In my first ever blog post, almost a year and a half ago, I declared my sentiment that the debate on the existence of God is ultimately meaningless. Since that fateful day, I have posted articles about philosophy, science, psychology, history, mythology, as well as random thoughts and just some utter bullshit. Inevitably though, I am time and time again roped into the same religious debates that I denounced with that first post. In these debates, I have argued from both sides of the fence, playing Devil’s and God’s advocate depending on the context, all while stealthily avoiding affiliating myself with any one denomination. Throughout the course of these discussions, the rare times I’ve had to directly address the question, I’ve described myself as an omnist, a deist, an agnostic apologist, and an aimless wanderer between all beliefs (and no belief). But, despite all my efforts to avoid it, I have recently been labelled by a wonderful alliance of atheist bloggers on their compendium, Enquiries on Atheism, as a ‘Featured Theist.’ Now don’t get me wrong, I am both honored and flattered to be featured on this collaboration, and I want to send my sincere thanks to whoever is responsible for making the decision (even if it’s just a random computer algorithm). But it does draft me onto the losing team of a competition of which I’m growing more and more wearisome. Through all my debates for and against the values and hypocrisies of religion, the one consistency has been inconsistency, specifically, the inconsistency of beliefs among those of the same nomenclature. Even within a specific denomination of a specific religion, you’re not likely to find any two people who share all of the exact same beliefs, moral, philosophical, or otherwise. For example, two Christians who attend the same church and both declare Christ as their Lord and savior may have completely different views about the importance of the factual validity of the bible. Likewise, two atheists may be variably certain about the nature of objective reality. It’s these and similar discrepancies that have led me to avoid declaring any affiliation myself. Nonetheless, we humans need to categorize our world in order to understand it, and so people with vastly different beliefs may end up being labelled, by themselves and others, with the same assumption-laden label, which further sparks the debate based on nothing more than each person’s own presumptions about that label.
But while I’m being cast, I might as well play the role, for the show must go on. And I’d like to take the opportunity to explore the varying beliefs within one of these sticky labels. Atheists are notorious for avoiding declaring any of their own beliefs by exploiting the loophole that atheism is a lack of belief. But as atheism is merely a lack of belief in gods, as opposed to nihilism, I’m not gonna let the writers over at EoA wriggle out of the witness stand so easily. So I do have some enquiries, which I’ll list here and also shoot over to them, that should, if they choose to answer, help clarify what beliefs atheist do not lack. These questions are open to all who want to answer though, and if you don’t mind disclosing your preferred label, it may help to exemplify my point even further.
1. Do you believe in the finality of objective reality, despite that our only source of knowledge about that reality is subjective experience. In other words, do you believe that the physical universe is all that exists?
2. Do you believe that logic, and thereby science, is inherent to reality, or do we project it onto reality. Is logic the language of nature, or is it simply our method of understanding it?
3. Do you believe that our logic, and thereby our science, can or will someday explain the entirety of reality. Can the true nature of reality be known?
4. Do you believe consciousness exists in this reality? Is it merely a by-product of brain function? Is it contained somewhere in the brain?
5. Do you believe in the possibility that consciousness can continue to exist after death?
I’ll stop there for now, as these are the questions I’m mainly interested in. Hopefully from here we can foster a discussion that explores each others’ worldviews. Until then, have at it!
A common claim by the antireligious is that religion can and should be blamed for the wealth of atrocities committed in its name. From the Crusades to the bombing of abortion clinics, religion is to shoulder the blame for the sins of those who claim it justifies mass murder. By that logic, this poor lil’ pup is to be held accountable for six murders committed by David Berkowitz in 1976 and 1977. Sorry Harvey, but it’s your word against his, and you can’t talk, ’cause you’re a dog. Don’t worry though, you’re in good company. Last week we put J. D. Salinger to death for the murders of John Lennon, Rebecca Schaeffer, and the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan. And while we’re doing away with any arbitrary reason people might use to murder, we better get rid of love, lust, power, property, politics, money, drugs, music, books, food, water, shelter, nature… let’s see, anything else?
Despite the countless examples of why marriage has never been ‘traditionally defined’ the way they think it is, fundamentalists still stick to the argument that allowing gays to marry would be ‘redefining’ marriage. And because marriage is a religious institution, according to them, the government has no authority to do so. You could waste your time trying to present a logical argument to these people, but if they were logical, they wouldn’t be fundamentalists. Instead, I say fight fire with fire. If marriage is a religious institution, you have every right to form a new religion that defines marriage anyway you’d like. Then by supporting heterosexual marriage and not homosexual marriage, the government would be violating the first amendment by “respecting an establishment of religion” and “prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Think this is an original approach? Think again! Turns out it was done 500 years ago, with Christianity! In fact, the Protestant Reformation, which paved the way for nearly every denomination of Christianity besides Catholicism, was sparked in part by one man’s wish to redefine marriage.
