Archive for the ‘Introduction’ Category
Big thanks to all you readers. The site has had so many hits recently so thanks for that. Will be using my camcorder a bit more often to film things. In aid of that will have to get a tripod at some point. Have to say I prefer writing and speaking to people, but will get used to it soon enough.
Materialists go shopping!
With regards the American Atheist Conference March 21-3, one thing we will be doing at RDFRS is a sightseeing tour of the Mall of America on the last day of the conference. Would be after the conference finishes on the last Sunday and the Mall is open till 7:00 pm. Will have more details of when we set off at the conference when I know what time everything is running.
It would seem a good time to help the American economy out spending all the dollars I have thanks to the exchange rate.
Last night after work I went to a fair well do for my old boss who has been promoted to another site. Hence no blog yesterday – all I will say is I like Mexican beer now the way I like Mexican food (yummy!).
But there was a discussion round the corn chips and enchiladas about getting what you want out of life.
In a sense I have always thought that where ever you want to be in life it helps to enjoy the journey. The reason is that you may not end up where you planned but you had one hell of a ride to get there. You may even end up where you needed to be though that was different from where you intended to go.
Then if you get what you wanted you had fun on the way. In many ways I think attitude is something. For example yes exams are stressful to revise for and do – because of what is riding on the outcome. Yet I found myself enjoying it because I had chosen a subject that I enjoyed learning about and applying.
The road map I had chosen was something I wanted to do and would want to do – even when the going got tough, and turbulence was encountered. Sometimes a different port of call was necessary to the planned one but I could see the necessity for it and did it. It is a bad plan that cannot be changed when it benefits you.
Now I have made no secret that Washington DC is a city I have fallen in love with. Even the bus boards talking about being above average on social ills did not get in the way. Nor the police telling me to get my hands put of my pockets. I have been to 8 foreign countries and never wanted to move there.
You may guess I am formulating a plan, I am trying to find a way – I have a destination in mind and trying to work out the best route. But one thing no one should ever take either for granted or think they can be without –
The fellowship of fellow travellers and the help and guidance of strangers met on the road.
The God Delusion has been the inspiration for my getting involved with secularism as a political issue. The AAI conference and meeting people there inspired me to take this blog to a new level. Readers too have encouraged me to keep going.
Now English people are considered to be very subtle – so if I have not made it clear let me say that I have a dream of walking down from the reflective lake to the Lincoln Memorial and saying this is my home. Then walking down to the Jefferson Memorial and saying before the statue – I am employed in making that wall of separation higher.
My imagination is not in the service of letting the future pass me by. It is to make that a living reality. If I can be of any service in that cause, and if my peers would think this of me then I am prepared and looking for the opportunity to row out to the boat when the ship comes in.
Readers may have noticed that the blogroll on here has become smart with images. One thing though I have noticed is there is no actual web banner for the forum part of the Dawkins website. Hence the Roman forum – though if anyone can send a better one that looks more Dawkinist (my user name on youtube as Homo economicus was taken!) but says forum I will be grateful.
A reader suggested the latest addition to the blogroll which is the “Atheist Blog Roll” which links many atheist/agnostic writers. It is important that people do not feel they are alone, that there is a community out there that does have concerns about people believing that behaviour is excusable because it is based on faith that cannot be questioned or challenged. To see that have a look at this particular blog and the comments by a Jehovah’s Witness http://homoeconomicusnet.wordpress.com/2007/10/08/blood-and-the-sacrifice-of-infants-to-ancient-text/
But this even leads not just to a child’s life being wasted before non existent gods, or ones not deserving of worship if they are real to demand it. It leads to men strapping explosives to themselves in suicide bomb attacks, having the hindsight to wrap their genitals so they will not be ruined in the explosion. For more on that please examine Andy’s talk (the one the police helpfully made us guys miss in the “police stop atheists blog” ) on the profile of a suicide bomber here
So welcome to those that do not know me from www.richarddawkins.net/forum – hope you get to know me and together we can try and STAND OUT for reason and science, liberty and light, and freedom of non religion.
There is a section on the Dawkins site called “Converts Corner” http://richarddawkins.net/convertsCorner,page1 Below is my contribution which is much more in depth than the brief introduction I gave when I first started blogging. Hope you enjoy.
Dear Richard Dawkins
It really is a pleasure to be a moderator on this site. Thank you for RDF.
Maybe for me it would be true to say that Douglas Adams converted me, and led me to your works.
When I was eight I came home from school with a question as to why it rained in England but not so much in Africa where they seemed to need it most. My mother was unable to answer that question. That evening Jehovah’s Witnesses came round and my mother asked them my question.
The next 6 years was one of study. Easily I was reading publications, attending meetings, and going door to door roughly 30 – 40 hours a week. When I started secondary school I was concerned that my school acquaintances (not friends as “bad associations spoil useful habits”) would not survive Armageddon. I needed to help them see that only those that called on Jehovah would be saved. Also I knew that if they rejected what I said they would be damned to eternal sleep in hell.
