Wednesday, May 04, 2011

The Problem With Atheists

Atheists seem to have increased their presence a few weeks ago. Easter weekend, the group known as American Atheists held their annual convention in Des Moines, Iowa. The only reason why I know is because a former shipmate of mine is big in the movement and he posted on Facebook that he was going to be at the conference. I have a story about this guy that I will mention later in this post.

On April 15th, part one of the film adaption of Ayn Rand's best known work and supposedly the most influential novel ever written (Atlas Shrugged) made it onto the big screen at select theaters around the country. On Facebook, a couple friends of mine have posted interesting articles about Ayn Rand, who enjoys a growing popularity among the teabagger set, despite her being an atheist who had committed adultery and was pro-choice. My view is that I doubt very seriously that her novel is as widely read as people think it is. The big reason why I doubt such claims is because the novel is more than 1,000 pages and a large segment of the American population don't read on a regular basis. Longer novels require a greater commitment, and it seems unlikely that these teabagger types who claim to love Ayn Rand have actually read her books.

Though I would love to read her novels for my own note taking and critique, I just can't justify reading her classic novel when a few others are still on my bookshelf begging to be read: The Lord of the Rings, Don Quixote, For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Brothers Karamazov, Les Miserables, The Count of Monte Cristo, and Anna Karenina. Most of those books are well over 800 pages. I'm lucky if I get to finish a 300-page book in a seven-day period. Longer novels take more time because I'm too interested in different ideas. I have tons of books under 400 pages that I generally read, though my goal is to read a 1,000-page novel during the course of a year. Ayn Rand will just have to take a back seat. I did head over the Powell's City of Books one Saturday to possibly by a used copy of her novel, but they didn't have any for sale and I wasn't about to pay full price for one. Instead, I found a Cliff Notes edition that will help me understand the story, and therefore understand teabaggers and libertarians (such as the troubled young church member who advocates a completely selfish existence, which would make Ayn Rand proud of him). The ultimate question is, how did an atheist like Ayn Rand manage to become a post-mortal cult leader to a large group of ignorant conservative Evangelical Christians?

Then, on Facebook, the brother of my best friend was at it again. He had posted a link regarding religion and claimed that one day, the majority would put religion behind them and become rational thinkers. Yeah, keep deluding yourself! With Buddhism being more than 2,500 years old, and Judaism and Hinduism being even older than that, there's not really a chance that our world will be devoid of religion. Atheists don't seem to get it. One thing I've noticed about atheists is that when they argue against religion, they make their arguments against the most fanatical, conservative religion, as though fundamentalist versions of the religion speaks for all people who are spiritual. I don't like fundamentalism any more than atheists do. But I resent that atheists put all spiritually-minded people in the same box. To me, it only proves that atheists are every bit as narrow-minded as a fundamentalist Christian is. While I don't believe that atheists are immoral or prone to eternal damnation in hell, I do find them to be a bit too smug in their arrogant assurances that the world is as they say it is: strictly logical, where everything can be proved or disproved by science. This view closes the door on phenomena that simply cannot be explained or verified by science.

When having a discussion with atheists, I always like to ask, "Haven't you ever had a coincidence so bizarre and unlikely that there was no logical explanation for it?" But atheists don't want to go there, so they give pat answers that in a random universe, the statistical probability means that eventually, such an event will happen. That's not good enough for me. In my short life on earth, I have seen too many strange coincidences happen as well as the amazing experience of seeing my long-held dreams or desires come into fruition even better than I had imagined it. If it only happened once, I can give an atheist the answer that it was a fluke. But when it happens time and again, it indicates that there has to be something more to it than that.

In the debate that ensued, I mentioned the strange number of coincidences involved with my White House internship experience. Particularly, when I sent out my resume and application materials to a dozen places to intern, I was accepted by the Democratic Party, Senator Dianne Feinstein's office, and the White House. There was no question that I would accept the White House internship. However, even as I did, my heart was torn because I wanted to experience BOTH the White House and the Senate. I even thought of doing one semester at the White House and another semester with the Senate, but it would have been a strain on my finances.

