Friday, November 30, 2012

The walls we breathe through

Since as early as she remembers, an orphaned child has been locked in a basement by a group of unscrupulous abusers. Rather than sending her to school; letting her socialize and explore her surrounding, they keep her in a dark room and make her perform repetitive tasks until exhaustion, both mental and physical. For decades, they have selectively deprived her of knowledge, punishing even her weakest attempts at critical thinking. She cannot hope to become self-sufficient, yet she is expected to be grateful for being allowed to live. When she dares questioning her condition, she gets reminded that her real parents were drug-addict failures who left her starving in a park at night.


She is enslaved and not only does she ignore it, she is expected to express enjoyment. How can she possibly help it, considering the way she was raised in this misery? Is she supposed to keep paying for her parents' errors? Succeeding at anything grants her no self-esteem, no credit. Any failure, though, is to be blamed on her and her only. After all, she is the incompetent, abandoned child of pathetic losers. Doubting her abductor's good intentions is a basis for violent physical punishment and she is expected to be afraid of the consequences. What makes this even worse, is that her true parents never abandoned her. She will never try to get to know them; her life is a lie.

According to a very successful TED Talk by researcher Brené Brown, professor at the University of Houston, shame involves a two-step thinking pattern. It feels as if you were stuck in a loop. First, you believe that you are not good enough, which is hard to overcome. When you finally manage to get your self-esteem out of that vacuum, you then get stuck in an alternate mental state, asking yourself: "Who do you think you are?" and you fall again. It's pretty much as if you were building your own walls of fear and when you manage to overcome them, after so much work and hardship, timidly, you peek outside and then remind yourself you're not good enough, so you start rebuilding.


It certainly wouldn't come as a surprise if these facts had been intuitively figured out by the same people who came up with the idea of organized religion. For example, Islam drowns you in an endless list of daily requirements and acts punishable for insanely obscure reasons that fit all the criterias of a totalitarian ideology, not so unlike Christian faith which tells you to blame yourself, constantly, under the false pretense of keeping you humble. Both seem designed to shame you into submitting to a being whose hypothetical existence you should not risk questioning. Because of unreliable ancestors you've never met, you're screwed; so you should be ashamed and obedient.

As many other ex-members of religions or groups that actively discourage and punish independent thinking, I chronically experience: social anxiety; adjustment disorder; unneeded guilt; an unfair and unjustified lack of self-esteem. Although the difficulties I experience in life cannot all be blamed on my parents' educational choices, I honestly think that, had I not been inculcated with these repugnant values of shame; submission and dependency, it would have been a lot easier. In fact, dependency is the best term I can find to describe how it feels. Indeed, it's much simpler to be a non-smoker than an ex-smoker and the tobacco industry could hardly care less about ex-smokers.


While we do not have time to analyze every single religion out there, it seems fair to say that organized monotheistic religions as we know them, however their doctrines are applied, appear precisely designed to control people through, perhaps not nicotine, but self-esteem. Unless they can indoctrinate children from the womb, these religions are widely known to target people in their weakest moments, promising comfort to the afflicted, sending missionaries to starving people; going door to door, hoping to recruit weak people ready to throw themselves in this not-so-subtle loop of shame and passivism; offering them comfort and community, though not without conditions.

If, like countless other people, you have been indoctrinated with such ideas, you know how shame feels because you have been taught that it's wrong to do most of the things that would actually allow a person to develop self-esteem. Worse, you have been told the lie that such a contradictory relationship is beneficial to you, just like tobacco companies still get away with selling the idea that nicotine actually relaxes you. Yes, it makes you feel better, but we all know that's because it temporarily chases the crave for nicotine, a problem created by cigarette makers in the first place. At least, tobacco companies are not threatening us with eternal damnation for not buying their lies.


According to the September 2012 issue of Psychology Today, a study on self-esteem concludes that the efforts required to raise it as an adult are so large compared to what little leverage you would get that it's actually more efficient to try and just think about it less. Any ideology basing its principles on guilt and shame is potently harmful to mental health. It can have side effects that are very noticeable, especially when people quit. These are even used as arguments against quitting. If you stop smoking, you might gain weight; and leaving a religion can cause feelings of stress; fear; anxiety. The nicotine analogy is shockingly accurate and we know the benefits of quitting cigarette.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Not as special as you thought

Whenever we blame society, we are merely protesting our own inability to contribute towards its betterment.

