Ghosts!

The following is copied directly from a post I made on Facebook, and then my subsequent comments on that post.

I used to believe in ghosts. The belief was originally based on just the possibility of their existence, then “confirmed” by my own eyewitness account.

Then I grew up, thought about it, and determined that my account of seeing and hearing ghosts (in a cemetery, no less!) was brought about by

A) the pre-determination of ghosts’ existence (itself based only on assumption, hearsay, and speculation),

B) heightened senses in a dark, quiet graveyard,

C) an overactive imagination that once convinced me when I was younger that an animated skeleton was stalking me from outside my bedroom window (it also led me to believe in the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, and the effectiveness of a toy I had growing up called a “dream chaser”), and even

D) peer pressure. I was with friends who also saw and heard creepy things that night. However even if those friends maintain that we really did witness ghosts or spirits, I am inclined to think they have not yet come to realize the roles these four factors play in their own belief.

Once these four factors are recognized and even more importantly, accepted, it is not difficult at all to dismiss any other supernatural claims or apparent phenomena.

A friend commented, stating that he feels differently (but refrained from going into any detail), which prompted my response:

I would also add a fifth factor: that sometimes it just feels good to believe in something fantastic or magical, like ghosts and an afterlife. It feels good because it’s comforting, and sometimes the hardest thing to do is admit that just because something seems or feels wonderful doesn’t mean it’s real.

I’ll use books and movies as an example: I love reading and watching films; I love being lost in the story and imagining all the things that happen within. I love rooting for the good guy and I love when he is vigilant. I love when a story can pull at my emotions and make me happy, sad, or frightened. But when the credits roll, or when I turn the last page, the story’s over. Sometimes I get a huge feeling of relief when a story is over, and sometimes I wish it could go on forever, but every story (ready The Neverending Story joke) comes to an end, and whether or not I’m okay with that — whether or not I’m ready for it to be over — it’s over, and I know it’s not real. But it felt good. Hell, it might even still feel good.

He answered again, this time stating that he believes there are things people can’t see or explain; things that exist beyond the realm of the natural; that there are parallel worlds and dimensions, implying that some things (ghosts?) may be able to exist on multiple planes at once, and saying we should not dismiss the existence of ghosts because they might exist. My final response:

I think it’s totally fine to believe we can’t explain everything (I believe the same, and wouldn’t claim otherwise). But to believe in something based strictly on its possibility is absurd. Leprechauns could exist, but I don’t believe they do. I believe there are very small people in this world, and their stature may even make them somewhat elusive, and some of them may even make it a habit to dress themselves predominantly in green, but I’m pretty sure nobody has ever been proven (or even evinced) to possess magical powers such as a leprechaun’s. Bigfoot could — hell, there’s even video footage of him! — but I believe (based on a general understanding of how the brain can play tricks on somebody) any eyewitness accounts are either hoaxes or misunderstandings. Russell’s Teapot COULD exist; there’s no way to prove it doesn’t, but since there’s an overwhelming lack of evidence FOR its existence, I do not believe it exists.

What are your thoughts?

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Suburban Atheist

Did you know that atheists really just hate god? That we only claim to disbelieve in god because of some terrible tragedy that happened early in our lives? Here, in a retelling of the very first post I ever wrote for this blog, is the chilling tale of how I went from atheist, to Catholic, and back to atheist.

It all starts with me being born on the dirty floor of a scary, shadowy motel in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on a frigid night in November*. Fresh out of the womb I was broken in a couple places, crying, splotchy, and covered in a particular goo I hope to never be covered in again. More importantly, I was atheist.

That’s right, folks. I started my life crying, gooey, and atheist. Scared and alone, I couldn’t even imagine a god existing. Everything around me was all there was. This is only the beginning of my horrible tale, however. I know it’s probably hard to believe, but it gets even worse!

Though I grew slightly larger, I remained atheist for the first couple years of my life. It got to the point, though, where as a child I would believe anything my parents told me. There was a Santa Claus. There was an Easter Bunny. There was a god who made everything and would never let bad things happen and would always take care of me. But wait, wouldn’t Mommy and Daddy always take care of me? Who cares? This god fella sounds amazing! Even more powerful and mystical than those birthday party clowns who made amazing balloon animals and pulled rabbits out of hats!

By now we had moved to Texas. I grew up in Suburbia. When I wasn’t going to church on Sunday or school in the morning, I was running around outside with my friends, on lawns that were always green and freshly-mowed, with water pistols and water balloons that were so full we had to be careful not to burst them on ourselves before we could soak each other. I was climbing trees, scraping knees, teasing bees, and refusing to eat my peas. We had several pets including dogs, fish, and iguanas. I was always occupied. I praised god and Jesus once a week, and then spent the rest of the week, well, being a kid in Suburbia.

