Up@dawn 2.0

Thursday, April 28, 2016



The question of ‘What is the purpose of life’ has been debated for thousands of years. Both theist and atheist have been able to produce convincing arguments on the highly debated subject. Theists tend to hold the belief that purpose is given to them or created for them by a higher Being, or their Creator. Most atheist would claim that their purpose is created by them personally, and each has their own individual purpose. The main difference between the two, besides who or what is the source of the purpose, is that the theist’s purpose derives from an objective sense, and the atheists’ meaning derives from a subjective sense.
I first want to start with the purpose of the theist, and although there are many different beliefs even from this stance, I am going to be coming from the perspective of what I believe to be the purpose of life as a christian. What I believe to be the meaning of life is to glorify God and to be in relationship with Him. Now while I believe this is exactly what the bible teaches, and many other christians would agree with me, how that is actually played out in christian’s lives can look very different. Many christians today would say that the meaning of life is to serve God. While yes I do believe that is something we ought to do, I do not believe that to be our objective purpose in life. Mark 10:45 states “Even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and give His life as a ransom for many.” God’s original intent for all mankind was to be in a full on personal relationship with Him, but He also gave us the choice to choose to not have a personal relationship with Him. Even though we have turned away and chosen against Him, His purpose for us has not changed. He still wants us to have a personal relationship with Him, which He has made possible through His son Jesus.
Baggini states that the belief in an afterlife does not give us purpose, and I would actually have to agree with him. He states that if our belief in an afterlife gives us purpose, then we would always be looking towards the future, and never obtain purpose for our time on earth. As I stated earlier, God’s purpose for is not to believe in Heaven or Hell, and it is also not that we will one day, when we die, begin a relationship with Him (meaning we would be looking to the future purpose of the personal relationship). God’s purpose for us to begin a personal relationship with Him now, in our broken and fallen state, so that one day when we die, we will be in perfect relationship with Him, as it was intended to be in the beginning.
Since I believe my purpose is that of an objective sense, that does not however mean that I do not also have a subjective purpose. As a sub-purpose of my objective purpose, God calls me to many particular commands to fulfill in my time here on earth. Just some of these include telling others about Jesus and Him, putting others above myself, fighting against my core evil desires, and so on and so forth. Now, how I go about fulfilling these purposes is much like the view of the atheist. I believe God has left it up to me on what it is I want to be my subjective purpose, as long as it does not contradict His word and commands He has given me. God has left my subjective purpose up to me. I can become whatever it is I wish to be and  find my subjective purpose, and still fulfill my true objective purpose. When I become a nurse, I will be fulfilling what I believe to be my own subjective purpose, yet at the same time, still able to fulfill my objective purpose of being in a personal relationship with God.
Secondly, I don’t want to put words into other’s mouths, so I am going to be sharing to the best of my knowledge on what it is most atheists believe to be the purpose of life. Since their purpose is believed to not have come from a divine power, most atheist believe it is up to them to find their purpose. How this is done comes from a variety of ways. First, some believe their purpose is to find what their profession should be, set a goal, or fulfill a dream and be the very best they can be at it. The process of pursuing a dream or goal and becoming successful in that can be very fulfilling and have lifelong meaning. Even once they have achieved their goal, dream, or profession, their purpose does not have to end. They can continue to improve and better themselves and others through their purpose for a lifetime.
Other atheists believe that the purpose of life is to live their life in a way that it betters the lives of those who follow after they are gone, and to ensure that life indeed does continue on after we die, as proposed by Scheffler. The “afterlife” as proposed by Scheffler entails that our purpose comes from the fact that life will continue on after we die. Both the living and the dead are dependent on one another.
As I am sure there are many other theories proposed by atheists as to what the purpose of life is, these two are very compelling arguments and I believe truly can satisfy a subjective purpose.
In conclusion, it is necessary to point out that purpose, in both cases of the theist and atheist, can be lost. Even the objective purpose of the theist can be shattered. Personally for my beliefs, if evidence could prove that Jesus had not risen from the grave, then ultimately and objectively, my life as a christian would be meaningless. Many people have attempted to disprove that Jesus rose from the dead, but have been highly unsuccessful, which is one of the many reasons for my faith, yet for the sake of the argument, let's say it was in fact proven. Even Paul, the author of many New Testament books, states in 1st Corinthians 15:14 “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith”. Now although my objective purpose would be lost, I would still be entitled to my subjective purpose.
For myself, the scary truth about subjective purposes lies in the realization that if those purposes I have made out for myself are taken away, which is a very likely possibility, should there be any other reason for me to continue on living? Christopher Hitchens explains, after he had been diagnosed with cancer, that he feared he would no longer be able to write due to his illness, and if that were the case, he states he would no longer have a purpose to continue on living. The sad truth about the world we live in, is that nothing is certain to last. If indeed our subjective purposes are taken from us, to what then do we account our reason to carry on as people?

