Thursday, November 21, 2013

Sunday Assembly

Sunday Assembly - Roadshow Thursday 21 Nov 2013 Melbourne. 

Pippa Evans and Sanderson Jones together setup the first Sunday Assembly in London. They are going on a world tour  - 40 Dates in 40 Nights. The idea basically helping set up a bunch of new ones. As part of the tour, tonight Sanderson was in Melbourne to celebrate with us. Sunday Assembly Melbourne (SAM) has been going for a while now, we were ( I think ) equal second with New York as the next new Sunday assemblies outside of the UK.

Eolian Hall in Carlton Melbourne was the venue. Full house! Sanderson kicks off the proceedings with with a huge welcome a basic introduction to what SAM is and then launched us into the first song. The band was a tad late, (new venue, they are forgiven), anyway, no problem Katie ( and others) saved the day with the first song instead done as an Internet video karaoke style. Then some more talk about how SA isn't an atheist church, IE not a church as do not worship any gods, specifically godless though not religion bashing get together. Theists are welcome, being radical inclusive is part of our outlook. ( Trivia point : "Eolian" means carried by the wind,  (I think ) a reference to the original intent of the hall as a meeting place for those leaving their previous country, maybe a similar thing for some of us in the sense of leaving believing).

Each SA there is a reading, something short, today's was from Dr Seuss, read by Frazer Kirkman. Some of which, to follow, below you know:

Oh, the Places You'll Go! by Dr. Seuss

Today is your day.
You're off to Great Places!
You're off and away!
You're on your own.  And you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who'll decide where to go...

see  Oh, the Places You'll Go

There was a shadow puppet presentation  (thanks puppeteer Vic Farrell , also our Choir Master).

At some point there was a minute of silence (stand up comedians hate that! ), a bit scary but not actual "prayer", simply for reflection etc. I found that a bit weird but maybe some church goers might like it (?).

Each meeting has a basic theme, tonight's is "Acceptance".
Jason's talk was centered around acceptance of LBGTI human beings via his personal experience about the difficulty of coming out as gay when immersed in a macho football environment.

Jason Ball - Courage over ignorance  just one of many articles. ( gives the general idea ).

Personally, I thought it took great courage, Jason's story was inspiring, and I expect it will help others. His support for beyond blue is also amazing. In an audience such as the SA, I doubt any would have even considered that LGTBI people "less equal" ( I note that many modern believers are also accepting but there is still work to be done here. The coming out as gay, although I don know people who are in the process and they have mentioned various levels of difficulty. I can relate to coming out as an atheist though.

Sanderson's talk centered around his mother dying when he was ten years old, not dismissing the sadness and loss but celebrating the life he knew, the ten years of being read to, of being tucked into bed, of having chocolate wiped off his young face. Acknowledging that we are all here for but a brief time and to celebrate  and enjoy it while we can. She was here for ten years of his life ... and that was special and wonderful. Sanderson then talked about how SA seemed to be an accidental hit, and that maybe we really should have a place to go to meet people to:
  • Live Better.
  • Help Often.
  • Wonder More.
from Sunday assembly website

Awesome music, two piece band, words on screen, karaoke style, all joined in.
Today's selection:

Bad Moon Rising by Creedence Clearwater Revival

Walking on Sunshine by Katrina and the Waves. 

We are Young by Fun

My overall impression is a mix of puzzlement, what is this about anyway and yet, they, we, might be onto something. It seems to be evolving, organic, grass roots, gets better all the time. Somehow there is something utterly amazing , totally awesome, compellingly and wonderfully special here, genuine human without the make believe. It is like somebody has gone into a religious building and removed all the fake, the images and the imaginary. For too long now, the gods have reduced humanity, when you have a nice meal, thank the human being that prepared it. The posture of prayer is that of slavery, honor the master, head bowed, hands together, silent, obey - no, none of this here, there are only people. The gods are passé  for we have made them so - Pace Nietzsche. Not in an arrogant way, rather, humbly thinking that we have this life, we do not know for how long, as far as we can tell it is our only one. This isn't religion bashing, isn't god bashing, these idieas are simply mentioned in passing for the newbies benefit. 

Pippa & sanderson early on.

Will the Sunday Assembly take off? ... I think it already has.

