The Illusion of Conscious Will

The Illusion of Conscious Will

In The Illusion of Conscious Will, Daniel Wegner attempts to explain the relationship between thoughts and actions. He says that it is sheer human nature to feel in control of one’s personal behavior. Human beings tend to think of themselves as the conscious agents of their actions, and given certain experiments done on subjects, it can be suggested that people feel more capable and comfortable performing a task when they possess a sense of self-mastery, or personal liberty in choosing one thing or another. However, Wegner argues that if scientists were to compile all of the environmental influences in a person’s life, they would be able to accurately predict the person’s actions before he does them. Fairly recently, there have been actual experiments in which neuroscientists found that they are even capable of tracking a person’s thought seconds before it reaches his consciousness, through various brain-monitoring devices. Such evidence would seem to indicate that free will is in fact some sort of illusion of the brain.

In his book, Wegner emphasizes that although a person feels like he is consciously acting, the feeling of conscious action itself is produced in the brain by stimuli that the person has virtually no control over. This supports his notion that people are quite literally products of their environment. If the sheer feeling that one is in control of one’s behavior is chemically produced in the brain, then how can we realistically claim responsibility for our own actions? In other words, free will is merely one of many different conscious experiences that one undergoes. The notion that it, in itself, is in experience, however, indicates that something external is manipulating it – something other than ourselves. He provides a helpful example of conscious will being manipulated through hypnosis. In the act of hypnosis, the actions are, in a sense, controlling the subject, rather than the subject controlling the actions. This, he claims, is evidence that one’s actions, even when he believes them to be authentic, are inherently involuntary on an intricate physiological level. 

This issue is deeply Humanistic, as it relates strongly to Humanism’s stance of rationality and humbleness in the face of humanity’s limitations. Therefore, Humanism is very well fit to accept the concept of free will as an illusion; morality is equally important regardless of whether or not people hold the capacity to make choices, because it pertains to the overall well being of humanity and not the condition of one’s individual soul. Its rival philosophies, mainly being various religions, have a much more difficult time making their ideologies compatible with this discovery. Most sects of Christianity, with the exception of Calvanism, highlight the significance of free will; it explains the presence of evil in the world and it is the means by which God can hold people accountable. Given that the scientific evidence on conscious will appears to contradict most theologies, Humanism’s rivals don’t seem to be able to stand against it on a logical level. 


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.

Good Without God: A Global Trend

The world would self-destruct without religion, right? It encourages people to help the needy. It promotes peace. It unites communities. Of course. Obviously. Right? Most people, regardless of which side they’re on in the religion debate, would likely accept the notion that religion is, in its moderate forms, a positive force in the world. Many religious devotees insist that without religion, society would crumble at the hands of misguidance and immorality, like our friend Mike Huckabee, who claimed that the Newtown shooting was unsurprising given the secularization America has been undergoing. Yet the facts beg to differ.

Let’s start with compassion. Many religious people are proud to claim that without god, the impulse for random acts of goodness and extensive compassion disappear. While it is easy to make this assertion based on what is commonly accepted, the religious among us would likely be taken aback by what the stats say. While it is impossible to identify with precision whether or not religion makes people more compassionate, the closest we can get to doing so might be to analyze which countries are the most charitable and compare the results with which countries are most, or least, religious. The answers are nothing short of striking. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which defined charitable as the percentage of gross national income that a country collectively donates to charity, the top ten most generous nations in the world are, in order, as follows: Sweden, Norway, Luxembourg, Denmark, Netherlands, Belgium, Finland, Ireland, United Kingdom, and France. Ironically, these seemingly selfless countries apparently do not look to religion for their motivation to give. In fact, it is quite the opposite; eight of the ten countries listed are in fact, according to a 2009 Gallup poll, among the top 25 least religious nations. This fact, though, fails to do the correlation justice. We have already confirmed Sweden to be the most generous nation in the world. It is also the second least religious, with a meager 16.5% of the population saying that religion plays an important role in their lives. Number two most charitable? Norway. And how religious? Fifth to the bottom. Gallup reported that only 20.5% of the Norwegian population consider religion important. A quick look at some of the rest: Denmark (4th most charitable, 3rd least religious), Finland (7th most charitable, 9th least religious), United Kingdom (9th most charitable, 8th least religious), and France (10th most charitable, 10th least religious). Among the top ten most charitable, only one reported to have over half of their population be religious, that being Ireland. Luxembourg, the third most charitable, was not included in the Gallup poll. Let there be no doubt about the strength of this correlation – the most generous countries in the world are, in fact, the least religious. And even if you are unwilling to concede that the lack of religion itself encourages people to give more, the typically undisputed suggestion that extensive compassion would wither without religion can no longer be given any credence. 