Blogpost #1

The Afterlife 

As an atheist, I’ve pondered the thought of death a good bit and have been asked quite a lot what exactly I believe will happen when I die. If I do not believe in god, then it’s a safe assumption that I must not believe in heaven or hell either, and that is correct. I don’t. So what do I believe will happen when I die? My answer is a whole lot of nothing. My vision of what the afterlife will be like is simply that it will not even exist. I will die, and simply be dead. No golden gate of heaven opening as god greets me with a smile or fiery pits of hell I am eternally burning alive in, just blissful, peaceful death. And I don’t mean this in a depressing “I hate life” kind of way. I love life, I love being alive and being an inhabitant of this beautiful planet we call Earth. However, I also feel that one lifetime is more than enough for me, and that if dying is an inevitable thing I’m going to have to do, when it does happen I’d rather I just stay that way. However when I tell people this, especially to those with faith, they usually don’t understand how I can believe that death is the definite end. So I get asked lots of questions that are some variation of “How can you believe that there is nothing else after this without feeling like your life is meaningless and has no purpose?” or “How can the idea of an eternal life of perfection in heaven not appeal to you?” 

For the first part of this final report, I want to address the first question, of how I can believe that there is nothing more after death and still feel that life is significant. For myself, it is not too difficult because I believe that in the grand scheme of things, my life actually is pretty meaningless. Again, I don’t mean this in depressing way. I mean it in a way that, in terms of my existence in this universe, I kind of am unimportant and there is no true set “meaning” or “purpose” to my life. It is meaningless, which is not saddening but actually incredibly freeing because I am left to make my OWN meaning and purpose for my existence that will only matter to me and those involved in my life. This meaning for my life that I create is not dependent on whether a god deems it meaningful, or whether a god finds it worthy of heaven. If the afterlife is taken away then I am still left with this life. In my eyes that makes it still equally, if not more worthwhile because suddenly this is all you have got, and so you better make the best of it. There is no option of anything more, whether that “more” is good or bad. I don’t see how that concept doesn’t make this life all the more precious than before if anything. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Blog Post 1: Attitudes About The Future

I prefer the idea of “progress from,” rather than progress toward a set goal, as Kitcher suggested. In that respect, we have come a long way as a species. Even if an objectively perfect state of existence did exist, and we were ever able to enter that state, I find it more hopeful and useful to focus on how far we’ve come, rather than how far we have to go. In my personal life, I have met a good number of Christians who profess that the world is inherently an evil and fallen place and this attitude leads them to have no hope for the future. Why would you hope for the future when the Bible “predicts” that things will keep getting worse and that the Earth will be destroyed when Jesus returns (soon?)?

Without a hope for the future, there is not much of a reason to try to actively improve the world. They may want their children and grandchildren to be happy and have a good life, but as for the rest of humanity, it seems that we are nameless, faceless, wicked sinners who will be judged accordingly and thrown to eternal torment when their loving God ends his experiment. This sentiment helps to reinforce tribalism among fundamentalist Christians. And tribalism seems to be one of the main enemies of helpful progress in the world.

I realize that not all Christians are like this, but it seems as though the more dogmatic and literal their interpretation of the Bible, the less empathetic, sympathetic, and willing to help make the world a better place they are. We non-believers do not see the world as fundamentally broken and unable to be fixed until it is remade by God. We just see it as able to be improved upon. The Christian hope for the future is the second coming of Jesus and eternal life. We do not wish for someone to save us, but rather, we know that we can improve human conditions by examining how they have already improved and helping to enhance them continually.

On the other hand, many progressive Christians that I have talked to seem to have the belief that Christians are meant to be the agents of good changes in the world. They seem to have bought into progressive social shifts and generally have a better view of the future. Some even believe that they will be the cause of eventual perfection on Earth, due to their interpretation of the New Testament scriptures as saying that the Kingdom of God is now and will be brought into perfection by Christians. This view is certainly preferable to fundamentalism, and opens the door for common ground to work together for social changes. However, I don’t think that one can fully reconcile a belief that “God helps those who help themselves,” with a belief in a god who intervenes or a world in which miracles or any supernatural influence exists. It seems to me, that there are, in the worldview of believers, only two possibilities; that God created the universe, then was never involved in it again, or that God is actively involved in the universe now. If he is actively involved, then free-will cannot exist and advancements in science, medicine, and social progress, etc., would not be possible without his interference. If he is inactive, then why pray to him, worship him, or even think about him?

What do you think? Do you prefer “progress from,” to “progress to” a set goal? Are my generalizations of fundamentalist Christians too broad or incorrect? Do you agree that more progressive Christians seem more hopeful about the future and willing to accept the idea of a collective afterlife along with their supernatural beliefs?

Jason Mendez's blog post.

