Saturday, July 31

Atheist is a four letter word

"I think this is absolutely disgusting. It is wholly inappropriate to promote religion in a public library. We do not pay our taxes to have this derisive, evil and destructive rubbish rammed down our throats."
Young Christian painting. A self-confessed agnostic wrote the above in an exhibition guest book at Bristol public Library. The Exhibition, isay:usay:wesay, was put together by young Christians and Muslims, expressing their faith through paintings which they discussed with each other to see what their religions share.

The paintings are largely harmless, symbolic paintings, with religious symbols, such as the cross, or the dove, or words of arabic used to represent beliefs and feelings.

There was a guestbook by the exhibition for the visitors to give their opinions. It was full of meaningless praise, as the British are inclined to give, until the comment above. Then the equivalent of a handwritten flame war began.

People were offended that someone had dared to voice these thoughts in writing. They called the commenter 'an absolute disgrace!!!' and told them to 'Go home and be quiet like a good atheist'  'An absolute disgrace!!!' And so it goes on for the rest of the guestbook. People criticise the writer for questioning the rights of religion and throw in the occasional insult for good measure.
Religious backlash against atheist comment
I don't agree with the original comment. The library is a place of learning, a place of thousands of opinions waiting to be read and understood, and an exhibition about two faiths getting to know more about each other is a display that belongs there. Rather than ramming religion down our throats it was an exhibition about understanding other faiths, and about training our children to think of other point of views. It was education in art form.

But the response to their comment scares me. Would the replies had been so vitriolic if the commenter had mentioned politics instead of religion? Almost certainly not. For a country that is largely considered Secular, openly questioning religion still causes offence, and 'Atheist' is still used like a four-letter word. The UK may not be so welcoming to atheists as I thought, maybe even less welcoming than we were 20 years ago. The stigma is so strong that the original commenter felt the need to deny any association with Atheism. They were 'Agnostic.' And agnosticism is the default, and therefore safe, position in the UK.
If religion is going to cause this much debate every time it is aired somewhere publicly then it should be done as often as possible. But we need atheists who can fight against it with charm and skill and make the word 'Atheist' a positive one, rather than link it to anger and hate talk. Because, to my surprise, it seems that atheists in the UK are still largely unaccepted.

What do you think? I'd love to hear your opinions in the comments. Maybe I'm reading too much into one guestbook. Or maybe I'm idealist and the situation is worse than I think!

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Friday, July 30

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Laboratory

Cheeky Canines steal treats behind their owner's backsAs if it wasn't enough that we're connected in someway to every human on the planet it seems that dogs are even more like us than we thought. It will be no surprise to any dog owner that dog' know what people are thinking. But recent research has confirmed that they not only know what we're thinking, they use it to their advantage!
Researchers have found that dogs are more likely to try to sneak a treat when they weren't being watched, and knew how not to give themselves away.
The dogs had been trained and commanded not to eat some treats, and then left in a room with a scientist, and two containers full of the treats they weren't allowed to have! One container had bells on it and rang whenever a dog tried to get a treat from it. The other container was silent. Whenever the dogs were being watched they would should take treats from either container. They were going to get in trouble for it anyway, so it didn't matter. But, as soon as the scientist looked away, the dogs would take treats from the silent bowl only.
bad dog doberman
It seems that the dogs knew what the scientist was thinking. They knew she wouldn't be happy with them sneaking treats, so they tried to do it without giving themselves away. They waited till she was thinking of something else and then snuck a treat behind her back, much the same way that a child would try to sneak a cookie by waiting till mum had left the kitchen. They also realised that the container with bells on would give the game away. In short dogs understood how others perceive their actions, the same way you might think twice before telling your spouse they've put on a little weight.
It's a great example of exactly how un-unique we are on this planet. Even dogs know how to avoid upsetting us. They can tell what we're thinking and use it to get the better of us.
Knowing all of this I feel a lot closer to dogs than I used to; They're more like me that I previously imagined. But I'm also not sure if I can ever trust them ever again.

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Wednesday, July 28

Does Skepticism take the fun out of life?