But isn’t religion a quality source for nonviolence? Well, the stats wouldn’t agree with that, either. The Global Peace Index conducted a study reporting on the most peaceful nations in the world. Once again, we find a startling amount of matches between the most peaceful and least religious countries on earth. Here are a few notable ones: Denmark (2nd most peaceful, 3rd least religious), New Zealand (3rd most peaceful, 14th least religious), Canada (4th most peaceful, 30th least religious), Japan (5th most peaceful, 7th least religious), Finland (9th most peaceful, 9th least religious), Switzerland (10th most peaceful, 29th least religious), Belgium (11th most peaceful, 21st least religious), Czech Republic (13th most peaceful, 4th least religious), and Sweden (14th most peaceful, 2nd least religious). So, people would be more inclined to partake in violence without the umbrella of religion, right? Wrong. The facts again prove that the less religious a country is, the more peaceful it tends to be. 

Therefore, compassion and peace – two of religion’s most celebrated principles – both prove to be more rampant in countries that have seemingly out-phased religion. Interestingly enough, many of the most educated countries appear to prefer secularism as well. Conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the top ten educated countries include several of our least religious, including Canada (1st most educated, 30th least religious), Japan (3rd most educated, 7th least religious), New Zealand (5th most educated, 14th least religious), Norway (7th most educated, 5th least religious), United Kingdom (8th most educated, 8th least religious), Australia (9th most educated, 12th least religious), and Finland (10th most educated, 9th least religious). Apparently, the intellects among us are also falling away from religion. 

One might be inclined to wonder where the United States falls in all of these rankings. After all, we Americans are supposed to be the leaders of western society, aren’t we? The U.S. proves to remain heavily religious, with 65% of its population saying that religion is important in their daily lives. One would expect the good old USA to contradict the correlations I have just highlighted, but for the most part, it doesn’t. It is the 19th most charitable nation in the world, according to the OECD. Peacefulness? A humiliating ranking of 88th. In education, however, the U.S. has earned its stripes, claiming the fourth spot.

My intention in underlining these statistics is not to label the religious as ungenerous, violent, and stupid. Rather, I am trying to shed light on the fact that the world is secularizing at a much quicker rate than what most of us in the U.S. would tend to think – and contrary to what religious apologists would predict, this shift is not leading our world into anarchy and disruption. In fact, it appears to be helping it. All across the globe, people are proving that religion is not only unnecessary, but not even remotely conducive, to leading a peaceful, fulfilling, and compassionate life. So if not from god, the religious ask, then from where do we obtain the compassion to care for those in need if doing so would not benefit ourselves? What many do not understand is that deep compassion can be channeled within the human mind without the presence of god. Helping others with no benefit to the self can, and is, done by people who do it for the sheer purpose of caring for the less fortunate. This, in my view, is far more honorable and humane than the good deeds done by those who are motivated more by god than by doing the deed itself. Albert Einstein said, “if people are good only because they fear punishment and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed.” Let us refrain from looking to the supernatural to motivate our goodness, and instead, find the compassion within ourselves to help our fellow humans merely for the purpose of helping them. Much of the world is already doing it.

