Beantown

Yesterday we learned of a tragic event during the Boston Marathon. There is no pleasant way to say it, nor is there a reason to lose hope in humanity. I do not wish to discuss religion as a major topic of this blog post, but I will talk about some of the implications it may have for it, and for our future.

First, the ugly; we live in a world where there are people who clearly wish to perform these actions. Reasons for these actions can be anything from a true, unreasonable hatred, to legitimate chemical imbalance in one’s brain. The saddest part is that nearly all these things are ‘curable'; we can prescribe medication for our chemically imbalanced brothers and sisters, we can raise people with understanding that all humankind is to be loved and treated with dignity.

Treating others with dignity and loving thy neighbor has many obstacles ahead of it however… We, as citizens of the world, have so much xenophobia, racism, classism, gender discrimination, and over all hatred of all things we do not understand hammered into us. We learn to fear things we do not understand, and from that fear grows hatred. Yoda from Star Wars truly got it right… fear leads to hate and hate leads to the dark side. A perfect metaphor for much of the world.

Imagine us living in a world where instead of blind fear was taught to us, without qualification or reason, we were taught to investigate, to go in with an open mind, and to engage those around us… Imagine how much different so many events in the world would have turned out. Would the bomber of the Marathon perhaps been able to come to a more reasonable means of demonstrating their dissatisfaction with whatever it was they disagreed with if they had talked with someone and been given the opportunity to express their emotions? Where were the people in this person (peoples) life? Why did they feel this was the only way to demonstrate their feelings?

Second, the bad… Even though this world offers us all a great deal, we do have to understand that there are other people in the world. True compromise is a difficult thing to accomplish when you start to add in the multitude of people and needs that need to be taken into consideration, but compromise is still easy to accomplish. Realistic expectations and gradual changes are the key to making the changes we want to see in life. For example, lets say a person is upset about a particular political policy in their state. Not all such policies are things that disappear over night, many take decades of discussion and debate to accomplish. These fights are still worth it though, and we mustn’t ever give up on them. One of the biggest challenges to this is ensuring both sides of any argument are being realistic in their expectations… For another example; the debate over “gay marriage” (or what I call marriage), both parties need to look at their argument and ask themselves if what is being done is being done fairly and if the motivations for the argument are reasonable to all parties involved – or do they serve just your side?

Alas, we’ve got the good news… The world is changing, a few would argue for the worse, but most would argue for the better. The world has seen much progress in the last decade. Things that many didn’t believe they would have ever seen in their lifetimes have come to pass. A mixed-race president, a cultural acceptance of homosexuality, productive dialog between religious leaders, and the accession of minorities into all realms of politics and business. There is still much work to be done in the religious aspects of the world, but even those are making progress. We as a world seem to be paying less attention to the TV and paying more attention to what is going on. Although, there is admittedly a bit of an attention span issue… And I don’t want to make it sound like the world is all fine AND dandy, because there is much work to be done yet, there are still too many people preoccupied with sports and celebrity gossip, there are still too many people ignorant of what is going on in their own government and of who they vote for, and there is still a lot of fear of knowledge and the ability to change that comes with it.

But we stand on a precipice of major change in our world. We look out and the distance we have to travel and do not shutter, for we know the road we’ve traveled to go to where we already are and know that the trek is not being made in vain. We pluck the fruits of our labor and cut the crops of our sowing for the energy to proceed into the future. We are human beings, all of us, and we have the collective drive to accomplish anything we set our minds to.

There is no happiness that comes from the tragedy in Boston, but we cannot allow the minor shadows in our existence as a human race to slowly remove the light. I am not afraid of what comes next, because I’ve seen the responses of people in Boston, and around the world to this and every other tragedy on the planet… I am not afraid because when shadows creep into our world, that’s when humankind shines the brightest.

As a note; if you want to help with efforts in Boston, or any other event that may occur in the future, please consider donating blood or monetary donations to local organizations. Goods are a wonderful idea, but logistically are almost more hassle than they are worth.

