Absent Belief in a Cosmic Enforcer, Are People Likely to be Kind, Fair, Caring, Contented and Good?

by Don on July 4th, 2011
in Religion

The answer to the title question, above, is likely to be "no" if you listen to right-wing Christian conservatives, particularly media commentators Bill O'Reilly and Laura Schlessinger. Both have expressed the opinion that individuals and societies cannot be "good" or moral without belief in an enforcer god. O' Reilly said a society that fails to live "under God" will be a society of anarchy and crime; Schlessinger that "it's impossible for people to be moral without a belief in God. The fear of God is what keeps people on the straight and narrow." (Source: Robyn E. Blumner, "Goodness without God," St. Petersburg Times, July 3, 2011.) There is quite an audience for this kind of thinking in America. None fewer than 64 percent of Americans agree with the statement, "Politicians who don't believe in God are unfit for public office." By contrast, only 8 percent of Danes and 15 percent of Swedes hold such a view. In this country, 75 percent of the population believe in hell, whereas a slim 10 percent of Danes and Swedes believe such a thing.

The O'Reilly/Schlessinger message can be summarized as follows: "Unless God scares the bejabbers out of you, you and society will go to hell - society first."

Kind of makes one wonder: Is this true? Is there evidence for what O'Reilly and Schlessinger are telling their audience? 

Just in time to answer this question comes a book entitled, "Society without God: What the Least Religious Nations Can Tell Us About Contentment." Written by a sociology professor named Phil Zuckerman, "Society Without God" supports the opposite perspective. It seems the message of these arrogant Christian fundamentalists, that non-belief in a cosmic enforcer is associated with cultures less likely to be kind, fair, caring, contented and good, is false. Societies where people overwhelmingly believe in and presumably are scared to death of a god are, in fact, the ones where citizens are more likely to endure lives that are "Leviathan" in nature, that is, as Thomas Hobbes put it, "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."

In "Society Without God," Zuckerman presents evidence on both individual and societal levels that the associations between non-goodness and non-belief by the likes of O'Reilly and Schlessinger are false. In fact, quite the opposite seems true. Countries with the lowest levels of religious belief seem the most well-behaved!

"Society Without God" shows that belief in a god, not disbelief, is associated with individuals and whole societies acting badly. What sweet irony.

Zuckerman aggregated data using multiple indicators and also conducted interviews in Denmark and Sweden. Both countries are as irreligious as the U.S. and Iran, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are religious. Rather than being a social menace, the absence of fear of being smited by a sky god is not correlated in any way with bad behavior. If a person has no fear of a Santa-like god who knows who's been naughty and who's been nice, he/she is no more likely to plunder and pillage with cruel abandon than one professes to fear a god.

Zuckerman found that by almost any measure the least religious societies "are among the healthiest and least corrupt." His findings are corroborated by a Quality of Life report by the Economist Magazine. This study is based on a range of wellness-related factors, such as income, health, freedom, unemployment, climate, political stability, life-satisfaction, and gender equality. When applied in a survey of 111 countries to order to identify the "best" places in the world to live, it was found that Sweden ranked fifth, Denmark ninth. Most of the top 20 "quality of life nations" are irreligious. (The U.S. was ranked 13th.)

Zuckerman writes in "Society Without God" that it is ironic that "the moral imperatives" of religions (e.g., caring for the sick, elderly poor and infirm; practicing mercy, charity and goodwill toward others; and fostering generosity, honesty and communal concern) are practiced more often in the most irreligious nations. In America, a fifth of children live in poverty, at least a quarter lack health insurance and the mentally ill are often homelessness and untreated.

In "Godless Morality," Peter Singer and Marc Hauser condemn religious intrusion into politics and scientific research: "If anyone ever tries to tell you that, for all its quirks and irrationality, religion is harmless or even beneficial for society, remember those 128 million Americans ‚?? and hundreds of millions more citizens of other nations ‚?? who might be helped by research that is being restricted by religious beliefs" (Free Inquiry, "The Harm That Religion Does," by Peter Singer, June/July 2004, p. 17). In a letter to the editor appearing in the New York Times (Nov. 8, 2004), Singer wrote: "Paul Krugman says Democrats need to make it clear they value faith. Is everyone caving in to this religious nonsense? What is faith but believing in something without any evidence? Why should Democrats value that? Formidable as the task may seem at present, the long-term need is to persuade Americans that having evidence for your beliefs is a good idea."