Briefly, the top ten countries in list form of each of the rankings I referenced:

Gallup poll of least religious countries (2009):

  1. Estonia
  2. Sweden
  3. Denmark
  4. Czech Republic
  5. Norway
  6. Hong Kong
  7. Japan
  8. United Kingdom 
  9. Finland
  10. France

OECD ranking of most charitable countries (2009):

  1. Sweden
  2. Norway
  3. Luxembourg
  4. Denmark
  5. Netherlands
  6. Belgium
  7. Finland
  8. Ireland
  9. United Kingdom
  10. France

Global Peace Index ranking of most peaceful countries (2012):

  1. Iceland
  2. Denmark
  3. New Zealand
  4. Canada
  5. Japan
  6. Austria
  7. Ireland
  8. Slovenia 
  9. Finland
  10. Switzerland

OECD ranking of most educated countries (2009):

  1. Canada
  2. Israel
  3. Japan
  4. United States
  5. New Zealand
  6. South Korea
  7. Norway
  8. United Kingdom
  9. Australia
  10. Finland

A Word on Homosexuality (and its attackers)

Let’s get one thing straight: homosexuality is not a choice. Perhaps participation in sexual activities with the same sex is, but one can hardly blame someone for merely expressing his innate desires.Being gay, whether learned or not, is a condition that one can not and should not be expected to change.

And let’s get another thing straight: homosexuals are a minority. A very small minority. About 3.5%  of the American population are gay, lesbian, or bisexual, according to a study done by the UCLA school of law in 2011.

I would invite anyone to prove me wrong, but I find it particularly absurd and appallingly audacious for anyone to assert that a minority composing of 3.5% of the population poses a legitimate threat of discrimination upon the other 96.5%.

Yet a Facebook page that recently received attention through the Huffington Post has drawn over 4000 “likes” and disguises extreme homophobia with “heterosexual awareness.”

The page, titled Heterosexual Awareness Month, posts outrageously degrading sayings and pictures aimed at asserting heterosexual superiority over homosexuals while claiming that straight people are undergoing legitimate discrimination from the gay community. Unsurprisingly, their logic is unsound and their arguments are strikingly narrow-minded. But the support they’ve gained in the Facebook community is enough to raise an eyebrow.

Given that the page’s author has stated his paranoia of others using the information against him (no surprise), I will leave it to you to visit the page and see first hand the rather stunning viewpoints represented there:

When you do, you will find claims of heterosexual discrimination that are so boldly distorted it’s laughable. The main point they seem to want to convey is that homosexuality is unnatural, an active choice, and that it is ruining western society by poisoning traditional relationships. Unnatural? Interesting, because species all around the globe exhibit homosexual tendencies. A choice? Well, I certainly don’t know anyone who would actively choose to undergo a hellish childhood full of bullying and isolation. If you do, let me know. And ruining relationships? Last I checked, no straight couple has complained of their love being infringed upon by rebel-rousing homosexuals.

So what’s wrong with leaving them alone? A person’s sexual orientation suggests nothing about his ability to do a job or be a functioning member of society. To impede upon someone else’s right to happiness merely upon the notion that one’s natural conditions are “wrong” is pitifully childish and disconcertingly immature. Voices such as those displayed by Heterosexual Awareness Month serve only as fuel to the fire of hatred and bigotry that surely doesn’t need any more reason to burn. And most important of all, what about the troubled homosexual teens who feel abnormal and excluded to the extent that suicide becomes the most attractive option? It is well known that gay teens have difficulty fitting in with their straight peers, particularly within the environment of public schooling in which fitting in is more important than breathing. When a homosexual is forced to acknowledge these types of opinions, he is that much more prone to self-destructive behavior.

Although voices like those at Heterosexual Awareness Month don’t stand a chance at becoming mainstream, it is no less infuriating to encounter such people who truly intend to disparage a minority group based on uncontrollable conditions. That is why it is important that we take the time to object to such voices as strongly as we can. No one deserves to live in fear and isolation because he is gay. And no one in their right mind could assert that heterosexuals are facing persecution. But as Heterosexual Awareness Month reminds us, not everyone is in their right mind.


The Fear Factor

In his book Mortality, the late and great Christopher Hitchens wrote, “Either our convictions are enough in themselves or they are not.” Simply put yet strikingly wise, Hitchens knifes the central premise of religion: that we must not only do good, (according to god’s will) but, much more importantly, we must believe. And that belief, regardless of our deeds, will be the deciding factor in our final judgment; as if a lifetime’s worth of bad deeds may be atoned by a last-minute declaration of fear and cowardice. This precept represents the damning – if you will – flaw of religion, in that our convictions are hollow if not accompanied by the complete submission to god. In other words, god cares more about his subjects glorifying him than the way in which they lead their lives. As much as the faithful may be inclined to argue, they cannot wholly disagree if they truly believe in their holy books. God’s chief concern, in the three major monotheistic religions, is that we bow at his feet and adulate him, as if bearing us upon the earth without our consent was a gracious gesture worthy of our eternal gratitude.