May the burning of your torch light the path for others; may the scars you bare be a reminder of those who came before you to light your path.

Would god Really Bless America?

Its an interesting question, and one I struggle with when people say it. This post will operate under the assumption that there might be a deity of some sort out there, so more of a deistic approach rather than a purely atheist perspective.

Lets assume for the moment that Christian’s are indeed correct in their beliefs. This would make the assumption that world-wide denominations of religious organizations (i.e. Catholics, etc) would apparently have sub-sects of beliefs, because I find it hard to believe that Italian Catholics are fervently chanting “God Bless America”. So, on the surface this also serves to drive a religion apart, or at very least America vs. the rest of the world, which is also seems to be a common theme in our country.

So, when we continue our look at the question, we realize that this question is about as solipsistic as you can get, saying that America somehow has a special privilege above others. It’s this kind of thinking that drives and builds hatred for our country and culture. Much of which proclaims America to be the greatest nation on earth, and is demonstrably false. Let me be clear; I am happy to reside in this country, as there are much worse off places to call home, but there are certainly better, as well.

The other big issue from my perspective with this claim is that America wasn’t even know about at the time the Bible was written. There is, of course, ZERO mention of it in the entire Bible. I would argue that most Americans are afraid of people that look like Jesus would have. Jesus (based on all interpretations of the bible and any other writings that have mentioned him) was in fact, a long haired hippy with dark skin who obviously would not have spoke English, so, pretty much fitting all of the requirements of the “conservative right’s” xenophobic fears, which incidentally clings to Jesus as their favorite character in all of literature.

Other things despised by much of conservative America would not be things that Jesus taught his followers to do. Things like sell all of your possessions and give them to the poor, treat people with respect, and help the sick and poor. Our country’s GOP demonstrably detests many of these things.

It’s just emotionally frustrating to listen to people proclaim something so blatantly elitist as “God Bless America” in a manor that essentially disregards the rest of the world, despite there being lots of christians in other places of the world. Don’t get me wrong, America is one of the higher, if not highest (population percentage wise) nations of Christian believers, but to proclaim that elite status in a deity who supposedly created the entirety of the world, is in a word: asinine.

I believe that this mentality grew out of the ideas of Manifest-destiny that reigned supreme while we were developing as a nation. And indeed, it proved to be an effective tool for rallying and mobilizing an entire nation, just taken too far, I feel.

A friend of mine recently wrote a similar article about this, on a smaller scale and slightly different context, but similar none-the-less. Check out Jamie’s blog: Change From Within

Open Letter to Mitt Romney

Dear Mitt Romney,

I want to introduce myself, as a potential voter. I’m a late-twenties, white male from the mid-west. I orientate myself as heterosexual. I have a stable job, plenty of opportunity, and make a decent living for myself. And up until recently, I would have called myself a Republican in regards to my fiscal conservatism. About the only trait that I don’t fit, of the ‘core’ GOP constituency, is that I’m an Atheist (obvious from the name of the Blog). That said, as an atheist, it’s a rather easy thing to keep under wraps and hide from the rest of the world.

I want to tell you about the privilege I have in this country. As a white individual, I have a massively lower chance of being arrested, or incarcerated for that matter, than my minority peers. As a male, I do not have to fear being sexually assaulted or raped in virtually any situation in life. As a heterosexual, I face virtually no social stigma and am welcomed into virtually any community I choose to join. As a productive member of society, I receive the favor of my parents, peers, and politicians. As an atheist I can be as quiet as I want about the subject and know that I can blend into any group or situation if I so choose.

Given the facts that I am a renter (no home owner tax credit), a college graduate (no need for additional student loans), gainfully employed at a reputable company (I have complete healthcare coverage), male (no need to worry about birth control or access to an abortion), and white, middle-class (virtually no need to worry about government assistance programs) I have virtually no stake in the President’s current administration or current campaign. If anything, I probably stand to gain more from your presidency.

