Review |Beyond God – Why Religions are False, Outdated and Dangerous by Peter Klein

Beyond God - Why Religions are False, Outdated and DangerousBeyond God – Why Religions are False, Outdated and Dangerous by Peter Klein

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A great subtitle to this book would be, “An Antitheist Manifesto.” Peter Kline has written a book that is required reading for secular activists. Contained within its 266 pages is a point by point evisceration of religion and the harm it causes across the spectrum of human existence. Not just informative, this book is both inspirational and practical. Each chapter discusses how religion and its barbaric views poison just about every area of human life. Example after example is given along with the plethora of religious texts that support these backward and draconian views. This is also one of the best books to give to your religious family and friends when they ask about why you hold such stringent views towards religion.

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Memento Mori

“Let us prepare our minds as if we’d come to the very end of life. Let us postpone nothing. Let us balance life’s books each day…The one who puts the finishing touches on their life each day is never short of time.” – Seneca

“You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think.” – Marcus Aurelius

One of the epiphanies associated with adopting the secular worldview is the realization that this is the only life we have.  There is not a single shred of evidence that there is anything waiting for us on the other side of death.  Oftentimes the contemplation of this fact prevents some from adopting a secular viewpoint in spite of being convinced by the arguments and evidence.  I’m sure you’ve heard the objection, “I can’t believe we live and die and then that is it.”  This fact is so unpalatable for some that it elicits an emotional response that overrides the conclusions of reason.

For me, this realization was a very visceral epiphany.  The understanding that this is our one and only life, rather than being a strictly intellectual acquisition, resonated deep inside me and caused me to reevaluate just about every aspect of my life both in the present and what I had planned moving forward in the future. Prior to this, I felt like I had all the time in the world and if I didn’t get to it in this life well, there was always eternity (of the Catholic variety) waiting and there would certainly be time o’plenty to get to it, whatever it happened to be. All that changed with the realization that once you got that tap on the shoulder letting you know it was time to leave the party, that was that.  The party wasn’t over, it would continue on but you had to leave never, ever to return.

What goes through your mind, dear reader, when you contemplate this fact?  Is it something you push to the side, glancing at it occasionally with averted vision or is it something you embrace each day?  Some might say that to constantly focus on one’s death is a morbid view and an unhealthy thing.  Nothing could be further from the truth!

The Stoics, Greek and Roman philosophers, understood the importance of meditating daily on the idea of Memento Mori, roughly translated “One day you too will die.” They exhorted those practicing the Stoic disciplines to keep this fact in mind each and every day. In addition to being a philosophical framework, Stoicism is also a mental discipline and, like any discipline is something that is to be practiced.  Was your experience of the realization of your eventual death something that motivated you and caused you to appreciate even more this one and only life we all have?  Then the Stoic practice of being constantly cognizant of this fact each and every day will continue that even more so.  More importantly, it will motivate you to change your behavior. Speaking from personal experience the awareness of my own unavoidable death is the driving force that provides meaning to what I choose to invest my time and energy in.  I don’t have an unlimited amount of time and each and every day I am taking more and more from less and less.  Every second is precious to me and I am careful about how I spend my time and the activities I invest that precious time in.  Far from draining the value of our life as the religious would have you believe, it adds meaning to it which is the very thing the religious claim is lacking in the secular worldview.  There are other philosophies that also take somewhat the same view towards death as the Stoics but I have found that the Stoics have a special appeal to people who hold to a secular worldview.  There is other wisdom to be mined from the Stoics but nothing as transformative as Memento Mori.  If you are looking for a framework upon which to hang your secular worldview give the Stoics a good look.  Practice the different disciplines starting with Memento Mori and see how transformative it can be.

“A man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life.” – Charles Darwin

 

Atheist or Anti-theist?

“I’ll tell you what you did with Atheists for about 1500 years. You outlawed them from the universities or any teaching careers, besmirched their reputations, banned or burned their books or their writings of any kind, drove them into exile, humiliated them, seized their properties, arrested them for blasphemy. You dehumanized them with beatings and exquisite torture, gouged out their eyes, slit their tongues, stretched, crushed, or broke their limbs, tore off their breasts if they were women, crushed their scrotums if they were men, imprisoned them, stabbed them, disemboweled them, hanged them, burnt them alive.

And you have nerve enough to complain to me that I laugh at you.”

Madalyn Murray O’Hair

 

“Many religions now come before us with ingratiating smirks and outspread hands, like an unctuous merchant in a bazaar. They offer consolation and solidarity and uplift, competing as they do in a marketplace. But we have a right to remember how barbarically they behaved when they were strong and were making an offer that people could not refuse.”

― Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything

 

In his book, Fighting God: An Atheist Manifesto for a Religious World, David Silverman makes the argument that non-believers should self-identify as ‘atheist’ with the caveat “when it is safe to do so”.  He contrasts ‘atheist’ with other terms that are sometimes used such as ‘freethinker’, ‘humanist’, ‘naturalist’ and various others.  His argument, and it is a compelling one backed up by data, is that most people have absolutely no clue what someone means when they label themselves as a ‘freethinker’, let’s say.  On the other hand, everyone knows exactly what you mean when you tell them that you are an ‘atheist’.  I can attest from personal experience that Silverman’s observation is accurate.  I’ve used terms such as ‘humanist’ and eventually the question comes up, “But you do believe in God, right?”“No, I’m an atheist” has always my reply.  These days, however, in addition to stating at the outset that I am an atheist I always say that, furthermore, I am an anti-theist.  So what’s the difference?  An atheist is someone who rejects claims for the existence of god due to the complete lack of evidence.  An atheist thinks much the same way regarding trolls, fairies, angels, and Leprechauns as they do about god:  no evidence at all so the claim of their existence is rejected.   Things would be fine if both sides left at that.  Unfortunately, the religious never do.