There is no evidence that Bill O'Reilly and Laura Schlessinger and other Christians have a special claim on goodness; there is ample reason to think just the opposite.

Pastor Perry's Plan to Rouse God from Inaction, the Better to Help America and Perhaps the Pastor's Run for the Republican Nomination

by Don on June 23rd, 2011
in Religion

Texas Governor Rick Perry, a selfless patriot and defender of the constitution, has taken a bold step designed to bring the nation back to God, despite an absence of evidence America was ever with God or, for that matter, that there is such an entity. 

Never mind details concerning separation of church and state - the fearless governor has set another day of prayer, this one for August 6 in partnership with the American Family Association at a stadium in Houston.

There will be fasting, praying and bible reading and no doubt some whooping and hollering and flag waving. Every governor in the country has been invited to attend. All have been asked by Rev. Perry to proclaim their own shout outs to Jesus in order to rescue the nation and world from disasters economic and natural, social and spiritual, not to mention saving us from terrorism, the debasement of our Christian culture and ObamaCare.

So far, God has done squat to help out in any of these realms, so the governor wants a big show and a lot of prayer energy sent skyward to get God off the dime, so to speak.

The day will be modeled after a similar event described in the Book of Joel, so bring your slaves, goats and miracle requests and help the governor speed up the healing of the country, the rebuilding of communities and restoring those enduring values that somehow have not endured so well, whatever they might be.

Never mind the naysayers who want to spoil the fun, like the head of the Secular Coalition for America, who said, The last thing our officials should do in times of national struggle is promote a divisive religious event that proposes no real solutions to our country's real-world problems. The godless heathen Sean Faircloth went so far as to suggest that the governor's selfless call was an insult to the millions of upstanding citizens who practice religions other than evangelical Christianity, as well as the millions of secular Americans who contribute to society without pushing their views on others and that religion should be a private matter, especially for elected officials in a secular government.

Well, what else would you expect from infidel Pastfarians?

Even more upsetting, a minister of the cloth, one Welton Gaddy, said Perry's call raises serious concerns about his commitment to the boundaries between religion and government. It has been my experience that when elected leaders invoke religion in this way, it almost always has more to do with furthering a political agenda than a religious one.

Another nitpicker! What malcontents. Imagine suggesting that this sincere call to the faithful could in any way be associated with Rev. Perry's attempt to woo social conservatives. How cynical these blasphemers are.

Many if not all our great Republican god-fearing governors will probably support the event, particularly Bobby Jindal in Louisiana, Haley Barbour in Mississippi, Bob Riley in Alabama, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, Rick Scott in Florida, Nikki Haley in South Carolina and Christine Gregoire in Washington. In fact, these governors already have.

It's going to be a great day for Jesus in Houston - and maybe throughout the whole wide world. Maybe it will be good for Pastor Perry, too. Not that this is of any concern to him, however.

For a smart summary of the event, watch this short video. It's a commentary on the event from the Rev. Barry Lynn entitled, I'm not a Cowboy.

It kind of puts things in perspective.

A Triathlete's Dilemma: Don Advises An Older Athlete to Go with Situational Ethics

by Don on June 15th, 2011
in General Wellness

As a person of boundless opinions, I receive wellness-related advice requests from all over. I'm not a priest, fortune teller, advice-giving guru or even a counselor. I can run my own affairs more or less OK, at least to my satisfaction (so far), but I can't claim any rationale to justify guiding others. Sure, I can and do offer endless general commentaries on wellness matters, but that's as far as I go. Readers must assess these essays and decide what, if anything, to apply. Leave me out of it - what do or can I know about so many highly personal, yet key variables that have to guide individual choices? We are all sovereign in the sense of possessing sole personal responsibility for the choices we make that affect the quality of our lives.

Well, I'm just kidding. Getting advice is fine, provided you take all such offerings with many grains of salt as well as skepticism and critical thinking, and never forget that you really are the responsible agent for all decisions, regardless of who advised what. 

It is true that visitors to this site write in a lot, wanting to know what I recommend concerning REAL wellness issues related to the application of reason for exuberant living on a foundation of athleticism and love of freedom. People also ask me about weighty matters dealing with my three favorite wellness topics, namely, politics/sex/ and religion.

Sometimes, it's great fun - I only wish I could get rich and famous giving advice. But, it seems this is not to be, so I'll have to keep at it just for the fun involved. And there are times when I truly enjoy the process of coming up with nuggets of advice, when asked. Let me give you a fresh example.