Now, I want to talk about why I WILL NOT be voting for you… Despite me having this incredible level of privileged and ability in our society, I hold this position knowing it is not right or fair. I have friends and family that inhabit virtually every combination of virtually every minority or majority demographic in this country. I vote for the President because he fights to have all peoples given the same opportunities.

Recently, you had statements released from you May 2012 private fundraiser where you had made a statement of “If you’re born in this country (America), 95% of life is setup for you”. This statement is only true for people like me. People like you. We are a privileged few, indeed. But I ask; why shouldn’t all people in this country have the same opportunities as we do? Should not a young black woman have as much opportunity as you or I? Should not a young Arab muslim? I think so.

I may not believe in a higher power, but I do believe that a president is here to lead the entire country, not just 53% of it. I fully appreciate that you’re a venerable leader in the business community, although I may not fully support many of the business practices you’ve chosen to utilize, I do recognize the brilliance and strategy involved. But the most important thing I’ve heard come out of this campaign wasn’t from any presidential candidate, but from people just like me, who agree the government is not a business, nor should it be run like one. It is a government, designed by the people FOR the people.
Companies are NOT people.

Best of luck in your other future endeavors,
Tyler

50 Shades of Afraid

Fear… As Frank Herbert said, can be the..”mind killer”. Fear is a strong emotion among all of us in life. There are many things that people fear and many reasons that people fear them, most well founded reasons. As an atheist, some fears in life are a little different, and that is what I want to talk about in this blog post – I encourage you to post and share your fears below.

One of the most basic fears in life is a fear of survival, which comes in several versions, from what I can tell. The most basic level of survival fear is that of physical well being. This is a primal fear, it enables us as human beings to let our instincts take over, and often serves us well during times when quick decisions are needed. I’m sure there are many people whose instincts helped to get them out of dangerous situations safely. I accept that this fear is well justified in many, many situations, and has helped humanity to progress to where we are today… It helps to ensure our survival.

Then we come to some of the more mental fears. Legitimate, but not immediately life threatening… Things such as fear of repercussions of one’s actions or perhaps financial fears. These fears I also find to be healthy and beneficial, they allow us as human beings to cognitively process life choices and generally give us insight to the future results of our actions and inspire us to action to avoid things like going hungry or being evicted from an apartment. These fears also allow us to avoid emotional trauma too, when we understand what negative repercussions of our actions mean we can avoid the heart and head aches associated with those decisions easier.

Now we arrive at unfounded fears.. Fears of things you cannot control or will not be able to do anything about. Things like whether or not you’ll end up in heaven or hell, or whether or not it will rain today. These are generally things that a person can not influence or change.. Only prepare one’s self as best as possible… Have an umbrella handy, make sure the windows in your vehicle are closed, check the weather. Again, these actions have no effect on whether or not it rains, but it allows you to cope with it.

Now obviously there are a lot of people who believe in heaven and hell, which is also obviously an abstract concept that we, as atheists, do not believe in, but it does draw some interesting debate and insight from our perspective too… One’s fear of hell is predicated on their specific religion’s definitions and their specific god’s ‘commandments’. With that said, and given the multi-millennia worth of various gods of various religions, how is one to know which version would even be right? Pascal’s wager claims that it is better to believe in god, because if he does then you’re in a better place… Well, the inverse of that is the thought that if you worship the wrong ‘god’ then you’re offending the ‘real’ one… When in all reality we as conscious, alive human beings won’t ever know if there is an afterlife predicated on a deity. So, in part, I adhere to the philosophy of Marcus Aurelius, the Roman Emperor, who suggested:

Live a good life. If there are Gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.

