Archive for July, 2010

Atheism Is Not A Religion

July 31, 2010

A Response to a Reader of Symptom of the Universe

 Follow Symptom of the Universe on Twitter: 

A Mr. Richard Fetter of Fort Lee, New Jersey writes in and says… – No, props to Gilda Radner, but truth be told “Matt W” wrote in to comment regarding an earlier Symptom of the Universe article Atheism – Savior of the World. A second article, Atheism is Not a Choice may also be of interest to anyone who has not yet read it.

Matt’s first critiques are common ones fielded by atheists daily – the idea that atheism is just another religion and that WE are as bad as fundamentalists in purporting our position to others. Allow me to retort – first, let’s define:

Agnostic – a. One who believes that it is impossible to know whether there is a God.

b. One who is skeptical about the existence of God but does not profess true atheism.[1]


Atheist – One who disbelieves or denies the existence of God or gods.[2]

We are all agnostic – anyone who denies this is not worth debating with. No one can prove the existence or non-existence of a god or Supreme Being. It is commonly understood that you can never prove a negative and that the burden of proof is required of those who are trying to prove it exists. Atheists state there is no god – there is nothing to find or prove there – believers say there is a god – show us some proof. The essential difference between atheists and deists and theist is that the latter two operate on faith and the former do not.

The theists are willing to live their life denying rational thought regarding Supreme Being(s) – the atheist will not and cannot operate this way. I am of course referring mainly to theists who believe fundamentally and make the total commitment to their belief. There are many churchgoers who use their heads as well and do not deny science – but have not followed the path to its obvious conclusions that religion and god are man made constructs. The religious will deny proven knowledge such as carbon dating, which proves the universe is nearly 14 billion years old, not 6000 years old which is believed by many because an uneducated writer penned it into the bible a few thousand years ago. Evolution is another scientific truth that has been proven over and over again. Recently life was started from scratch in a laboratory. Man is constantly learning about the natural world and each day that goes by the world becomes less mysterious. If atheists are coming across all high and mighty to you Matt it is because we have difficulty with people who can stare at scientific proof and say it is not true. This is both childish and foolish.

Matt also asked me if I have a good understanding of the Christian worldview – I will answer yes to that question. To reply to Matt’s asking “why is it unreasonable to believe in god if god was created in the minds of men who are rational creatures?” I say that god was created and accepted by man to explain the unexplainable. What was unexplainable 4000 years ago is largely understood today. Epileptics are not possessed by demons; the world is not flat; we do not live in a geocentric universe; man was not created and much of what is in the bible cannot be confirmed or proven by standard historical methods. Did Moses exist? If so how come there is no record of him and all of the trouble he created in Egypt? Egyptians were excellent historians and recorded everything. There is no evidence of the Exodus in Sinai either. This area has been the subject of many large-scale archaeological digs and nothing has been found of a large wandering tribe that spent forty years in the desert.

I researched the “noetic effect of sin” that you mentioned and I will honestly say that I am familiar with the concept, but have not heard the term used to define it. (It is the notion that sin undermines the intellect of man – it is big in Calvinism.) Note to Matt – you should not be shocked when an atheist does not know something – the fact that Christopher Hitchens had not heard of this concept is meaningless as he is willing and capable of learning its meaning – and most assuredly he was aware of the concept. As for the worldview of Christians – I was one for 12 years willingly and a few years after that unwillingly. I am also experienced in Judaism (I am an secular/atheist converted Jew if anyone cares.) I am familiar with the virgin conception, holy trinity and resurrection nonsense. I know what Christ preached and it makes no difference. Prophets were a dime a dozen in that era and this particular prophet was no more divine than you or me. He was a man who became a cult of personality that was eventually followed by millions via the dealings of the Church of Rome.

Your commentary on the noetic effect of religion is ludicrous to anyone who knows the Earth is over 6000 years old, has evolved and was not created in six days. In other words, Genesis is total bunk as is the concept of original sin, which is one of the most offensive Christian/biblical concepts. The idea that all babies are born with a stain on their record because of the activities of a mythical figure form 6000 years ago offends anyone who has had a child or has taken responsibility for their own actions. It is also incredulous and insulting to propose that your worldview/religion is the one correct religion and that it is superior to all others. You Matt, are also an atheist – the difference between us is that I also do not believe in “your” god – you do not believe in Allah, Zeus or the Hindu gods either. The Golden Rule that is so precious to all Christians is not even original – it pre-dates Christ by over five centuries and is attributed to Confucius (as well as the Jews, Buddhists, Babylonians, Egyptians etc. – it is a human attribute – not a god given law.)