“Religion is not the belief there is a god. Religion is the belief god tells you what to do.”
Christopher Hitchens

While many atheists hold to a live and let live philosophy when it comes to theists, anti-theists view the beliefs of theists as positively harmful.  In fact, were it not for theists being so active in proselytizing and expecting special privileges for themselves, their beliefs, and their institutions in society there would not be any anti-theists in the world.  It isn’t what theists believe but their insistence that everyone else believes as they do and acts accordingly that is the problem.  While religious theists tell you that it is the eternal destiny of your soul and the life after this one that concerns them over and over we see this is just a lie.  They discriminate against women in this world. The seek political power in this world so as to require everyone to believe as they do or suffer the dire consequences of being convicted of blasphemy, which is another word for thought crime.  Not only do they presume to tell you how to act they even claim the right to tell you what you think.  The are after power and property in this world, the most valuable property by far being the inside of your head.  They will stand in front of your claiming to ventriloquize the divine and issue commands at you telling you how to live and what to think as they point to “god’s word on the page.”

The anti-theist will have none of that and will let the zealots know in no uncertain terms that he or she will do everything possible to stave off this poison using the antidotes of science and reason where ever it is found.  This anti-theist refuses to go back to the time when religion “was making an offer that people could not refuse.”

 

 

Review |Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari

Homo Deus: A Brief History of TomorrowHomo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In this book the author delves into the perilous depths of predicting the future. Regardless of where you come down on the issues and his prognostications you will be thinking about this book long after you have put it down. The author takes two technologies still in their beginning stages, biotechnology and data processing coupled with ever more powerful AI algorithms and extrapolates the impact these two fields will have to economics, humans and the value of human life. The author uses a broad brush so the reader gets everything from the ‘rose colored glasses’ scenario to a bleak dystopian future chronicling the last days of the human race. One comes away with the impression that both scenarios are possible; it all depends on who gets their hands on the technology first and their subsequent ability to control it.

Of particular interest to me were the authors treatment of two subjects: free will and Humanism. Discussions regarding free will have become increasingly popular with a number of authors such as Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett recently releasing books on the subject. Dr. Harari’s treatment of free will is as good an introduction as I’ve seen to the subject. His treatment of Humanism is even better and, while I still have some issues with specifics he has forced me to rethink some of my assumptions and change some of my views. I would love to see Dr. Harari’s next book delve deep into Humanism. His historical approach to understanding a subject would work quite well with Humanism and add a great deal of value to the current discussions.

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Review |The Moral Arc: How Science and Reason Lead Humanity toward Truth, Justice, and Freedom by Michael Shermer

The Moral Arc: How Science and Reason Lead Humanity toward Truth, Justice, and FreedomThe Moral Arc: How Science and Reason Lead Humanity toward Truth, Justice, and Freedom by Michael Shermer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was an interesting read/listen. Shermer presents a number of arguments to show and explain the apparent correlation between the advance of science and the advance of our moral sensibilities. Having considered Shermer’s arguments I am still not fully convinced that it is the rise of science and reason that is informing and driving the moral insights of society and is the prime mover of ‘bending the moral arc’ as Shermer calls it. We have had science and scientific progress in any number of societies over the course of history; the Chinese and the Arab world are two that come to mind yet there was no corresponding rise in either the standard of living or moral sensibilities which mimic Western society over the past 100 years. While I would agree that science is a necessary condition for moral progress to occur I don’t think that Shermer makes the case that it is a sufficient condition.

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Review: How to Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life by Massimo Pigliucci

This is a good primer for those interested in Stoicism. There are a number of Stoics, both Greek and Roman, whose writings are available to the modern reader. In this book Pigliucci stresses the writings and thoughts of Epictetus and the reader is introduced to Stoicism through that lens. Had this book been written by, let’s say, former President Clinton it would be through the lens of Marcus Aurelius as President Clinton lists “Meditations” as one of his top books to read. As an introduction to Stoicism this book offers the reader two main benefits that other introductory books may not. First, a cogent and thorough history of Stoicism and how it fits into the different threads of Greek philosophy. The historical approach to studying philosophy, especially in the beginning stages, is the method I was schooled in and experience has shown it to be the most fruitful in gaining a thorough understanding of the subject matter. Pigliucci does this exposition well. The second thing that the author stresses is that Stoicism is first and foremost a practice that one undertakes in order to achieve ‘eudaimonia’ or the good life. Pigliucci again gives this a very good treatment and I would say work and discipline to achieve the good life is the main thread that knits together the entire book. Wherever he can, Pigliucci uses personal anecdotes to illustrate the point he is making chapter by chapter and how it relates to achieving ‘eudaimonia’. By the end of the book you may very well be looking at the world through Stoic lenses and notice the internal changes that this view brings. It did for me and the book has motivated me to explore and practice the disciplines of Stoicism in my daily life. Well worth the read.