It's the Lenten season! So, of course, I spent Ash Wednesday telling people they had a smudge of dirt on their foreheads. (No, I didn't.) And asking them what the
t on their necklaces stood for. (No, I didn't.) But I did spend part of the day posting Lent jokes to Facebook:
I was going to give up molesting children for Lent, but...)
I have a vague memory of a TV trope. In my memory, it's an episode of the Andy Griffith Show. It involves Opie needing some self-confidence and Andy giving him a metal good luck charm printed with the word
Excelsior! With this charm in hand, things start going better for Opie. At the end of the show, Andy reveals that the so-called charm was just a brand name emblem that he had pried off a refrigerator. Opie's better luck was a consequence of his increased self-confidence, which was a consequence of him thinking he had external help via the charm.
The thing is, I can't find any mention of such an episode. I'm sure my brain has scrambled it. Maybe it was a different show. Maybe the charm said some other word or wasn't once part of a refrigerator. It doesn't really matter. The trope is a fairly common one. It often ends with someone saying something like
The magic was inside you all along! (That's what she said.)
And every time I hear religious folks talk about getting their morals and ethics from, say, the Bible, I just want to shake them and shout
The magic was inside you all along! People don't really get their morals from the Bible. They decide on their morals and then interpret the Bible in light of those decisions. (Both good ones about things like generosity and really shitty ones like being anti-gay and anti-women.)
So, for fuck's sake, toss the goddamn
Excelsior! charm away already! You have no external help and need to justify your actions on their own merits.
I've been pondering whether there's a case for implementing Hell, even granting a God. I just don't see it.
I guess the first question is: What's the purpose of Hell? Is it to punish folks? But why? We punish in real life to encourage people to act in a certain way in the future. With an eternal Hell, there's no future in which free action can be taken, so the punishment would have no behavioral purpose.
Punishment for the sake of punishment? I guess if God is just a sadistic asshole who gets his jollies hurting people, then He might go to the trouble of implementing Hell. But, in that case, why even warn anyone? Just fuck 'em up. Or, y'know, make up so many rules that folks can't help but break a few. But, y'know, if you're that big an asshole, well...
So we move onto what is obviously the true purpose of Hell, to act as a deterrent, as a threat, to encourage certain actions in the here and now. And, for some who believe, it works admirably, although sadly. (For others, it doesn't appear to work at all, which raises the question of whether they really believe at all. If I really thought I'd be tormented eternally for any transgression, I sure as shit wouldn't transgress.)
The thing with using Hell as a threat is that there's no way to verify the existence of the threat. You only find out whether it's true after you die, unable to communicate that knowledge to anyone still alive. And, if the threat can't be verified, then why would you actually implement it?
If people are willing to buy into the threat without evidence, then the actual implementation is simply a waste of resources and effort. (And this shit takes effort. Remember, God had to rest.) Why bother? The
scam system will work just as well regardless of Hell's actual existence.
So, I just don't see a case for implementing it.
(Of course, it's a moo point, as there is no God.)
Quit yer damn whining about Xmas celebrations!
The atheist community has a problem with women. Every time a woman has some complaint about how they're being treated at atheist gatherings, the following comments generally fall into one of these categories:
Dammit! You don't represent all women so you can't make any generalizations at all!(Of course, the entire Reason Rally consisted of generalizations of some sort. Those are okay.)
Nobody squeals as loudly as someone having their unearned privilege threatened.
Please, talk to your kids about Philosophy.
Carmelite Nuns: Not as tasty as I was hoping for.
It's Everybody Draw Mohammed Day again. Here's my shot at it:
Yeah, I know, I can't draw worth crap.
I've been meaning to write about the Discussion Dichotomy for awhile, but never got around to it. But, I got hit with it today in a Facebook comment thread and that's prompting me.
Here's what happened: Someone posted a link about white dwarf hypernovae and how they might be responsible for the lack of discernable communications from other civilizations in the universe. Which lead to someone mentioning the movie Contact and how he suspects he's the only person in the world who actually liked it. I assured him I liked it, but that I liked the book better. And he launched into an impassioned critique of the book.
Which is fine, but the response was, well, a lot more than I was expecting from my off-hand admittance of liking the book.
And, to be honest, I only remember liking the book more. I have no idea why anymore. It's just been too many years since I read it.
No big deal, but it reminded me of the cause behind this, which I call the
Discussion Dichotomy, because I like alliteration.
Usually, I'm used to see the Discussion Dichotomy happen in discussions between atheists and religious folks. The problem is the term
discussion. To atheists, and in the dictionary,
discussions are conversations meant to come to conclusions. They're debates, if you will.
But often, when people talk about
discussions, they merely mean
shooting the shit, or
just talking about stuff.
And that leads to a lot frustration, especially in the context of religion. Certainly not all the time, but quite often, when religious folks want to
discuss religion, what they really want to do is share their beliefs. And they might very well be honestly interested in hearing yours. And that's a valuable thing to do. (After all, how can I dismiss their beliefs without actually learning about them? That's right, I'm always plotting your demise! Always!)
But atheists hear
discuss religion and we want to debate its merits. We want to determine whether there's evidence to believe it. (Which, of course, there isn't, because there isn't a God.) And this leads to frustration from both parties. We atheists can't figure out why the religious folks are so unwilling to actually defend their beliefs and why they get offended at our efforts. Meanwhile, the religious folks can't figure out why we're such argumentative cusses.
Now, it's tempting to just say
Well, the atheists are correct that discussions are debates because the dictionary says so. Except that dictionaries reflect societal usage, they don't define it. And there's such a thing as being a pedantic ass. (I know. I often am one.)
In a colloquial context, I'm happy to use colloquial definitions. And, if someone wants to
discuss something with me and I suspect they desire a sharing experience, I'll ask them for clarification. There's value in sharing. There isn't much value in trying to debate someone who really isn't interested in debating.
So, to link this back to the beginning of the post, I was just engaging in sharing, but the other guy was in debate mode. So he took my comment as an invitation to debate, whereas I was just sharing remembrances. Luckily, the quality of Carl Sagan's fictional writing skills isn't something as important to others as religion often is, so the conversation moved on.
But I think it's a wise thing to consider, the next time you're asked to have a
discussion, whether the other person is looking for a debate or just wants to share.
(As a final note, none of this should be construed as an excuse for those who enter into debates, then punk out when they start losing.)