Monday, November 24, 2014

What if You're Wrong?

A common Christian argument along the lines of Pascal's Wager is "What if you're wrong?" If an atheist is wrong, then they are damned to hell for eternity. But if a Christian is wrong, no one is the wiser, right? They just die and get buried and no one suffers or knows. Thus, Pascal argued that one ought to wager on faith where they can gain all or lose nothing if right or wrong. But is this true? Let's really ask the question and consider the effects of Christianity if it is wrong. This is not an argument to say Christianity is indeed wrong, but it an exercise of understanding the "what if" scenario.

If Christianity is wrong....

... then uplifting faith as a way of life is harmful since it is not grounded in reality and can lead to faulty conclusions. There would be no spiritual leading toward certain things in life and having faith would be no better than a roll of the dice for guiding life. Further, by uplifting faith in this way, many people are already making even worse decisions such as literally letting Jesus take the wheel or driving without glasses to demonstrate faith that God will heal. It would allow and even encourage people to come to drastically stupid decisions such as these while producing no true benefit if God is not guiding people in this way.

... then morality is determined by humans rather than by a book. The amount of hatred that goes toward homosexuality would be unwarranted and yet many people are being ostracized for what would be no reason other than what would be a false book proclaiming it is bad. If wrong, Christianity would ultimately be fighting for rules given to them by something no more authoritative than Cinderella and it causes harm and distress to people who could otherwise live a life which harms nobody while performing acts that have nothing to do with us.

... then abortion becomes more kind. Without a concept of a soul to go to heaven or hell, then abortion becomes exceedingly kinder than bringing an unwanted person into the world. Most abortions are done by those who either do not want the child, cannot afford to take care of the child, will be set back in life due to the child, or might risk their life. Such children often become the next generation of thieves, killers, and drug addicts. The kind thing, then, is to prevent causing more probabilistic pain and suffering of the person pregnant, the child, and society. With no immortal soul and no commandment indicating that this is morally wrong, then an early-term abortion is no worse than squishing a spider and in many ways might be more moral than killing a spider who may be missed by its children and family and may have enjoyed its life. With abortion, there is no pain, no suffering, and the end result is the same as the first: non-existence. Christianity deems this immoral by Biblical decree and yet forcing the birth would indeed be far more immoral if it is false.

... then people suffer needlessly with painful terminal illnesses who will not be healed by God nor by medicine. Such people could be given death with dignity without holding out for a miraculous cure that will never come simply to demonstrate faith in God.

... then focusing on religious education and seminary would be a waste of time, money, and talent that could otherwise be used to better mankind in ways that are actually effective. Rather than praying, studying, praising, and gathering people to jointly partake of what is false, they could better spend their time researching how to cure diseases, improve technology, develop cleaner forms of travel and production methods, and help people to logically and rationally overcome harmful thinking habits.

... then uplifting supernatural ideas leads to the corruption of rational thought and guides people to consider other more harmful practices that are not based on facts. It gives rise to the idea that there is more than what we can see and measure which causes people to run after alternative concepts of medication which rely on spiritual concepts that do not exists. It causes undue harm and yet would yield no power of its own. Any perceived power would thus be a mere placebo effect and further supports harmful practices.

... then it opens the door for many scams of faith healers who do no healing yet steal life savings, prosperity doctrine teachings that also steal money yet have no effect of God blessing the giver, and even opens the doors to Nigerian scams where someone claims to be a wealthy individual in need of help from faithful people in exchange for sharing their wealth.

... then all the money you have ever donated to a church were wasted, fruitless, and supported the many problems listed above. Such money may have been more useful on children, better causes, food, clothing, education, and uplifting the spirits of others or oneself.

... then many people are born into propagating and uplifting all the above problems rather than fighting against them for a greater and more moral society.

All this being said, if Christianity is right (which, by default means God is a good God), then surely it is the better option to obey and trust God. If he says not to abort children, then we can trust him to make it work out for good. If he says he does not like homosexuality and will thus bless us greatly if we do not partake, then perhaps it is indeed worth the difficulty in overriding such desires for the greater good. If Christianity is right, then the scams may be worth the risk given the true benefits of faith. While it seems God is not blessing us in these ways either because we are not obeying or because he does not exist, it would still be better to fight for obedience than going the humanistic route since God might further punish us for avoiding the above rather than by obeying. Although, that almost seems to contradict the good God concept and I cannot personally see why a good God would not rather us live as if he did not exist to avoid all the above problems.