Part of me has always been a skeptic. Even as a Christian I used to experiment. Being told that I couldn't do things I would try them to find out why. I borrowed a book on self-hypnosis from the library, burnt joss sticks in my room and practised yoga. I was somewhat disappointed that I never ended up being possessed by a demon.

Tai chi - Guess I'd be the bald one...One thing I experimented with was Tai Chi. I borrowed a DVD from a friend and learnt my first kata, or sequence, within 2 hours. It was supposed to take weeks to learn properly, so either I'm a very fast learner or my technique was very sloppy, but I was happy enough and practiced whenever I could. I tried to feel the Chi moving through my body, but all that seemed to happen is that my legs got tired. Eventually, a week after I began, I realised that Tai Chi was unlikely to be the play thing of scheming demons and gave it up.

Recently though, in my quest to find spirituality, I decided to try it again. Realising a DVD may not have been the best way to learn a marshal art, I attended a free taster session at a local park instead. And watched as my skepticism took all the fun out of it.

The teacher, dressed all in black in the 28° heat, began to teach to us about Chi.

Is this what Chi looks like?"Chi", he told us, "is the life force running through your body. It is centred just below and behind the belly button, and is the source of all your energy." He went on to tell us that the reason we get ill is because our Chi is blocked, and that Tai Chi is a natural way to remove any blockages and promote optimum health.

The problem is that I already know about Chi. And I know that Chi doesn't exist. No evidence has ever been found to support it. No working medicine is based on it. No laws of physics allow for it.

And just like that the session was ruined for me. I'd hoped to try Tai Chi as a moving form of meditation: a way to clear my mind. Instead I spent the rest of the session trying to ignore the fact that the energy meant to be moving through me didn't exist. Far from being relaxed I felt like a fraud. At any moment I my mask might slip and I'd be revealed as the James Kirk fan at the Star Wars convention

This is where my skepticism had brought me. I had gone to the class looking to experience some peace, and instead experienced a deep desire to sit everyone down and explain basic biology to them.

This isn't the first time my skepticism has done this. It's ruined films and TV shows, made me doubt my friends harmless stories and anecdotes, and even put me on guard whilst someone is pouring out their heart to me and asking me for help. My critical thinking has trained me to doubt everything. And it's making me more of a cynic than I want to be!

I love my skepticism. I love being able to apply critical thinking to the world around me. But I still want to be able to get lost in some of the mysteries of the planet. I still want to able to indulge in some of the benefits of the spiritual world without needing to believe the lies that are behind it. But my skepticism doesn't have an off switch!

How do you stop your skepticism from taking over your life? Is it possible to be a skeptic and still enjoy new, mysterious, experiences?

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Tuesday, July 27

Is Dancing a Spiritual Experience?

We all feel happy every now and then, and sometimes we feel so happy that we can't help but dance. People dance worldwide, regardless of politics or culture, as a way of expressing joy, and sometimes when they feel sad as a way of cheering themselves up. Matt Harding danced all over the planet and shared his appalling dance moves with hundreds of people along the way. His video is a beautiful reminder that we are are all connected to each other and that we all share a common bond, even if that bond may be a complete lack of rhythm.

If nothing else, this video should give you hope that your dancing isn't that bad after all.

The videos been around for a while but I bet even now you can't watch it without smiling, and that shows the power that dancing holds. So one way to experience spirituality might just be to dance. With no care for rhythm, style, or even the music, just feel the joy, and go a little crazy.

Imagine what an happy place the world would be if everyone we met was dancing.
Video reminded to me by Astronomy Picture of the Day

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Journalist accused of atheism arrested in Maldives

The Maldives are becoming a dangerous place for atheists.

In May a man was mobbed by the audience during a lecture in which he renounced his faith. And just weeks later, a 25 year old atheist air-traffic controller took his own life, after being hounded to death.

Now a Maldivian journellist is has been arrested for attempted suicide, homosexuality, and atheism, all of which are illegal on the small island.

It makes glad that I live in a country like England. We may be slightly backwards in a lot of our views but it's a far safer place to be an Atheist than much of the rest of the world.

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Monday, July 26

Mitchell and Web - Does God Exist?

I love Mitchell and Web, and love their increasingly skeptical bent.

This is a classic clip in which they discuss the existence of God.