With countless predictions since the dawn of humanity, the focus of the end has been one discussed in all walks of life. Through religions doctrine, and scientific research, it is agreed that the world will end at some point. The only issue is knowing when that day will come. If humans knew when the world was going to end, how would that change everything? That is the idea of the doomsday clock. A countdown until complete catastrophe. A definitive time when life comes to an end. The real issue is, what happens if humanity does know the time of death? Will complete chaos ensue, or will society keep on how it does until the bitter end? This is what the doomsday clock is all about.
Knowing when one is going to die is something that people say they wish to know, but seldom do. There are some people that have their own version of a doomsday clock, and they deal with it very differently, both based on the situation, and the environment they are subjected to. The first being looked at will be those people with a terminal illness, such as cancer. The second will be death row inmates. Both of these people are experiencing a very similar situation as the doomsday clock. A countdown until the very end. While the situation is different, these examples can give us the closest possibilities of what can happen.
Every day, people are told a vague time they will die in hospitals every day. Every day, people are told they have days, weeks, months, years, or decades to live, and like the causes, each situation is different. Found in this New York Times article; http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/25/opinion/sunday/how-long-have-i-got-left.html, a man, whose job was to tell people they have cancer contracts it himself. He is forced to come to the reality that he himself will also die, and all he wants in the exact time. He is taken aback by the mere notion that he will still have a job. Once he learned that he will die, the idea that everything is futile already set in. The feelings of dread, and the preparations for death must begin. Saying goodbye, and finishing anything else that one needs. The reason for this is knowing the inevitability of it.
In 31 states, the death penalty is still very real. The time of death is told, and while it is not set in stone, it is still more concrete than a medical estimation. This, combined with the conditions of prison leads to something different among prisoners. Gizmodo’s article; http://io9.gizmodo.com/the-rare-psychological-disorder-that-only-affects-death-1650893993, tells of something known as “Death Row Syndrome”. As the time grows closer for the prisoners to be executed, they grow more and more insane. If the date changes, some have even been known to burst into tears, because they want to die. They have their entire mind focused on that moment. The death they have prepared for, and that has destroyed what little psyche they have left.

Try Bibliotherapy Instead of the Bible

One of the more interesting aspects of the philosophy espoused by Alain de Botton and The School of life was the use of various therapies designed to enrich the lives of people, especially those with a secular view of the world. It seems to me as though this is one of the areas in which atheists and secular minded individuals in general are lacking compared to their religious counterparts. We offer no prescribed readings such as those found in the various religions of the world as we come to our end of days and face, often alone, the prospect of a world continuing on without us. The School of Life aims to fix this problem through the use of bibliotherapy. This type of therapy is known as an expressive therapy because it allows one to heal or improve themselves with their own imagination and creativity. But how can reading in and of itself help someone cope with anything in particular, let alone the prospect of leaving the world permanently? Alain de Botton argues that this can be facilitated by a form of talk therapy with experts such as novelists or librarians that can help point readers towards books that can offer them insight into whatever problem they may be dealing with currently. To me, this seems to do a great service for the many of us that do not agree with the idea of an afterlife beyond the world we leave behind. What better way to learn how to accept and think about our shared doom than through the experience of those, both fictional and real, who have faced death before us? This type of therapy works in a three step process. The first step is known as identification and occurs when a reader notices the similarities between him or herself and a character in the book and decides to identify with the character. The next step is one of catharsis where the reader begins to relate to the character’s thoughts and sentiments. The final step, insight, occurs when the reader comes to discover that the ways in which the character overcame or dealt with issues are applicable to their own life as well. Through this process, people can not only tackle end of life issues such as death and the afterlife, but also daily issues such as depression, anxiety, and stress. One study has even shown that bibliotherapy in the form of book clubs for the elderly can help facilitate social interaction and help the elderly come to terms with their ailments. Every survey that the participants returned overwhelmingly praised the value of both the books and the social environment that was created by having people to talk about the various aspects of old age and dying. I feel that in time, programs such as this could really take off as they offer a relatively easy and low cost way to help people in all walks of life deal with the existential dread of dying and a host of other issues that may be afflicting them. In my next post, I will cover the history of bibliotherapy and its potential integration with current forms of psychotherapy. 

Here is a video of Alain de Botton discussing bibliotherapy with Big Think

Religion vs Secularism

Religion vs Secularism

I will attempt to outline some of what religion provides for individuals, the pros and cons of each of these provisions, and how secular life can fulfill and even surpass these provisions. This is mainly targeted toward Abrahamic and monotheistic religions, as these religions have the most impact on the society I live in, but much of this is applicable to other religions as well.

Traditionally, religion provides an individual:

  • A set of moral rules

    • Provided a set of moral rules, individuals are left with a solid base for determining whether an action is moral. However, the rules of religions are subject to interpretation. Through churches and communities, followers can come to conclusions about the interpretation of the rules, and how this applies to their everyday actions. In this way, religions are like the United States government. The deity or deities fits the role of the legislative and executive branch. It both creates and enforces the rules. The clergy, church, and community play the role of the judicial branch. Typically, they interpret the rules through the impact and relevance of the rules to their society.
    • This approach has some major flaws. While it is important that the religious moral zeitgeist is affected by societal changes, it is limited by the original rules. Because of this, fundamentalist movements can reverse societal changes through appealing to rules. Religion is like a rubber band in that when followers stray too far from the original dogma, they either break away into a new paradigm, or they are pulled quickly back to the religion's fundamental principles in their original context.
    • My secular answer to morality is that morality is subjective, although I believe it is important to base morality on a rational, humanistic set of principles that both encourage respect for other humans and creatures and focus on humanity's progress as a species. Too many conflate subjective morality with the idea that morality does not exist. It is perfectly valid to say that people have different systems or morality. It is wrong to say that this leaves no room for someone to debate or even denounce another moral system on the basis of their own.
  • A feeling of belonging to something larger