I didn't know where I would be assigned in the White House complex until orientation day. My dream was the Office of the Vice President. I had wanted to work for Vice President Gore since the 1992 election. I even went so far as to say to my supervisor in the Navy who wanted me to reenlist that I would reenlist if Vice President Gore was the one reenlisting me. I knew that request would be such a long shot that I had no second thoughts about leaving the Navy when my enlistment was up. Four years after getting out of the Navy, I was a White House intern and when I received my intern notebook at orientation, the sticker with my name revealed that I was assigned to the Office of the Vice President! I was so excited. After the general orientation for the 188 White House interns that semester, we split into our various departments. The OVP had 15 interns. I learned that I was assigned to Gore's office in the U.S. Capitol building. At first, I was disappointed. I was the furthest White House intern from the White House complex. So much for my dream of working in the West Wing!

My opinion changed a couple weeks into my internship when President Clinton and his cabinet came to the Capitol for his last State of the Union Address. Though I didn't get to see the event in person, I was in the Capitol building at the time, watching it on the office TV with other staff. Before the speech, I had seen many Senators just outside of the office. This event made me remember my torn emotion regarding wanting to experience both the White House internship and a Senate internship. Somehow, someway, the universe gave me BOTH! I did not even know the Vice President had an office in the U.S. Capitol building (he also had an office in the West Wing, a suite of offices in the Old Executive Office Building, and the Dirksen Senate Office Building). This experience taught me what I read about a few years later in my study of the Universal Law of Attraction. Whenever you passionately desire something, don't obsess with the "how." Let the universe decide how best to deliver your desires. Just focus on what you want to experience in your life and allow the universe to make it happen.

Of course, the atheists were dismissive of my experience. No surprise. There's always a convenient answer for them. I just got lucky. I don't know how many people applied for a White House internship that semester, but only 188 were accepted and out of those, only 15 were assigned to work for Vice President Gore and of those, only one was assigned to work in his office in the U.S. Capitol building. As the staffer who supervised the interns told me at the end of the semester, "Other than the intern assigned to his West Wing office, you got to see him the most." It was Gore who won my vote for Clinton in 1992 (I was leaning towards Ross Perot in the first election I was eligible to vote for, until Clinton selected Gore as a running mate). Throughout the Clinton years, I was a Gore loyalist even though neither my conservative nor my liberal friends liked Gore.

Is it possible that my experience as a Gore intern was a fluke? Well, anything is possible. But how would it be possible to have so many "hits" regarding my internal desires and seeing it manifest into reality that semester? My four months of the internship were the most "magical" months of my life. I felt like I walked on air the entire time. It was the only time in my life where I was in perfect flow for four months straight. This is just one example from my life that testifies to a "hidden hand" at work in our world. If it only happened once, I can understand why some would call it a "fluke" or dismiss it as "just a coincidence" (of no consequence). When it happens time and again, I have no choice but to believe that we live in a spiritually directed world rather than a strict rational, materialistic, and atheistic universe. I feel sorry for atheists being so narrow-minded to deprive themselves of the joy of mystery surrounding synchronicities and coincidences.

The quote above is a popular one among atheists. Again, it shows how they base their arguments against spirituality on the most conservative form of religion. I agree that fundamentalism is an inconsistent, hypocritical, and dangerous form of "spirituality." But just because I view the world through a spiritual lens does not make me one of them. My answer to the Epicurus quote is simple. The greatest gift God gave humanity (besides eternal life) is the gift of free will. This means that God will not intervene in our lives unless we ask for His presence. God allows us to do whatever we want, to even kill others if we wanted to. Of course, there is a price to pay in the end, but God is not going to violate free will even to prevent "evil" because that is OUR job. We're the ones who need to prevent evil from happening. This lack of intervention by God is not a sign that God is malevolent. Until one understands what true consistency is and what free will means, then one cannot understand God. Perfection means no contradiction. Perfection is consistency. Do we want free will or not? Because of this gift of free will, an atheist will never find confirmation or "proof" that God exists. They will continue to live life so smug and certain that the world strictly adheres to natural law, while denying or dismissing the unexplained phenomena of their lives. That, to me is the true tragedy of atheism.

