A Totally New Reason To Give Up Old Religions

By James Wallace Harris, Saturday, November 22, 2014

I am an atheist, but I accept that other people want to be religious. However, even my religious friends are willing to admit that religions have their problems. No need to go into specifics, just pay attention to the news. The results of those problems are religious people arguing and killing each over details of religion that happened centuries and even millennia ago.

My advice is to give up the past and start over. If there are inherent aspects of reality that support religious morality, they should exist now, and there’s no need to endlessly speculate about what happened a very long time ago. Whatever Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, Krishna, etc. saw in our existence should still be here now, and modern people should be able to tune into it.

Many of the problems threatening old religions is modern experiences. Old religions can’t handle the discoveries of science, human diversity, egalitarian equality to all, and our current sins. Old religions were invented when people were homogenous tribes that were horribly xenophobic, and their sins were much different from ours. The old concepts of religions were invented before all the concepts of systematic knowledge.

People want religion for guidance on how to live fairly and just, to reward the good and punish the bad, and hopefully find everlasting life.  Most of the ethical rules people want from religion can be hammered out democratically and should work on a global level. The desire for the soul to be eternal must be taken on faith, and if that’s so, it should be pure faith, and not anything that tries to deny what we know about reality.  Denying the knowledge gain from science does not prove the possibility of eternal life.

Any new religions created now should always incorporate modern knowledge. Modern knowledge provides no encouragement for eternal life and heaven, but it doesn’t preclude those possibilities either. Instead of denying science, just say there’s hope one day our souls will transcend this reality, and let it go at that.  It would also be wise to say that God is unknowable and beyond description.  Let science explain this reality and choose to believe that there is a greater reality that is impossible to detect from this reality.

Any speculation about a transcended reality is pointless, other than the faith and hope that it exists. Such speculation can generate an infinity of possibilities, all of which will lead to arguments and killing. This reality has its own rules and structure. To ignore them is delusional. We won’t find out if another reality exists until we die, and then we can learn its rules and structure. Any moral or ethical considerations about this reality should be based on how this reality operates, and not speculation on other possible realities. If there is a God, and that being put us in this reality, it should be obvious that understanding this reality is the important job of being here.

Most people love religion because it gives them purpose and a community to belong to. Rejecting old dogmas does not mean giving up these core fulfillments of religion. My challenge is to the faithful to invent new religions that are globally encompassing, egalitarian, anti-xenophobic, and structured to incorporate all the knowledge we have about this reality.

JWH

The Hive Mind of the Internet–Is Complete Freedom of Information Possible?

Internet-1200

By James Wallace Harris – September 23, 2014

In America we take freedom for granted, and because of this we expect the Internet to be free and open.  Internet visionaries like to think that everyone who joins the Internet shares their ideals.  The potential of the Internet is to unite humanity and reduce the distance between 7.3 billion people to zero.  We are all just a few keystrokes away from each other, and we can organize into groups not related by geographical boundaries.  Over time this will erode the concept of nations and it’s a threat to all theologies and philosophies.  Open access to all information is the universal solvent to narrative fallacy.  Censorship on the Internet is a complex issue.

Sunday The New York Times published an extensive essay “China Clamps Down on Web, Pinching Companies Like Google.”  Because China wants to control the flow of information its citizens sees, it has practically turned off Google, and is working to censor many other global Internet companies and services.  Other countries do this too.  Even in America, parents and schools censor the Internet.  Each of these groups want to protect people from what they consider dangerous ideas.  But what ideas are dangerous?

Ideas are dangerous when they threaten an individual or group.  Their specific dangers are relative.  I want the Internet to be as free and open as possible, but I am willing to accept limitations imposed on us by reality.  The Internet is a commons open to all, but it might need some imposed rules and some suggested forms of etiquette and courtesies.  It will probably take decades to hash these out.

Complete open information is a threat to all ideologies.  Most people on Earth live by beliefs they feel are true, but most are not.  To protect their narrative fallacy groups have to limit information consumption by their believers.  The Internet is leading us toward a future where all ideologies will have their validity challenged by open access to all knowledge and facts.  In other words, the Internet is having a homogenizing effect and various groups want to fight that.  That’s one level of censorship.