Henry VIII was the King of England from 1509 to 1541. At the time, England was a Catholic country, part of the Holy Roman Catholic Church. But after Henry’s wife Catherine of Aragon did not bear him a male heir (and after he decided that he liked her cousins more), he needed a way to get out of his marriage. Pope Clement VII denied his request for an annulment on the grounds that it violated church doctrine, so Henry, undeterred, decided to form his own church whose doctrine would allow his annulment. Thus began the Church of England, one of the first official Protestant Churches in Europe. It is to this redefinition of marriage that all major denominations of Protestantism in America owe their freedom to practice their religion, including Baptists, undoubtedly the most outspoken opponents to gay marriage.
Now the good news is that we live in a day and age where you don’t have to be a king to start a new religion, and you don’t have to go around destroying all the churches that disagree with you, as Henry did. All you have to do is decide to start one and voila! it shall be done. As a matter of fact….
I hereby proclaim a new religion that I shall call Equalitism. Its doctrines are simple:
1. Love everybody.
2. Gays can get married.
Bam! Now any government that does not recognize the rights of gays to marry is violating my constitutional right to practice my religion. Anyone care to be a disciple?
In my recent post about the Lost God of Peace, I discussed the linguistic origins and evidence of the Canaanite god, and briefly mentioned some of the others in the pantheon and their linguistic remnants in the Semitic languages. But there was one small deity in that pantheon that I may have overlooked (or intentionally passed over) whom you may recognize. Did you find him? He’s way down there almost at the bottom. Yup that’s him!
That’s right, Yahweh, the God of Israel, the God worshipped by nearly 55% of the world’s population, once sat alongside Shalim as one of the minor gods of the Canaanites. While this is hardly news to any diligent theologian, it may come as a bit of a shock to casual believers. So how did this marginal, seemingly insignificant deity come to overtake his brother’s temple, marry his father’s wife, and completely redefine religion as the world knew it by becoming the one true god of monotheism? Once again, a linguistic analysis may be able to help us explain this.
Take another look at the gods of the Canaanite pantheon. Notice that almost all of them have a dominion that they ruled or oversaw, whether it be Yaw, the god of the seas and rivers; Ishat, the god of fire; or our guy Shalim, the god of the dawn. In determining the origins of the names of gods in polytheism, you often run into the chicken vs. egg problem. For example, it may never be known whether Shalim took his name from the Canaanite word for ‘dawn’ or vice versa. It can pretty safely be assumed that at one point the language was so primitive that the two probably shared a name, and possibly an identity. Keep in mind that in the same way that monotheism arose from monolatrism which in turn arose from polytheism, polytheism probably arose from an amalgam of animism and ancestor worship. Euhmerus theorized that all of the gods of Greece were named after distant ancestors who became deified over the generations, but he may have overlooked the fact that animism was an equally influential early religion, and many names of gods are derived from the common terms for natural objects. But what about Yahweh? It seems he was unique in this sense, as he does not have a natural phenomenon or an aspect of society that he supervises. A little digging gives us evidence that he may have derived his name from a location or cultural name of his followers. Probably the earliest mention of his name is in the Egyptian accounts of the ‘Shasu of Yhw,’ a nomadic tribe of people living around Egypt during the time of Amenhotep III (coincidentally the father of Akhenaten, the pharaoh who attempted to convert Egypt to monotheism… hmmmm….). Since the other shasu mentioned in the accounts are followed by location names, it’s safe to assume that this instance of ‘yhw’ referred to a location as well. Since these people were nomadic, we can hypothesize that they may have traveled south to Canaan and assimilated into the culture there, thus lending the god of their homeland to the Canaanite pantheon. From there, this fringe group of pseudo-Canaanites, who seemed rigorously intent on maintaining their cultural identity through their god, were either pushed north by outside forces, or were led there on the promise of finding a land of their own, as the Bible states.
Enter Moses, the founder of Yahwehism. Now I know what you’re thinking, ‘But Logan, didn’t Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all come before Moses?” Or maybe you weren’t thinking that at all, but anyway. Yes, these patriarchs of Genesis were the leaders of the Israelites before Moses. But notice the name for Israel. It has that pesky little -el suffix we discussed in the last post. Also the Hebrew name used for God throughout Genesis is Elohim, another derivation of El, the Canaanite’s father god. Clearly the author of Genesis meant for us to infer that during this time, the Israelites were still a sect of Canaanites. But when Moses fled Egypt, according to Exodus, he lived with the Midianites, which the Bible tells us were also a sect of Canaanites or ‘Kenites.’ It is also possible that the Midianites were the ‘Shasu of Yhw’ mentioned in the Egyptian hieroglyphs. Either way, it would appear that the author of Exodus wanted his readers to make that connection, because it is while Moses is among them that he receives his most important message from YHWH.