Now, it’s not to say that that it is complete or perfect in its ideals, but the concept allows for one to take the innate sense of morality inside human beings, mesh it with other rules and ideals that society has deemed to be of importance and live an exemplary life (note: I did not say perfect, as none of us are). When you live your life under the pretense that there are no gods, you allow yourself to live for the sake of living, being able to enjoy moments more fully, because you’re not concerned with an afterlife, you know this is the only one you have and want to be sure not to ruin in with poor decisions either (jail time, dying young, poor reputation, etc).

So, as an atheist what do I fear? My biggest fear is mediocrity… I fear not being able to leave a positive legacy in life. I fear not being looked upon favorably by those around me and being forgotten after my death. Is this fear a founded fear? Possibly not, but it does promise immortality in a more realistic way than religion. Only when one lives on in the memories and manuscripts of subsequent generations, do then achieve a degree of immortality. Think of all the great minds – poets, writers, artists, scientists, kings, rulers, wise men, leaders, educators – who live on in the minds of those who have come millennia after them.

Carl Sagan has an amazing piece of insight as to how we are able to connect to people thousands of years away from ourselves:

A book is made from a tree. It is an assemblage of flat flexible parts imprinted with dark pigment squiggles. One glance at it and you hear the voice of another person, perhaps someone dead for thousands of years. Across millennia, the author Is speaking, clearly and silently, inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people, citizens of distant epochs, who never knew one another. Books break the shackles of time, proof that humans can work magic.

Perhaps my life will lead me down a path that will allow me to touch more lives at some point and my legacy in history will be secured, but alas at some point I will be dead, and it will matter very little to me, and perhaps this is an unfounded fear. But I do strive to make the world a better, brighter place one way or another.

There are many other fears that I personally face, that I’m sure many other atheists face on a regular basis also, but these, that I’ve talked about, seem to give brief examples of the main types of fear in life.

So as my final thoughts, don’t fear being afraid always. It can drive us toward safety, it can drive us to excel, and it can drive us toward our goals. Just be mindful of things that you are unable to do anything about and don’t spend time being afraid of something that you can’t do anything about.

Share in the comments below what your fears are in life, but remember, it’s our one life to live, enjoy it as much as you can and don’t allow fears to get in the way!

Volunteerism as an Atheist

Volunteerism is one of the most fundamental activities that our nation uses as a cornerstone of society. I can not fathom where our society would be without others showing support and love through volunteer works. There are so many incredible and worthwhile organizations that one can get involve with, it truly does have something for everyone.

I can not explain my love of volunteerism in this simple blog completely. There are so many facets to why I love it, but I’ll be the first to admit that it can take time to find an organization or cause that you really believe in, and it’s at that point it becomes more than just ‘volunteering’, it becomes a greater part of who you are.

Volunteering is one of the most self sacrificing things a person can do, and I fully support everyone in the endeavor of volunteering, and becoming part of an organization or group larger than yourself. I’ve personally taken the direction of working with youth for my volunteering in my recent years, because I feel like its the best place to make an impact on the world. I figure if you can inspire those who are about to join the ‘real world’ to make changes, you can have a exponential effect. On top of that, I enjoy the energy and ability to dream of young people, it’s reinvigorating for myself as well.

But as an atheist sometimes I get asked why I volunteer, they ask that since I do not believe in an afterlife or deity, why do I worry about doing good deeds, which is an almost painfully insulting question, especially when asked in a condescending manor (which it often is). My response to this question has evolved over the years, to be sure, but it’s core answer isn’t a lot different. I volunteer because it’s the right thing to do. I volunteer because it makes the world a better place to live in (hopefully) long after I’m dead, for those whom I’ve grown to care about and the ones that they will grow to care about to live in and have a better life. There is an old parable that speaks of an old man who builds a bridge over a river he will never cross again, when asked about it, he replies that his friends or family might yet need to cross the same river – that in part explains why I volunteer.