After the presentation - Tea and cake ( and chat and giggle ), always important!

Last month's talk: theme "Rescue me" feature speakers from Shar Pei Rescue
The two people who run this dog rescue operation. They brought in two rescued dogs, including Noah !

Other talks have included:

Asylum seeking - by an previous asylum seeker.
Sex - by a sex therapist.
Depression - by person who had this.

Some other links:
ABC radionational - sunday assembly
The daily beast article - sunday assembly
Token skeptic interview with Sanderson
The friendly atheist blog - sunday assembly
The Australian article - sunday assembly first adelaide gathering
There are various and facebook groups for those wanting to stay up to date with events.

Blog by Peter Veitch , the post atheist nurse.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

I don't want to be an Atheist - Blue pill please, Morpheus

I don't want to be an Atheist - Blue pill please, Morpheus

May 2, 2011 at 12:38pm
Dawkins was wrong, I knew this. The GOD DELUSION, obviously itself the work of a deluded mind, offensive rubbish. I was a Seventh-Day Adventist (SDA) Christian for many years, we all knew Dawkins was the enemy. Audacious book title, the  gauntlet was laid down and I was up for the challenge. I was going to dismantle his lies and fend off his evil attack.

I begin to read ... oh Dawkins wants to turn us into atheists does he, at least he is honest there. He says...many if not most people are born into a religion. Christian,  Muslim or Hindu environment? Are you then a Christian,  Muslim or Hindu follower? Does it follow? How did i get my religion? Did I choose it or inherit it? I finished reading the God delusion, Richard Dawkins did not succeed in making me an atheist but he did convince me of the need to question.

Dawkins was still wrong I just knew it. How did I know? I did not know. If you don't know how you know, how do you know that you know ? I did not know that either. A paradox? I was determined to shore up my beliefs. Time to hit the books. Apologetics here I go. Still to be honest with myself I read more of these so called new atheists to see how wrong they are. I was determined to thoroughly follow St Paul's advice:  "prove all things".

Josh McDowell in his book "Evidence that demands a verdict" asks  "is Jesus, Lord liar or lunatic? " . In the gospels Jesus does not come across as a liar or a lunatic, Josh asserts that therefore Jesus is Lord. Nice work Josh, Christian and intellectual, I like this. Opposing this I read John Loftus. His book "the Christian delusion" asks,  is there a fourth L? Could the Miracle working version of Jesus be merely Legend? Did McDowell present a false trilemma? Did he withhold evidence? Has other evidence been withheld? How can  people be a "witness" in a trial if they have not actually seen anything ? The Jesus, God story is still real to me but there is a question mark, albeit a very, very small one. More questions. The SDA's taught me that the earth was created in six days etc. Is this true ?

Next I read twenty plus books on evolution and other science relating to the age of the earth etc. The SDA's saying that God created the world in 6 literal days with 6 evenings and 6 mornings is now looking like a beastly lie. We do have the mark of ancestral beasts written in our DNA. I read genetics, there is a "mark" in our chromosome number two.  "TTAG- CTAA"  is the precise marker for the point of fusion point of two ancestral chromosomes. ( IJdo et al 1991) .  The evidence for evolution is under our noses. Genetic analysis of our olfactory genes show that we have lost our sense of smell to an extent. Our noses are evidence. Evolution is a fact, the universe is ancient, we can literally see this in the night sky. There is massive overwhelming evidence for evolution. We were not created on the sixth day, The church lied to me, they are still lying.

Many philosophy books later, I learn that critical thinking is required for proper thought. Didn't I already know that? Yes , of course, however Dan Dennett taught me that this must also apply to religion. This is what was missing, I was under the spell that religion was not to be questioned, God was beyond question. "Breaking the spell" by Dan shattered that illusion. Not only can church dogma, Jesus and God be questioned; they must be. I had previously read a lot of science but the faith card always trumped. Not anymore, look at the evidence before deciding the conclusion. I still think there is probably a god. Creationism is provably false, god must be behind evolution, guiding it somehow.

More books, astronomy, geology, biology etc. I can see light from more than 6000 years ago. I can see rock that is older than 6k years. I see that evolution is a fact. Continents move around, god gets smaller. “Je n’avais pas besoin de cette hypothese-la,” “I have had no need of that hypothesis.” Scientists no longer need it either.  I now think the chances that god exists are now 50 / 50.