You are building a silly argument for belief that is somewhere between Pascal’s Wager and some of the weak arguments put forth by famous Christian apologists like G.K. Chesterton, T.S. Eliot and C.S. Lewis (it is merely a coincidence that they all utilize the same naming format!) We should all submit to the one true religion (this is very absurd) and it is true because our minds are just trying to tell us not to submit to the god that we know is real and true. Tell me Matt – which sect of Christianity is the one true one? May I hazard a guess? It is the one you belong to and follow – right? You almost make me feel bad for the Pope, Benny Hinn, Pat Robertson, Mel Gibson, the Mormons and the Westboro Baptist Church. Damn – they all thought they were the right one. The above mentioned apologists would have us all believe just because “it would be better if there was a god,” “there must be a god,” “I could not live my life without knowing there is a savior who is watching out for me,” etc. Man may want a god, but certainly does not need a god or religion to be kept inline. Remember – US prisons are largely populated by people who state they are practicing Christians – in far larger proportions than there are atheists in jail.

Religions, cults, god and cults of personality are all synonymous with each other – they have brought us such landmark moments as the Dark Ages, the Crusades, the Inquisition, genital mutilation practices, World War II, Vietnam, Hitler, Pol Pot, Mao’s Cultural Revolution, Kim il Jong in North Korea, Stalin and the Holocaust. Mankind will not be saved by mythical saviors and promises of an afterlife. It is all rubbish. Mankind needs to be educated and enlightened – learn from each others differences that we are all basically the same and we can take a big step in that direction by stepping away from religion and the worshiping of idols (by this I mean any religious figure) or real life maniacs that have caused so much pain, death and destruction. It is high time for mankind to open their eyes and wake up to the inherent dangers of group-think and we need to think for ourselves.




When Is It Alright to Kill?

July 26, 2010

Thoughts on ending suffering and moral dilemmas 

Killing is wrong. Is killing always wrong?

Compassion is good.What is compassion? Is ending suffering compassionate?

Is prolonging life compassionate?

Suffering is bad. Are we compelled to end suffering? 

Dry River - White Mountain National Forest - New Hampshire

This past week while hiking in the Dry River Wilderness in the White Mountain National Forest I came upon an unusual site – a bird that was hiding head first under a rock near bridge. I figured it was injured or less likely seeking shelter from the recent downpours. I tossed a small stone near it to see it I would move – the bird only ruffled a couple of tail feathers. I left it alone and continued to hike across the bridge. 

The downpours continued and I abandoned my hike about thirty minutes later and began heading back over the same route. I was very curious to see if the bird was still there. It was and it had moved about two feet away from the rock it had been hiding under and I could now clearly tell that it was a yellow shafted flicker and that it was severely injured. I am not a veterinarian, nor do I play one on TV – but if I had to hazard a guess I would say the bird had a broken wing. It pained me to see it struggling to move as it arched its neck back to try and flip over as it could barely walk and certainly could not fly. 

Dry River Trail

This bird was obviously not going to make it. The cycle of life and death is rapid and constant in the deep forest – it would only be a matter of time before this injured avian would be found and become easy prey for a fox or some other predator. 

It should be noted by my readers that I am writing from an atheist perspective – I have no thoughts of “playing god” or of being superior. As an often empathetic person I struggled with the desire to end the bird’s suffering immediately with a large rock or to let the bird await its likely violent fate at the hands/paws/teeth of a predator. I waited around for about ten minutes watching the bird and thinking about my two distinct choices. When it was time to move on I had done nothing – which was the choice to let nature take its course. 

Would it have been unethical for me to end this wild bird’s suffering? As painful as it was I did euthanize my dog (and sadly I probably should have 3-5 days earlier) a few years back when it became obvious that she was suffering and would not improve. My immediate family wanted to end my mother’s terminal illness “quicker” in her closing days after she had slipped into a coma – but we were legally prevented from taking such action. There is a distinct human desire to want to control things that cannot be controlled. 

Injured bird

In the end I did nothing beyond think. I did not execute/euthanize the bird much like we only medicated my dying mother as we let her cancer run its course. Of course, potential prison sentences played into that decision – not so with the injured bird. I continued to think about this as I ambled back to the trailhead – a good thought exercise with no easy answers and no guarantee of how I would handle a similar situation in the future – kind of hope it never presents itself to me again. 

