Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Übermensch (Superman)

Frederick Nietzsche wrote about Superman. He didn't write about the Detective Comic's Superman that we all know about, but rather, the next step of man in evolution. His premise referred to man's current disgust and ridicule of the ape, or even of the cromagnon man. When humans finally evolve to the next step in our evolutionary step, won't those humans laugh at what we have accomplished?

Part of his thoughts are that this next step in the evolutionary chain will include moral, ethical and theological evolutions. The next man will be able to produce a moral fabric that doesn't rely on a Supreme, all-knowing, all moral being, but instead will be able to rely on the ever-changing dynamics of the human condition to determine the new rules of morality and ethics.

I continue to live in fear of the morality and ethics produced by religion. I wonder if religion wasn't somehow created to help those in power to establish a baseline morality for the masses. Once in power, with God on their side, they can continuously determine the laws of the land. Perhaps this is where the ancient battle of the God's supremacy emerged.

I can imagine the races and clans discovering more and more gods to form economic and political policies. Each faction would continue to find means of supporting why their god or group of gods is the only true god(s), or is the best to follow. The superstition would run wild in this kind of atmosphere.

Humans are highly superstitious. For some reason, we would much rather accept supernatural explanations for the unexplained experiences in our lives, than search for natural reasons, or accept that we don't know enough about what might have happened in a particular circumstance. Our drive to have answers drives us to create the answers through super natural explanations and realities.

Notes on Reconciliation

Sunday, I spoke with three members of the ward who came to visit. They showed concern for my well being and the well being of my family. I don't want to go into too much detail, but there was one discussion that stood out for me. I explained to them the major issue that I have with polygamy. I asked them how it is that they can reconcile Joseph Smith taking wives from members of the church and having children with them. How can they feel like that is ok with them. Two of the answers were not much of a surprise to me. I have tried these answers on myself:
  • I was not there at the time and things were different then for them then they are now, so I can't judge.
  • All I know is how I feel when I read the Book of Mormon.

The third answer did surprise me. He said, "Brent, if God Himself were to ask you to do something, anything, would you do it?" I thought about it for a few beats.

I replied, "If God Himself were to ask me to take your wife as my own and have children, I would not do it. I would question where it is that I was getting my revelations from."

He replied, "That is the difference between you and me. I would know that God is all powerful, and all knowing, and that he knows things that I don't understand, and so I would do it, just as God required tests of prophets of old, such as Abraham."

He is right. That is the difference between him and I. I later asked him, "Would the same hold true if the prophet asked you instead of God Himself?"

He replied, "Just stick with the premise. If God Himself asked it." I could see that I could not move to the corollary that is generally accepted within the church, and that is that the leadership of the church speaks for God.

This is one of the most dangerous parts of a religion for me. A leader of the church can ask anything of the members of the church because God has asked it. Once it becomes God's will, the followers don't question it, but I believe that they should question it. This is the premise that Holy Wars are fought under, and the premise that polygamy falls under as well.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Does Science Create or Enable Hedonism?

From an essay on : Does science make belief in God obsolete? by Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, O.P., he states:

The increase in leisure and health brought about by our increasing mastery over Nature has not resulted, as the ancient sages supposed, in an increase in wisdom and the contemplation of the good, the true, and the beautiful. Instead, our technology-based leisure is more likely to result in quiet hedonism, consumerism, and mind-numbing mass entertainment.

Definition: hedonism - an ethical system that evaluates the pursuit of pleasure as the highest good

Although I want to disagree, I must agree that we as human beings, do tend to lazily move ourselves toward leisure, rather than loftier pursuits such as wisdom, the good, the true, and the beautiful.

I'm not sure how bad this is though.

Humanist Prayers?

I agree with the idea of prayers. The age-old addage, "Families that pray together, stay together." eludes to the unity, togetherness and commonality that prayer brings. So what does a family do once one of the family members (like me) decides that they don't wish to pray to God anymore? Should the family stop praying? Should the family push this unifying tool aside?

Prayer glues the thoughts of individuals together. In the case of the family, prayer helps everyone in the family recognize common goals that are wished for by some or all of the family members. It helps family members set goals and visualize the future of the family. Throwing out the tool would ignore the benefits just to spite the religious ritual. Not all of the religious rituals are bad.

But how do we make the prayer work for both the humanist and religious mind? In general, prayer has the following structure:
Dear Heavenly Father...
Thank you for...
Forgive us for...
Please bless us with...
In the name of ...