    • Through creation myths and religious communities, a follower of religion is given a feeling that they are special. The Christian Bible states that "God created mankind in his own image" (Genesis 1:27). This gives Christians a feeling that they are special in the universe. After all, they are in the image of the most powerful being in existence. Through religious communities such as churches or even just communities in which the majority of people are of the same religion, the follower of religion feels as if they are part of a community mutually dedicated to fulfilling their true purpose, whether it be the Buddhist desire to cease karmic existence or the Christian, Islamic, etc desire to enter paradise.
    • The primary issue with religious communities is their impact on ideological minorities, whether they are followers of other religions or atheists. Most religions forbid overlap with other religions, and to state that supernatural beings do not exist completely undermines religion in its entirety. While this can certainly be an issue in secular communities, religious doctrine is based on dogmatic statements, while secular beliefs tend to be based on reason and evidence. Reason and evidence, in my experience, tend to be good deterrents against discrimination and violence. Also impacted by religious communities are those whom it deems sinful, unfit to live, etc... It must be a horrible feeling to be told that an integral part of your identity, something primarily determined by genetics, will result in earthly and supernatural punishment.

      Source: unknown
    • My secular answer to the human need for a community is a sense of connectedness with other humans and the universe around us. While there is a vast range of human experiences, humans can feel connected to each other through the shared human experience. We are all the same species. Despite the fact that everyone experiences reality differently, there is always at least one aspect of life that we can share with each and every human being. Through this, we form bonds. Some are stronger than others, but I believe that it is our mutual humanity that gives us a reason to support our fellow humans. Our bond with the universe is less emotionally charged, but still important to consider. As Carl Sagan said, "The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff." As denizens of the universe, we are one with other humans, animals, potential alien life forms, and the universe in general through the mere fact that we exist and are composed of matter and energy. This is in itself a profound form of spirituality that I feel easily matches and even surpasses theistic spirituality. Of course, that is just my subjective outlook.

      Source: The Oatmeal
  • To be continued in my final blog post

Final Report 1

The word “Nihilism” comes from the Latin “Nihil”, meaning “nothing”. The most- used definition of nihilism is “The rejection of all religious and moral principles, often in the belief that life is meaningless.” There are two main types of nihilism, there’s moral, and existential. Moral nihilism is the belief that there is no absolute right or wrong, and that morals are arbitrary. Killing a man in cold blood matters just as little as stealing a cookie from a cookie jar. Existential nihilism argues that there is no meaning or purpose in existence at all. When we die we will just be forgotten, having left no real imprint on the universe.

   First I want to talk about moral nihilism.  When we look back, we find that society has always found meaning in morality, which used to be considered inherent in the universe based on belief in God. However, when more and more of the population started giving up on the idea of God in general, when we started becoming a secular society, some also started seeing past an objective sense of morality. Religion had been the one to lay the rules down, and when we abandoned it we abandoned the foundations for those rules. However, the grand majority of people still cling to these rules, and live with the same moral codes given by God, but without belief or faith in the divine. And even while a nihilist might reject these rules, most still live by them, because who really wants to go to prison? But a large amount of people are starting to not see the reason behind having these codes of morality. They are looking at the different moral codes of different cultures, and noticing the subjectivity in all of them. And so, it is becoming an increasingly growing philosophy that morality as a whole is completely subjective. And since society chooses morality, and is the only enforcer for it, the word “moral” is becoming synonymous with the word “lawful”. You follow the rules set by society on how you should live, that is being moral.

Final Report 1: Is It Easier To Be Moral As An Atheist Than As A Theist?

It is often argued by theists that there cannot be any morality without a God. I have been asked many times what reason I have other than legal retribution for not murdering and stealing whenever I please, because atheists have no moral code. I, however, am of the opinion that atheists are generally more moral than theists. True, Christians have their Ten Commandments which instructs them to not murder or steal, but where in the Bible does it say to not rape? Where in the Bible does it say not to enslave those of a different skin color? The Bible actually promotes slavery and misogyny (“If a man beats his male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies as a direct result, he must be punished, but he is not to be punished if the slave gets up after a day or two, since the slave is his property.” Exodus 20:21; “Let the women learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.” I Timothy 2:11-12). There is a seemingly never-ending war going on right now over which type of Islam is the correct one, and tens of thousands of innocent people are dying over the disagreement. Perhaps the best possible example of how difficult it is to be a moral theist is the idea of hell. Bertrand Russell said, “There is one very serious defect to my mind in Christ's moral character, and that is that He believed in hell. I do not myself feel that any person who is really profoundly humane can believe in everlasting punishment. Christ certainly as depicted in the Gospels did believe in everlasting punishment, and one does find repeatedly a vindictive fury against those people who would not listen to His preaching -- an attitude which is not uncommon with preachers, but which does somewhat detract from superlative excellence.” According to the Bible, anyone who does not accept Christ as their Lord and Savior goes to hell ("Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.......Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them" John 3:18-36). The idea of sending anyone at all to burn in fire for eternity is undeniably cruel. According to the Bible, even the kindest and most selfless people on earth will live in eternal torment simply because they do not believe in Jesus.