As with most pieces at Symptom of the Universe I am seeking discussion from all types. What are your thoughts? What do vegans and vegetarians think? What do the religious think? What do other freethinking atheists think about the ethics of ending misery and suffering?

 If you liked this post you may like some others I have penned on atheism and veganism. By “like” I mean you may want to engage in discussion – agreement does not enter into why I do this!

Follow Symptom of the Universe on Twitter:

Catching Up With Spaulding Smails

July 20, 2010

A Few Minutes with Actor, Realtor and All-Around Fun Guy John Barmon

 One of the nice things about being alive in the social networking era is how so many people can be connected, even if only electronically. I have had the pleasure of meeting many people throughout the world that I either share an interest with or find interesting. That is how I met John Barmon and many others who have been great to be able to communicate with.

John Barmon as Spaulding Smails in Caddyshack

Spaulding Smails gets a free drink

To commemorate the 30th anniversary of the release of Caddyshack[1], John Barmon who portrayed the unforgettable spoiled rich brat Spaulding Smails graciously agreed to talk with me about Caddyshack and his experiences and memories from the movie that means so much to anyone who has ever golfed, got drunk and vomited into a sunroof, picked their nose or was from the generation coming of age in the early 1980s.  

There are many movies that are hijacked by a quality supporting character, but rare is it that a very small role like the John Barmon’s portrayal of the obnoxious rich kid/grandson Spaulding Smails in Caddyshack is so memorable. John has a little more than a handful of lines and scenes in the movie and they are all priceless. More often than not Spaulding’s dialogue sets up the perfect one liner from his grandfather Ted Knight (Judge Smails) or offensive real estate developer/tycoon Rodney Dangerfield (Al Czervik.) So common in the vernacular of young men raised in the 1980s are the lines “You’ll get nothing and like it,” “Ahoy (sic) polloi,” and “Now I know why tiger’s eat their young” from this comedy classic. John Barmon either said the lines or set up the killer scene and dialogue with his hilarious mannerisms.

 John explained to me that he has no real idea of how he landed this role. It is a popular tale online how John accompanied his friend to the friend’s agent’s office and a couple of weeks later the agent wanted to speak to John about the role – not his friend. I have a sneaking suspicion it was obvious to the agent after meeting John that he was Spaulding.

 The cast and crew really had no clue how big the movie would become, and in fact in 1980 the movie did well in US theaters but it really developed a cult following and ballooned in popularity in the ensuing years. John was as surprised as anyone with how popular the movie became. The movie’s popularity also has grown with the popularity of golf. We all like to imagine that making a comedy that is so nonstop funny is a hilarious and joyous experience – John assured me that this was not the case for him making Caddyshack. Long, tedious days of hot humid Florida weather were the existence for the cast and crew during the shoot. 

John Barmon - Coldwell Banker Reality

John Barmon

When asked about the ad libbing and improvisation on the set John explained that about 50 % of the movie was scripted and the other half was ad libbed and developed on the spot. An example of an ad libbed scene is at the food stand (“You’ll get nothing and like it”) and the dinner party scene at the country club (“Now I know why tigers eat their young”) was scripted. John’s favorite memories were with his fellow supporting cast members Henry Wilcoxon (Bishop Pickering) and Dan Resin (Dr. Beeper)[2] who were both great guys to hang around with and the best time of the shoot was the weekend in Boca Raton where the country club dinner scene was filmed. 

Caddyshack was John’s first and only film role – he had done some acting up to that point and never had the desire to do it again. (I say “go out on top!”) John Barmon has enjoyed a successful real estate career over the past 15 years with Coldwell Banker in the Boston area – he assures me the market is improving! John luckily was not asked to be in the horrific Caddyshack II – you would have to think even Jackie Mason thinks this is a horrible movie – and has not had any urge to reenter the acting game. It was a fun experience at the time and he years later it provides good memories, stories and laughter for John and all of us.

 As a film buff I live in constant fear of remakes (I swear if I live long enough some idiot will remake The Godfather)– I asked John how he would feel if he were to find out Caddyshack was going to be remade? John had never really given the idea a thought but quipped “who would they get to play ME!?” Indeed – who would they get to play such a memorable role that was so perfectly played by John Barmon?

Follow Symptom of the Universe on twitter: 

[1] Caddyshack was released in the United States on July 25, 2010.

[2] Dan Resin is well known to my generation as the Tidy Bowl Man in television commercials of the 1970s.