Dear Heavenly Father...
The prayer invokes supernatural help from above by being sure to be thankful, and then asking humbly for those things needed. Since a humanist believes in the moral power of humans, the humanist prayer should invoke it as such. The opening could become: My Fellow Brothers & Sisters...

Thank you for... & Forgive us for...
I find it calming and positive remembering the good and bad in the past together with others that I care about. Thinking back on the things in the past that we are thankful for and regret has intrinsic values. Although I prefer to focus on the positive, without recognizing our errors and crimes against our fellow humans, we are bound to continue them. The only way that I would change this would be to state: We feel thankful for... & We recognize our shortcomings and understand that we have failed in ... We strive to do better...

Please bless us...
This phrase enumerates the goals, desires and wishes of the group. Vocalizing these desires and needs puts them into the forefront of the collective conciousness of the group. But instead of invoking the blessings from a supernatural being, this phrase should recognize the importance that each member of the group has in realizing the need or desire. This phrase should emphasize the level of reliance that each member of the group has on others in the group rather than depend on external forces. This will enable the responsibility of seeing these things to sit directly with the group. To accomplish this statement, the prayer should state something like the following: We need each other to ...

In the name of...
Humanist do not wish to assign this prayer to any deity or other supernatural being, but would rather assign it to themselves. Therefore, the prayer could end as: In the name of (insert name of group here)... Amen

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Humanism, a possible model for moral humans

What Am I Now?

So, after thinking about why I'm not a Mormon, I gotta think about what I am. What do I stand for now. Am I still socially responsible? Do I still love my family? Do I still love my wife? Am I still honest? Am I an ex-mormon, a baptist, atheist or a Jack-Mormon? Who am I?

Ex-Mormon?

At first I thought that I might me an ex-mormon. But this group of people, while it does accurately describe me, does not really fit me. As I read their blogs and writings, I find so much hate. I know that I'm not a hater. I love people. I cherish my relationships with all people, and enjoy tolerance with them as much as possible. I can understand their hate toward mormonism. I felt it too, because at first, you feel like, they lied to me! But now, I realize that very few Mormons knowingly lied to me. Therefore, I can't be an ex-mormon. I think ex-mormon is a synonym to anti-mormon. While I am not for Mormonism for myself, I am certainly not heavily against it. So scratch Ex-Mormon for what I am.

Atheist?

I don't think that I'm necessarily against God either. While I don't believe in God. I don't feel the need to deny others their belief in God. As I read works from leading Atheists such as Richard Dawkins and such, my thoughts and emotions don't harmonize with them. I can see the reasons for their near hatred toward God, religion and the tragedies that have occurred related to them, but I just don't share their utter hatred and intolerance. Scratch Atheism.

Jack Mormon?
I can't say. I don't even know one of them. Maybe I'll end up being one of them...

Baptist?
I think it would certainly be more fun to be a Baptist. they have really fun meetings, and sing up a storm. But the more that I think within my soul, the more I find that I don't believe God exists. Today, there is a letter up for auction written by Albert Einstein. In this letter, he states, "The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honourable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish." Reference here. I find that this line of thinking resonates with me and sounds correct. Scratch Baptist, or any theist...

Humanist?
Nearly a year ago, or so, I heard an interview on NPR with perhaps, Kurt Vonnegut. I was searching for some existing idea to attach or relate to. It was during this interview that I became familiar with the term 'Secular Humanist'. I was searching for a reason to continue to act, think and do moral things. When I heard this term on the radio, I immediately looked it up when I arrived at the office. I read the Humanist Manifesto and I was impressed with the ideas presented there. They believe that the fact that humans are humans, and that we are all fellow humans is intrinsically enough reason to treat each other as decent human beings.

This I resonated with. This sounds right to me. I am a warm, caring human being. I care deeply for my dear wife, Colleen, my children and the people that I maintain as friends and family. I see no reason to stop feeling this way towards them, just because I don't feel strongly in believing the God story any longer.
Score 1 point for Humanism.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Religious frameworks.

Yesterday, Mother's Day, I didn't go to church. Instead, I made breakfast in bed for Colleen with my kids. We cut tulips and apple blossoms from our garden, and brought in some pancakes for Colleen. She was ecstatic, and then we napped until noon. Glorious.