Lately, science has become increasingly outspoken about a number of studies addressing what we've always perceived as free will and took for granted to be what sets humans apart from the rest. These studies consistently suggest that our brain makes decisions before we consciously know that we will make the choices we think we've made. Needless to say, this isn't helping set the thinking mind at rest. We have, in all likelihood, discovered something about the brain that is so controversial it could be the biggest scientific discovery since our realization that the Earth is not flat. It must have been hard for previous generations to adapt to such world-shattering notions and it's fortunate that they didn't remain too obstinate about it; we may still be living off trees today.

We commonly assume our species to be uniquely superior to the rest of nature, calling things that we have modified artificial and everything else natural, not really understanding what we mean by it most of the time. Not only is this conception of nature quite bogus, it often seems to handicap our ability to interact with it. However evolved and increasingly complex our brain structure might have become over a few hundred millennia, we remain the pattern-seeking apes that our not-so-distant ancestors were all along. Being so developed and awakened, we should be able to wrap our minds around hundred-years-old evidence and, at last, fully appreciate the pretenseless scientific fact that we are nature. We simply cannot hope to understand it if we boycott its most essential principles.

If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch...
As history repeats itself, enlightenments and dark ages sorely succeed each other in a vicious cycle. Science is fragile and many factors, including unbridled capitalism, menace its great albeit limited achievements. More so, what little you and I comprehend, in comparison to the total sum of human knowledge, is so small it's ludicrous. Plagued with uncertainty, as ever, we build belief upon belief, upon unverifiable assumptions, rarely realizing how feebly they stand, piled on each other as a house of cards. The more fundamental we consider these truths, the more difficult it seems to put back into question their basis. We know how it would force us to start over and reexamine a multitude of previously unquestioned ideas on which we relied for morals; inspiration and self-worth.

Notwithstanding the sad fact that having to reprocess all this is bound to be mentally exhausting, it is obviously easier to just pretend like we own reality; but again, bear in mind: for us to be standing here now, unfortunate folks had to go through this, time and time again. Anything about which we are right today, we had to be wrong about first; and what you and I, taken as individuals, assume to be knowledge... is in fact mostly unchecked data. We simply can't be expected to personally verify it all and as ambiguous as the word truth might be, being wrong is the only path towards it. We have all been told things that hurt because they forced us to deconstruct notions we considered fundamental and from which many others of our cherished beliefs were borrowing all of their validity.

Decision making: as close to it as you'll ever get...
If a spiritual entity created us in its image, wouldn't it be absurd to think it may have had free will while it turns out that we actually don't? Also, while being all-powerful implies an ability to make conscious judgments, doesn't the idea of divine perfection seem quite incompatible with decision making? Why would you need to make any if you ultimately knew what the best possible path is? In fact, if a perfect being made any choice, knowing it not to be the best available, wouldn't that make him slightly malevolent? This is not a new issue, it is a problem with the abrahamic God that has eluded people for a while. Devout believers will come up with all kinds of tentative explanations, mostly made of redundant, circular logic. Is it not getting obvious that we make gods in our image?

You came across this blog through a succession of factors too complex for anyone to say that you chose it all to happen. Someone or something outside made you want to give it a chance. Your choices were narrowed down. Depressing? A bit too much exposure to reality may have its toll on you after a while. Healing from religious abuse takes efforts and time, just like withdrawing from some "comfort-inducing" chemical substance would be a painful challenge. Atheism is not the answer, merely the result. You'll never be presented with certainty and this is difficult to a lot of people who quit religion. Whatever you may think of this article, having read it will slightly modify your perception just like every stimuli that ever reached your senses. Truth is rarely too convenient.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Overconfidence backfires

"Words fly away, writings remain."

Certainly we have all heard of this saying in one form or another. I take for granted that, even if we had yet to put them in writing, we would already know the truth behind these words; we could intuitively value their meaning. Words are often spoken just as easily as they are forgotten. From the most memorable speeches of recent history, at best we can remember a few important sentences; and yet manuscripts effectively serve as testimony to what and how people thought thousands of years ago. On a much smaller time scale, this concept can also take on personal significance. Perhaps have you even had the misfortune of experiencing for yourself how, although they meant no ill, written words can create backlash, making you wish you'd never published them.

