It’s only natural

Time and again, the religious right use the words “natural” and “unnatural” to support their views on homosexuality, marriage, birth control, adoption, and a host of other sensitive issues. Every single time I see it used, I can think of at least one animal which habitually behaves in the way whichever specific group this time considers “unnatural”. People making these claims clearly have no idea at all about what actually goes on in nature. I’ve got a 500 page textbook on animal homosexuality, if you need a really quick idea of how common it is.

Male-male and female-female pairings have been commonly observed in species very closely related to us, especially “Old World” monkeys, including macaques, baboons, mandrills, and talapoins. Baboons are notably promiscuous (a very value-laden human word), engaging in sexual activity for a variety of social purposes. Partners may be of either gender, and sometimes these encounters are not limited to two individuals.

A pair of male penguins in a zoo in New York formed a long-term, exclusive relationship. When given an egg, they cared for it lovingly until it hatched. The chick, a female, grew up to enter into her own exclusive homosexual relationship.

When a male lion takes over a pride, he may find females caring for cubs sired by the previous dominant male. Like in humans, egg production usually ceases in lions for the duration of rearing offspring. An incoming or arising dominant male often kills the existing cubs in order to force the lionesses into heat so that he can produce his own offspring with them.

The dunnock, a small brown bird, sometimes enters into what looks like a monogamous relationship. However closer observation reveals that a great many of these birds are often in polyandrous (one female, multiple males) and polygynous (one male, multiple females) relationships. The precise configuration of relationships depends very greatly on the control of territory and the availability of resources.

Smaller individuals among giant cuttlefish (yes, small giants) disguise themselves as females. This allows them to get closer to actual females to mate with them without being challenged by larger males. However sometimes the larger males mistake the smaller ones for females, and attempt to mate with them.

Females of many insect and arachnid species will often mate with multiple males for a variety of reasons. In times of poor food availability, the male may be cannibalised after mating to provide the female with important nutrients. This is common in praying mantids. In many species the male will provide a “nuptial gift” to convince the female to mate with him even if she has already mated with a previous male; in human terms he is essentially paying for sex.

I could potentially come up with many many more examples of “immoral” behaviour among animals. I didn’t even tell you about the necrophiliac homosexual mallard. This, this is nature. This is natural. So the next time you want to tell somebody that they can’t do something because it’s “unnatural”, you might want to re-think your argument.

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Christian hypocrisy

I make no moral judgements on the actions of the below people; I simply point out that they say one thing and do another. Lies and hypocrisy are what I am judging. 

Josh Duggar, of 19 Kids and Counting fame, has recently been outed as a child molester. It has also been revealed that he had two paid accounts with Ashley Madison, a website specifically for people seeking extramarital affairs.

Well-known South Florida pastor Tullian Tchividjian stepped down in June after it was revealed he’d been having an affair. He claims he was seeking solace after discovering his wife’s prior affair.

L. Ron Hubbard, founder of Scientology, was convicted in 1978 for making false claims about his ability to cure sick people.

Catholic Priest Gerald Ridsdale has been convicted of a number of child sex abuse and indecent assault charges against children as young as four. Cardinal George Pell has been accused of knowing about these incidents and making attempts to cover them up and protect Ridsdale.

Peter Popoff, popular evangelist, has been exposed using secret radio transmitters to gather information about audience members, while claiming to be receiving information directly from God.

Televangelist Jim Bakker has been convicted of fraud after keeping $3.4 billion raised supposedly for his ministry. He was also accused of rape, and allegedly paid Jessica Hahn nearly $300,000 to keep her allegation secret.

Baptist Bishop Eddie Long has been accused by four separate men of using his position and influence to coerce them into sexual relationships with him. The lawsuits were settled out of court.

Ted Haggard, once named one of Time magazine’s most influential evangelicals in America, has admitted to having a three-year affair with male escort Mike Jones.

I could continue, but this is depressing. Christians wonder why Atheists are so often bitter!

God made Atheists

To begin with, you know perfectly well that I don’t believe in God or most of what the Bible says. However, if I were to assume that all I read is accurate, I could only believe that God made me an Atheist on purpose.

ImageFor starters, according to Romans 12:3, God gives each person an allotment of faith. Since God is infallible, he clearly meant for me to have no faith. He didn’t give it to me.

God also deliberately sends certain people a “strong delusion” and makes them “believe a lie” in order to ensure they do not get saved (Thessalonians 2:11). The beliefs I hold were sent by God on purpose so that I will not believe in him.

Let’s not forget John 12:40, which tells us that God hardened our hearts to make sure that we would not understand God or faith and would not be converted.

There can be no other conclusion. God made Atheists. Any attempt to convert me is going against God’s will.

What is religion?

After seeing an article repeatedly describe Satanism as a “fake religion”, I was having a discussion with an acquaintance about the use of the word “fake” in this context, and what constitutes a “real” religion. I feel that the topic could be expanded upon, and so here is this blog post.

Most people would probably presume that a religion requires a god, or a defined pantheon of gods. Perhaps an afterlife too. There are usually prescribed and proscribed behaviours intended to please those gods and ensure a positive outcome after death.

However in recent decades this rather simplistic view of religion has been increasingly rejected by scholars. Look at Buddhism, for example; it is a religion, but the Buddha is not a god and Buddhists do not worship him. Buddhists do not strive to reach a heaven-equivalent, instead seeking something more internal and personal.

Hinduism is also less simple to define as a religion than many people realise. Hinduism is a convenient term used to describe a huge variety of different beliefs and practices; two Hindus from different areas will have vastly differing ideas of what Hinduism is. The word “Hindu” is actually just the Persian word for “Indian”, intended originally to describe a nationality rather than a religion. Hinduism lacks most features usual for religions: it has no single moral code, no specific scripture, it has no founder, it is not prophetic.