Without a holy book of rules, atheists are left to their own devices to come up with a moral code. Some may argue that this is dangerous, because humans are far from perfect and have a bad habit of hurting each other. Regardless of this fact, atheists seem to be doing a fine job of being moral all by themselves. According to a report by the United States Federal Bureau of Prisons released in 2013, while atheists make up 17% of the US population (as of the time of the report), they make up only .07% of the US prison population. Either atheists are incredibly good at not getting caught, or they simply aren’t breaking the law as often as theists. Furthermore, a study from the University of Chicago found that children raised in religious homes are less altruistic than children raised in secular homes. A study from the University of California, Berkeley, found that atheists engage in helpful behavior because they feel compassion for the person, while highly religious people engage in helpful behavior because it is what they are taught to do by the Bible and/or they are concerned for their reputation.

None of this is to say that theists are generally immoral or bad people. Some of the kindest people who have ever lived were theists, and religious nonprofit organizations help millions of people every day. It is simply more difficult to be a moral theist because there is often a contradicting and partially immoral doctrine standing in your way. Many Christians support the gay rights movement, but all of them are ignoring part of the Bible to do so. Many Christians support women’s rights, but they are ignoring part of the Bible to do so. One has to wonder whether the reason why many theists don’t act immorally is that they believe that hellfire awaits them if they do. Meanwhile, atheists, with no fear of punishment and no expectation of reward, continue to act kindly. Perhaps we don’t need to be told what is right and wrong by an old book after all. 

Blog Report 1 - Skeptics over Evil

Just as Bertrand Russell believed we could question Christ’s moral character due to his belief in Hell, I would like to contribute to the skepticism by questioning the moral character of a creator who may be setting his “children” up for failure. He who has faith in the Lord shall be granted entry into paradise in the afterlife, yet what of the individuals who are psychologically incapable of doing so based off of their genetics? My question is not based off of their moral character, but off of God’s moral character to create them as such in the first place.

Mental illness can be temporary or permanent in some cases, but for the sake of this argument, I would like to focus on antisocial personality disorder, which is typically a lifelong mental illness that cannot be cured. This disorder, for lack of better words towards a quick understanding, is more commonly seen as an individual being called a psychopath, and in less severe cases a sociopath. These types of individuals can be impossible to deal with, depending on the severity of their illness. Violent behavior, disregard for others and their safety, lack of self-control, manipulative behavior, and pathological lying are some of the symptoms seen in these types of individuals. In some cases, we would consider these individuals to be “evil” depending on their actions.

My question is: “Why would God knowingly bring life into the world that is incapable of understanding right from wrong when He is meant to be made up of goodness? Does this mean that he is actually capable of mistakes, just like humans, or is this something that was out of his own control?”
I happened to find an article that posed a similar question to my own, which you can access via http://www.str.org/articles/augustine-on-evil#.Vx_0EjArLIU.

“Is God the author of evil or its helpless victim?” is the question posed on this article that covers St. Augustine’s answer to evil. If God created evil, and evil is a thing… then would that not mean that our God made up of goodness created evil? However, what if evil is not something that can be described as a thing? Therefore, it would not need to be created, and our God is good again. The question then becomes, “what is the root of evil?” Which it is known to be the act of choosing to turn away from good, and the cause of evil roots from the free will of the individuals God has created.

To me, this answers my question from the beginning. Evil is that of the free will we have been given and not the creation of God. We have mixed up our own genetics during reproduction to create the truly evil individuals in our world, and from this perspective, that would be something out of God’s hands. He created our original genetics and based off of the mates we choose for ourselves when it comes to our reproduction process, we have screwed ourselves over in the long run.

Solo Report Part 1: The Inexhaustible Mystery of Existence

Russell makes a compelling and passionate point about the collective striving of humanity both within and against our shared suffering. As usual his words are powerful, almost magnetic: “Victory, in this struggle with the powers of darkness, is the true baptism into the glorious company of heroes, the true initiation into the overmastering beauty of human existence.” In the absence of God, he gives us ourselves as heroes. Our mere existence, he maintains, ought to quench our thirst for the transcendent. There is plenty to be in awe of in lieu of a distant, unknowable god. The inexhaustible mystery of existence is sacred in that it removes the necessity for which god was purportedly created for. As Voltaire said, “If God didn’t exist, it would be necessary to invent him”--God’s duty is to be the object of our reverence. But, in this pathos-driven argument, Russell contends that the “inmost shrine of the soul” is not built for god but for humanity.

Scheffler, I think, would agree. He renders immortality undesirable because it would cease to be “a human life.” It would be altogether Other, and--as he points out--we like living. We crave an afterlife because we want to keep being alive in the most human of senses. So when Russell says, “From that awful encounter of the soul with the outer world, renunciation, wisdom, and charity are born; and with their birth a new life begins,” I’m inclined to believe Scheffler would not only concur but incorporate this idea into his own. He would call the “awful encounter of the soul with the outer world” a whole human life. The “new life [that] begins” is the afterlife as he understands it in a godless context: the perseverance of humanity after an individual expires. This is his “inexhaustible mystery of existence”--that we, as a collective, strive on.

Likewise, De Botton’s argument is bolstered by Russell’s words. The concept of the soul, as with Russell, is used to convey a meaningful expression of human existence. It is not mere survival but a kind of thriving. Like Russell, De Botton encourages encounters with the transcendent that we have access to but in a more concrete way: “we should insist that a percentage of all prominently positioned television screens on public view be hooked up to live feeds from the transponders of our extraplanetary telescopes,” for “we live in a universe riddled with mysteries.”   