Of course God doesn't exist. If he did he would have smote Mitchell and Web for this sketch a long time ago.

With thanks to Unreasonable Faith 

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What is Spirit?

2969089369_cd09a217df_m.jpg So what is Spirit anyway? Do I even know what I'm looking for? Spirit seems to be a word that means whatever people want it to mean, and while that would make it easy to find spirituality in my life ('Pouring the milk over my Corn Flakes is so spiritual') it would probably cheapen my quest a little.

Before I can begin seeking spirituality I need to answer a question - 'What does spirituality mean to me?' If my life were a movie a question like that would be answered by a montage scene or with a road trip, but as I don't have a film crew to hand, and as I can't drive, I'll have to find my answer in a more old fashioned way.

What does spirituality mean? What definitions have people given to it already
The state, quality, manner, or fact of being spiritual
Right... that was helpful. What does it mean to be spiritual then?
Of, relating to, consisting of, or having the nature of spirit
Fine... and what is the nature of spirit?
A strong distilled alcoholic liquor.
Alright, maybe I'm doing this wrong! Maybe instead of looking at other people's definitions of Spirituality I should define it for myself. What is it that I'm looking for in this quest for spirituality?
noun. adj. 
  1. The experience of powerful, and beautiful, emotions
  2. A feeling of connection, even entanglement, with other people, with nature, and with the universe
  3. The creation, and appreciation, of beauty in all its forms.
It's a sloppy definition I'll admit, but then there's a reason I don't work for the Oxford English Dictionary, the main reason being that it would probably be a really boring job. Not much chance of finding spirituality there.

And so with the challenge laid out, the quest can begin. Let's go find some spirit. And when we're done drinking that, we can go find some spirituality.

What are your definitions of Spirituality? Is there anything I've missed?
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Sunday, July 25

The Poetry of Science

Charles-prize.pngIs a poem spiritual? Maybe, if it's a well written one. Beautiful Poetry can bring you to tears of joy. Bad poetry can just bring you to tears.

Dr Charles, at The Examining Room, is holding a competition for the best poem about health or medicine. The winner will get $500 and a cherry tomato, so there's 2 perfectly excellent reasons to get your entries in now.

The combing of science and art is a beautiful way to get in touch with your creative side, and awaken the spirit. I hope to read some entries that can make my spirit soar.

Or at least not make me throw up.
QDBASC4DWAQV - Technorati approval Link

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Why is an Atheist trying to find Spirituality?

Simon Hembra In Back to the Future T-shirt.jpgI've been an atheist for 5 years now.  

Like many atheists, I was once a believer. I was a born-again christian for 18 years - your standard happy-clappy, dancing in the aisles, washed with the blood, believer. I would witness to my friends at school, would argue with my class mates over evolution during biology classes, and would fall on the floor, laughing, or crying, in the spirit during the Sunday services.

But little by little, logic, rationality, common-sense took a hold of me, little by little I began to see the impossibility of God for what it is: an impossibility. I saw the contradictions, the lies, the fear, and, one day, I simply let god go.

But with letting God go, I let go of other things I had come to rely on. I lost my support group of friends from my church, I lost the hope of eternal life, I lost a right to believe that anything is possible, and I lost a friend that I could talk to whenever I wanted.

The freedom that comes with Atheism makes up fo this somewhat. My life is now my own, I can choose what path to take, live the life i want to live, without fear of repercussion or eternal damnation. And for several years now I have revelled in the world of science, instead of the world of faith. The truth behind our existence is much more exciting than the stories religion tell.

Pacific Ocean Beauty, Nature ColoursBut at the same time I have become something of a cynic. In disregarding all faith, I have confined myself to a life solely of logic and rationality. By looking at the explanation behind everything, I sometimes forget the amazing story the explanation is telling. The world is more than just a collection of physics, chemistry, biology, psychology and sociology. It is a beautiful place to be. Life is more than a chemical reaction. It's a wonder, an honour and an adventure.

This blog is my attempt to remind myself of the beauty, the wonder, and the wholeness of the universe. And to experience as much of that beauty for myself as I can.

I've only got one life to live now after all. I want to make sure that I spend it enjoying the wonder that is all around me.

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