We all believe in censoring the internet to a small degree.  No one wants scammers, phishers, viruses and malware.  No one wants criminals and terrorists using the Internet for evil.  Nor do we want to see beheadings or child porn.  And many of us are getting annoyed by the level of ads.  Everyone wants their personal computer and the cloud computers they use to be safe from criminal activity, and to be protected from seeing the worst horrors of the world.  That’s another kind of censorship.

In Europe, Google is being forced to erase references about people when they request it.  That’s getting into a gray area.  Some people want privacy and protection from libel, but other people would prefer Google not whitewash history either.  There are editorial wars on Wikipedia by polarized groups who battle back and forth on particular entries hoping to present their version of the truth.  At Amazon, authors and their friends will write glowing self-promoting reviews, while people with grudges against those writers will write one star reviews.  This kind of control of information is not censorship, but something like what we see in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four – whoever writes the narrative gets to make the truth.

A huge problem on the Internet, especially in anonymous comment sections, is declarations of hate.  It has gotten so bad that many sites are now turning off their comment features.  Is this censorship or policing hate crimes?  We like to think we have absolute freedom of speech, and total freedom of the press, but we don’t.  Political correctness is evolving to protect most citizens of the Earth, but not the enemies of civilization.  There are actions, ideas, beliefs and people who embrace hate and chaos that we have to protect ourselves from.  This begs the question:  Should we allow anonymity on the net?

I think we can agree there are lines to be drawn, the trouble is almost every nation, citizen and group wants to draw the lines differently.  The wonder of the Internet is it’s openness.  It’s fantastic that every person on Earth can interact with any other person on Earth.  China has a different vision of how to create a perfect society.  So does The United States.  The problems mentioned in The New York Times article that trouble me are those cases involving scientists and businessmen working around the world on collaborative projects.  I would like to think all scientific journals are open to all.  That’s how science succeeds.  We really don’t want the scientific world of China, and the scientific world of North America, and the scientific world of the European Union.

Then we have various religious groups trying to control what is science and what is not, or what belongs in the classroom, and what doesn’t.  We have to be protected from their ideological censorship.  There is freedom of religion, but there is also freedom from religion.  Should we censor individuals and groups that publish lies and deception?  Who decides?  How?

We have to assume we’re all living in the same reality.  Any Balkanization of the Internet will create islands of delusions about reality.  We need to make sure the Internet is as open as possible, but this might mean we need to negotiate agreements on some censorship and filters for the sake of that openness.  Nations will have to hammer our firewall treaties that respect each other, but we should all promote the maximum openness possible.  There is talk in different places around the world, of seceding from the Internet to creation national nets.  Isn’t this like creating Amish communities?

Ultimately I think any political philosophy or religion must coexist with how reality actually works.  Groups need to work out methods of coexisting with other groups.  Nations, corporations and organized belief systems need to have their rights protected, but all users must be protected from ideological imperialism, or even rampant commercialism.

But I also think individuals need to hammer out Internet codes of conduct too.  Society off the Internet is evolving concepts of political correctness for proper public behavior in the real world.  I think such personal political correctness should exist in the cyber world as well.  I’m horrified by what some men say to women they disagree with on the Internet.  I’m horrified by what many people believe.  But within the bounds of free speech and human rights, I need to accept that people have a wide spectrum of beliefs I don’t agree with.  On the other hand, I think we all have the right to expect a certain level of civility.

We’ve reached an age where the human race is partially living in the hive mind of cyberspace, and it’s going to take some time to develop new laws, rules, etiquettes, proper behaviors, concepts of politeness, etc.

JWH

Are Humans Superior Creatures?

I believe the people of the future will look back on these times and judge us harshly, like we judge the people of the 19th century for slavery, colonialism, genocide and other atrocities those folks committed without any apparent ethical qualms.  They will see even the most liberal of us as heartless in our neglect of poor people, animals, the Earth and the environment.  I’ve always wondered how people like the abolitionists gained their insight to see beyond the ethical status quo.  There have always been a few people that were more empathetic than the common crowd, and I think they were the bellwethers of their times.  If you you read and watch the news carefully, there are always stories that portend the future of human kindness.  To change requires going against the tide of common opinion, and that’s hard.