Despite the occasional good bits, the Bible and Qur'an stand as perfect examples of this. Stories like the one in which God stops the Sun for Joshua's army, implying that the Earth somehow stopped rotating and that God had to keep the entire atmosphere from being sucked out into space, are implausible. Even though an all-powerful God could hypothetically do such a thing, the original writers clearly did not mean to say that. To them, the sun had stopped rotating around. Can we claim it was intentionally symbolic when it took centuries to determine it could not be literal? To a lot of Muslims, the Earth is still flat; we are surrounded by invisible fire-based folks called "Jinn" and we use tents in heaven. You read that right, you just don't mess with Muhammad.


If these issues were limited to a few mind-boggling miracle claims, it would not be that bad; but many of theses religious texts have generated actual wars. They still are today, wasting people's lives away. It seems almost too convenient to take the easy approach of blaming it all on people's misinterpretation of what the original writers really meant. Let's face it: If these words were divinely inspired, wouldn't an omnipotent creator be able to make the wording perfectly unambiguous? You would expect an all-knowing being to be much better at this than that, I dare say. Also, what if it were you who wrote something and later found a bunch of people slaughtering each other over its interpretations? How would you rationalize it? Would you not be disappointed at your writing skills?

When the ten commandments are quoted by atheists who wonder why more people are not killing themselves, Christians who work on Sunday unavoidably bring up the argument that this is just the old testament. It is God's unchangeable word; just kind of an outdated version, back when God was somehow only interested in one particular tribe of people in the Middle Eastern desert. Screw the Chinese who were far more advanced at the time. Sharing his message with this entire world he created was out of the question; a genocidal desert tribe would do a fine job. So, although God could see the future, he screwed up with Adam and Eve and even screwed up with spreading his message evenly. How potently organized is this YHWH? How is anyone taking this stuff seriously?


Gazing at these Burka-wearing women reminds me of an Aristotle quote that states how it is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it. If you were conditioned to think that questioning faith is punishable by torments and fire, upholding a healthful level of skepticism might be difficult at times. Organized religions can contribute to create and maintain strong bonds and tight communities; but this seems to cost many intelligent adults their ability to question the status quo. Compelling toddlers to be outspoken about a set of beliefs that they cannot possibly understand or grasp can greatly affect their ability to think about it later on, and though organized religions are not alone doing it, they excel at it. They came up with this idea.

We are constantly being fed the belief that, although being able to change our mind about things is itself admirable, too much fluctuation in opinions is not. It can make us appear inconsistent, which, ostensibly, is the sign of a weak mind. There is just one small problem with that line of thought. What is the use of being consistent if we happen to be wrong? Is it not the infinite freedom we have to change ideas that makes life so enthralling? The more open-minded we become, the more likely it is that, over time, we will come to develop better ways to do things and learn to determine when it is most beneficial to alternate between each. Despite typical misconceptions about intellectual integrity, it remains clear as day that uncertainty is an inescapable byproduct of sound skepticism.

The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are
 always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.

 - Bertrand Russell (May 18, 1872 –  February 2, 1970) -


Sunday, February 12, 2012

Christianity's dying wish

Considering its history as a worldwide power structure, it would be quite an understatement today to say that Christianity has seen better days. The fact that it is literally divided in thousands of denominations each exhaustively convinced that all the other ones are wrong about something is  much too striking to be left ignored. Nonetheless, when their faith gets compared with others' in terms of numbers, Christians are ever willing to take refuge under the same comforting and quite unsubstantial umbrella of Christianity. Its symbolic membership of a billion+ scattered around the globe, and divided on questions fundamental enough to justify separate denominations, is certainly a crucial symptom of how clueless people really are about what to make of Jesus and the New Testament. We are looking at about 38,000 denominations. At this rate you could just make one...

Galileo: Christianity's first encounter with reality.

Imagine having to interrogate numerous members of one very large family. At first glance, they all appear to be presenting concordant evidence; but there is one thing you cannot help but notice: They all strongly disagree with all the others on one fundamental part of each of their stories. Essentially, they are all accusing everyone else of lying about one detail or another. To make this even more complicated; everyone swears to be telling the truth, only the truth. How plausible is this? How utterly suspect would this make their testimonies? On what basis could one possibly decide who to trust, without giving special consideration to one over all others, and for entirely subjective reasons? Isn't this how Christians pick their denomination? Besides, how useless would those people be to the case at hand!? You might as well not have called in any of these witnesses.