Church life was about what I imagine it would be like for most kids. We went to St. Jude Catholic church on Sundays, I had a youth group afterwards, and that was it. I can’t even say whether I ever paid attention to a single sermon during Mass. I was a kid, after all. I brought coloring books and plastic dinosaurs to church. I knelt when my parents knelt, opened the books and pretended to sing when my parents sang. Sometimes I actually sang, which was fun because I liked the songs. I had no idea what they were about, but I liked them.

Truth be told, I didn’t even know what the Bible was about. I just knew what my parents told me: Jesus was this guy who was the son of god but he was also god, and that’s okay because I’m a kid and I’ll believe whatever my parents say, and Jesus did good things and then he was crucified, but that was also okay because he did it so we could all go to Heaven, which was a really great place where everybody went when they died, so I guess we never really died, which was good because this meant I never had to be scared about dying.

And things stayed this way for a while.

I went to school and was placed into the “Gifted & Talented” program simply because I was good at math, and I met the greatest teacher I’ve ever had in my entire life, Mrs. Judith Barnes. Mrs. Barnes encouraged us to think, and read, and appreciate art, and solve logic problems. She was my GT teacher for six years, so for six years I received more and more encouragement to think, and read, and appreciate art, and solve logic problems.

I read about things that fascinated me: dinosaurs, rocks, the solar system, animals, bugs, different countries and cultures. And then I did what my parents probably didn’t expect me to do: I put down my illustrated children’s version of the Bible and picked up an actual grown-up Bible.

And I read it.

Not the whole thing, mind you. I was, after all, still a kid. I was probably around ten years old. But I read enough of it to stop, think to myself How would Mrs. Barnes want me to read this?, and suddenly realize that it couldn’t all possibly be true. Then I realized that the story of Jesus was the only fantastic story I’d hung on to that my parents had told me, having already let go of Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and I found myself wondering why?

Why was I still hanging on to this Jesus fellow? Santa and the Easter Bunny had both been used to teach me valuable lessons about being good and having fun – why couldn’t Jesus have also just been a device to teach me to stay true to myself, despite how others might treat me, and to strive to see goodness in all things?

So sometime probably in my early teens, I stopped worrying about god and Jesus and Heaven and Hell. For a while, I hung onto the notion of a god that snapped his invisible fingers, made the universe pop into existence, and then just sort of minded his own business after that and didn’t interfere with anything, but I finally let go of that belief too, later on in my teens. And by the time I finished high school I was full-blown atheist.

All the while I was just a middle-class kid in Suburbia with two loving, never-divorced parents, an older brother who I fought with now and then about nothing in particular, a big backyard with a swingset (replaced later on by a pool with a diving board), and a bunch of dogs.

And that’s the story of how one simple childhood tragedy can cause any person to turn their back on god forever.

*Slight exaggeration. I was actually born in a clean, well-lit hospital room in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on a November morning, which I imagine was still probably pretty cold.

Silly Theist Logic

Devoted Atheist Dave reader “Andrea” added a decent comment on my post from 2 April, Prayer is Futile, but then followed up with the inane I don’t believe you’re an atheist. You wouldn’t be spending this much time writing about a Person whom you claim you don’t believe in.

By this incredibly well-thought out religious logic, we can conclude that:
J. R. R. Tolkien believes Middle Earth and hobbits exist.
J. K. Rowling believes Hogwarts and the wizarding world are real.
George Lucas believes wookiees and Jar Jar Binks exist.
– Jim Davis thinks bright orange talking cats who love lasagna exist.
– Walt Disney really believed in talking mice, dogs, and ducks.

And so on, and so forth.

The point here is that a lot of people write or talk about things they don’t believe exist. This is entertainment, baby. It’s called “make believe.” You, as a theist, should know about making believe all too well. It’s all right, I had imaginary friends when I was a kid, too. I even believed in Santa. But I grew out of all of them. That’s another one, by the way: parents, especially around Christmas, seem to talk about Santa Claus an awful lot. Does that mean they believe he exists?

As far as what I would or wouldn’t be doing as an atheist, who are you to say? The only thing you know I will not be doing, based on my being atheist, is believing any gods exist. That is the only thing my atheism tells you about me.

I didn’t think I’d have to point this out, since my audience is made up primarily of atheists, nonbelievers, agnostics, and rational thinkers (surprise, I’m not actually trying to [de]convert anyone – I have a feeling it’d take more than a blog to do that). But let’s see if this helps you understand:

Sometimes when I make a post specifically talking about the Christian god and pointing out its logical inconsistencies and flaws I will assume, just for the sake of argument, that said god actually exists. That’s a literary device. It’s akin to saying, “Okay, if your god exists as your Bible describes it, then we know these things about it…” That doesn’t mean I believe it exists. For the sake of simplifying things I omit the disclaimer at the end of every post, but I’ll provide one for you now.