Random Thoughts during a Rainy Saturday Afternoon in the White Mountains

July 10, 2010


Before we had a camp in New Hampshire I would drive up at 3 AM and I would hike come hell or high water – those who hike with me can attest it was usually high water. Now that I am up here a lot I have become more selective about all weather hiking – today, while eating breakfast Larry and I put our two brains together (which almost equals one brain) and decided to call off the days adventure – this is what you are stuck with – my over active imagination and thoughts…

 Bethlehem, NH is a sight on Friday/Saturday/Shabbat in the summer. This quiet little mountain town has long been the summer holiday destination of thousands of orthodox Jews. In amongst the earthy crunchy farmer’s market set and the northern New England chic antique shops you will find dozens of black and white clad men, women and children walking throughout the town.

 WARNING – ATHEIST AT THE KEYBOARD ALERT. Although I never want to be a part of orthodoxy and think that fundamentalist approaches to religion (and religion) are the root of much of the world’s evil – no matter which religion it springs forth from – Bethlehem is a nice reminder and vision of what America is supposed to be – I think Jefferson, Paine, Madison, Franklin et al would be proud.

 CAREFUL – THE ATHEIST IS STILL TYPING. If you cannot get enough fantasy, fairy tale, fiction and make believe at the Disney resorts – and the Santa’s North Pole theme is not enough while visiting Santa’s Village be sure to go to the back of the park and check out the life sized nativity scene. The camel’s and wise men are huge. In a strange layout – a gigantic cross is across the lawn from the infant – creepy foreshadowing I suppose. My personal issues aside – Santa’s Village (Satan’s Village?) in Jefferson, NH is a great park for little kids of any or no faiths. I have an affinity for places that let you bring your own food in.

 I have not liked the world as much since Jack Lemmon died – a true talent.

 Sarah Palin’s twenty minutes of fame have been up for about eighteen months now. You can go back to Twin Peaks and get your Canadian health care anytime now.

 Sharron Angle is attempting the impossible – she is making Harry Reid look like an outstanding candidate. You go girl. With colonial powers Holland and Spain in the World Cup final it is apparently all the rage to “go all 16th century.” Angle has done a better job sabotaging her own campaign by talking than the Left media could have ever done. Thanks Sharron!

 Glenn Beck is irrelevant – we should stop bitching about him like he matters.

 Ditto for Mel Gibson – has he been in an even mediocre movie since Gallipoli? Give him credit though – his racism and anti-Semitism are first rate.

 I don’t mind guns as much as mind the NRA lobby.

 Each time Larry King grabs a new barely legal bride do they actually have to have sex with him? Do they just have to do the photos and then wait a few months for the alimony checks? Isn’t this a type of prostitution? “Earth to Mr. King – what is wrong with cougars?” The generosity of women never ceases to amaze me. (Axle Foley gave me that line.) 

 Very sad and very funny all at the same time – people watching at the Littleton, NH Walmart. The “recovery” has not found its way up here yet.

 No matter what the sign says on the end display sugar cookies are not and cannot be patriotic. 

While on the empire of Sam Walton theme…Walmart’s store brand of cheaply manufactured by child/slave labor, Faded Glory line is an insanely ironic brand name. Seeing the American flag on such cheap cut-rate crap, and at a store where the middle and lower classes are practically forced to shop at is truly symbolic of the United States fade from glory on the world scene – except when a regime needs to be toppled of course. When that happens it’s “north, south, east or west we have the cluster bombs that are the best.” 

Last but not least (my friend Larry got this idea started) – is there anything more offensive than LeBron James and his handlers taking/getting an hour of airtime on ESPN so all of the world can find out (who cares?) which franchise gets the honor of paying this guy $30 million/year? It makes little difference to me that the proceeds go to charity. I guess the economy is looking up in Miami.

 Thanks for listening…it stopped raining and I am going out!

I Swear… (via Symptom of the Universe)

July 2, 2010

Going to be writing and not posting over the holiday weekend – rerunning one of my earlier posts – a humourous look at swearing – enjoy.
Hope you all have a safe and happy 4th of July holiday – Mike

Follow Symptom of the Universe on Twitter:

Naively, yet boldly and proudly I exclaimed, first by spelling, then phonetically pronouncing my first f-bomb in the boy’s room at my first grade elementary school. Charlie and Brian both gasped and assured me that I was going to be in big trouble for what I did and that the wrath of Miss Harrington would swiftly come crashing down upon me. I was clueless to what great evil I had performed but even at the age of seven it seemed quite ridiculous t … Read More

via Symptom of the Universe