So what does this say about the role of religion in general? That our deeds and moral outlook are deemed of far lesser value than our willingness to obey not just god, but the right god, sadly represents the characteristic nature of humanity: fearfulness. And unfortunately, this succumbing to fear has cost us countless lives on the claim that one god is more true than another. Imagine a world in which religion was stripped of its petty requirements of dogmatic belief and blind obedience. A world in which the fine moral values, which religion has at least had some hand in evoking, were detached from the rigid boundaries of a jealous god and his threat of eternal damnation. How many lives could have been saved if our convictions were placed ahead of our submission? If our responsibility to morality and reason trumped the childish fear of torture after death? It is hard to say, but almost indisputably, many a war could have been settled if our commitment to each other superseded our commitment to the invisible entity above, whose demands of unbridled worship have driven far too many to pick up the sword.

If not for the fear factor inherently tied to religion, god would quite likely have no role in our world. The spiritual relationship that people draw comfort from forming with him could undoubtedly be experienced in different and more healthy ways. (After all, doesn’t the fact that reports of spiritual experiences are found abundantly in every religion sort of negate the notion that one person’s god is the true godwhile all other relationships with the divine must somehow be insincere?) Plainly, god is the product of cowardice. Our creation of him stems from the woeful uncertainty of death, and has proven to be the greatest and most usable excuse for people to betray their fellow humans.

It is said that our society could not function without the moral bedrock that god provides. As I hope I have articulated, this merely reflects humanity’s lack of trust in itself; that it could not survive if not for an all-contorlling dictator. But really, would our society self-destruct without him? Or would our faculties of common sense and reason be enough to shed light upon right and wrong? I sincerely believe the latter would be true, yet my religious peers may tend to think the former. The German poet Heinrich Heine offered an astute analogy: “In dark ages people are best guided by religion, as in a pitch-black night a blind man is the best guide; he knows the roads and paths better than a man who can see. When daylight comes, however, it is foolish to use blind old men as guides.” I like to think that humanity is equipped with the adequate knowledge and good sense to make sound moral decisions without looking to god for guidance. In fact, I know it is possible. I see plenty of friends do it all the time. Some of the most morally responsible and conscientious people I know do not seek direction from god in order to live their lives. Of course, some do, and I respect them equally on the grounds of their decision-making – but I would contend that common sense and reason play a much larger role in their morality than they think.

It seems such a simple proposition: taking the functional aspects of  religion, i.e. community, generosity, and morality, and discarding the decree of absolute subjection to a god that serves only to create a burden of moral expectations for us to carry and sets rigid limits within which our minds are restricted from freedom of thought. Yet people remain glued to god, as the fear and inconceivability of death lingers hauntingly and incessantly. In my opinion, life can be cherished more fruitfully and grasped more fully when god is removed as the solution to all problems. Fear is an inevitable human condition. Let us accept it for what it is, live boldly beside it, content in the mystical uncertainty of life and death, rather than tempering it with fallacies that produce childish feelings of comfort and distort the full and direct experience of this life – the only one we know we have. And may we have the integrity to hold our convictions, and the courage to allow that to be enough.


Leave God Out

If you must seek comfort through religion in the wake of the recent tragedy at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, CT, that’s fine by me. People express their grief and direct their compassion in different ways; shortly after an atrocity that is still a highly sensitive issue to those affected is certainly not the time to criticize someone’s beliefs.

But don’t you dare blame this tragedy on Atheists. Don’t you dare link this senseless act, performed by a young man with a deeply troubled mind, with the politics of secularizing America, as if driving God out from our public places led to such a calamity. Please don’t humiliate yourself by suggesting that the murder of 20 elementary school children and 6 adults, dedicating themselves to the education of those children, was merely the reflection of a society that has eliminated God. Don’t you dare.

Yet, someone did.

Former governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee was recently attacked by what he calls “the predictable left” for saying that the ban on prayer in schools caused the Newtown killings. Now, we all know that it is not atypical for the media to twist someone’s words for the benefit of their organization or for the detriment of someone else. But no worries – Mr. Huckabee himself went on the air to clarify just what he meant, exactly. And he certainly did clear things up.

