God in a way that would lead me to a positive conclusion. I have been so irrevocably scarred by science and contemporary morality that I couldn’t see otherwise. It seems to me that God, even the God of the Bible, could exist. Although he would be petty and unjust by today’s standards.

Featured image: Princess Margaret and Peter Townsend from here

What if you are wrong?

One thing that kept me religious for so long is the fear that in my inquisition, I might inadvertently come to the wrong conclusion. What if I determined that there was no God and then that turned out to be the wrong position to take on the matter? I would be doomed to eternal damnation. It is on the foundation of this fear that such philosophy as Pascal’s wager is built. That we are better off believing there is a God and later finding out there isn’t, than living like there is no God and then finding out there is one.
If we believed there was a God and later found that to be true, then we get to go to heaven. And even if we believed there was a God and later found that not to be true, we haven’t lost much, have we? On the other hand, should there be a God and yet we wrongly believed that there wasn’t, we’d certainly be damned to hell! It then follows that the most logical position to take would be that of theism or rather, Christianity, for Pascal was only referring to the Christian God. After all, whether or not the Christian God exists, if we believe that He exists, there is no loss like eternal damnation likely to befall us. But since Pascal only considered the Christian God (and due to many other oversights by Pascal), the philosophical standpoint therein is so severely flawed that it offers no respite from the daunting task of theology.
“What if you are wrong?” is a question that I have been asked many times before in arguments with Christians. It is often the last point after I have offered many logical arguments that they can not counter logically. And as if in a concession of defeat, they offer a point of caution, “What if you are wrong?” I will now offer an answer, but with a twist.
Every time I have been asked this question, I have assumed or the person asking heavily implied that this would be a crisis I am faced with while in between this life and the next. Say it was Judgment day and I was found still a nonbeliever. I am not sure what I would do in that case but now I am troubled by more earthly concerns in this post. What if today, tomorrow, next year or any other time in the future but before Judgment day there surfaces some irrefutable evidence that there is a God? Well, then I’d be wrong, wouldn’t I?
Hmm, it’s not that simple. Consider Prince William. Do you actually think he has no doubts as to whether or not God exists? Could he actually be an atheist at heart? And yet by virtue of his position he not only has to believe there is a God but also has to subscribe to a particular religion. I don’t think he has a say in the matter or if he did, it would be a catastrophe if ever he renounced his faith in God and Anglicanism. Not that I wouldn’t be happy for him but that I understand if he keeps his beliefs to himself. Not to say that he can’t be an Anglican through and through but that I can’t rule out the possibility that he isn’t at heart.
But you don’t have to be Prince William to stay in the closet. Religion is so enshrined in our societies that most people would suffer some loss if they left it. Just consider for a moment how many faith-based institutions there are in Uganda. Quite a number, aren’t they? Do you think religion plays only a minor role when considering a person for promotion in these institutions? Now consider how many options for promotion are left for an atheist after taking away all the faith-based opportunities. This is especially important in areas of health and education which were of particular interest to Christian missionaries.
And it shouldn’t be that simple. We threaten the status quo of society. We advocate for change and change is scarcely without pain even if that change is ultimately good. That we may be causing undue suffering to society should cause us to consider our actions very carefully. Should it be discovered in the future that I was wrong about God, or religion, abortion, sexuality, gender, race, ethnicity, the Gaza Strip, Shari’a law, and Donald Trump; I would be devastated, ashamed and profusely repentant. Why? Because these are matters of extreme importance to us as a species and to the world as one giant ecosystem.
So I am not taking this lightly. If ever I am wrong, at least I would have put in some effort at being right. Now I know I could do more, read more, watch more, listen more, debate some more, but I fear that religion is like a carpet woven so tightly you can’t unravel it without destroying its individual fibers. You are better off dumping it in the fire and buying new thread. But there are people that have made something of a career of unraveling religion and to them, I say kudos and good luck for I rely quite heavily on them.
In conclusion, here’s the point I am trying to make. Atheists, put in some effort. This is a matter of significant importance. Not only because religion is useful but much more because it is important. Complacency with regards inquiry into the facts and logic of our worldviews is what got us here in the first place. To proceed in the same manner will be nothing short of stupidity, terrorism, and genocide because these are things you enable with ignorance.