While I respect Baggini as a philosopher, I think he would be disinclined to take this view. If I knew more of his work, perhaps I would think differently. But the few, short poetic sentiments he indulges in in Atheism: A Very Short Introduction are far overshadowed by the necessity of evidence and combative arguments.. His take-no-prisoners style speaks of a hardcore devotion to materialistic atheism. When he wishes for the religious to outgrow their need for a god the way a child outgrows its need for its parents, for instance, he is not terribly sympathetic to the vast need many have and cultivate for the transcendent in some form, even the nonreligious. Thus, for me, as De Botton, Scheffler, and even unapologetic Russell acknowledge this all-too-human urge, they engender a redemptive quality to the unsentimental in their field. The facts have their place but so does “the overmastering beauty of human existence.”

Monday, April 25, 2016

"This was Christopher Hitchens"

And, to follow up on The Faith of Christopher Hitchens which I mentioned in class last week: I've finished it. It's well worth reading, giving us the startling picture of an improbable friendship between the firebrand atheist and Larry Taunton, a thoughtful and committed Christian from Alabama. They actually did a cross-country roadtrip together late in Hitch's life, studying and discussing the Bible (specifically the Book of John). But the author's speculation that Hitch may have been on the verge of a possible conversion, mirroring his earlier 9/11-inspired political conversion, is to me unpersuasive and ungenerous.

If you really want to understand Hitch's "faith" read Mortality, his moving memoir of illness and dying. He pretty clearly emerges from that account, and his widow's afterword, as an atheist who was at home in his terminal foxhole. He barely has time for the self-pitying "dumb question 'Why me'...?" Or, for why a committed atheist would befriend a theist. Nor have we.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Peer-tutoring opportunity


• RESPONSIBILITIES: Three hours per week, last 8

or 9 weeks of Fall semester 2016.

• QUALIFICATIONS: Minimum overall GPA of 3.0;

minimum philosophy GPA of 3.5; and minimum 18 hours

in philosophy with at least three different philosophy


• COMPENSATION: $12 per hour.

• CONTACT: Dr. Ron Bombardi or Dr. Jack Purcell


o Ron.Bombardi@mtsu.edu

o Jack.Purcell@mtsu.edu

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Study Guide

De Botton

March 1

1. Does deB find Pascal's pessimism depressing?

2. Who are "the most anxious and disappointed people on earth"?

3. How would an e-Wailing Wall be more consoling than the one in Jerusalem?
4. How does deB think God's answer to Job "works"?

5. What does the secular world lack?

6. How does deB suggest we use astronomy and technology to connect to ideas of transcendence?

March 15

1. Museums have what in common with universities?

2. What does deB think we could learn from "secular cycles of representative sorrows"? 

3. How does deB think museums should be reorganized?

4. Who gave "voice to the anti-aesthetic sentiment" of Protestantism?

5. How would a Temple to Perspective differ from a science museum?

6. What was the greatest conceptual error of Auguste Comte's Religion of Humanity?


March 17

1. How did James characterize fervent unbelief?

2. What is the "core of secularist doubt"?

3. What's a sensu divinitatis?

4. Religious epistemologists neglect what?

5. What was Clifford's position on the ethics of belief?

6. What's "soft atheism"?

March 22

1. (Again:) Plato's Euthyphro poses what dilemma, and why does the popular perception of a tight link between religion and ethics persist?

2. Saying that ethical deliberations answer only to a local ethical code leads to what?

3. In the rudimentary ethical project of our ancestors, the likeliest emotion motivating conformity was what? (Hint: listen to the 
2,000 Year Old Man...transcript)

4. What is the important achievement of ethical revolutionaries?

5. What Deweyan judgment does Kitcher say we should endorse?

6. The center of secular value is what?

March 24

1. Name one of Kitcher's assumptions he says "refined religion" abandons.

2. What is it about mortality and meaning that refined religion poses as a challenge to the secularist?

3. Name a famous defender of refined religion from the past century.

4. Full-blooded truth presupposes what?

5. What is a "true myth"?

6. What kind of future do secularists like Kitcher envisage?

March 29

1. Secularists can agree with Hamlet, that death is nothing to fear, if they dismiss what possibility?

2. What lies behind the sense of horror at the prospect of non-existence?

3. Meaningful lives do and do not require what?

4. Kitcher wants to resist what temptation?

5. What are the chief sources of pessimism?

6. By what does Kitcher want scriptures to be superseded?

Name a thinker who reacted against the outside imposition of meaning, emphasizing autonomy instead.
Kitcher thinks we should be committed to what, instead of salvation?
What does Kitcher say about a grandfather's joy?
What's wrong with the Christian and Muslim afterlife?

Bertrand Russell

April 7

1. What's Russell's definition of a Christian?

2. What changed Russell's mind about the First-cause Argument?

3. If there were reasons for divine law, why does God then become superfluous?

4. What "makes you turn your attention to other things"?

5. What's the gnostic position Russell is not concerned to refute?

6. What was Christ's serious character defect?

BONUS: Who does Russell rank above Christ in wisdom and virtue?

BONUS: From what does Russell say the conception of God derives?

