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It Seems There Is No God

Probably the most profound lessons in philosophy reveals the difference between and idealistic and materialistic views of the world. In the idealistic view, everything is possible, but almost nothing is worth doing. Idealists believe anything they want to, whatever they feel like. They don't test their ideas because, because, in their ideal world, it's not necessary. What's "right" to them is whatever "feels right."

Idealists are suckers for drugs and religion. In the 1970s, I saw a number of otherwise reasonable people from the counterculture go from drugs to extreme religious views. When drugs distorted their perceptions, they thought it was the world that had changed. At the end of long periods of distortions in their thinking, they would go into religious fanaticism. In both cases, drugs and religion, they saw no need to check out their views against reality.

Learning the difference between fanciful thinking (idealism) and scientific inquiry (materialism) came to me slowly over decades, and I'm still sorting it out in 2015. But I took a sharp turn away from idealism when I gave up my devotion to church, in 1954. I was raised as a Southern Baptist and embraced it fully as a child. I was "saved" and "redeemed" at the front of Baptist church congregations five times. I was thoroughly committed to religion and attended pretty much all the services, but at the same time I had a growing concern and love for humanity, and I found the two increasingly in conflict.

One night, at the ripe old age of 13, I decided to screw up all the courage I could summon and "think about it." It was the bravest thing I ever did, because I sincerely believed that a misstep would led to an eternity of hellfire for me.

Gene and Sue Lantz with the neighbor's new car, 1954

For the next five nights, I pondered the great questions:

1. What's outside outer space?
2. What happened before time began?
3. Where is my soul located?
4. What happens to us when we die?
5. Where did everything come from?

It surprised me how easily the answers came. Answers literally flowed out of me as soon as I had the courage to ask the questions. I had never heard the word "semantics," then, but I did realize that these five were trick questions and that religion provided even trickier answers.

There is no "outside" outer space. Everything doesn't have to have something outside it. Or inside it, for that matter. Even if I could prove for certain that xxxyx is outside outer space, people would then start asking, "What's outside xxxyx?"

The second question works very much like the first. Nothing could have happened before time began. Nothing can happen afterward. Things don't have to have a beginning and an end. Even if I could prove for certain that yyyxy happened before time began, people would start asking, "What happened before yyyxy?" Religion attempts to answer those questions just by saying "God can do anything," but that's hardly an answer. What happened before God?

The location of the soul was probably a lot more problematic before doctors started cutting cadavers into slivers they could study. One could go through every identifyable part of a human body asking for the location of the soul, and the answer would always be "not here."

"What happens to us when we die?" is pure semantics. Obviously, nothing happens to "us" when we die because, after we die, there is no "us." Being alive is more than assembling all the necessary parts. It's also a matter of organizing them together. Dying is becoming disorganized, not disappearing. Death is the lack of organization. Preachers get us with this question because they demand that we "imagine yourself dead" and exclaim, "You can't do it!" Of course you can't do it, because there is no imagination after death. It's like saying "imagine you're not imagining!" Pure semantics.

Where everything comes from fools many great thinkers, including some of the founding fathers of these United States. Deists like Jefferson believed that a deity had made the world and then left it to whatever might happen. We think everything has to come from somewhere, so everything must have come from somewhere, too. But everything doesn't have to come from somewhere, and even if we could prove for certain that everything came from xyxyxy, then people would ask "Where did xyxyxy come from?"

Language is how we describe the things we know and understand. It doesn't describe the things we don't know and don't understand. I sometimes think of religion as a semantical effort to answer unanswerable questions.

It's noteworthy that I never proved that there was no deity running things. I stopped arguing about it decades ago. I have learned that you can't really prove anything to idealists, because they don't believe in evidence. They just believe their feelings.

I don't think I could prove the non-existence of some kind of capricious deities, but history tells anybody who wants to think about it that there's nobody running things with any kind of a plan. Certainly not a fair plan, no plan at all. I am gape-jawed stunned when I hear an otherwise intelligent person say, "I believe that God has a plan for me." I hear that a lot!

