Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Heaven Is For Real?

Imagine. #atheist #atheism
I came across this picture on Pinterest months ago and for some reason it has just stuck with me. The third photo from the top particularly had an effect on me.

I just don't see how heaven can exist. And I'm not even talking from the perspective of whether or not we have souls, how a being could live forever, etc. I'm talking about the idea of a place where humans are eternally happy. I just don't see it. Such a place could only have been designed with assumption that the world is the problem, not humans. I think a lot of the evidence points in the opposite direction: humans are the problem. Of course phenomena like illness and natural disasters contribute to human suffering but a large part of our suffering comes from issues within ourselves and the innumerable ways that people hurt each other. Basically, for heaven to be heaven, you couldn't be human as we understand the concept. 

To be utterly happy in heaven, you couldn't be you. But I don't think that that's how people think about heaven. I think they see themselves as they are (maybe a bit more attractive, smarter, etc) but without anything that makes them sad: "every tear shall be wiped from their eyes," etc.

Even some of the concepts mentioned in heaven (I'm talking strictly from a Christian perspective here) showcase many of the flaws of humanity. For example, people often mention living in mansions (John 14:2) and walking on streets of gold in heaven (Revelation 21:21). Wouldn't these be as vain in heaven as they are on Earth? If we lose our flesh (physical body), why do we even care what we live in or walk on? The fact that people get excited about this stuff shows me that if heaven exists, it won't be too different from what we have here.

And this is leaving out out several other critiques of heaven: the monotony of doing anything forever, the fact that many wonderful people who happened to be born in the wrong religion won't be there while many horrible people who were born into the right one will be, etc.

Confession: I have started attending church again. However, philosophical issues like the one I've discussed above just won't leave me alone.

I hope there isn't an afterlife and, if there is one, people like me can select the 'other' option and can choose to have eternal rest.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

"Don't Have Kids If You Can't Afford Them!"

It's an oft-quoted statement. And on the surface it appears simple and self-evident.

But I don't think it's that simple. And more importantly, it ignores what human beings are: biological organisms whose main purpose is to reproduce. I know we don't want to hear that but it's true. We may tell ourselves that we're actually here to worship God, become better people, make lots of money, have fun, etc but the sheer (near) universality of procreation says differently. A few people throughout the ages have chosen not to procreate (Catholic priests and nuns being just a few constant examples) but they are the tiniest of exceptions. (I read a statistic once that stated that throughout history, there has been a near constant 10% of women who have not procreated. I don't know how true this is but even if it is completely accurate I wouldn't include all of those women since they many of them probably were infertile and actually wanted kids).

It's just not realistic to expect people to stop procreating for any reason, especially not something as common as poverty. 

The other side of the issue is that I don't believe that most of the people who say "Don't have kids if you can't afford them!" actually care about the children involved. If they did, they would take concrete steps to help the child instead of pointing out the parents' failings. I believe the real reason most people bring up this topic because it gives them a (false) feeling of superiority. They like looking down on the choices of those poorer than them and (falsely) feeling like they wouldn't make the same decisions if they were in the same position.

All of the above is why the cycle of childhood poverty will never end. Poor people are going to continue procreating regardless of their financial situation and those relatively well off don't actually care about other people's kids enough to help them and they like feeling superior in comparison to poor kids and their parents.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Montaigne on Death

"It seemed to me that my life was hanging only by the tip of my lips; I closed my eyes in order, it seemed to me, to help push it out, and took pleasure in growing languid and letting myself go. It was an idea that was only floating on the surface of my soul, as delicate and feeble as all the rest, but in truth not only free from distress but mingled with that sweet feeling that people have who let themselves slide into sleep."

- Montainge

"Where death waits for us is uncertain; let us look for him everywhere. The premeditation of death is the premeditation of liberty; he who has learned to die has unlearned to serve. There is nothing evil in life for him who rightly comprehends that the privation of life is no evil: to know, how to die delivers us from all subjection and constraint. Paulus Emilius answered him whom the miserable king of Macedon, his prisoner sent to entreat him that he would not lead him to his triumph, 'Let him make that request to himself.'
- [Plutarch, Life of Paulus Aemilius, c. 17; Cicero, Tusc., v. 40.]

 "[L]et us learn bravely to stand our ground, and fight him. And to begin to deprive him of the greatest advantage he has over us, let us take a way quite contrary to the common course. Let us disarm him of his novelty and strangeness, let us converse and be familiar with him, and have nothing so frequent in our thoughts as death. Upon all occasions represent him to our imagination in his every shape; at the stumbling of a horse, at the falling of a tile, at the least prick with a pin, let us presently consider, and say to ourselves, ‘Well, and what if it had been death itself?’ and, thereupon, let us encourage and fortify ourselves. Let us evermore, amidst our jollity and feasting, set the remembrance of our frail condition before our eyes, never suffering ourselves to be so far transported with our delights, but that we have some intervals of reflecting upon, and considering how many several ways this jollity of ours tends to death, and with how many dangers it threatens it. The Egyptians were wont to do after this manner, who in the height of their feasting and mirth, caused a dried skeleton of a man to be brought into the room to serve for a memento to their guests"
- Montaigne

"In truth, in all things, if nature do not help a little, it is very hard for art and industry to perform anything to purpose. I am in my own nature not melancholic, but meditative; and there is nothing I have more continually entertained myself withal than imaginations of death, even in the most wanton time of my age."