April 12

1. Why does Russell say religion is morally and intellectually pernicious?

2. Individualism has culminated in what doctrine, paralleling what philosophical duality?

3. How can education eliminate fear?

4. What does Russell say about the evidence for immortality so far adduced by psychical research?

5. How should all moral rules be tested?

6. What habit does education attempt to cure children of?

7. What must we have, to live a good life?

8. What can we learn (besides "humbug") from the Victorian age?

9. What is "natural"?

April 14

1. Russell says belief in a future life is caused by what?

2. Our view of the universe as good or bad depends on what?

3. Why can there be no experience of a Deity?

4. When Russell looked back at "A Free Man's Worship" a quarter century after publishing it, what did he "still believe"? What had he abandoned?

5. What attitude does Russell detect in God's answer to Job?

6. What unites humanity?

April 19

1. What does Russell consider the main difference between Catholic and Protestant conceptions of virtue?

2. How did George Eliot typify the Protestant freethinker?

3. What would not have occurred to Mill, Bentham, and other advocates of pleasure as the end of life?

4. What must we remember about life in the middle ages, and about history in general?

5. Why did Tom Paine take up the American cause?

6. What religious duties did Paine attest?

April 21

1. What does Russell say was "nice" about young girls when he was young? Who does he say was more commonly nice in 1931?

2. What's the chief characterstic of nice people? What are some of the nice things they do?

3. What was killing niceness in Russell's day?

4. What is sin?

5. What was the result of conventional attitudes (in Russell's day) towards sex?

6. What belief did Russell say was dying out in 1936?

BONUS: What we do has its origin in what?

  • Russell rejects _____’s view that the U.S. is the least philosophical nation in the world.
  • Russell feels “profound moral reprobation” for those who say religion ought to be believed because it is ____.

Study Guide

Our last exam on Tuesday, again in glossary format, will be drawn from the March and April quizzes (would anyone care to earn three runs by copying and pasting them all into a convenient study guide?) plus these questions from Russell's concluding essays.

  • Russell rejects _____’s view that the U.S. is the least philosophical nation in the world.
  • Russell feels “profound moral reprobation” for those who say religion ought to be believed because it is ____.
Before the exam I'll invite you all to offer a brief commercial for your final report. I urge everyone to read and comment on others' report posts, especially the first installments. After the exam, stick around so we can grade them together and you can see your pre-report runs total. I'll also collect all your personal logs.
And, to follow up on The Faith of Christopher Hitchens which I mentioned in class last week: I've finished it. It's well worth reading, giving us the startling picture of an improbable friendship between the firebrand atheist and Larry Taunton, a thoughtful and committed Christian from Alabama. They actually did a cross-country roadtrip together late in Hitch's life, studying and discussing the Bible (specifically the Book of John). But the author's speculation that Hitch may have been on the verge of a possible conversion, mirroring his earlier 9/11-inspired political conversion, is to me unpersuasive and ungenerous.

If you really want to understand Hitch's "faith" read Mortality, his moving memoir of illness and dying. He pretty clearly emerges from that account, and his widow's afterword, as an atheist who was at home in his terminal foxhole.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Quiz Apr21

Our last quiz, before Tuesday's exam.

1. What does Russell say was "nice" about young girls when he was young? Who does he say was more commonly nice in 1931?

2. What's the chief characterstic of nice people? What are some of the nice things they do?

3. What was killing niceness in Russell's day?

4. What is sin?

5. What was the result of conventional attitudes (in Russell's day) towards sex?

6. What belief did Russell say was dying out in 1936?

BONUS: What we do has its origin in what?

Post yours, please.
  • Are young people nice, in Russell's sense, nowadays? Is niceness widely practiced and/or esteemed?
  • What does it mean to you, to be nice? Are you?
  • Russell clearly holds "niceness" in contempt. Are there any other honorific terms of character and disposition in our time that you consider contemptible?
  • Same question as last time, in light of the newly-proffered definition offered in today's reading: should secularists drop "sin"? 
  • How would you characterize the present state of sex education and sexuality in our culture, and among young people? Have we tilted too far in compensation for the general ignorance, superstition, and "sinfulness" that pervaded the subject in Russell's day? Are we supplying too much information, and inappropriately sexualizing children through popular culture, advertizing, and social media?
  • What would Russell think of "sexting" and the pressure some young women and girls feel to indulge boys' sexual interest? What do you think of it? (See below*)
  • COMMENT: "If women are to have sexual freedom, fathers must fade out..." 170
  • "At present [1936], wives, just as much as prostitutes, live by the sale of their sexual charms." 172 This is no longer the case, right?
  • What do you think of Russell's views on domestic nudity? 176
  • Should adults respond to children's questions with "complete openness on sexual subjects"? 177
  • Will marriage ever "cease to have any raison d'etre?" 178
* Sext and the Single Girl

Navigating the Complicated New Landscape
By Peggy Orenstein

There’s a moment midway through Peggy Orenstein’s latest book that seems to sum up what it’s like to be a teenage girl right now. An economics major taking a gender studies class is getting dressed in her college dorm room for a night out, cheerfully discussing sexual stereotyping in advertising with Orenstein — while at the same time grabbing a miniskirt and a bottle of vodka, the better to achieve her evening goal: to “get really drunk and make out with someone.” “You look hot,” her friend tells her — and the student, apparently registering the oddness of the scene, turns to Orenstein. “In my gender class I’m all, ‘That damned patriarchy,’ ” she says. “But . . . what’s the point of a night if you aren’t getting attention from guys?” Her ambition, she explains, “is to be just slutty enough, where you’re not a prude but you’re not a whore. . . . Finding that balance is every college girl’s dream, you know what I mean?”