We like to think humans are different from animals.  That we’re the crown of creation, made in God’s image, that we’re the unique species on the planet that has a soul.  I believe different.  I think we’re ahead of all our fellow creatures in the thinking department, but we share a whole lot of behavioral experiences with them.  If you look at this seal pup in the video above, it’s obviously enjoying itself.  It hung out with these surfers for an hour.  Maybe it didn’t think, “Look Ma, I’m riding a surf board,” but it did feel a sense of fun, play and curiosity.

I’ve been watching a lot of documentaries on animals lately, and reading many books about them too, and the more I study, the more I see animal behavior in the people around me, and human behavior in animals.  Religion falsely teaches us we have dominion over the Earth and animals in a way that is harmful to both our humanity and animals.  Our sense of superiority blinds us to the evil we create.  And to maintain our illusion forces us to ignore just how close we are to animals in our behaviors.

the elephant who found a mom

For instance, we like to elevate sex to love and sanctify our mating habits with legalities and romantic notions, yet it’s still  animal courtship rites based on biological programming.  We like to think our emotional needs are vastly more complex than our four legged friends, but are they?  We like to think our self-awareness and intelligence puts us a quantum leap above all other creatures we share this Earth with, but the latest animal studies show the gap isn’t as wide as we’d like to think.

This summer PBS showed two new 4-part series that emphasizes my point:  My Wild Affair, and Sex in the Wild.  The first episode of My Wild Affair, “The Elephant Who Found a Mom”  will make you cry your eyes out and make you want to go to Africa to shoot poachers.  The other shows in the series are “The Ape Who Went to College,” “The Rhino Who Joined the Family” and tonight’s “The Seal Who Came Home.”  Each episode is a very emotional story about an individual animal bonding with humans, revealing how close we are to our evolutionary cousins.

Sex in the Wild gets down to the nitty gritty of how elephants, orangutans, kangaroos and dolphins get it on.  In fact, it’s XXX animal sex.  These shows are graphically educational, so you might not want your little ones to watch, but then again, they are very educational.  This series is less about individual animals and more about general behavior.  But the courting behavior of our wild kingdom friends often reveal insights into human courtship.  I found a lot to identify with in the love life of orangutans.  Even the strangest animals they profile have distant similarities to the two legged animals we see in episodes of Sex in the City.

Just watch and think about how women judge men, and how men compete for women.   Then the next time you watch a romantic comedy pretend you’re an animal scientist studying that weird species of two legged creatures that inhabit the urban jungles of the world.

Sadly, these eight documentaries are through showing on PBS, but you can still catch them at streaming sites like PBS Roku,  Amazon streaming, or on DVD.  But even if you don’t catch these particular shows, just keep an eye out for nature shows in general.  Nature on PBS’ regular season is tremendous.  Or just watch funny videos on YouTube about dogs and cats.  Sooner or later it will come to you what they do is not that different from what we do.  That the tricks Caesar uses in The Dog Whisperer can be applied to human children and adults, or even to your mother-in-law.  If you’re really savvy in your observations you’ll begin to see your own behavior and how it formed.  If you’re a guy who can’t get lucky with the girls, or a girl that can’t land a Mr. Right, you might study animal behavior.

But beyond learning more about who we are by how we evolved to get here, the real issue is animal rights.  We haven’t worked out human rights yet, but animal rights are just as important, for them and for us.  If we are the crown of creation on this planet then it’s our ethical job to manage the Earth.  I can’t help but think that’s to preserve biological diversity and not destroy it.  I worry that a hundred years from now, those who look back will see us as the worse mass murderers of history.  They will ask themselves over and over, “How could they have been so cruel?  Could they not see what they were doing?  Could they not feel the suffering they were causing.  Did they not foresee what they were doing to all the future generations to come?”  They may see us being more evil than Hitler, Stalin and slavers because we made species after species extinct, unbalanced the environment, extracted the wealth of the many for the pleasure of the few, poisoned the oceans and air, and killed everything that ran, swam, flew, crawled, slithered, or hopped for food and sport.

Future generations will despise us for our hubris in believing we’re the crown of creation when they think we’re the cancer that killed the Earth.

Billions believe they will find heaven when they die, not knowing this world is the heaven of the universe, and we destroyed it.

JWH – 8/8/14