In responding to the accusations that he blamed the school shooting on the ban on school prayer, he ensured us that, of course, it was not just school prayer that triggered this event. A great number of other things contributed to it as well.

Phew! He’s not that disillusioned. As he admits, many elements are at play here. For example, the young man had asperger syndrome, a somewhat lesser form of autism. He was home-schooled, further hampering his social experience. He was likely depressed and could find no outlet to channel his frustrations. All these things probably factored into his decision to shoot 20 elementary students, right? Well, in Mr. Huckabee’s opinion, these aspects are not even worthy of mention. Several others, however, are.

“It’s far more than taking prayer or Bible reading out of the schools,” Huckabee assured. “It’s the fact that people sue a city so we aren’t confronted with the manger scene or a Christmas carol. That lawsuits are filed to remove a cross that’s a memorial to fallen soldiers. Churches and Christian-owned businesses are told to surrender their values under the edict of government orders to provide tax-funded abortion pills.”

Oh, yeah. Those things.

But wait a minute. Isn’t this supposed to be about the 26 murdered victims of a psychologically troubled 20-year old? Surely Mr. Huckabee is not using the current vulnerability of the public to promote his political agenda. That would be arrogant. Insensitive. Even absurd.

But it appears as though many of our top-tier politicians continue to insist upon the meshing of church and state. Even if they need to disguise a psychologically abnormal and troubled 20-year old as the epitome of “evil” – as Huckabee labeled him – to convince us that God’s absence in schools and public venues is the true heart of society’s problems.

But unfortunately, this problem goes much deeper than the assertion that “evil” was present in Newtown. If the issue was as simple as destroying evil and glorifying God, I think we would have fixed it by now. But leave it to the religious fanatics among us to mask the true problems with useless, ungrounded mumbo jumbo. I’m sorry if I offend my religious peers, but this problem has nothing to do with God. Nothing. And if we continue to demonize these killers and shun them as mere evil outliers within a more godly general society, we are evading the issue indefinitely.

I understand that there is a lot of hatred being spewed at Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hook killer, and this response is only natural, particularly for the victims’ families. But let’s get one thing straight. This man was not a monster. He was not the devil. He was not simply separated from the presence of God. He was psychologically ill and socially inept. Real-life conditions lead this man to commit the crime he committed – all within the scope of human experience.

So let’s not put our religious blinders on. Associating God with this problem only renders us incapable of tackling the true issues at hand by disregarding pragmatic solutions in favor of the lazily asserted notion that the answers simply lie with God. Lanza was clearly lead astray by some sort of unfortunate psychological condition. This should cause us to ask questions regarding how to better identify and treat the psychologically ill. Additionally, he could not have committed this crime without access to his mother’s weapons of brow-raising potential, including a “sporting version of the U.S. military’s principle assault weapon,” as reported by the NY Post. This should lead us to consider the degree of gun accessibility in America – though I think the media has run this issue dry. Regardless, these are two practical issues involved in this tragedy that, if attended to, could make a real difference in preventing future catastrophes like this one. And there are surely many more underlying elements to the atrocity that are more difficult to identify.

But school prayer? Lawsuits protesting Christmas carols? Taxes devoted to abortion pills? What?

The selfish agenda of religious leaders like Huckabee to impose Christianity on the public is one of the many ways that religion deters our society from analyzing its biggest problems from a rational, practical standpoint. But Huckabee’s remarks represent more than just a foolish distraction to pragmatism. They are are disgustingly insensitive and insulting. He once again substitutes God as the protagonist in a story whose main characters should be the victims, their families, and the population of psychologically ill people that we must learn to identify and treat more effectively. But when people like Huckabee have the floor, everyone else – in this case, 20 slain schoolchildren and 6 dead educators – must be forgotten to ensure that all eyes are on God.

We must mourn. We must reflect. We must learn. But we must not deceive ourselves by fruitlessly throwing the issue into the hands of God – for as history has revealed, they happen to be particularly clumsy. And though solving societal problems, like the ones reinforced by Adam Lanza, is never easy or straightforward, we can start by making one simple decision: leave God out.

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