With that said, there are some things that have been getting carried out in the name of volunteering that I can not quite accept the definition of ‘volunteering’ for. These are generally things that are more awareness or recruiting campaign style activities. For example, I’ve been part of one of the nations’s largest fraternities, and participated in recruiting for it. Now don’t get me wrong, I was helping an organization that I’m part of by giving my time, but because it was basically just ‘selling’ the org to new recruit hopefuls, I can’t morally allow myself to call that volunteering. Again, I was more than happy to do it, because it was something I believed in, but I just wouldn’t agree to have the volunteering title attached to it.

And here is where I get peeved about volunteering… I see people of all faiths spending countless hours doing work for their religions to help bring more people in the door. I see missionary trips occur to ‘save’ people. I see more money spent trying to teach people that they need to be saved than actually helping them out. I want to clarify, that I have no problem with giving time to an org you support, but please don’t call it ‘volunteering’. You’re not volunteering unless you’re actually making the world s better place – serving meals to homeless (some churches do this, and I salute them for it), educating people, or helping the environment.. These are examples of what I consider to be volunteering.

I struggle with religion based volunteering too, there are instances I’m sure when it’s done ins earnest, but I can’t help but wonder if there is an ulterior motive; salvation? Now, just as I find it rude to question why I, as a non-believer, do volunteer, it would be equally as presumptuous to ask if a religious person did their works because of their hope of gaining access to heaven, but it does make me stop and wonder occasionally.
It’s also very difficult to know there are people going out, telling people that they deserve death unless they learn about a god that they did not know before and presumably was not interested in them until then. Surely these missionary’s time might be better used by helping build houses and infrastructure for the local communities (I realize some of these activities occur, but usually not without the ulterior motives of religious missionaries).

My final thoughts for this blog post are to encourage you to seek out an organization or two that makes a real change in the world that you can become passionate about, regardless of your faith (or faithlessness). It is one of the most beneficial actions you can take in your life to benefit your fellow mankind and will provide you with a great sense of satisfaction. If you ever need help finding an organization to do some volunteering with, please contact me, I’m always happy to help connect people. Also, leave your thoughts on why people volunteer in the comments or comment about what volunteer work you’ve done.

Note: my volunteer experience the past few years has been primarily based with the Hugh O’Brian Youth (HOBY) organization which aims to develop the leadership skills and competences of the up and coming leaders in their communities (all children are age 16-17), Alex’s Lemonade Stand – an organization to raise awareness and funding for research for pediatric cancer, and Big Brothers Big Sisters which is a mentor based program for youth (my ‘little’ is one of the most awesome 9 year old men I’ve got the chance to hang out with).
FYI: Between these organizations and some other minor volunteer work I am part of, I generally do about 300-350 hours of volunteer work per year.

Please check out the orgs and feel free to ask me about my personal experiences.

The need for a transubstantiation…

Recently I have experienced a very difficult situation in life, caused by my own stupidity… I’ll spare you the details, but I was involved in a car accident that could have easily been prevented. Fortunately no one was injured, and I did not suffer any legal consequences.

This however got me to thinking about my life, it’s precariousness, and my own mortality. The conversation was forced along also by a dear friend recently, which somewhat prompted me to write this blog, I’ll come back to him shortly. But the main theme of my thoughts has been focused on how stupid even smart people can be (not that I claim to be smarter than anyone else). Alas, I will place this incident in the very top of my poor decisions either way.

My concern is why people make these decisions… Is it for a sense of excitement? Is it for a sense of belonging or trying to get people to like you? As I look at the choice I made, I honestly couldn’t explain myself… I have no idea why I made the decision, other than it seemed like a good idea/fun at the time, which is a horrible answer, I admit.

Being an atheist carries with it some harsh truths and uncomfortable feelings occasionally.. One of those is a true sense of mortality, that sometimes doesn’t get considered as often as it should. As far as I can tell, there is only one life we get to live, there is no eternal afterlife of bliss if we’re good, no eternal punishment if we’re bad. So either way, one life… That’s it.. one.