 - Montaigne

"All the whole time you live, you purloin from life and live at the expense of life itself. The perpetual work of your life is but to lay the foundation of death. You are in death, whilst you are in life, because you still are after death, when you are no more alive; or, if you had rather have it so, you are dead after life, but dying all the while you live; and death handles the dying much more rudely than the dead, and more sensibly and essentially. If you have made your profit of life, you have had enough of it; go your way satisfied."

- Montaigne

 "I believe, in truth, that it is those terrible ceremonies and preparations wherewith we set it out, that more terrify us than the thing itself; a new, quite contrary way of living; the cries of mothers, wives, and children; the visits of astounded and afflicted friends; the attendance of pale and blubbering servants; a dark room, set round with burning tapers; our beds environed with physicians and divines; in sum, nothing but ghostliness and horror round about us; we seem dead and buried already. … Happy is the death that deprives us of leisure for preparing such ceremonials."
 - Montaigne 

all via:

Sunday, March 23, 2014


I've been inspired by a group called the 5 percenters to create my own percentage breakdown of human beings. The 5 percenters, also known as the Nation of Gods and Earths, is an offshoot of the Nation of Islam which started in the 1960s in U.S. They have many teachings but the one that stuck out the most to me was the one behind the 5 percenter title. The teaching is that mankind is divided into 3 groups: the 85%, 10%, and the 5%. The 85% are the masses of people who are blind to the knowledge of self and God and hence are easily led astray and taken advantage of by the 10% who know the truth but use it to their advantage to control the 85%. Much of the 10% are in roles of power in areas like government, traditional religious organizations, etc. The remaining 5% of humanity are the ones who know the truth and want to help liberate the 85%.

Here's my breakdown:

  • There are 2-5% of humans who are good. That is their nature. They truly care about people, want to help them, and spend a large chunk of their lives doing so. Nothing is going to permanently discourage them from helping people. I've known a few people like this in  real life. Mother Theresa is often used as the archetype of this personality type but I hesitate to put her here after what has been considerable criticism of her philosophy and approach. A better example is Stan Brock, the founder of Remote Area Medical, an organization that provides free medical care to people in the U.S. and abroad. The organization is completely volunteer based so any money donated goes directly towards supplies and other vital needs of the organization. Mr. Brock takes no income for his work, sleeps at the RAM headquarters, and does not have a car. It's not very often that I'm impressed by people any more but Stan is on that short list. You can read more about him here and here. This is the website for his organization.Someone's even making a documentary about him. There are plenty of other people in this category who I cannot name because they do their good works without media attention or societal praise.
  • The next group is the 10-20% of people who are not absolutely good but they lean toward goodness and caring about other people. Given slight incentives, they could form the basis of a decent human community. However, given the current negative incentives, they are more likely to donate to a charity or volunteer at a soup kitchen and deal with other symptoms of the current system than  working to put an end to that system. One example of a person like this is a conversation I overheard in college between two students. They were discussing post-graduation employment options. Student A brought up working for pharmaceutical companies as an option. Student B expressed her reluctance to work for them due to ethical concerns regarding the medication trial process and how the companies generally target vulnerable populations in the U.S. and abroad for these trials. Student A semi-agreed but I could tell that it wasn't really an issue for him. Student B is firmly in this category because not only did she bring up ethical issues in discussion around employment, those issues were the first thing she mentioned. This the type of person who takes ethical issues seriously and would avoid what she considered unethical employment (even if it paid well) unless she saw no other way to make a reasonable living. 
  • I'm going to skip the other middle group and go straight to the end group. I will refer to them as the predators. They are comparable to the 10% group in the 5 percenter scheme. They are the rulers of this world and are willing to do anything to get what they want. Their powers are relative. They could be a Bill Gates or the leader of a small tribe. They are not above any type of action or manipulation even though they may tell themselves they are. I would posit them at about 10-15% of the population. 
  • Finally there is the rest. The majority of humanity between 60 and 78 % of the general population. Technically they should be neutral but I actually see them as somewhat evil. They are self-focused and have base desires that are easily manipulated by the predators mentioned in the last category. They are often ignorant and delusional. In the U.S. they will often support 'rugged individualism' type laws even though they live paycheck to paycheck and have skills that are dispensable to the market. If/when they end up up on government assistance, they are perpetually surprised even though they fit the profile perfectly. They tend to believe in the just wold fallacy OR believe that life isn't fair but that unfairness won't affect them even though they are painfully average. 

So there's my list. What do you think? Any critiques?

Which group (if any) are you a member of?