It used to be that the Catholic Church could dominate people's minds and actions to an extent that it cannot even dream of emulating now, and never again will. On the political scale, it was powerful enough to be taken seriously by the smartest of scholars when it publicly challenged testable natural phenomenons using scripture and dogma. Today, any scientifically literate person, religious or not, would find the idea completely laughable. Historically, whenever archaeologists, historians or scientists from other domains realized that parts of the Bible previously thought to be factual were false or couldn't have possibly happened, Christians plainly denied everything until they were finally forced to reason. In fact, many are still stuck in denial. As a last resort, they declare it conveniently obvious that the faulty parts were no fairy tales, just a few more harmless allegories.

Evil "atheists" having a little chat.
For nearly a hundred generations, the death of Jesus Christ, by far the most important theme of Christianity, had been thought to redeem humanity of an "original" sin committed literally by our oldest ancestors: Adam and Eve. This couple who, according to evolutionary biology, could never possibly have existed, had reportedly performed the very immoral act of snacking from a Tree of Knowledge. How paradoxical does it sound to you that people would write an allegorical story, claim it to be factual, then make its central point the doctrine that we are all doomed because our most distant parents committed the unholy act of seeking knowledge? For a holy book, it surely starts on a bad note. Without anyone presumptuous enough to challenge those teachings, how could people ever possibly have gained knowledge that it was nothing short of a baffling metaphor?

Even the awfully poignant story of baby Moses is now understood to have been fabricated. Modern Jewish historians believe quasi-unanimously that none of their ancestors ever escaped from Egypt. Basically, the book of Exodus is a shameless lie. The walls of Jericho never came tumbling down and nobody conquered Canaan; the Jews were simply not there at the time. God never had to split the sea for them and whoever wrote Psalms 74:13 is just another victim of this mythology. As we enter a new era of enlightenment, scholars are now doubting that Paul of Tarsus wrote half of the New Testament. That's too bad because he is the only one who wrote in it prior to the year 70 at the very least. His writings barely make mention of the many miracles and events that believing in later became a Christian obligation. He even seems unaware that Jesus came as a physical being.

Better not count on it...
Over the last half-century, we have uncovered many ancient apocryphal manuscripts that could very well have been part of the canonical gospels. Obviously, they are not. The sole reason for this is that back then, self-proclaimed authorities one-sidedly determined which ones should be. These are the same geniuses who would rely on scripture to determine the age and shape of our planet. Please consider that since biblical times, people have spent thousands of years reiterating lies and spreading them through conquest, intellectual subjugation and control of the political as well as educational systems. They may claim for their defense that back then, nobody knew better, but to this we can respond: "What then are you for?" It is not becoming obvious that day by day — as a consequence of their repeated incompetence — we pay less and less attention to their opinions?

A few centuries ago, Christianity would not admit any wrongs; it would just torture people for disagreeing. Then it started apologizing to some; after they had died. More recently, Catholic authorities have started asking people forgiveness for raping away their childhood... yet many of them are still alive. At this rate, perhaps we will reach a point where it asks forgiveness for things it is doing right now, or so I remember Hitchens saying. Christianity is on its last stand; it was supposed to help the world but somehow contributed to much of its misery. Today, without the threats and the lies, indoctrinating children is just not as easy as it used to be. As Christianity draws its last breath, it may look back at its past glory, thinking in silence: "If only we had stuck to the program, exactly like the Islamists do, we wouldn't be in this mess, now would we, God? ... God...?"

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Mass marketing dishonesty

“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 (April 13, 1949 – December 15, 2011) -


Without a shadow of a doubt, two challenges we often get, coming from those making the apology of religion are: "Why do we exist?" and "What is our purpose?" To a large number of people, these are generally considered to be serious theological questions dealing with topics that are outside the grasp of scientific inquiry. Because the study of theology claims to have expertise on such subjects, whenever we get into a discussion about whether or not there is evidence of conflict between religion and science, we can almost expect to hear these given as examples. While it is true that science cannot afford to deal with such questions, it clearly has very good reasons not to.