So, how is one to live that life? I won’t presume to tell people how to live, but I’m a strong believer in the ideals that life is something to be enjoyed, not survived. Here, again, comes our issue of mortality though, too many poor choices made for ‘enjoyment’ purposes can result in a much shorter life obviously, and that doesn’t make for a lot of time for enjoyment. So, are we to cower and hide ourselves away only to become old and frail then? No, I wouldn’t think so, but it behoves us to use the critical thinking skills we all posses and make rational informed decisions about our lives and how to enjoy them without the stupidity that follows many of us.

Circling back around to my good friend, Ray. We spoke much about the fragility of our lives, and how even the smartest among us suffers occasional lapses in judgement, which can’t be faulted on anyone. It’s the way of life. It’s frustrating and occasionally painful to watch people around you make these choices, and undoubtedly Ray had a hard time hearing my story of stupidity, I know he was relieved that I was okay, but I also know he hurt inside at the thoughts of what could have happened, and I don’t blame him. It was a thought I had not put much time into myself, up until that point.

So, I stand upon a precipice of my life. I’ve made a commitment to myself to reduce situations where over consumption of any negative substances is supported, as well as a general hiatus from them until I have a chance to reach a fitness goal – I figure replace negative habits with positive ones.

As my final thoughts to you; consider the others in your life as you make decisions, would you want to have to have loved ones bury you? Would you want to have that experience with someone you cared about? Be aware that your life is fragile, but not so fragile that it can’t be enjoyed either… Take the time to make sure the ones you care about in your life know how you feel, because life can change in a big hurry, ready or not..

The word we live in; My foray into Blogging

What this blog will essentially be about is an examination of the ideals that are prevalent in our society today, what some of the causes were that got us here and what our future might hold.

To begin with, I don’t want to claim some special knowledge about life, or any parts of it, but what I do want to do is create some discussion about it, bring everyone’s knowledge into the picture so to speak.

The first thoughts I have come in the form of questions;

Why are people so certain of their own ideas? And perhaps as a side question to that, why is it such a big deal to be wrong about something and change your mind? Are we all that deep into our own stories that we can’t beseech them now?

The above questions I really find interesting, mostly because they address some fundamental psychological concepts that are prevalent in not only the business communities I have worked in, but also in so many people’s daily lives – and that concept is “Escalation of Commitment”. Ever since I originally learned about it, I have been fascinated with the concept. Essentially the premise is that the more you’re invested into something the more you’re willing to put into it to protect it, or turn a profit from it. In the business world, this is especially dangerous because it lends to ‘throwing good money after bad’ and wasting a lot of time, effort, and finances on things that are going no where. But where this really becomes interesting is when we take a look at personal lives and how this concept plays out with our daily interactions with other people. For example, have you ever told a lie to impress someone you thought was probably never going to really be part of your life, only to find out later that they’re more deeply connected to your life than you thought and wound up making remarkably efforted attempts to continue the lie? Were there situations when you had a similar build up, but instead realized the pain you would endure to continue the charade and came clean early on? What is the difference? – you’re able to move on quicker, and to admit it more easily because you haven’t spent the time and energy building it in your own mind, which is where it ultimately really matters…

When this concept gets applied to religion, it’s a little trickier though…people go about ‘investing’ in their future by going to church/synagogue/mosque, tithing, and establishing in their own minds that they are correct in this belief through pastoral reinforcement. Investment for divine salvation, which sounds to be an appealing idea, for certain. But the big problem occurs when individuals begin to have doubts, which any reasonable person should about religion (ANY religion), and they are essentially already financially, socially, culturally, and emotionally over-invested in their religion and unable to reconcile the cost/benefits correctly in their minds, which again, is additionally difficult with an intangible notion such as eternal life.

This becomes an exercise in analytical thinking, which lends itself nicely to Atheism, and may be representative of why most skeptics and non-believers seek proof and facts to believe anything of importance.

The world we live in is undoubtedly a hard place to understand, but alas, it’s all we have… It’s all our children will have – we can either make it work by putting an end to the evils that corrupt it, or we can perish.