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

People Just Say Stuff

Many people who have ultimately escaped from the tyranny of ignorance have had so hard a fight and so long a time of repression that in the end they are embittered and their energy is impaired. In general, there is too much respect paid to the opinions of others. One should respect public opinion insofar as is necessary to avoid starvation and to keep out of prison, but anything that goes beyond this is voluntary submission to an unnecessary tyranny, and is likely to interfere with happiness in all kinds of ways."
- Bertrand Russell

"People think too much about the opinions others form of them; although this opinion is not essential to happiness...What goes on in other people's consciousness is a matter of indfference to us; and in time we get really indifferent to it, when we come to see how superficial and futile are most people's thoughts, how narrow their ideas, how mean their sentiments, how perverse their opinions, how much of error there is in most of them...We shall understand that to lay great value upon what other people say is to pay them too much honor."
 - Arthur Schopenhauer

I've been thinking about this post for awhile as I really take in the various memes and sayings of the average person and society and how much they contradict reality.

Here are some examples:
  • You always have a choice
  • Life is a gift
  • God loves us
  • You can do anything you put your mind to
  • God is in control
  • ... was better back in the good old days
  • Etc, etc (please add your own in the comments)
In accordance with the quotes above and my own personal experience, I no longer take the vast majority of what people say seriously. Most people aren't really thinking when they speak and if you asked them "why?" they couldn't begin to answer.

Don't take it personally.

Thanks for the great advice Russell and I'm doing my best to put it into practice.


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Thoughts on Overpopulation

I once had a discussion with a friend about the issue of overpopulation. She said that she didn't believe that overpopulation exists because, as of now, there is more than enough food for everyone. Unfortunately, much of it is wasted and/or not directed towards those who need it most. Therefore, focusing on population is a distraction since the real issue is improper use of resources. I mostly agree with her but have one main contention. While I don't think overpopulation is the (main) cause of hunger currently, I DO believe that since the Earth is a closed system with only a limited (although abundant) number of resources we will eventually reach that limit. Due to technology, it's hard to know whether that limit is 10 billion or 50 billion people.

My response to her was that if people are going hungry now when there is more than enough for everyone, can you imagine what the world will be like and how people will behave when there isn't enough for everyone??? With that knowledge, isn't it irresponsible to encourage people to breed? Especially people who are already suffering the most from the improper use of resources?

Of course, this is all completely theoretical. History has shown that people will breed in even the most decrepit material and spiritual conditions so expecting people to slow down just because some truly bad times may be on the horizon is complete wishful thinking.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Long-Term Thinking

One of the most harmful aspects of human beings is the lack of long-term thinking. This deficit causes so much wide-spread misery. It is the cause of so many of the most important issues facing our world today: food insecurity, global warming / climate change, dependency on nonrenewable resources, etc.

Perhaps even more unfortunate is the fact that long-term thinkers do exist but most of them use that thinking to take advantage of unfortunate situations and other people for the benefit of themselves and their family. There are a few long-term thinkers who care about others and want to use that thinking to help but they tend not to have power and no one listens to them.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Money is a Bad Incentive

That's the conclusion that I've come to after holding a cubicle-sitting job for a little over six months. I'm also basing this on discussions my husband and I have held about his workplace and my own. He works for a huge highly profitable corporation while I work in the public sector. We see the same issues in both areas. The same inefficiencies, wastes of time, never-ending meetings and projects, etc. They don't particularly bother me (I believe the vast majority of the jobs held by people, especially in the West, are utterly useless) but it tends to drive my husband crazy.

Finally, I've come to the conclusion that money is the problem. The problem is that people are working to make money. They are not working to make the organizations that employ them more profitable, more efficient, cleaner, safer, etc. Those are just after-thoughts (if people are really thinking about them at all).

People really work for the following reasons:
  • to house themselves
  • to feed themselves
  • to send their kids to summer camp
  • to get a (new) car
  • to see their favorite performer in concert
  • for new clothes
  • etc.
You get the idea.

They don't work for the following reasons:
  • to increase company profitability
  • to become a better manager
  • to gain new skills
  • to become a better asset to the company
  • etc.
Now there are a few people who work for the second set of reasons but from my experience and those I've read about, these people are rare. I'll call them 'hard workaholics'. These are the people who believe in hard work for its own sake (needless to say that these are a lot fewer people in this group than those who say they believe in the importance of hard work). These are the people who just need something to do. They will work hard at whatever you put in front of them. They can't help but to work hard and find it painful to sit still.

Another group of people is those truly driven by passion. As long as they are doing what they are passionate about, they are happy to work long hours and give their all to the company. The fact that they get paid for their services is really just icing on the cake. They would really do it for free. I refer to them as 'passion workaholics'.

Employers would love for all of us to fit happily into one of those two categories. Needless to say that most of us don't. And many people notice that for all the talk about working hard, getting better at what you do, gaining more skills, etc the people who often get ahead are not necessarily the ones who are best able to leave. The ones who are promoted are usually the ones who know how to play the office political games the best.