Featured image: Leonardo Da Vinci from the series Da Vinci’s Demons from here. In the series, an enlightened Da Vinci boldly challenges the status quo of his time. 

My kind of Skepticism

David Blaine on his show, “real or magic”, rightfully says that the greatest trick of all is when the magician performs a trick right before your eyes and yet leaves you still convinced that it is impossible. Now I really like illusionists. My fantasy is to become good friends with Dynamo and that he reveals to me the secret behind his “powers”. I have asked Google a number of times what she thinks about how illusionists do their tricks, but at times she’s rather ignorant or unconvincing in her response. Generally, she’s of the view that they are regular humans with great but physical abilities. But given my ignorance of the way these tricks are made, I can’t completely rule out the possibility of authentic supernatural intervention.

 
Is this just a trick or did God actually do it? Whereas many illusionists deny having any supernatural powers, spiritualists don’t. Not only that, they point us to the source of their powers: God, some other deity or supernatural phenomenon. It serves their cause better if we believed that thanks to their benefactors, the sick are healed, the lame walk, the dumb speak and so on and so forth. Yet one thing is strikingly common to both illusionists and spiritualists, that their process is covered in a shroud of mystery.

 
Now I am no illusionist. Nay, I am really bad at magic. Even relatively simple tricks elude me. Therefore, I am well aware of my gullibility in matters of magical importance. You could tell me anything and I would buy it because I don’t know enough to sort the facts from the lies. Dynamo could tell me anything, given that it isn’t too bizarre, and I would buy it. If he told me that he got his powers from a deity, which given my history with spirituality isn’t bizarre, who am I to refute that?

 
Who am I to question whether or not the Christian God actually performs miracles? There are fake miracles and we have seen a number. And some magic tricks are simply that, tricks! But are they all just tricks? Or as in the words of Derren Brown, “…magic, suggestion, psychology, misdirection, and showmanship.” Can we say that magic here could actually mean the lending of supernatural abilities to these tricks? I don’t know? But I am impressed.

 
This is an overly simplified illustration of what skepticism is. Presented with a seemingly metaphysical phenomenon, an atheist will say, there is a physical explanation for it. An agnostic will say, it may be physical, it may be metaphysical. And a skeptic will ask, how can we tell them apart? Skepticism is a philosophy that claims that absolute knowledge is not possible. In practice, a skeptic will not accept anything to be irrefutably true. To the skeptic, we are only ever closer to the truth, but not quite there yet. Should we acquire new knowledge, today’s truth may be tomorrow’s fallacy. It is this possibility that truth is falsifiable that makes a skeptic quite skeptical of truth or facts altogether.

 
In practice though, there is actually a lot of overlap between the skeptic and the agnostic. And the skeptic may turn out to be atheist as well as a theist. By not taking a stand on religion, the skeptic may rather avoid religion making him/her practically atheist or he/she may instead avoid contentions against religion making him/her practically theist. I have met both.

 
It may then seem redundant for one to deny being either atheist or theist in preference for skepticism and I agree. But let me stress a little of what the skeptic is not claiming. The skeptic is not taking a stand by saying there is or isn’t a God or gods. He/she is not even giving any credence to any evidence being offered for the existence of God like the agnostic. He/she is not even saying that such evidence is impossible to come by for God could as well perch on a cloud in broad daylight for all to see and the matter would then be settled. But what he/she is saying is rather a question. And that is, can we ever know what is real? What counts as evidence? If God perched on a cloud today in broad daylight for all to see, can we trust that what we are seeing is in fact, God?