Ambiguous topics like: "What is our purpose?" are loaded with dishonesty; and they happen to be the trademark of religion. This type of questioning is fallacious as it hopes to trick you into accepting a hidden premise that it arrogantly assumes you should accept. In fact, while most supernatural claims appeal to personal experience; knowing very well that our human senses are easily mistaken and very subject to hallucinations; whenever they don't, they rely entirely on subjective presuppositions. You can try to find some that don't; you will not be able to, I promise. If we are to question honestly, it is crucial to ensure our questions are devoid of hidden assumptions.


Being able to formulate a question does not automatically grant that it is going to be a valid one. For example, if I offered you the moon in exchange for being able to tell me why it is that most birds cannot fly, would you think of me as a person worth sharing much of your time with? Chances are that you would picture me as nothing less than a complete moron. I could ask you a slightly more subtle one like: "Do you still beat your kids every Monday afternoon?" You may or may not be able to answer this one. The question implies that you do not work on Mondays. More seriously, it also suggests that you do have kids and that you have in fact beaten them in the past.

At the end of the day (as politicians love to say), it all comes down to a very cumbersome issue with intellectual honesty. Regardless of its supposed authority and expertise, modern theology is rooted in dishonesty; it deserves to be exposed for it just as mainstream religion does. Studying it should not grant a PhD anymore than claiming expertise about extra-terrestrial ships or unicorns. Instead of asking loaded questions and proposing complex, unfalsifiable answers to them; it could state its hypotheses and shelve them if evidence is determined to be insufficient.
After so much deception, religions have no other choice than to keep lying about the honesty of their assertions...


Let us suppose for a moment that you have this very motivating part time employment in which your job is to sell a certain product. No matter what it is and regardless of what its hidden flaws are, it makes perfect sense to highlight its strong points rather than focusing on the rest. A few months ago, you have been asked by your boss to attend special marketing classes. There, you are reminded of good reasons for believing in the product. You also find encouragement in the fact that hundreds of other people are attending; you work for a big company that cares for you. You are often reminded how if you do not really believe in what you are selling, you won't be successful.

You really need this because; perhaps I forgot to mention; the product you are selling is invisible. The people you are selling it to are even expected to join your company and make sure that their children do not question the existence of your product. They are encouraged to attend the same meetings and help the company grow. As salespersons, you have to believe in what you are selling; it is the key to selling lots of it. If you do not have enough faith, you will not do well. That is probably the only thing you really know about your product. In any other context than religion, this situation would be regarded as problematic. But are we being fair, comparing religion to marketing?


George Carlin said it best: As powerful as anyone may claim God to be, somehow he always needs money. He needs it to fund the building of new churches and the worldwide spread of his message, whether it be through television, DVDs or the Internet. As I write this, Islam is pursuing its ambitions of covering the Earth; most of its funding coming from Saudi Arabia; tens of billions of petrodollars. The good news is that there will not be any more oil in a few decades. The bad news is that all three abrahamic religions are anxiously waiting for the end of the world. Add nuclear weapons in the equation and it gets truly tense for those of us who care about reality and its future.

It is quite possible to ask honest, objective questions about religion but those are indubitably not going to be ones of a theological nature. There is no such thing as personal truth or subjective truth and the fact that religions shamelessly encourages such way of thinking is not helping their case. Quite a few thousands of years ago, religion may have been a required step in our evolution; a counter-productive but necessary one that involved postulating hypotheses; drawing imaginary conclusions from these and mixing them up with reality. But as Sam Harris says so well, religions today are, at best, failed sciences. Truthfulness left to conjecture; usefulness readily substitutable.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Is traditional culture losing grip?

Throughout history, an innumerable number of cultures have vanished from the surface of our planet and very few of these can brag about their traditions still being around and kicking. To this day, the longevity of ancestral customs is generally praised as a positive thing and mostly considered a sign of national intellectual wealth. Why is the observance of old traditions usually seen positively?