Many a night spent weeping. Not only did most not heed the warning but I became a victim of bullying. The system of things was against me. Yet the congregation almost seemed glad that these people would be destroyed and soon. Even when I was on the floor being kicked I had in mind that Jesus on a stake being crucified was far worse and that he wanted his persecutors to be forgiven.
Thankfully in the main it was verbal and psychological the bullying. Though what was really driving me to despair was the thought I had failed to be convincing in helping to save my class. Half way through the first term my mother agreed to have me taught at home.
This suited me fine. More time to study God’s word, witness and help out at home (my younger brother is severely autistic and needs constant care). For science lessons I had the blue book on evolution and creation which Dawkins has multiple copies of.
My mother one day was looking at a list from school of books to read and came across Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. We had a lodger who was a big Adams fan – my mother decided such books were unacceptable as they did not teach the world was created by God. However, the more the lodger told me memorable quotes from the book the more I wanted to read it.
Secretly, like someone reading the Tyndale bible, I read the book while pretending to be asleep. I laughed silently. Not only was the book funny, but there was an illicit thrill that this was naughty but nice. Maybe I was dishonoring my mother reading this book – but it was a fun story!
And then something hit me between the eyes. If I wanted to prove that it was not the Magrathians but God that built the earth what evidence would I need? So at 13 I reread the Creation Evolution book. It did not give me anything except – well how else? Well I could say the same thing about an alien race making the earth.
By now I was close to being baptized. I had no access to science books, and one night when I was about 12 my mother had gone into my bedroom and seen a programme called Murder Most Horrid which had a satirical scene on the Ku Klux Kan – I was in the kitchen having finished watching the news that was on before. My mother accused me of watching this programme, then lying when I pointed out the facts (it had just started, I was in the kitchen before it came on). The result was that we no longer had TV in the house.
So my only source material was JW books. So I decided to look at all the old publications. Thankfully an elder had out of print copies which I was able to look at. I wanted to learn more about the society, and see if they had answered my question before somewhere.
What I discovered was an organization that changed dogma, and made predictions which had never come to pass. I was shocked. To give credit so too was my mother looking at these old publications (especially where new editions of a book changed belief without acknowledgment).
So at 14, having already had an interview as a step towards being baptized we terminated our study. I decided that I needed to go back to school to get accredited qualifications. I went back to my old school and things were fine in comparison to what they were.
When I went to 6th form friction developed between myself and mother. She had started reading the Watchtower and Awake! magazines again, while I wanted nothing to do with it. Also I had by now openly read all Douglas’ books, radio series, TV series. I came across a reference where Douglas mentioned a certain Richard Dawkins as being an influence on him, an evolutionary biologist. Decided that any friend of Adams would be a friend of mine and therefore went to a bookstore where they recommended The Blind Watchmaker.
I had about finished reading when I went to University. By now relations with my mother were strained. She did not approve of my agnosticism (which for me meant that God as a concept is meaningless and makes no difference if such a being exists or does not exist as I have no way of knowing how the universe is different in either case), or of me going to 6th Form, let alone University.
But I was determined. I needed to get away from the arguments at home, and the emotional blackmail that I would be letting my brother down going to University. One moment my mother was fine with it all, then for no reason she would have a barmy about it. Looking back I realize that she was scared how she would manage without me (my parents divorced just before the JWs).
When my Uncle took me down to University it was the happiest day of my life. It was like an after life. While studying Economics and Politics I came across Bertrand Russell’s lecture “Why I am Not A Christian”. Overnight I decided that really I was an atheist, but I did not really want to make a big deal about it.
As to my mother, well I still get it in the neck being an atheist. But she and my brother are doing well.
However The God Delusion has awakened in me the political animal that I always was. Secularism is about protecting personal freedom and individual liberty. No one in the name of faith should be able to reduce people’s freedom. Also, science should teach science – not the kind of lessons I had when being taught at home which was a debasement of science fitting religious teaching.
So thank you Douglas for entertaining and getting me thinking about logic and reason. And thank you Richard for popularizing science and understanding what needs to be said about the elephant in the room. Together you have enriched my life.
Hello all and welcome to what I hope will be a freethinking place.
Just to introduce myself, I go by the name Homo economicus on the richarddawkins.net/forum where I am a moderator. Yes, one of those militant atheists. Although I am very unsure about the “brights” term. I may think someone is wrong to be a theist but I would not automatically consider myself somehow better than them which is what is implied by the word - Dennet saying they can refer to themselves as “supers” is for me a cop out.
Yet we need to be prepared to put forward the views we have. Religion and superstition is on the march in the body politic whether it is radical Islam, stem cell research or homeopathy on the NHS at the taxpayer’s expense. These are issues which go at the heart of people that care about reason and science – so when atheists seem moved to comment, emboldened by the string of books out there recently (Harris, Dennet, Dawkins, Hitchens) that should not surprise people.