 
An incidence comes to mind. There was a statue of Jesus Christ that was thought to spontaneously produce water. Believers thought this to be a sign of its supernatural significance and would take this water for its purported supernatural powers. In fact, some even claimed to be healed by it. It was later found that the water was coming from a clogged drainage pipe behind it. People were actually taking sewerage.

 
A skeptic is less likely to have drunk that water let alone be compelled by it to become a believer. Even an agnostic in their search for evidence might be moved to consider the possibility of this being a legitimate sign of the supernatural. But not the skeptic.
Let me conclude by noting that some refer to a skeptic as a type of agnostic. But it seems to me that the skeptic is at least a more stubborn sort of agnostic deserving special mention here. That said, the skeptic is rather hard to define in practice and for simplicity may be referred to as agnostic, theist or atheist. I refer to myself as a skeptic to stress my rather transcendent level of uncertainty. But you may as well consider me atheist and agnostic.

 
Postscript, I was reading a book on religion where the writer saw it fit to include atheism, agnosticism, and skepticism on his list of religions. His justification, that religion can be referred to as that about which a person is deeply concerned. I disagree however because not all things that people are deeply concerned about are nearly as problematic as things we usually refer to as religions. For example, I am concerned about feminism. I guess that makes me a feminist. But is that then my religion? I see how feminism may be like a religion. Often times I see feminists acting with a similar credulity as religious people when looking for evidence to support their cause. It may be a religion to them but certainly not for me. I prefer the definition of religion as being a belief in God or deities that is followed by worship of that God or those deities. Worship here introduces the matter of practice. That religion is defined by the content of one’s beliefs as well as their outward response to those beliefs.

 
When considering religions like Catholicism, Judaism, and Mormonism, their practice is generally defined. That Catholics go to church on Sunday and have communion, Jews go to the synagogue on Saturday and don’t have communion but have a feast called the Passover and Mormons wear special underwear. But what can be said with such level of consistency or general consensus about nontheists other than that they don’t sufficiently believe in God or any deity to inform their practice? They lack any form of sufficient homogeneity in practice to refer to them as religions and this is largely because they lack any dogma that informs their daily lives. So rather than tie on what deeply concerns them, why not, like for all other belief systems you consider religions, also consider what they practice. You may be finally convinced that lack of religion is not a religion. By analogy, not playing football is not a sport.

Featured image: David Blaine from here

I am still here

It’s been a long while since I last posted here, and I’d like to explain why.
As some of you may know, I am a medical student. And while that has never stopped me from blogging, the last couple of months have been especially difficult. A lot was going on academically, socially and even spiritually that I couldn’t bring myself to post. Good news is, I am in a much better place now. I have a couple of OSCEs this coming week and that will be it for medical school. Then I will go on to blog some more as I have always loved to do on matters of religious importance.
That aside, how about the royal wedding? I watched all 60 minutes of it on youtube. I think we might just have discovered fire a second time in Harry and Meghan’s love. And the music, wow! Now as far as the series on Atheism, Agnosticism, and Skepticism is concerned, I am posting the last part, My kind of skepticism, tomorrow. Watch out for it, it’s worth your while. Ciao!

Dr. Seggy

Agnosticism, without knowledge

This is a continuation of the post Atheism, Agnosticism and my kind of Scepticism.

Agnosticism, without knowledge, the view that the existence of God or of all deities is unknown. It can also include the view that the existence of God is unknowable. Now, I get the feeling that I hit gold with the unicorn illustration so let me go back to it.

After you have failed to take me to the unicorn and have failed to even show me a photograph of the unicorn, I may come to the conclusion that there isn’t enough evidence to prove that unicorns exist. I am willing to entertain the possibility that they do on account of your detailed description of what they are like. But I am not entirely sold on the matter. Or, since I can’t see the unicorn myself and neither have a photograph of it, I may conclude that I couldn’t possibly know whether or not unicorns exist. Maybe they do, maybe they don’t, but I can’t know for sure without seeing one myself or at least seeing a photograph of one.

