Monthly Archives: February 2013

Naturally Magnificent

Imprisoned within our own meager brains, it is difficult at times not to feel trapped within our thoughts, disconnected from our wider, incomprehensibly large surroundings.

At some point during the rather brief time period that the human race has existed (200,000 years, tentatively), it developed religion, likely as an evolutionary mechanism to temper the fear of death. But easing the unimaginable realization that, one day, one was to no longer exist, has not been the only role of this centuries-long social construction. For many, religion assumes a role possibly even larger than fueling the illusion of immortality. An inescapable problem we all face is the perpetual sense of isolation within our own minds. To truly believe one is part of a grander scheme orchestrated by a divine dictator can be the comforting remedy for this unfortunate human condition.

But I have argued in this blog that religion is outdated and unnecessary for modern people. But is it the best source of this feeling of losing oneself in a cause far greater than any individual?

I think certainly not. Aside from the dangerous dogma that religion espouses, it has quite the effect of limiting one’s sense of magnificence and awe that is more than evident when one explores the humbling wonders that are teeming throughout every corner of the ever-growing field of science. How can one be appropriately shocked at the marvels of Nature if he believes that humankind was the highest and most precious creation of an omniscient god, and that the nature of this god should be glorious enough as to not need the stunning nature of the universe? How can one open his mind to the boundless, unknowable mystique of Nature and human experience, while embracing the beautifully mysterious sense of his own smallness and insignificance, when he believes that he is the centerpiece of God’s creation, a god that deserves all of “the power and the glory forever,” leaving little adoration for the achievements of Nature itself? It is far more wonderful and inspiring to embrace the pursuit of natural truths that present themselves ever so subtly and magnificently and stunningly thorough the endeavors of science. In other words, the truth, beauty, and wisdom we all seek is found in the comprehension of one’s minuteness among an unknowable universe and in the gradual but consistent revelation of the details of that universe.

I would not do justice to the wonders of science if I attempted to explain any of them in any detail – I have not the credentials nor knowledge to do so with any elegance or authenticity. But I am confident that if one embarks on his own personal attempt at understanding the world around him, he will find himself basking in a uniquely comforting mysteriousness that gently exudes itself in each step of the journey.

The mentally claustrophobic sensation that one is prone to get as a human being is something that we have been trying to cope with for centuries and will continue to be a challenge for centuries to come. But I believe that a simple acceptance of one’s natural ignorance and insignificance, as contradictory as that may initially seem, can help one attain an enduring and ever-growing sense of freedom from the mind’s detainment. Is there a need for an almighty, attention-seeking creator, who is continuously forced to modify his image in the face of the consistent progression of science, in the scheme of our lives? At witnessing countless people, finding, and experiencing myself, extraordinary beauties and wisdoms and truths without him, I think the obvious answer is no.


Jesus: An Unimpressive Savior

According to Christians, Jesus is the son of God. Usually, Atheists spend time challenging the evidence for Jesus’ existence, the validity of his supernatural claims, and the originality of his teachings. All of these arguments are important in order to hold Christians accountable for their assertions. But let’s remember that Jesus did not claim merely to be a teacher of great morality – he, according to the Gospels, declared himself to be the actual human manifestation of God. This is a big time statement. But rarely do we hold him accountable for such incredible claims of divinity. Yes, he is said to have performed stunning miracles that transcended the material world, but how is any rational, thinking person supposed to accept this as true? Especially when one considers that several of the supernatural aspects of the Jesus story were borrowed from previous myths, and several other mythical characters, dating to before the period in which Jesus supposedly lived, shared his fantastical traits. No reasonable person, in my view, could count these petty acts of divine intervention as evidence for Jesus’s divinity.

Furthermore, if God was to actually take on the form of a human being, wouldn’t he have more to offer than Jesus did? And wouldn’t he make sure to adequately separate himself from other mythical characters of the time, you know, just to increase his credibility as the one, true source of eternal life? Wouldn’t he attempt to take a stand against some of the social issues of his day, like slavery, sexism, and homophobia? One would think that, at the very least, he would attempt to remedy these glaring injustices and deficiencies. Yet he suspiciously excludes these things in his apparently pious and wise sermons, and in doing so, has allowed his followers to be among the most avid advocates for social inequality in the following centuries. Though some of his lessons do entail some insightful pieces of wisdom, none of them are particularly groundbreaking. A great deal of wise teachers came before Jesus, teaching similar – and oftentimes far more enlightening – moral practices; Confucius, Epicurus, and Plato, to name just a few. Possibly even more alarming is that Jesus was seemingly too busy to promote the sciences or increase literacy or encourage independent thought. Are these not reasonable expectations for the son of the creator of the universe? Disappointingly, our savior and messiah offered no such insight. Instead of emphasizing the development of one’s mind and one’s ability to think rationally, Jesus was busy praying next to fig trees, ordering others to believe in him, and flaunting his magical powers by walking on water and then transforming this vital chemical compound into an alcoholic beverage. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems as though the man who is alleged to be God himself would use his time a little bit more wisely than that. Seriously, in a world already riddled with superstition, wouldn’t God try to avoid doing things that would encourage credulity? If God was to literally become human, I would hope that he would prioritize the teaching of science, literature, and math above gloating in his unimpressive abilities to break the laws of Nature and denouncing others for the courage to be skeptical. In many ways, it is what Jesus did not say, rather than what he did say, that casts doubt upon his alleged authority.

As mentioned, several other fine moral teachers came well before Jesus. Teachers that, I might add, did not fail to equal him in wisdom. One of my favorites was the ancient Greek philosopher, Epicurus. Demonstrating the courage to challenge the status quo with his own independent ideas of truth and morality, Epicurus denied the viability of the existence of any god, assuming what we would now call a Deist position. Ahead of his time, Epicurus believed that the most fulfilling way to live life was to value the natural pleasures that appealed to the human senses, rather than relying on false constructions of universes that bore no evidence to their name. In a letter to Menoeceus, he wrote, “We must take into account as the end all that really exists and all clear evidence of sense to which we refer our opinions; for otherwise everything will be full of uncertainty and confusion.” The uncertainty and confusion – in the forms of senseless violence and proud carelessness – that Christianity has produced, is abominable, especially given the fact that living a good, moral life without religion has repeatedly been proven to be possible. Epicurus, for example, – though not believing in any intervening god – vouched wholeheartedly for justice and goodness, merely because it was conducive to the flourishing of human life. 

The evidence is clear: morality existed far before Jesus, and in equally – or more – impressive ways, as well. These philosophers and moral teachers did not claim to be God, nor did they assert that the only way to Heaven was through them. So what would cause one to actually believe that Jesus was who he said he was? In order to believe this, I don’t think it is too much to ask to expect some revolutionary or groundbreaking information or wisdom from the person claiming to be the son of God. Yet none is given. In fact, Jesus’s omissions may speak even louder than his preachings, as one would expect God, at the very least, to provide some sort of intelligent insight into how the universe works, you know, because after all, he did create it. Right? I leave that to you.


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