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Journal Journal: Douglas Adams was amazing 1

I just ran across this speech by Douglas Adams that covers what was in my last JE, and in many ways touches on a lot of other journals I've written recently. There are, in my opinion, some amazing insights in his speech.

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Journal Journal: What is life? 16

I've run into flack for the broadness of my personal definitions of life, that is, what is alive, what are the properties of life, and all that. What do you all think a good definition is, and are you concerned with the broadness of it applying to, for example, electro-mechanical constructs?

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Journal Journal: I am Skeptic, hear me question. 12

A skeptic is one who prefers beliefs and conclusions that are reliable and valid to ones that are comforting or convenient, and therefore rigorously and openly applies the methods of science and reason to all empirical claims, especially their own. A skeptic provisionally proportions acceptance of any claim to valid logic and a fair and thorough assessment of available evidence, and studies the pitfalls of human reason and the mechanisms of deception so as to avoid being deceived by others or themselves. Skepticism values method over any particular conclusion.

~ Steven Novella, Skepticblog

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Journal Journal: [Religion] Thoughts on readings (pt. 8) 21

Well, I finished a book a week ago, which, though not a book about religion, was definitely informative for my current thought process. It's called The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature by Steven Pinker. Pinker does talk about religion, but only in terms of what religion says about personality, and how that lines up with or contradicts science. In terms of religion, and specifically in relation to the question of a non-material part of the personality (a soul, or what not), all the evidence is that there isn't anything non-material to our humanity, consciousness, or personality. Now, this isn't absolute, it's just our best understanding of the mind, but for me, the burden of proof is definitely on the side of the non-materialists in this arena.
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Journal Journal: [Religion] Went to Church today. 5

It's the first time I've gone to church since the whole breakthrough in understanding and change in perspective I had back in June.

So what kind of church does an atheist agnostic secular humanist try out? I went to a local Unitarian Universalist congregation. In the end, I don't know what they really have to offer. I agree with a lot of their principles, and their focus on social justice, but I didn't feel like the sermon wrestled with the rough ideas of what it means to be spiritual and non-exclusive, or compelling us to social justice.

It wasn't bad, just not... exciting. Maybe I'm naive. Maybe I could only find that kind of excitement in a spiritual message when I believed in the supernatural. I don't know - I still find that excitement, but now I find it in relationships and discoveries (of beauty and knowledge), and not in reaching beyond the natural world in any sense.

Well, after all that, we're thinking of trying a different UU congregation next week - maybe a younger crowd with a more vibrant "spirituality" exists close by. If not, I will remain "unchurched".
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Journal Journal: [Religion] Thoughts on readings (pt. 7)

Well, I just finished reading Simply Christian: why Christianity makes sense by N.T. Wright (HarperOne, 2006, 1st ed.). He definitely moves away from why he believes in Christianity to what he thinks Christianity should be in the second half of the book. As he made that move, I found him to become more and more condescending towards non-Christian perspectives (statements like, "I don't mean the kind of "sense" you get within the flatland world of secular imagination" - frankly, this smacks of the same unfounded elitist attitudes that say things like "only Christians have true joy" or the like.). In the end, if you're a Christian, you may find the book inspiring, but for me, it fell pretty flat in the end, and provided nothing compelling in its case for God.
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Journal Journal: [Religion] Thoughts on readings (pt. 6) 11

Well, I finished Carl Sagan's book, and there's not a lot of commentary on religion in the latter half of the book, so I won't comment on it except to say that the book is very enlightening, insightful, and inspirational.

On to the "religion" referenced in the subject line, I'm currently reading Simply Christian: why Christianity makes sense by N.T. Wright (HarperOne, 2006, 1st ed.). I do appreciate some of what he has to say, but I can't say that he's making good cases for all his points, especially on the matters that are at the crux of the issue for me. As an example, on the question of Jesus and miracles, Wright makes this comment:

The remaking of God's people was at the heart, too, of his remarkable healings. There is no doubt, historically, that he possessed healing powers; that was why he attracted not only crowds but also accusations of being in league with the devil. (p.101)

For me, there's two problems with that statement.

First, many people, even in the modern world, attract many followers and accusations for "performing healings" (The fact that every seriously investigated or well documented case shows no sign of anything miraculous, and often shows the "healer" to be a charlatan, is also, in my opinion, relavent). The fact of crowds, and even antagonistic believers (i.e. he did it, but he used EVIL to do it!), does nothing to prove the veracity of the claims of healing.

Secondly, the only testimony we have of all three things (healings, crowds, accusers) are four documents written 40 years after the claimed events are purported to happen, and then later commentary on those four books. Not exactly something that deserves the weight of the words "there is no doubt, historically". There's a whole world of extraordinary claims made in ancient texts that we dismiss as non-historical, and unless there's something I'm missing, this claim has no more substantiation that the others.

A clarification is in order here, as well. I'm not saying that people can't believe that Jesus did healings. I'm just saying that it is entirely a matter of faith, and there are no "doubtless historical facts" to base that faith on.

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Journal Journal: [Religion] Quotable Roberts 25

"When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours." - Stephen F. Roberts

I don't believe Roberts is really notable for saying anything else.
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Journal Journal: [Religion] Thoughts on readings (pt. 5) 15

Well, I'm about halfway through The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan. Definitely a good read, very illuminating - a clarification is probably in order. He is not writing about religion in particular, just about the lack of science and skepticism among people in the USA. For obvious reasons, though, he's touched on religion a lot.

Anyhow, he presents more information that points to an anthropogenic origin for the Judeo-Christian Bible, mostly from things he mentions in passing that I then go on to research on my own. An aside, every time his statements have been confirmed by what I read from reputable sources at large. In particular, I learned some interesting things about the book of Deuteronomy (writing style, form, history about it's "discovery") that strongly point to it having been created during King Josiah's reign to bolster respect and obedience to his rule.

Growing up, I was taught that a world without a god and a book of revelations from that god was a world that was empty and senseless. This has been the complete opposite of my personal experience though - setting aside an assumption of a god or an absolute supernatural authority of any sort, I am finding more meaning in this world. Things are making more sense, things fall into place, priorities are clearer, and I honestly think that I am more moral (and/or ethical) than I was before. Maybe particular to the branch of Christianity that I grew up in was the doctrine that all Christians have true joy, and without their faith, there is no true joy and happiness in life. I have found this to be false, as well. I'm at least as happy as I was, and apart from struggles with dogmatic emotional extended family members, life is much more meaningful, and therefore much more joyful.
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Journal Journal: [Religion] What is religion? (a quote) 16

I watched a video of a debate between Christopher Hitchens and Al Sharpton, and ran across this interesting quote:

Well, religion is not the belief that there is a god, after all, religion is the belief that god tells you what to do.

Christopher Hitchens (at the 49 minute 48 second mark)

Can't say I knew much about Hitchens before today, but I agree with this definition completely (I know that it's not a dictionary definition, but its a working definition I can get behind). This clarifies in my mind why (as was debated in response to a previous journal entry of mine, though my entry was not about this) I can't view atheism as a religion (though I don't particularly care if others do - I just don't think it clarifies anything about an atheist at all).

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I judge a religion as being good or bad based on whether its adherents become better people as a result of practicing it. - Joe Mullally, computer salesman