Perhaps do we tend to perceive this lastingness as the obvious result of an ever-increasing pool of accumulated wisdom to which succeeding generations must have gradually contributed over the ages. For example, acupuncturists are often proud to claim that their methods were intuitively developed millennia ago. Do they often realize how little scientific credibility this contributes to their field of work? The survival of old ideas is more than often seen as a sign that these are good ideas; is this a reliable way to evaluate their worth? We ought not to let our intuitions fool us so easily. The reasons why traditions survive are not so often linked to the gift of free inquiry. In most cases, they do so at the expense of other ethnic traditions and because of this simple fact, those that endure the test of time rarely turn out to be the most peaceful. Strangely enough, questioning the pertinence of keeping such ideas alive seems scandalous to a lot of otherwise reasonable people...


All ideas are not born equal and when it comes to traditions, a problem is arising. We will have to face it eventually and one would need to be quite stubborn to deny it at this point in history: Different cultures hold to ancient beliefs often so contradictory that they cancel each other out. In each of these cases, they cannot logically both claim to be right without some serious explaining to do first; nevertheless, they just childishly insist that they are. This leads to conflicts that can span over generations. Eventually, people find themselves fighting over issues that have, over time, become devoid of any of their initial value. The only motive left to fight over such outdated views can be nothing else than vengeance; grief created by so much reciprocal violence. In fact, it was a lot easier to keep these "family" conflicts alive when access to information was limited and tightly controllable. When confronted with conflicting ideas, in an age of globalization and growing access to knowledge, does grasping to obscure claims made by forefathers make much sense anymore..?

There are more and more people today who show no interest in being forced to procreate within a pre-established gene pool dictated by ancestors who did not know any better. In fact, if things keep going as they are, we can rightfully question what the word "culture" will mean a few generations from now. Unless we screw up with net neutrality, not so far in the future, global Internet access will have shaped our children's world view to such an extent that, as far as local cultural background is concerned, geographical frontiers will be mostly irrelevant. How will we then be supposed to determine which of all these contradictory sources of ancestral "wisdom" were worth listening to? Should we not all have been able to actively question our parents' teachings in the first place? Couldn't we have held a conversation that would have enriched us both? Well before the end of this present century, globalization will probably have changed everyone's perception of what an "ethnicity" is. This will be unknown territory. Kids will not need stricture; they will need our support.


Furthermore, why should this kind of enrichment not be a source of intellectual satisfaction for us? Why could we not be filled with pride, raising critical thinkers capable of surpassing their masters (sometimes teaching us a thing or two)? Being the self-esteem junkies that we are, it seems that when it comes to parenting, we still see children as mere property. We easily tend to chose the much easier path of authority, insisting that intuitive experience equals rightness. For many, successfully raising a child still remains too closely related to how blindly one adheres to the teachings of his parents; there is no room for intellectual development. No more must we remain slaves to our ancestors' way of thinking; we can get past these apish instincts. It seems at this point quite silly that we should allow ourselves to assign so much importance to the longevity of an idea that was never to be improved upon in the first place. We should be ashamed of considering the use of bronze age methods to try and measure our parenting abilities and our children's growth.

If you made the effort of reading this blog, then you are probably not the kind of person who would just dismiss evidence without giving it at least a minimum of thought. When you open your eyes, you can feel the largeness of what you are looking at; both you and me could be wrong. When a child asks if grandma really is in heaven, it takes a lot of intellectual integrity and courage to tell the truth: that we wish we could know. Anything else we say is not based on verifiable proofs but on blind speculation. It takes courage to accept that he may not decide to think like us because it takes courage to admit that what we teach him may be wrong. Is it not because we care mostly about having children who think like us that we often display an overbearing image of certitude when confronted by them with our own ignorance? It is understandable that pride would be an important factor in getting the feeling that we have managed to raise a child successfully; it leaves me uneasy seeing how so many of us would rather just emulate the past than chose to question it.

Friday, December 2, 2011

A misconstrued debate

"Atheism is to religion what bald is to hair color."

Have you ever asked any self-proclaimed atheist to define what agnosticism means to him; or vice versa? The more I ask, the more I get the impression that for a majority of people, it is a mere matter of personal preference. Some of us possibly looked it up in a dictionary, found several definitions and memorized one of them. Many theists must have learned it at church during a sermon. For others, it may have been an atheist channel on YouTube; perhaps a web page like this one. To me, what seems to be happening is very quite possibly the result; or should I say reflection; of our human brain's obsession with labeling everything into categories. We say: "Men are like this." or "Americans act this way." We should know that statistically, we are doing it wrong. We are just experiencing sampling bias. Do we realize how many people would need to be polled for us to get anything worthy of statistical validity, not considering the error margin? What sample are my fellow male representatives of humankind basing themselves on when they make ridiculous claims about how they have noticed women are, based on their past failed relationships?