Apart from that why do I personally care about the theist/atheist debate?
At junior school one assembly we prayed to God thanking him for the rain. When I went home I asked my mother why it did not rain so much in Africa – they seemed to need it more than us and it seemed cruel for a loving God that caused rain to deny them. Sadly my mother did not turn to a scientific explanation to my question but Jehovah’s Witnesses that knocked on the door that very same week.
This experience ended up with me being taught at home half way through the beginning of the first year of secondary school. As you can probably guess, science did not feature strongly in my curriculum – the blue book they have on Creation and Evolution was for example a text I studied as “science”. I am sure Dawkins et al have been sent a copy many a time.
At about 14 I was very close to becoming baptized but a virus came to my aid – chicken pox caught from one of the bible study groups. I was bed laid by the experience for a few weeks. This gave my mother enough time to use reason for the first time – why should only those who call upon the name of Jehovah be saved? Could you not live a blameless life by Christian standards of morality but not believe and yet be worth saving on the day of judgment?
This led to research into the history of the organization. I will not go into details here, but lets just say it was an eye opener into an organization which evolved many times, and still does when predictions or interpretations prove wrong. We promptly left, thankfully my mother laughed the Mormons away after two home study visits!
I made the decision to go back to secondary school in the fourth year, and went on to study at the University of Exeter (and yes I am disappointed at the closures of departments there though I understand the financial arguments).
While I have moved from agnostic to atheist thanks to my own study of biology my mother holds on to an unknown God as a first cause. I hope to get her an audio copy of the God Delusion but for her a God of the Gaps in her own knowledge is easier for her to comprehend than the more beautiful answers that science offers.
If you know someone or have family members involved in such cults the personal advice I can give is be loving and compassionate to them while they are in. They have to see for themselves or else they will not leave but when they do give your active support, because when you leave you are ostracized by that faith and often have no one outside left to turn to for friendship. It is traumatic and often the person will not ask for help.
Some people have asked me how do you go about helping someone out of the Jehovah’s Witnesses?
I think my concept is softly softly catch a monkey.
You have to understand the mentality:
1) Satan is seductive
2) He can use the whole world to his evil will
3) This includes non believers
4) Demons can even penetrate conscious thought
5) Only JWs will be saved at this time near the end of days.
Now you can use logic, reason, Letter to a Christian Nation, cups of tea and chocolate biscuits.
What I am saying is that approach for someone that has just started studying or contemplating will most certainly work immediately – so best catch them quick before the indoctrination sets in. I am talking about a dyed in the wool fundamentalist who spends four hours a week at Ministry school learning how to debate and convert people. Trust me, when it comes to debating and arguing and acting like a brick wall the local Kingdom Hall (if it is effectively run) trained person will be very hard work unless:
a) they have misgivings about a doctrine (say women having no authority in the hierarchy)
b) prepared to investigate the matter outside of Elder supervision (peer pressure)
c) prepared if baptised to be shunned if this leads them to leave, and not accept Pascal’s Wager
d) that they trust someone who can help them reason for themselves but is outside of the JW organisation.
What I am suggesting to everyone here is you want to be considered d). That you are a freethinker, who is very good at reasoning things out. That you are a compassionate person that may not be so susceptible to 3).
In short what I am suggesting is that it isn’t no picnic.
As to offering to help them break free, you must bear in mind that one of the two with you will report that back. You will be marked down on the notes they write. In short you may not be visited, or only by Elders. The two may even be watched at the Kingdom Hall to make sure they are not falling away.
My stress on compassionate dialogue is that will be more likely to work. Even if they disagree with you, the chances are you will be not considered a threat. If you show hospitality, then on rainy days they may knock on your door in the hope of tea and biscuits (trust me we thought like this! In the warm a frank friendly exchange and extra hours for our monthly report).
If you do want to do this my advice is this:
*be the hospitable host
*show genuine interest in their belief system
*be compassionate not hostile (shutters not come down)
*hide what you are trying to do (trust me they are a suspicious lot; devil is everywhere)
*talk about various religions and wondering how do you choose which is true. Chances are they will give you the book Mankinds Search For God. Not a bad book, but you will see how they reject certain faiths then come up with theirs as trumps
*then use Letter to a Christian Nation (without pulling the book out)
*however, avoid saying Dawkins, Harris, TGD etc. Remember shutters will come down
*You may notice that two people will come to your study. However, at some point possibly one will come to your personal bible study (which would probably be on the book). In this situation, with a wide ranch of discussing you may get them to open up. My advice? Try and let them do the talking. Get them to open up and say how they really feel.
What I am suggesting to you is this will take a lot of time and effort on your part. Great of you are willing to do it. To be honest, I would find the whole thing really upsetting (I would not want a bible study ever again). You could think of me as the sort of person you could get advice from (indeed most ex Witnesses here would be willing to help) and maybe at some point get someone like me to speak to them to say what it is like leaving and yes, as Dawkins says:
You do have a choice. It is yours to make.