Another fifty so books, god has almost disappeared, he was not seen in the sky, the rocks, the living things. I see Pascal's wager easily debunked, easily, thoroughly, utterly  .. now I think that God has died, I feel depressed.

I have now read more than two hundred books for and against anything relating to the god concept. I question everything, even the need to question.. that many books, especially those by philosophers did change the way I think. Why did it take so long ? Why was it so difficult ? Am I wrong? Now I know that I did not know. Maybe there is a god, best guess at odds? The chances of a god existing are so vanishingly small as to be practically nil, one chance in billions of billions. Anthony Grayling even questions the idea of a grey area of chance. He asks what of the  "uncertainty around ...  Little Red Riding Hood? Rumpelstiltskin? Santa? Betty Boop? Saint Veronica (who allegedly started out as sweat on a cloth and became a person)? Aphrodite? Wotan? Batman?" (A. C. Grayling 2009). I think Fairies, goblins and gods might be real , but the chances are essentially nil as far as I can tell. I feel silly calling myself an agnostic regarding fairies, i don't believe "they" exist, if I meet any, I will let you know.  Technically I suppose I am an atheist agnostic. I no longer have any god beliefs neither do I claim absolute knowledge that there is no god.

If you can bring yourself to believe in an all powerful best friend in the sky then yay. As long as you don't hurt anyone else, I envy you. Sometimes the existential angst does get to me. Given the choice, I would go for the blue pill*
How can I unknow this? The irony is that once you realize that there is no god, you can no longer believe in "god". The blue pill is a fantasy. The red pill? In terms of actual reality, i think some of us are color blind. Reality is not a pill. Reality is not sugar coated. Want a spoonful of sugar to make this medicine go down?

There is no pill, there is no spoon.

At first I did not want to be an atheist because it sounded bad, felt wrong. Worst of all, like finding out that Santa Claus was not real, same applies to Infinite Santa. Not only does the emperor have no clothes, there is no emperor!

Now I don't want to be an Atheist in the same way I don't want to be an A-Zeusist or A-Goblinist. Convincing people that Zeus or goblins are not real is no longer required. While people still persist in believing religious superstition we will still have to try to educate them out of this. If you speak to me about astrology and superstition, I will speak to you about astronomy and reason. As long as theism persists, I think we are morally and intellectually obliged to speak up against this superstition.

I don't "want" to be an Atheist. But I have eaten from the tree of knowledge and therefore I don't have a choice.

Deepest thanks to Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, Anthony Grayling and others.
Regards Peter Veitch

* the choice between the blissful ignorance of illusion (blue) and embracing the sometimes painful truth of reality (red).

Origin of human chromosome 2: an ancestral telomere-telomere fusion.
J W IJdo, A Baldini, D C Ward, S T Reeders, and R A Wells
Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1991 October 15; 88(20): 9051–9055.

Probably a ridiculous caveat - A C Grayling

EDIT : Five years an atheist update.

The first year out of transition from theist to atheist was one of questioning, discovering and
thinking my way out of religious belief. It was interesting, invigorating and scary. It was the year after
that that was my worst: the sense of loss etc - this, I found very  depressing. My year after god was gut wrenchingly awful however it has improved  for me. For my five years as an atheist, only in the last year or so has it really sunk in on all levels - it is the right thing intellectually and emotionally.  For me, the world as it is, without magic imaginary beings.  In other words it is authentic.

After an initial swing of the pendulum between religous and anti religous extremes, I have found  an the equilibrium of standing for humanism and human rights.  I have been though an evangelical Christian phase and then an evangelical atheist phase. These days I am way more interested in working for the good of others. There are good believers and bad ones. There are good athsiests and bad ones. Secularism, I think is very important and I am happy to work with atheists and with theists to keep religion out of government. I am involved with various atheist groups, I do actively try to have an openly atheist profile. This is not to de convert others but to speak up for atheists to be accepted by the general public. ie I am happy to stand up for religious freedoms as well as the freedom from religion.   I have no issue with women wearing the hijab if they freely choose to do so but I reject fundamentalist and fanatical governments jailing or executing people for apostasy or belief of any denomination.