Giving Up Superstition is Not Easy

A year or so after my epiphany, in high school, I first heard the word "atheist." Up to then, I assumed I was the only nonbeliever in the world. That was pretty scary! Fortunately for me, somebody made a movie of "The Brothers Karamazov." It sent me to the college library read the book and then to see if Dostoevsky had written anything else. His books were pretty hard for a backward country boy to read, but I found a lot of comfort in old Fyodor, especially in a suicidal character in "The Idiot," who said something like, "There is a God because there must be, and there isn't a God because there can't be. Surely you must realize that someone holding both of these thoughts at the same time cannot continue to exist!" He didn't have any answers, but he certainly understood the pain in the dilemna.

I don't designate myself an "atheist," because it just means that I'm not a theist. That implies that I don't believe in anything, whereas in actuality I believe in everything. Everything in the world.

Religion Is Scary

I've been uncomfortable around religious people since the age of 13, and I don't think it's unfounded. They literally can convince themselves of anything and a few of them will actually take action on their prejudices. At the extreme case, just to make my point, consider the suicide bombers in the Middle East. Only crazy religion could convince people to destroy themselves and all consciousness of the world with the notion that they're improving things or that they're going to a better place. Another interesting example: the Inquisition that burned to death hundreds of women every week for hundreds of years! How about people who stone other people to death?

I'm not sure that nations could carry out wars without religion. Certainly, they couldn't without idealism.

Some Suffering Is Just a Shame

Religion makes people dangerous and scary. Beyond that, though, I anguish for them. I see them suffering, and I see them deliberately bringing on their own suffering. They lavish guilt and fear upon themselves. They deliberately and enthusiastically alienate themselves from others with pious hatred. They create their own fear and express it in hatred that only makes them feel worse. I feel like rushing to their aid, but very few of them would accept any help from me. I'm not happy about it, but I scare people. I've actually had people move away from me during a rainstorm, for fear of lightning!

Materialists, unlike idealists, are bound by the real world, and believe what can be tried and proven. When one first begins to question religion, there is bound to be discomfort. Even after one has made up their mind, our natural desire to be liked and accepted makes it difficult to stand with the truth, but it's worth it. In the long run, materialism is actually more comforting than superstition.

Work with Religious People

As nearly as I can figure out, most people are religious. That's not surprising because the powers that be want them to be religious.

"Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false and by the rulers as useful." Seneca (the Younger, ca. 30 AD)

If most people are religious and if a lot of people are necessary to make social change, then it follows that anyone who wants social progress is going to have to work with religious people. I've never hesitated to do that. I've often noted that religious people, once they decide on a principle, are willing to go to great lengths to carry out that principle. Religious activists are far and away the most courageous people in the progressive movement. (They're the most courageous people in the reactionary movement, too.) American jails are and always have been full of religious people. The very concept of a "martyr" has religious overtones.

Consider Pope Francis during his 2015 vist to the U.S.. A progressive activist would have to be some kind of stupid to ignore him when he says things the way he does.

“Trade unions have been an essential force for social progress, without which a semblance of a decent and humane society is impossible under capitalism.” --Pope Francis

Dr Martin Luther King Jr comes to mind. He is certainly one of the greatest Americans and surely one of the most effective. For my part, I would rather that contemporary masses of people could be moved into action for progressive causes without all the mumbo-jumbo, but I haven't seen it done.

I have played a role in the fights against police brutality, for the rights of minorities, for a safe environment, against war, for good wages and decent working conditions, and several other causes, and I have seen clergypersons take a leading role in each of them. The only movement I've been involved in firsthand where I didn't see prominent religious leaders is the fight for women's rights -- and I have recently become aware of some progressive nuns pushing the Catholic hierarchy.

Religious people! You can't live with them, but you sure as hell can't do socially worthwhile political work without them!

Foreign Freedom Fighters Take Advantage of Religion

Consider the Irish Republican Army when they were known for violence. Catholicism was fundamental for them. Consider all of the anti-imperialist organizations successful, to one degree or another, in the Middle East. I don't know any of these people firsthand, but I don't imagine that they are all idealistic fanatics, as they are portrayed here in the U.S.. I think there are legitimate, scientific thinking, freedom fighters among them. But they take advantage of religion to accomplish their goals, and sometimes the results are truly horrible. I don't know that we can blame them, though...


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