People are like this, they tend to make such claims. But here's a question that I hope you will find interesting: What do you think happens if you try to put a label on something that cannot be labeled in the first place? For example, how would you label someone who does not believe in homeopathy? A homeopatheist? Let's pretend we lived in a world in which "everyone" trusts homeopathy to be able to cure most, if not all, illnesses. As firm believers of the unscientifically proven virtues of homeopathy, we would most likely become critical of anyone's non-willingness to believe. Yet, considering the fact that our belief is based on nothing more than faith, isn't it quite obvious that it would be silly to invent a word for such a specific type of non-belief? What if this man believes in homeopathy but instead says he does not believe in science? Would it make him a something? Perhaps we could call him ignorant about how science works but it would certainly not require any special label. As a matter of fact, there is no label for people who disbelieve the idea that science is a dangerous satanic cult; or those who refuse to accept that Elvis is still living.

Most of the labels we put on people really aren't that useful...
In this article, I am not going to try and push you to accept any specific definition of agnosticism or atheism. After much debating around this matter, I find that it is counter-productive; besides, I fear that such kind of quarreling does very little, aside from making us forget about more important issues. After all, don't we both know that if no one wants to agree on the meaning of a word anymore, there's a good chance it has already become obsolete? I think what we need is a broader understanding of why there is confusion in the first place. This way, whoever we are dealing with, we will be able to know both what they mean and how to be understood by them. Language was never about trying to convince others that our own vocabulary is better; it is about agreeing on how to name things and trying to be good at it at a given time; all these efforts just so we can be able to understand each other. Who knows; perhaps is free speech some kind of a threat to the traditional concept of language? If we all start feeling entitled to our own personal opinion of what words should mean and start crusading around, trying to convince others that they need to speak differently, this could add quite an unpredicted spin to the future evolution of our modern languages.

No longer do we want to submit to an unquestioned authority; we all aspire to be free from rules and this could eventually affect how we view grammar too. How then we would adapt to this seems completely left to chance. Ahh... forgive me; back on topic: In some cases, an irrational debate about what a word actually means can be a problem, especially when that word happens to represent a massive yet unpopular "getting out of the closet" movement. Probably well over hundreds of millions of nonbelievers have spent an eternity hiding, lying, being ostracized, beaten, sued and killed; now they're the latest taboo that nobody really wants to hear about. It seems just like homosexuality was about a decade ago (at least here where I live). When I first heard about the word atheist, it was presented to me as a rejection of God; a denial of something which is real. In fact, a quick web search tells us that the original word used to mean godless, nothing more. So it could either mean one who rejects God(s) or one who doesn't accept the claim that there are any. It could even mean someone who wishes there was one but cannot possibly get himself to believe that. It can thus carry a handful of meanings and, rather quickly, lose all intended purposes.


That our brain would attempt to classify things into simpler categories when confronted with large numbers, is understandable. Actually, the word religion is perhaps the best example of this. For instance, we nonbelievers generally make use of it to represent thousands and thousands of mutually-canceling beliefs and doctrines held by billions of people. This can arguably lead to a pretty shallow definition, once you think of it. As Sam Harris says so well, the word religion is a lot like the word sport. Some are completely harmless while others are quite dangerous or violent. But religious people don't see it this way. Most expect their religion to be the only one while all others are just cults; fakes. To them, there is only one religion; or at least, there is only one that really is true. When I use terms such as atheism and faith, I do this being fully aware that all kinds of people will read the same words differently. Not much can be done about it; except perhaps trying to be as clear as possible... I have to admit that on quite a few occasions, I have wondered what I should call myself. An agnostic-atheist, perhaps? Maybe just a skeptic; or possibly a humanist...?