Later on in the day though, we got out, and stopped by a park. As Colleen and I sat and watched our children play, she asked me (I'm gonna kinda paraphrase), "So now what do we do. I just don't know what we are supposed to do now with our kids. Raising them in the church was fairly straightforward, and well defined. It would generally promote morally straight people. Now how am I meant to teach them high moral principles?"


Another friend of mine had a similar discussion with me recently as well. He told me that had it not been for the religious framework of the Church, he could have turned out pretty poorly, including various rather criminal and dark activities.


I've never really had those tendencies. For him, he feels that pull towards the dark side is always there, and if it weren't for the church's framework, he would heed the call.


I wasn't sure what to tell her about that. I began by talking about how we might take a humanist approach to it. I cited how I seemed to have read that the humanities taught in liberal universities were after all, created from the great humanists such as Socrates and the Greeks.

She immediately reminded me that those great Greeks were also pedophiles who made their tutored young boys repay their instruction by bending over.

I'm not sure what to say to her about that. I am convinced that a person can live a moral life without the moral frameworks that religious frameworks provide.

I think of the completely wrong frameworks that some provide, and I cringe a little bit at that.

I did find an interesting blog about this though. It seems this isn't an easy answer.

Also, I read another article that talks about how defining an ethical and moral framework for humanists and folks who don't believe in a god as an area of major concern.

Perhaps this is the next step in my journey.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Superstition vs. Religion

Several Months ago, I sat with Colleen in Gospel Doctine class. As the teacher directed the discussion, and pointed out scriptures and references, he eventually opened up the discussion to class members to share their spiritual experiences. I forget the topic of the conversation, but I recall how class member after class member would recount their spiritual experiences to the group, often with tears as they were moved by the spirit. One tale in particular talked about how she was told to do something or else she would be killed. Then she did whatever she was told to do, and she wasn't killed, but feels that for sure she would have been killed had she not done it.

My reaction to the situation was so adverse, that I had to excuse myself from the discussion before I became visually disturbed and let on to my discomfort. The whole thing felt so superstitious to me. I felt as though I must surely have been transported back to an earlier day during the darkness before the enlightenment period.

Looking back now, I see how superstition and superstitious beliefs crept up in so many cultures. I see how one thing, followed by another's story could build, and build. What worries me the most is that many of these superstitions govern our lives. They act like little parasites, sucking out our ability to reason through the really tough spells in our lives. As an example, consider you are lost in the forest, or in the city, or that you have lost something... Ancient cultures would often consult the sages for guidance to find such a missing thing. If you wer in this ancient culture, you would be out consulting the sages, rather than forming a search possee, or considering other options should the missing article never return. I admit, that you may do all three, look, consult and consider backup options, but in any case, you have dedicated 33% of your energies to the sages, while you could have dedicated those energies to rational thought instead.

This rationality scares me because what should happen when religious leaders take power, and a crisis mounts. Take gasoline for example: Should we pray for lower gas prices? Should we spend any amount of time at all praying for lower gas prices? A religious leader, seeing his congregation in monetary peril, might indeed pray for lower gas prices, and perhaps might even receive confirmation that if his congregation should just pay a full tithing, then lower gas prices would certainly arrive. His coffers would fill up, his congregation would have faith, and then when the gas prices do indeed lower, he would be confirmed as correct. If his prophecy didn't come true, then he could claim it was due to the lack of faith on the part of his parishioners. Perhaps not enough of the parishioners paid their tithing. Either way, the leader has more money for his church, and plenty of work for the future, while the parishioners could have been concentrating on other solutions. They could have been concentrating on rational solutions such as lowering their gas intake through forming car-pools, alternative energies, etc. Instead, they would concentrate on a supernatural power to work on the natural.

I was impressed today while reading about Wang Ch'ung, the ancient chinese philosopher. He had some very impressive arguments against the superstition that plagued his age. Some of his arguments are almost comical.
For instance:
  • If ghosts are the souls of those who have died, then there would be so many ghosts around, that we would see them all of the time.
  • If ghosts are the spirit of a living creature, why don't we see little ghost dogs, cats, insects, etc. since they all have similar vital principle.
  • As a follow on, why do people see ghosts with their clothes on. Are we to assume that clothing also has a spiritual makeup? Shouldn't the ghosts be nude?
  • To say that Heaven provides us food and clothing is to say it acts as our farmer or tailor — an obvious absurdity