When Moses encounters God at the burning bush, he asks God his name, and God replies, “I am that I am.” In Hebrew this is three words: ‘Eyeh Asher Eyeh‘- eyeh being the singular present (and future) tense of the verb ‘to be,’ and asher being a general pronoun which can mean that, which, who, where, or even because. This simple phrase holds a vast amount of meaning, and is still regarded as one of the most important phrases in the Bible. Medieval Jews listed it as one of the names of God that held special significance. The author of Exodus, in an almost Shakespearean play on words, not only makes reference to the ‘yhw’ of the Midianites and the YHWH that his readers currently worshiped, but also states with power and clarity the meaning of Yahweh’s name. The phrase is most commonly translated into English as “I am that I am,” but it could also mean “I will be what I will be” or “I will be because I will be,” which implies his promise to prove to the Israelites that he is their god. But the most interesting possibility to me, is the translation “I am because I am” or “I am that which is,” implying that the author is intentionally separating the name YHWH from its cultural and geographic roots, and giving it new meaning which could be equated simply to ‘being’ or ‘existence.’ This perception of the name of God could have influenced Yahwism’s development from a monolatristic religion into a monotheistic one, since monotheism implies that God is all things and the cause of all things. God is found in every aspect of the universe and ourselves, and thus could easily be defined as existence itself.
While we may never know which of these meanings was actually implied by the author, since the language itself yields all of the meanings, it seems possible, even probable, that the author meant to imply all of them. This simple phrase would lay the foundation for one of the most important religious movements in history, and is still seen today as declaration of the nature of God and existence itself. It nullifies the debate of the existence of God by stating the God and existence are one in the same. No matter your religion, any person can see the divine nature of existence itself and the value of worshiping your existence and the existence of all things. That’s my bit. Shalim, and have a good day!
At a hangout sesh, late in my high school career, someone left the get-together with the common colloquial valediction, “Peace.” A friend of mine, in his sage inebriated insight, took notice of this and made the observation, “Isn’t it cool that we use the word ‘peace’ to say good-bye now?” What followed was another in a long line pointless speculative discussions that took place that night, this one about the origins of this cultural phenomenon. Maybe the only actually interesting point that someone made was that the Hebrew greeting/valediction combo ‘shalom’ is translated as meaning ‘peace.’
For some reason this tidbit of trivia stuck in my mind, and I began to notice variations of this word in other languages. The Arabic word for peace is ‘salaam,’ and is also used in greetings, such as ‘As-salam alaykum’ meaning ‘Peace be upon you,’ a universal greeting for Muslims, which also seems be a variation of the word. The commonality of the word and its synonymy with peace led me to do a bit of research, which turned up the Proto-Semitic triconsonantal root S-L-M. To explain what this means, Semitic languages (Hebrew, Arabic, Aramaic, etc.) are based on consonants. The Arabic and Hebrew alphabets contain only consonants, with vowels denoted by dots or lines surrounding those consonants, except for the letter aleph, which serves as a vowel place holder. So to find the root of any Semitic word, you have to trace it through its main consonants. For example, the place holder aleph paired with the consonant L gives us the root of Allah, Elohim, and the suffix/prefix –el, which all have divine implications. This is also where we get the European pronouns and definite articles (le, la, el, etc.). All of these can be traced back to the Canaanite father-god known simply as El. Most scholars contend that the Canaanite religion was the basis for Yahwism and by extension Judaism, and it is from this same pantheon that we get the root of the S-L-M words.
Shalim was the god of dusk, twin brother of Shahar, the god of dawn, both attributed to the planet Venus, the morning and evening star (seems they hadn’t yet discovered that these were the same celestial body). Since Shalim represented the completion of the day, his name become synonymous with completion, wholeness, rest, and of course peace. This also associated him with death and the netherworld, giving us a glimpse into the attitude the Canaanites had regarding death: a peaceful completion of life. Tragically the entire Canaanite religion was all but lost to history, only partially preserved in the clay tablets found at Ugarit, but its gods are preserved in the Semitic languages still used today. Shalim’s legacy, however, lives on in another still relevant context today.
Jerusalem, the ancient holy city of three of the world’s most followed religions, and the center of global controversy, is widely believed to have been originally established as a city for Shalim. The name of the city, when analyzed from a Semitic standpoint, is literally translated as ‘the settlement of Shalim.’ It is known through Egyptian records, and even in Genesis, that Canaanites inhabited the city before it was conquered by the Israelites, so this is almost undoubtedly the case. Unfortunately for Shalim, his city has not known his peace for quite some time, but followers of the Abrahamic religions might do well to realize that their holy city was established as the foundation of peace for their ancestors.