If indeed God is good, then I certainly argue that modern Christian is false and we should live as if he does not exist to avoid all the pitfalls of the above which are clearly prevalent today. Thus, when wagering against a good God versus any particular faith such as Christianity, then it is best to assume he doesn't exist with any benefit or reward and yet focus on morality and kindness which he will honor and respect even if we did not believe he existed. Otherwise, morality based on reward or fear is less morality and more compulsion which is not goodness itself. Thus, with a good God, we have more to gain from a humanistic atheism than a spiritualistic theism whether we win or lose. If such humanistic atheism is right, then it yields the bounty of uplifting truth and kindness. If it is wrong and a good God does exist, then such a God will love them and reward them bountifully. It is a win/win situation.

We can see, then, that there is a world-view difference of morality based upon the assumptions of Christianity being right or wrong and even of the existence of a good God. Thus, it is vitally important to do the research and to determine what truth is. For if we do not hold the proper worldview between Christianity and atheism, we will unknowingly propagate the worst possible outcomes for society. If God is real and Christianity is right, then by all means we ought to try our hardest to obey and reap the inconceivable benefits and rewards promised to us. But if it is wrong, then we had best ditch what are otherwise harmful behaviors that poison the world.

Pascal's Wager is not as clear as Christians oft make it out to be. We must not wager, but learn. And we must forever question our assumptions and continually verify that we still believe they are true and that we did not miss any data points. It is vital for the health of the world, our children, our community, and even ourselves. Ignorance is hell.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Failure Is An Option

When I was a child, I learned that I should do something right the first time or not at all. Except, not at all was generally not an option. Being prone to childish foolery, I often did not do the greatest job and I would soon learn the lesson that it would have been worth my while to do a better job the first time around. One example that comes to mind is stacking firewood. If I haphazardly threw the logs in a pile, it either resulted in falling over which caused me to undo and redo all the work I had done, or else I would be reprimanded for doing a shoddy job and being told to redo it. Either way, it was the same net effect.

For the most part, this is a good lesson. You ought to put effort into what you do and do not knowingly take shoddy shortcuts. What is strange, then, is that I have so much fear in doing something the right way. I take shortcuts whenever I think they are plausible and nearly nine times out of ten they are not. For example, I cannot count how many times I've tried to use my pocket knife as a screw driver to no avail rather than simply walking the few feet and getting a real screwdriver to begin with. And yet, if I have the cognitive powers to recognize the future futility of said shortcuts, I will often be left depressed before I even try. I know the knife will not unscrew this battery compartment and the batteries are so far away anyway, with the screw driver being in a different room it just seems utterly useless to even replace these dumb remote batteries. This has the advantage of being great at developing optimal software algorithms or unique solutions like finding a universal remote app on my phone, but I often freeze with analysis paralysis and do nothing at all. But why? Is it really that hard?

I find that I am often work-adverse today. It is not that I am particularly lazy or that I do not appreciate the rewards of a job well done. I simply have this foreboding feeling within me whenever I feel the requirement to do some kind of task no matter how small and especially if I do not know how to accomplish it perfectly the first time around. Stacking firewood might be the least of my worries today, except in cases where I have to devise where and how the stack should be placed and preserved. Pondering the options causes my brain to swim in fear of doing it wrong or sub-optimally and it causes insurmountable stress from not knowing what I do not know and thus lacking the ability to even research the proper technique. Couple this with various opinions and a variety of quality-to-cost potentials, when I finally get down to research I quickly become a wreck.

What is going on here? In short, I believe I must suffer from a fear of failure with a twist of negative emotions tied to menial tasks. My brain is so wired that small tasks are correlated with bad feelings, success is happy and golden, and failure is not only a failure to perform, but a failure of who I am as a person. I can only imagine that this wiring occurred from childhood where orders were shouted out to clean my room, finish the dishes, pick up my clothes and so on, and failures to perform properly the first time were met with indignation and lack of acceptance. My goal is not to push blame on any one person as my parents were the products of their parents and likewise my kids are becoming the product of myself. Hopefully by recognizing this weakness, I can break the trend and prevent the same miswiring of the brain in my own children. As little as I remember of my childhood, I recall a lot of frustration at my behaviors and little encouragement. This, I presume, caused me to hate myself for failure and strive only for success. If success seemed out of reach, too difficult, or riddled with confusion, I would fear doing it. Questioning and not understanding the responses to my questions often resulted in being yelled at with visible demonstration of frustration with me and my failures that it was often not worth the effort to ask.