And yet the more I think about it, the more it turns out that I am all of the above. I'm a believer of many things. I even believe in love. I just don't hold to my personal beliefs like if they were some kind of sacred truth; they can be influenced by solid evidence; any day. Some people would like to call that agnosticism, but is it? I'm indeed agnostic about my beliefs; I realize that I don't know whether there is a creator or not; but I also realize that my decisions on the matter bare no effect on reality. I do not think that not knowing something does in any way mean not being able to know, ever. Agnostics I speak to usually assume that since we cannot know at the moment, we should remain neutral; although for any subject other than religion, it remains perfectly acceptable to reject someone's hypothesis if that rejection is based on the fact that he has no clue how he came to his conclusions after being given years to dig the subject. To me, this view is flawed, and it is perfectly normal to believe that someone has got to be mistaken if he has not made an ounce of progress researching an issue, other than being able to say: "I just know this in my heart, got it?"

No matter how many people agree on something, they could still be wrong.
Ironically enough, the word "atheist" can even be applied to theists. Let us suppose that you are a Muslim. Given the possibility to travel back in time, you end up in Denmark a few thousand years ago. As you are standing there in disgust, you see all these people around you believing in the existence of Thor. To them, you are an atheist. You do not believe in God. Realize that the label is interchangeable, depending on the belief. Yes, how about them? Are they not atheists too because they don't believe in the abrahamic God? Of course, but only in your perception since you come from a future riddled with different traditions. Obviously, I am more atheistic than that; I go "one god further" and my skepticism is greatly influenced by the lack of data that would be required to justify claiming to know so much about these supernatural beings and their personal attributes. That we do not have any more empirical data on "modern" popular deities than on any other ancient deities, is an often overlooked fact. To this day, our reasons for believing in these divine entities are still pretty much the same as for all older forms of mythology: Our fear of death; our hope of an afterlife.

Still, it seems that the word "atheist" comes loaded with so much negative baggage today that many who share my opinions; although they can relate to the concept; are reluctant to deal with all the social pressure that coming out as such would imply. How many of them realize that the main reasons why they hesitate are social reasons; religious reasons? For most people of strong faith, atheism is nothing more than foolish certainty; it is a form of faith in itself. Is it not paradoxical that theists would view atheism as unreasoned because they view it as faith-based; while at the same time, they view their own faith as a good thing? Well, let's have them deal with their own cognitive dissonance; I have never been too fond of mental projection. As of now (and my mind may change in the future) I feel that the word "atheist" is the best way to describe my rejection of their empty claims. Although the word "theist" can itself bear many different meanings, considering the social context in which we live, so far, I think that defining myself as atheistic is the best way to depict my view that the personal gods most theists are trying to befriend with, deplorably lack credibility.

It does take more time for some to realize when they're doing it wrong.
Whenever presented with supernatural propositions like the possible existence of fairies or the unlikely idea that Elvis may still be alive somewhere, we don't waste time making individual labels for each kind of non-belief; even less would we put those in a dictionary. We also don't claim that the only reasonable position is to assume there is an equal probability between yes and no; and teach this as fact to our children; all this just because we know we don't know. All scientific discovery seems to point in the direction that no intelligence was required for the universe to "create itself" out of what we perceive as nothingness. As a nonbeliever of unfounded claims, I simply say that because we have even less empirical data on "God" than we have on homeopathy, we can certainly afford to say that until further notice, all divine claims are just loaded with bull. We should all know by now that there is no viable way to label the act of not accepting a proposition. The stigma around atheism isn't anymore relevant than the ones around homosexuality and gender equality. It truly does not matter how many believe or not; it's clear why so many around us still do.

Parents just tell their toddlers that the belief is not a belief; then let them figure out by themselves that it was actually one after all; at which point in their life they have become so convinced already, that the indoctrination is almost irreversible. We could believe an infinity of statements; we all know that if we did on the basis of faith alone, we wouldn't have gotten very far yet. We are all capable of grasping the idea that rejecting a specific belief about any of the thousands of deities that our ancestors were worshiping in the past, is perfectly reasonable. This does not need justification and neither does it require us to stay forever doubtful about any claim that anyone could come up with at any time. Certainly we all have rejected allegations before, based on the idea that these were preposterous and pretentious; this is nothing new under the sun. We cannot help but reject the ones for which there is absolutely no evidence. When it comes to one belief or another, we are all atheists, skeptics, believers and sinners in at least someone else's point of view. These labels are up for us to accept and cope with; or to reject and dissociate from. Consequently, whether or not these words and ideas should be fought for or defended, remains bound to distinct interpretations...