Disclaimer: I do not believe in a god or gods, nor have I as long as this blog has been active. If I ever come across as though I do believe in a god or gods, just remind yourself that I do not believe in a god or gods.

What’s the what?!

Hey there to the readers that Dave has managed to attract.  My name is Brandon and I have been invited to take part in this blog about various subjects close to my heart.  Let me start with a brief introduction.

I grew up in Tulsa, OK.  I went to church with my family all the way through high school, though less and less as the years went on.  I have been skeptical all of my life, and I can’t recall a time when I believed in god and did not believe in Santa Claus.  At first I kept my unbelief to myself.  I think I first told my parents that I didn’t believe in god when I was ten or eleven.  I even went through a phase in my early teens where I tried to believe, studying the bible harder and having discussions with preachers and religious friends, but the more I studied it the less sense it made…to me.  The other people that I spoke with seemed to ignore the problems that we spoke about, always using the bible as a reference for their argument.  I studied history and science more as I got older and found it more and more exciting and interesting.  I still love learning about science and history, and the more I learn the more I realize how incredibly inaccurate the religious texts are.  That combined with their incessant self-contradictions make it perfectly clear that religion is man-made and bankrupt.  The fact that so many people choose not to think about the obvious facts, not to mention that so many people just take it for granted that the bible is historically accurate in any meaningful way without doing the tiny amount of research required to disprove that falsehood, often makes me feel like a sane man among crazy people.

I should mention here something that I will go into more later on.  I used to be disturbed by my lack of faith.  That is not to say that I had faith and was fighting it.  I had no faith and that seemed so uncommon to me at a young age that I felt there might be something wrong with me.  I rarely spoke of it, so I wasn’t actually able to learn what my friends thoughts were, and in the end that turned out to be somewhat self-fulfilling.  Oddly enough, all of my good friends from elementary school grew up to be atheists as well, which leads me to believe that we all shared a lot more in common than we knew at the time, and we all spread out and lost contact until Facebook came along and allowed us to reconnect and realize our mutual faithlessness.  The other things that we all have in common are that we are all very happy people, all successful in our jobs, nearly all have families with children and all ended up fairly well educated.  I know that many religious people feel that a full and happy life isn’t possible without faith, though I can’t say that their reasoning makes sense, and they frequently make a big deal out of coming to faith or being born again.  I recall the day that I fully gave up on trying to believe in god and let myself just believe what I intuitively believed all along.  That day a huge weight was lifted from my shoulders and I felt like I was seeing the world as it really is for the first time.  I’d always doubted and there had never been an argument that was convincing to me in any way, but until I fully embraced my irreligion I was never able to see it for what it is; I only had inklings.  However, leaving all of that behind was the best thing I ever did, and any atheist worth their salt will likely agree with this statement.  Except the lucky ones that never had all that nonsense dumped on them in the first place.

My wife and I live in Texas now with our four-year-old son.  It literally creeps me out to see so many churches all over the place.  It’s disturbing to see people throw their crazy right out there for all the world to see.  We are not looking forward to sending our son to friends’ houses for the weekend and getting the “do you mind if he just goes to church with us on Sunday morning and then we can drop him off afterward?” questions that are bound to come up.  My son is incredibly smart and I look forward to having discussions with him about the cosmos and our place in it.  I love knowing that when he asks me difficult questions I actually have answers, and if I don’t know I find out and then explain it to him in a way that he can understand.  My best hope is to give him as much knowledge as I can and let him make his own decisions.  That’s what I did, albeit by myself, and it worked out just fine for me.

My purpose here is mostly just to vent and to share the thoughts and realizations that I occasionally have about religion.  It’s so present in society that it’s impossible to ignore, plus around these parts people are more than happy to start a religious discussion with a stranger, assuming that they also believe, so it’s not like I am given the option to actually opt out.  Instead I find myself forced, far too often, to discuss this nonsense with people who don’t seem able to actually hear the words coming out of their own mouths.  Thus, the truth behind the B.S. sometimes seems clearer, and this is as good a place as any to voice my thoughts on the matter and see what other people think.

Finally, fair warning: I am more than happy to have a calm and rational discussion with believers about religion and faith, but the moment they stop being rational I gotta quit.  Otherwise I start to get too irritated by the willful ignorance.  It’s always been my biggest pet-peeve, whether about religion or anything else that can easily be known and understood.