But what is one to do with this knowledge? My lower-level thinking is already corrupt and this corruption causes me to corrupt others as well--even those I love the most. My failures are immediately equated with who I am and I have a hard time disassociated them. My kids failures are a lot like my own failures which further confounds the issue. I feel the stress of my own failure that I then lash out and teach them to behave in the same manner and solidify the same wiring mess in their brains. It is a downward spiral of self-abasement and fear that threatens to carry on for generations.

While there is clearly a problem with purposeful intent to do a poor job with full knowledge that you are doing it wrong, there should be no fear of simple misguided failure. Not knowing how to do something should not be riddled with fear and doubt. And yet, even in the workplace, there can be a significant stigma to asking questions and not knowing something. Likely, such people grew up in similar militaristic styles of "failure is not an option." But failure is an option and it is a viable option that says nothing about the individual. We all fail in many ways and it does not define us personally as a failure but rather as one who tries. And this is a good thing! The more we fail, the more we at least know we are trying.

I, like many people who suffer in this way, need to learn to accept failure as an outcome that is not negative and perhaps even positive depending on the circumstances. Still, while this is a good exercise for the high order of thinking, I am not yet entirely sure what to do with those low-level feelings of dread. Being asked to do the dishes overwhelms my senses with frustration, anger, dread, and who knows what else. I cannot remember enough of my childhood to remember what the links are in my brain, but I know they need to go. I am sure that recognition of the problem is the first step like so many other problems in the world, but what does one do with that?

A significant difficulty with this disease of sorts, is that it makes it difficult to speculate on different options of treatment. Pondering all the potentials arouses that very fear of the unknown and the surety of failure rendering any considerations nearly counterproductive. The first solution that comes to mind is meditation. Perhaps I need to meditate about doing dishes simultaneously with something I enjoy. Immediately, my brain floods with questions and concerns regarding the proper method of meditation, what I would think about, which things are more useful to ponder than others, how long I would meditate, maybe there is a better option, meditation makes me feel stupid and therefore might make matters even worse, and so on and so forth. With this ailment, it almost necessitates that someone else who knows better simply tells me what to do. I would have to implicitly trust such a person without suspecting they are a boob that cares only for their paycheck by following some checklist that undoubtedly will not work on someone as uniquely unqualified as myself. A difficult problem to be sure.

While it may be challenging to correct my own brain, hopefully I can at least work harder on protecting the brains of my children. Of course, it is still difficult to know the right way to go about it which again brings up all the fears and feelings of failure even in that regard. It is a difficult mess and a Catch 22 to be sure, but perhaps making them ever-so-slightly less neurotic than me is a win. As a first step, I think it is simply important to recognize that failure is indeed an option both for me and for others. Second, I ought to recognize that my feelings of dread are not legitimate nor useful and are probably best given a stern talking-to by my conscious voice. Or perhaps a softly-spoken talking-to. Or a compassionate and understanding talking-to. Well, shoot, who knows. I guess I have time to try them all and see where they get me. So long as I remember that failure is an option, I will just have to keep trying to see what rewires my brain. It feels like such a daunting task already that I feel like retreating and taking a nap even now.

I write all this not particularly for demonstrating my failure as a human being which is, of course, how my brain is predisposed to conclude, but rather to enlighten others regarding this type of brain failure along with providing insight into the cause. If there are others who feel this way, I hope this can be some encouragement that they are not failures for these things alone. There are probably many reasons as to why they are failures. I mean, wait, no, that did not come out right. In short, if more people are aware of this common brain malfunction, then more people can support those who suffer from it. And for those who are afflicted, hopefully they might find consolation in knowing they are not alone and find encouragement to fail with pride as it means they tried. Whoa, that is good. I am going to use that...

"Fail with pride as it means you've tried."