So if you are a lover of peace, consider saying a prayer to Shalim. Tell him that, though he may be forgotten, his legacy lives on through his name, and ask that he return to his earthly temple, so that it may know his peace once more.
If the basis of creationism is a literal translation of the Bible, do creationists also believe that the Earth is flat and fixed, with the sun and other planets revolving around it?
The old legends say we came from a planet. I’m serious. That somehow one planet produced us on its own, totally randomly. Seems pretty ridiculous to me. The most complex thing I’ve ever seen a planet produce is a chemical storm. But that’s what they say. Supposedly this magical planet somehow had more than just a handful of elements, it had hundreds. And all those random chemicals magically came together to create a perfect biome just for us. It’s absurd. This planet somehow produced its own reaction turbines that took in our carbon dioxide and converted it to oxygen. And they were supposedly all over the place. I mean, this stuff is laughable. On top of that, it could magically produce nutrients out of its crust. And there were little beings like us, only not as smart, whose bodies were made of nutrients and we would kill them and eat them. For real, this is in the archives. This magical planet produced everything we needed, we didn’t have to go from planet to planet gathering resources to convert to nutrients. Everything was laid right at our feet. Seriously, people actually believe this shit. I guess I get it. It’s nice to imagine a place like that. Makes you feel special.
It’s bullshit though. I mean, just look at the evidence. We’re an extremely complex organization of about 100 elements, put together in just the right way, and programmed to reproduce. We were obviously made on purpose by someone or something. And they probably didn’t get it right, so they just jettisoned us out. An experiment gone wrong. How else do you explain it? We bicker and argue and believe stupid stories. We have to scrounge around space for the elements we need to keep us alive. We can’t self-sustain, so they just discarded us. At least that makes the most sense to me. Seems way more probable than a magical planet out in some distant galaxy. But they’re right, I don’t know for sure. I just go where the evidence leads instead of blindly believing some old superstition.
But we got too greedy, the legends say. We used up all the resources there, so we had to leave. But someday it’ll revive itself, this magical planet out there, and we can return and live with everything at our feet again. It’s just false hope is what it is. People want to believe in some utopia, past or present or both. It’s bullshit. People need to wake up. Whatever. I guess it doesn’t hurt anybody if they want to believe it. They just want to feel like there’s some purpose behind all of this. Otherwise they’d just jettison themselves, which I wouldn’t mind to be honest. That’s mean to say. They’re not hurting anyone, they’re just annoying. It’s a nice thought though. I guess I can’t blame them. It’d be great if I was wrong, if one day we found it. I’d be the first to apologize. I hope I am wrong. I hope one day we can just stay on one planet that provides everything for us. Planet Eden. Sounds like a nice place.
I’ve started to notice in my online debates (I know, I’m so cool, right?) that I tend to send mixed messages as far as my actual viewpoint on the topic. I somehow manage to defend and oppose both sides of the argument at the same time, which causes some confusion. If I defend religion, or a religious person, in a debate, people assume that I am a religious person, at which point I have to clarify that I’m not really, but I’m interested in religion and religious debates. In philosophical debates, I am often labelled as a solipsist because I pull the solipsism card alot. People then go on to try to disprove solipsism to me, at which point I have to clarify that I’m not a solipsist really, but I think that solipsism is very possible, and so has to be taken into account when debating the nature of existence. This has caused me to attempt to sit down and actually define my beliefs, which has been harder than it sounds. It seems that most people (at least most bloggers) have a very well-defined set of beliefs that they defend in all of their posts and comments, so when they read something, they say something along the lines of ‘You are wrong or right for these reasons.’ But I find that most of my comments usually start with ‘I think…’ or ‘Maybe, but…’ or something along those lines. I try to steer clear of asserting my opinions as facts, despite what my schoolteachers taught me about how to write an essay. This may be my natural aversion to confrontation, as I find most blog debates quickly get heated, and then people just start animalistically defending their own point without actually debating the topic. But the more I think about it, the more I’m starting to think that I just don’t truly believe that any one viewpoint is correct. I have theories about the world and how it works, but I could be completely wrong, and I accept that fact. I don’t think that just because something could be wrong, I should ignore that viewpoint entirely, as I could learn alot from considering it. I don’t ‘believe’ in any one religion or religion in general, but I want to learn as much as I can about each one, because who knows where I’ll come across an answer to a question I have or a thought I may never have had before? I’m not a solipsist, because I don’t deny the existence of objective reality, but I don’t think it can be entirely proven either, so I have to frame all of my assertions about objective reality through the lens that I may actually be talking about nothing. I think that in order to consider all viewpoints, we can’t simply find the reason that one is wrong and then cast it out. In order to gain anything from the viewpoint, we have to consider the implications that it makes about the world around us, and who knows, maybe we’ll learn something by doing so. Just a thought, I’d love to hear yours below!!