The spiritual lives and practices of peoples such as Native Americans and Australian Aborigines were not recognised as valid religions when first observed by Europeans; such peoples were thought to be godless savages. However further study revealed that these “savages” had complex belief systems which played important roles in their lives. They are now recognised as religions just as valid as any other.

Satanism, as codified by Anton LaVey, involves the worship of no gods. Satanists are Atheists with rules. The rules lay out a moral code, requirements of behaviour, and reasons for them. The centralised structure, existence of officials, and single moral code make Satanism, in some ways, more closely resemble the mainstream religions such as Christianity than the others listed here.

It turns out that our understanding of religion, and what constitutes one, is much more complex than one might initially think. So I think a “real” religion is one which has real people who accept it and follow its tenets, whatever they may be; an additional favourable condition is legal status and state recognition of an organisation as a religion.

Morals vs. Religion

I’ve been told a couple of times recently that I shouldn’t be so anti-religion because religion serves a purpose. An example often given is the Christian prohibition of sex before marriage: isn’t it for the best, they ask rhetorically, that we don’t end up with a bunch of single mums with kids they can’t handle or didn’t want, kids that may end up being neglected or abused?

Obviously my first response to that is that if the church promoted contraception that wouldn’t be a problem!

However the more in-depth response is that I do believe morals serve a purpose. I think society – the world – needs morality, a code of behaviour, a set of rules. However, morality is just the set of rules that suits us best and allows us to best get along. As our societies change, so should our morals. The world and humanity are in a constant state of flux, nothing is ‘normal’, and ‘tradition’ depends on the time and place you value the most.

Turning your morals into a religion causes them to stagnate. It denies the change necessary to keep up with a changing society. It eventually makes them counter-productive and divisive.

To a follower of such a religion, life must seem like a tortuous exercise in Orwell’s double-think: sex before marriage is totally unacceptable, yet it is done all the time by decent people, even people who adhere to this religion, so it can’t be that bad, so maybe I’ll do it, so I did it and now I feel horribly guilty for being immoral… 

Once upon a time, it was probably a good idea not to have sex before marriage. There were limited contraceptive options, and having a child was difficult and dangerous. The risks and hardships were very real and very severe. But now we have a myriad of cheap and simple contraceptive options, and in the event of their failure we have ways of safely aborting a foetus. If you don’t want an abortion, there are systems in place to care for a child or help you do so: adoptions, orphanages, and so on. Now, with these changes and choices, the prohibition on sex before marriage makes much less sense. We don’t need that rule anymore, but religion clings to it.

I really think that religion has no place in the world. Be moral, be ethical, but allow for flexibility.

Do humans need to worship something?

Do you agree with everything said by a specific public figure? Buy products only from a specific brand? Believe everything you read in a specific newspaper? Hold a specific book sacred?

You’re guilty!

You’re a fanboy.

Almost everybody does this. Everybody’s got a degree of brand loyalty or fanboyism, although you might not see it in those terms. Almost everybody takes a certain figure or group or even idea and, knowingly or not, worships it.

Are all your suits Armani, or all your clothes from Big W? Do you think all Apple products are amazing, or that Samsung consistently beats them hands down? Do you think Bob Brown is a visionary, or does Tony Abbott inspire your awe?

It doesn’t matter which end of the spectrum you fall, which side of the fence you occupy, you’ve almost certainly got an irrational loyalty to something or someone. If you find yourself unable to criticise even a single aspect of something or someone, you might want to look hard at why. Is it really perfect? Or have you convinced yourself of that to justify your worship? How badly do you need something to follow, to cling to? Is it worth the money or time or the lies you spin yourself? What other compromises are you making?

Perhaps the most important question is: Wouldn’t you rather be thinking for yourself and making rational decisions?

Why other Atheists annoy me

You know I’m an Atheist. It says so, right there at the top of this blog. Look. See that? I am an Atheist. I don’t believe in God.

So why would other Atheists annoy me?

For starters, it’s because the lack of believe in God is about all that we have in common. On other matters – even including what to do with our lack of belief – we violently disagree.

But mostly, I think, it is a lack of knowledge about what it is that we deny.

I don’t pretend to be an expert on religion. I have done a couple of subjects at university which brushed over it incidentally, plus one or two subjects with a focus on it, and I’ve read most of the Bible. But there is one thing I understand which a huge number of Atheists seem to disregard:

Not all Christians are the same.

It’s something I see again and again: an Atheist will attack a Christian for being ignorant about their own religion, but what’s really going on is that the Atheist assumes the Christian is a Catholic. The fact that there are many denominations under the Christian banner, and that they all hold their own differing beliefs, seems to go completely unacknowledged in the Atheist community.

Don’t get me wrong; all the denominations are equally wrong. But you can’t lump them all together and say ‘All Christians think/say/do [whatever]!’ It just isn’t true. Not all Christians even recognise the same set of books of the Bible! There have been more books written than feature in any commonly available version.

To me, that sort of behaviour undermines the very point of being an Atheist. Shouldn’t we be more educated than that? Shouldn’t we be aware of every aspect of the thing we oppose? Shouldn’t we apply logic and critical thinking to everything we say, as well as everything ‘the Christians’ say?

Unless you’re prepared to put in some effort and educate yourself about Christianity, you should label yourself an Apathetic Atheist at best, or an Agnostic. You can’t define yourself by a lack of belief in something when you don’t even understand what it is you’re not believing in, or who your opponents are. You might just as well call yourself a tennis player, and then try to engage Layton Hewitt in a game of badminton.