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Election Day Is Too Late To Vote

Many Americans are proud of democracy and they encourage everyone to vote come election day. We are fed the concept that our voice matters and that we must vote in order to be heard. But I contend that election day is too late to vote. Come election day, your opinion no longer matters. Minds have been made up and people will vote not for candidates, but for the best political campaign. It has been an outstanding joke for decades that we vote for the lesser of two evils and yet our system has not improved. Everyone knows that it is the rich who get voted for because it is the rich who can bring about the best campaign. And the richest people, of course, are those in the pockets of big business who bring low the very people voting for them. We call this democracy? We call this good? I call it brainwashing and voting for the best brain-washers.

Any party who is not red or blue is an absolute joke. Write-ins are so useless that they are not even a funny joke. There is nothing to be proud of by going to a poll and voting. Not that we should not do it, of course, since votes are still needed, but if that is all we are doing then we are making a fool of democracy. By the time the polls are open, everything has already been set in motion. The previous years of media and the campaign ads have already had their full effect on the masses. The best campaign is already sure to win. If we think we are going to make a difference by putting our single vote toward what we think is best, we are absolutely fooling ourselves. No, we must vote before the elections and before the campaigns. We must vote with our values, our time, our effort, and especially our money.

The only way an individual vote counts is if it spreads to thousands of other people. This cannot occur without a true voice speaking out about what we value and why. We cannot hide in our houses and watch the world crumble then decide to vote and hope to make a change. The real change happens on a day to day basis. If we think that education in America is terrible, then we need to put effort into voicing this concept along with potential alternatives and hope it virally sweeps the nation so that big corporations wishing to make a buck by showing Americans what they want to see will pick up on it and advocate it all the more. You see, if we as Americans all want shows filled with fluffy bunnies and unicorns, the media will give that to us. If we want wars, fighting, killing, drama and suspense, they will give us that. But if we want values, love, fairness, equality, and well-being, our media will just as easily switch to that and give us what we truly desire.

Media panders to trends and makes trends more trendy. If we start a new trend of values, the media can and will make it all the more popular. When this happens, people will then vote based upon these new-found values. The party lines will then choose candidates that will best appeal to these trends and they will focus more on those values. Then, and only then, can we vote for someone worthwhile. Come election day, it is far too late to vote. We must vote daily and purposefully by rejecting trashy media, hearsay, false science, idiocy, rudeness, and the like. We must be vocal with such things while uplifting patience, education, kindness, intelligence, and other positive values. That is where the real power in voting exists. We vote with our time, our money, and our voices daily. Election day is too late. We must vote with our lives.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Wise The Fudge Up

People tend to avoid conflict as much as is possible and to join the crowd that seems most beneficial in avoiding their own suffering while emphasizing their own acceptance. Sure, there are outliers, and some people seek conflict for thrill, but the average person tends to reserve themselves in the face of adversity. This is, to some degree, a bad thing. People tend to allow bad things to continue simply to avoid a fight. But this can also work to our advantage in order to change the culture around us.

Deep down, people generally know if they are doing something that is wrong. This concept of wrong can come from culture, religion, law, or morality. When children do something wrong, the first they they do is look at the authority: teacher, parent, police officer, etc. They are extremely susceptible at that moment to soak up the response and forever gauge their future moves. If the authority does not notice, they learn they can get away with it and, if beneficial, they might do it again. If they see the authority noticed but did nothing in response, they might learn that this is acceptable behavior and do it all the more. If the authority responds in anger, they might learn to do such actions in secret. Depending on the age of the child and the cognitive powers of thought, if the authority explains the gravity of the behavior and the detrimental affects of the action, the child might instead feel ashamed and choose not to do it again.

This is a gross oversimplification of human behavior, of course, and old habits die hard. If a child has gotten away with something ten times in the past, it might take another hundred times of being called out before they recognize that it is not worth the risk. It also might simply take a hundred times for their brain to process the data and give forethought to their actions. It also may have a lot to do with whether or not the person calling them out is respected. A sibling, depending on the relationship, may not be as respected as a parent and thus the offending behavior might encourage it all the more. Such sour relationships are generally due to previous encounters of malevolence which can be difficult to mend. Mending, of course, requires extreme benevolence even in the face of adversity. No one can win an enemy over with rudeness or brute force. I have yet to hear of anyone respond to insult with, "You know, you are right, I am a bit of an expletive. Thank you for showing me the error of my ways. Let me just agree with you now and we can be friends." Or perhaps, "The collision of your fist with my face has shown me that I am wrong, please forgive me and let us be friends."