Exactly how that got to be anyone’s dream is the subject of “Girls and Sex,” a thought-provoking if occasionally hand-wringing investigation by Orenstein, who in previous books has put classroom sexism, princess obsessions and other phenomena under her microscope. Be warned: Orenstein, a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine and the mother of a preteen girl, begins her reporting worried by what she’s heard about “hookup culture” — and ends it even more freaked out. It’s not that girls are having so much sex (the percentage of high-schoolers who have had intercourse is actually dropping); even if they were, Orenstein’s careful to say she wouldn’t judge, really. But the acts the girls are engaging in, from oral sex to sexting, tend to be staged, she argues, more for boys’ enjoyment than their own. For guys, she says, there is fun and pleasure; for girls (at least the straight ones), too little physical joy, too much regret and a general sense that the boys are in charge. Fully half the girls in Orenstein’s book say they’ve been coerced into sex, and many had been raped — among them, by the way, that econ major, who was so confused that when her assailant dropped her off the next morning, she told him, “Thanks, I had fun.” The sexual playing field Orenstein describes is so tilted no girl could win... (continues)

Girls Just Wanna Be Heard
In her new book, Nancy Jo Sales explores how teenage girls on social media provoke attention—but fails to show how they also demand respect.

“You being ashamed to send your tit pic is misogynistic.” Anna, a high school senior, took a screenshot of the text, which appeared to be sent by someone named Tony. “If you were really a feminist, you would be comfortable showing us your body,” Tony wrote. “Breasts are not sexual body parts. They’re something everyone has. Don’t let your internal misogyny stop you from sending nudes.” Anna tweeted the screenshot under the words “they’re advancing.” As it went viral across social media, the exchange was seen as a shocking but perfect example of how far boys are willing to go to manipulate girls into sending them naked photos.
Girls who take provocative selfies, texting or posting them publicly, are “just trying to get attention.” Attention is delivered as both a diagnosis and an indictment.
The text, however, wasn’t real. Anna’s friend had written and sent it to a group chat. I asked Anna if her friends joked about boys demanding nudes because it happened so often. “No guy has realistically asked for nudes to that extent,” she said. “It’s usually a casual ‘do you have Snapchat?’ message on Tinder.” Did the ease with which boys could pursue girls on social media and the internet feel oppressive? Had the pressure to get likes on Instagram hurt her self-esteem? “I can see how that could easily happen, but for me personally social media has never hurt my self-esteem,” Anna told me. “If anything it’s satisfying to watch people like and retweet what you have to say.” (continues)

Monday, April 18, 2016

Quiz Apr19

1. What does Russell consider the main difference between Catholic and Protestant conceptions of virtue?

2. How did George Eliot typify the Protestant freethinker?

3. What would not have occurred to Mill, Bentham, and other advocates of pleasure as the end of life?

4. What must we remember about life in the middle ages, and about history in general?

5. Why did Tom Paine take up the American cause?

6. What religious duties did Paine attest?

“In a time when both rights and reason are under several kinds of open and covert attack, the life and writing of Thomas Paine will always be part of the arsenal on which we shall need to depend.” ― Christopher Hitchens, Thomas Paine's Rights of Man

Please post yours.

  • Do you agree with James Mill about evil? 118
  • If you're godless, which god do you not believe in - Protestant, Catholic, both, other,...?
  • How would you apply Russell's distinction to the authors we've read? Is de Botton, for instance, a Catholic freethinker? Is Kitcher a protestant?
  • What do you think of "moral holidays"? 120
  • Do you agree with what James Mill taught his son about "who made me"? 120
  • Would Voltaire have been a Deist if he'd come along a century later (in Darwin's time)?
  • Are you a cheerful skeptic in the style of Voltaire and Montaigne? 122
  • Considering Russell's remarks on Comte, what do you imagine he'd say about de Botton's School of Life? 122
  • Would you support a Santayana Church built on the precepts of Lucretius and Democritus? Are you tempted to "worship matter," on the hypothesis that it has given rise to all good things? 122
  • Is it true that Protestants like to be good and Catholics like to be bad, etc.? 123
  • Should secularists have any use at all for the concept of "sin"? 124
  • Do you regret the absence of chivalry in our time? Do you take the romantic view of it, or the view that it was a game invented to relieve the boredom of the upper classes? 129
  • Do we need a new Dance of Death, or public festivals that insistently acknowledge our mortality (presuming Cinco de Mayo doesn't quite do that)? 130
  • Are accessible ("simple, direct, unlearned") philosophers more dangerous than sophisticates and rigorous analysts? 134 What's the proper place of "common sense" in philosophy?
  • Could a modern-day pamphleteer have the impact of a Paine? 137
  • Do you admire Paine's parting words to the clergymen who visited him on his deathbed? 146
Part of the reason for the Tennessee state legislature's move re the bible is that the state makes money printing it