About that former Navy buddy who now leads an atheist group in Alabama. We had met in 1991 when I was new to La Maddalena, Sardinia. I remember the day well. I had seen him around the ship but we didn't really get to know each other until the day the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders came to our little base for a morale boosting USO tour. This sailor, Blair, told me a cool "what good luck / what bad luck..." kind of yarn about this USO visit. Something like, "Our morale gets a big boost because the Cowboy cheerleaders have come to visit, but then our morale plummets because we're horny and can't get laid..." I thought he was hilarious and I tend to become friends easily with people who make me laugh. In the course of getting to know each other's personal history, I was shocked to learn that he was in the grade before me at Logan Fontanelle Junior High School in Bellevue, Nebraska when my family lived there in the early to mid 1980s. What an amazing coincidence!!

When we reconnected a few years ago on Facebook, I was stunned to learn that he is very active in atheist activism in Alabama and is close friends with an atheist who happens to know my U.S. government teacher in Georgia, the atheist activist who became my favourite teacher of all time. In fact, so in awe was I about this teacher that I became an atheist for awhile before a series of coincidences convinced me that God exists. The fact that I have such a strange coincidence with my former Navy buddy Blair is proof of the sense of humour that our universe has. Of course, this atheist dismissed our coincidence as a random event that fits some statistical probability (the idea that if you give 100 monkeys typewriters and they pounded away 24 / 7, that eventually one of them would write "Hamlet"). As Wayne and Garth would say to that: "Yeah, and monkeys might fly out of my butt!"

Think about all the high schools in America. Then think about all the options students have when they graduate (thousands of colleges, four military branches, millions of jobs). Then think about all the ships in the Navy (it was close to 500 in 1992) that one could be assigned to. So, on one ship in isolated La Maddalena, two alumni of the same junior high in Nebraska happen to meet up. And yes, I did vaguely remember him in junior high school. Then fast forward a decade and the connection continued through his involvement with an atheist group that was a "sister organization" to the atheist group founded by my favourite high school teacher. How can anyone dismiss such coincidences as a statistical probability? To me, it shows just how connected our lives are and makes life so much more interesting. The coincidence may not mean anything profound, but for me, its simply a reminder that God loves irony. I need no physical proof of God's existence because coincidences are proof enough that we aren't just here because of some random chance. We have the power to manifest our deepest desires into reality. Would that be possible in a world of strict atheistic materialism?


Larry, The Barefoot Bum said...

Take a class in probability.

T said...

Years ago, I read Atlas Shrugged. I liked the focus on individuality, but really found the corporate stuff about capitalism way too excessive. Alan Greenspan was a student of Rand' wonder the economy melted down in 2008. It's that Milton Friedman litany - that the market will correct itself. Ha.

Reason's Whore said...

8 million children are born with serious birth defects every year.

Another 8 million children under the age of 5 die of starvation-related causes every year.

11 million people die of infectious diseases every year.

Now, what was that about free will being the cause of evil?

If a god existed, it could have created a world without suffering. Christians believe that they will have 1) free will and 2) no suffering in heaven. Yet for some reason, they seem to consider it a necessary condition of life on Earth. Baloney.

Sansego said...

Thank you for your comments.

RW: Your question reflects the typical atheist argument against religion. It might be an effective criticism of Christianity, but don't assume that all spiritual people share the dogmas of Christianity.

In the numerous spiritual books I've read (from Buddhism to Hinduism to New Age spirituality), the common belief is that we are eternal spiritual beings who have temporary sojourns on earth that can number from a few days to 100 years or more. We leave a perfect spiritual world for this imperfect physical world to learn lessons, to accomplish our goals, to contribute to the evolutionary goals of our species, and to pay our karmic debts (and hopefully not accrue new karmic debt). So, seen from that context, one cannot blame God for the ills that transpire on the world. It is our actions that can change the world for the better or for worse.

If there were no diseases, there would be no scientists studying these diseases to find a cure.

Your arguments reflect a different mindset that atheists have from spiritually-minded folks. You look at the world and find fault in the belief that God exists because such a perfect being wouldn't allow such tragedies in your worldview. I look at the world and see the challenges that face our species on the evolutionary track. We are co-creators with God regarding this planet. How boring life would be if everything was blissful and easy.

Vinny said...