It is a fairly well-known fact, if often ignored, that violence begets violence. It is more unknown that refutation and argumentation further drives a person into their belief in a subconscious effort to save face. And yet, this is what is most commonly seen in forums and on Facebook. One person says left, the other person says the first person is a moron and that it is clearly right, the first person retorts who the true idiot is with a few facts, the second person ignores the facts and responds to the accusations equating him to body parts used for excreting wastes while supplying different facts which will also be ignored, ad infinitum. This clearly does not work and it amazes me that grown adults still function in this manner. What are you trying to do? What is your goal? Sincerely consider this. Do you simply get a high off bashing people or are you truly trying to make your point heard and understood? This behavior will not convince an opponent and it will encourage people of your point of view to exhibit the same behavior out of a subconscious drive for acceptance. The other people from the other point of view will do this as well and both sides will feel perfectly justified and accepted in their own little bubbles. This is clearly evidenced in the Democrats versus Republicans conflict which divides our nation quite nearly equally.

Both sides of the argument will thus become more solidified in their position, more angry toward the opposition, and both sides will become blind to reason and facts. Again, see politics. Is this what we want for our culture??


Culture is in our own hands. We decide what is acceptable and what is not. If we continue in this behavior, we will continue to divide our people and nothing will get done. Through disagreement, we must remain courteous in order to come to agreement over time. It is possible, but only with the recognition that we are each responsible to rectify the situation even in small matters. We must learn to value open, honest, and friendly conversation. We must learn to demonstrate it ourselves and to call others out who do not. This is where the avoidance of adversity comes to play. Angry people will not avoid adversity but ashamed people and neutral people will. Politely (i.e. without insult) call out the bad behavior and perhaps explain the ill effects. There will likely be excuses or perhaps even a retort of accusation, but this is to be expected. It may warrant more thoughtful and kind communication, but often times it might be sufficient to have simply said something once. The person might come to ponder the concept and begin to change at his or her own pace once removed from the situation.

We cannot simply ignore people who name-call, threat, act racist or sexist, or otherwise behave belligerently and immorally. They must realize that it is not helpful, it is not acceptable, and it certainly does not put them in the category of cool people. It is not what we want for our culture. Other people who read or hear our words can also learn that there are people who do not find such behavior acceptable. Even if the person we called out does not respond or change, it will help subside the effects of others joining in to the poor behavior. They will naturally avoid the conflict and negative feelings they would derive from a person who appears to value politeness and friendly discussion. They might even learn to call others out themselves in a friendly way. The more we uplift kindness, compassion, and understanding, and merely explain that we do not value name-calling, threats, and the tactics of brute ape-men who never left their caves, the more we will shape our culture around us. Even the vastness of the internet can learn from our examples over time, but this will clearly have the greatest effect in our immediate circles.

We must press values and deride the valueless as opposed to merely ignoring it. People are terrible at taking hints. They need to hear simple phrases like, "I do not find insults to be very effective in coming toward agreement" or "until I hear both sides of a story, I do not like to make judgement against a person based upon one person's perspective." Sometimes it may even need to be more directed, "That kind of behavior toward others is repulsive to me. I do not take joy in it whatsoever" or "I do not find sexism entertaining or cool by any stretch of the imagination." Clearly, circumstances will dictate the necessary response, but we must do something rather than nothing. Human nature, as Margaret Heffernan points out in her book Willful Blindness, will have people engage and copy others in their poor behavior simply because nobody speaks up. They will join the crowd. They will do what is culturally acceptable even if it is normally outside their character. Over time, good people turn bad when surrounded by bad behavior. It is a common adage that bad company corrupts good judgement. We must make it clear that cavemen and cave-women do not have control over what is cool and what is culturally acceptable. Those with loving and kind values need to direct our culture and we need to show how it is done.

Speak up. Kindly. Even if it is a single sentence, our demonstrating a lack of acceptance of bad behavior will have a strong effect in the world around us making it safer and more tolerable for us all. Silence will continue our decline toward hate, intolerance, and a country divided.

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