Returning to the problem of agnosticism, the agnostic may consider some evidence for the existence of God plausible. They may even be sold on a few things about God, but that is not sufficient to conclude that there is in fact 100% chance that God exists. The other type of agnostic may say that given the nature of God, we couldn’t possibly know if he/she/it exists. If he/she/it can’t be seen, touched, smelt, tasted or heard physically, how could we then know that he/she/it is real? I will illustrate this other kind of agnostic further.

This is actually an argument that has been used against atheism by religious people. Like it is some kind of knockdown argument that completely annihilates atheism. Say that the big circle represents all the knowledge there is, be it human knowledge or otherwise, natural or supernatural. The infinitesimally small circle in it represents your knowledge cos it’s not a lot. You don’t even possess all of human knowledge. How then, knowing so little can you know whether or not God exists? Could he/she/it by any chance exist outside of your knowledge? Or maybe even after considering all there is to know, the dude still can’t be found. So since I couldn’t possibly know all there is to know, I can not conclude on the problem of religion.

This is actually a problematic illustration so I will go on about it a little further. Let us revert to the unicorn illustration a bit; to the point when the unicorn nonbeliever concludes that unicorns are not real. Strictly speaking, the more logical conclusion would be that the unicorn of which you speak probably doesn’t exist. It’s not like I have considered all accounts of unicorn sightings in the world or traveled the entire universe and multiverse in search of unicorns. How then can I conclude that unicorns do not exist? However, isn’t that quality of evidence rather preposterous? In which other areas in our lives do we actually have such levels of certainty?

Using the illustration of knowledge above, I think the agnostic is faced with a rather different dilemma. He is not actually looking for evidence for the existence of God as much as he is avoiding not finding evidence for the existence of God. He actually hasn’t found any credible evidence for the existence of God and so has set for himself a standard so high that ensures he is perpetually on the fence on the matter of religion. To what end? I don’t know. I posit however that the agnostic is scared of admitting what he knows to be true, that there is no God.

Finally, there is an actual authority on the matter. Richard Dawkins in his book, the God Delusion, offers a scale of religiosity from 1 to 7. All theists, agnostics, and atheists are somewhere on that scale. 1 being that one is 100% sure there is a God and 7 being 100% sure that there is no God. 4 is stark in the middle, meaning that you are 50/50 on the matter which by the way to me seems really unlikely. 2 and 3 are points at which one is not sure whether or not God exists but believes there is a more likely chance than not that he/she/them exists. 5 and 6 are also points at which one is unsure but believes there is more likely a chance than not that God doesn’t exist.

Looking at the scale, one may get the idea that theism, agnosticism, and atheism exist on a continuum with theism on one end, agnosticism in the middle and atheism on the other end. This is not the case however because the two answer rather different questions. Atheism versus theism answers the question of belief. What do you believe concerning God? Agnosticism versus gnosticism answers the question of knowledge. What do you know concerning God? I, however, prefer to consider both questions simultaneously as in the Dawkins scale because they are rather inseparable. Because belief is a product of knowledge or perceived knowledge.

All in all, I also believe more like Richard Dawkins that we are all somewhere on this scale of religiosity no matter how sure we may pose ourselves to be. In other words, I’d be hard-pressed to believe that anyone could be a 1 or a 7 on the scale. And I have been pleasantly shocked to find that a number of practicing Christians wouldn’t consider themselves a 1 on the Dawkins scale. Some would even say that they are 50/50 on the whole God thing. I’d say they are a 2 or 3. Even Dawkins doesn’t consider himself a 7.

Anyway, there is so much more I’d like to talk about on the problem of religion but I’ll stop here for now. Look out for “my kind of skepticism” in the following post.

Featured image: Neil DeGrasse Tyson, renowned astrophysicist and self proclaimed agnostic, from here