I read Atlas Shrugged in 2008 because I wanted to understand all the references I kept hearing on CNBC. After reading a couple hundred pages, I stopped reading the monologues because they were all so repetitive. Any time a character spoke for more than half a page without interruption, I skipped ahead to the next point where there was actual dialogue or plot advancement.

Matt said...

The White House internship is an example of what's called Confirmation Bias. There are probably a whole bunch of things that you have wished for that you didn't get, and you have one thing that you wished for that you did get. So you take that one example as evidence for your God, and you ignore all the other times where what you wanted didn't work out. Yes, atheists would be dismissive of this example.

Sansego said...

Matt: That was only one example of many coincidences I've had since I started keeping track in 1991. I haven't written all of them on my blog. The White House one was just meant to be one example I was making because it showed how a dream I had for eight years ultimately came true.

Its obvious that you and other atheists have not read much about the Universal Law of Attraction, because your comments show that you don't understand it. It takes an open mind to possibility and a focus on what you really desire to experience in life.

I went through an atheist period in my life (between 1990 and 1993), but a series of coincidences between 1991 and 1994 convinced me that we live in a spiritually directed universe, not an atheistic one.

My post is not preaching religious dogmas. The whole point is to illustrate that we live in a world of possibility, but it takes a truly open mind to see the possibilities. Coincidences and synchronicities are the clues to follow in one's life. To deprive yourself of the mystery and joy of a synchronistic event is the ultimate in cynicism.

Larry, The Barefoot Bum said...

It's extremely insulting and arrogant to assume that everyone who disagrees with you is close-minded and ignorant. Of course you'll never cop to your own arrogance and attitude; it's so much easier to find it in others.

I'm fairly well-versed in statistics and the scientific method, I've studied the "Law of Attraction" in some detail, and it's pure sanctimonious bullshit.

The "Law of Attraction" is just a way for you to enjoy your privilege and relative while remaining fundamentally indifferent to the suffering of others. It's as morally reprehensible a belief as pure Randian Republicanism.

I prefer assholes who know they're assholes, and who take pride in their assholiness. Assholes such as yourself, who wrap their privilege and lack of concern for the well-being of others in sanctimonious spirituality, disgust me.

Larry, The Barefoot Bum said...

The "Law of Attraction" is just a way for you to enjoy your privilege and exploitation of others...

Reason's Whore said...

Okay, so you're a new age religionist. Your "explanation" that a perfect god created imperfect beings so that they could learn some lessons doesn't actually explain the problem of evil.

What does a perfect god need to do anything for, much less create imperfect beings and send them to suffer and die before they have the ability to think, reason and learn any lessons?

Moreover, how do you come to have this insight into this hypothetical god's nature and plans? It certainly does not come from nature, so you are left with speculation written by humans, most of which was dreamed up in the millenia before we had the scientific method to understand the world around us.

T said...

Wow, larry the barefoot bum. You sound incredibly bitter. You'd better not try using the law of attraction until you overcome your bitterness or whatever ails you.

agentphi said...

Very nice post Sansego. But you will never be able to convince atheists that there exists another realm "out there" beyond what we can measure with science and reason. People naturally look for evidence to affirm their beliefs and dismiss anything else that may challenge them.

If someone wholeheartedly does not believe in synchronistic events and the spiritual world, they will naturally be blind to this subjective phenomena.

It is hard to truly look at the world with "pure" eyes unhindered by preconceived ideas and dogmatic beliefs. In buddhism, it is called "direct perception": to directly perceive reality as it is without egoistic thoughts realating to personal beliefs and desires.

Blind faith in religious fundamentalism is just as ignorant and dangeroous as people who blindly follow the atheistic mindset; they view everything in terms of what can only be measured objectively (and scientifically) and dismiss the subjective experiences that people may have of the spiritual world.

I am wholly convinced through my own experiences that there does indeed exist another realm "out there" and I have enough faith in my own beliefs to stick by that without relying on "what can only be scientifically proven". It takes a certain amount of courage to believe something that can't be proven, but it is equally just as weak to blindly subcribe to a religious dogma.

I don't know what the "truth" of the universe is and I don't think anybody can claim that they do. But I have enough sense to be open to other possibilities, explanations and speculations, and to not just limit my thinking to scientific, athieistic terms.