A 60-some year-old woman to whom I shall refer only as Wendy to avoid embarrassing anyone and inviting a lawsuit wrote about what she called her "triathlete dilemma." She wanted my advice concerning what to do. Being an experienced triathlete as well as somewhat of an expert in wellness and a self-styled authority on everything concerning politics, sex and religion, I was happy to offer Wendy my advice about her dilemma.

Here is the issue Wendy faced, as she described it to me in a post this morning:

Don - Please tell me if I handled a certain delicate situation properly. I recently signed up for my first triathlon of the season. Usually, there is nobody else in my 60-65 year female division, so I am a regular occupant on the top rung of the victory stand during award ceremonies. I just love it when everyone cheers and I'm handed a plaque in recognition of my fabulous performance, even if the ceremony has to be delayed a bit awaiting my arrival at the finish line. The race directors usually bring me right up to the stage, deferring to the oldest of the five-year age categories to be first in line to be granted their due. (There are usually older male age groups but the old gals are the ones whose presence is considered a wonderment by all the other triathletes.)

When my name is called out and I stand on the top rung to accept my award, I usually close my eyes and imagine, in the most vivid fashion, the American flag being raised. I hear the powerful chords of the national anthem. I know in my mind's eye that tens of millions of eyes are glued to television sets around the globe as tears of joy flow at the wonder of my epic triumph.

All people, no matter their nationality, can appreciate the lifetime of sacrifice and single-minded dedication that led me to this stage, to this moment. I know during these moments how Lance felt standing there in his yellow jersey on the Champs Elysees at the conclusion of his seven Tour de France wins.

Of course, I have not worked as hard as Lance, in fact, I hardly train at all. I only took up the sport of triathlon to lose weight a few years ago, but never mind that. I am a triathlete. And the age group champion at that - and don't you forget it, Buster.

In any event, back to my delicate situation, or triathlete's dilemma. When I went to sign up for the race online, I got a bit of a scare: I discovered that there was actually another person in my age group! Mirabile dictu! I immediately went to last year's results to see whether this woman had done the race last year. I found that she had ~ in the 45-49 age group!! The nerve of that impostor! Trying to win by sneaking into the geezer's group. Hah!  I turned her in to the race director.  He, of course, assumed that it was simply a typo on her entry, but I suspect otherwise.  Most importantly, I am, at least for now, the only entrant in my age group. I can follow the immortal counsel of Ashleigh Brilliant, who in one of his thousands of 'Potshots' offered these words: 'To be the best, be the only one in your group.' That's my goal, and I'm willing to enforce it, even if I have to become a birther of sorts in demanding a long form original birth certificate of all my competitors.

My question to you, Oh wise one, is this: Did I do the right thing? Should I have protested or just held my peace, mind my own business and do the best I could, come what may? I await your reply.

I advised Wendy that she made a mistake. We who are in the oldest categories need all the competition we can get, as the years go by. Without someone to race against, we can't truly win. Showing up and finishing is NOT winning. I advised Wendy to recruit, not disqualify, competitors. If necessary, offer to pay the entry fees for elderly ladies willing to enter races for which you plan to sign up. The alternative is to try to  persuade younger, very slow female triathletes to "move up" to your age group. In short, Ms. Wendy, you should not have outed this impostor. You should have waited to see if she could whup you. THEN you could have outed her. If you crushed her, she need never know that you knew, the better to keep her coming back.

Contact me next time before you act so rashly.

Well, there you have it. One example of the many bits of advice I offer every day. I can't answer every request, but those who offer elegant sea cruises usually get priority attention.

A REAL Wellness Take On Weinergate

by Don on June 9th, 2011
in Politics, Sex

A surprising consensus has developed among the nation's media about the most important question of our time. It is not what I would have guessed. It is not how to control the spread of nuclear weapons, create jobs, grow the economy, lower the deficit or boost prospects for better life, improve health or facilitate greater happiness. Rather, it is whether Anthony Weiner should resign from Congress for sleazy acts, lies and dorkiness.

Which raises another question: Is there a REAL wellness take on this matter?

Yes, there is and what's more, I'm willing to express it. Here. Now.

First, the matter of a wellness take. A wellness take on anything is a point of view that is reasonably informed, animated by common decencies and consistent with the public interest. It is never based on religious dogma or any form of superstition. "God would approve" is not a sensible basis for supporting or opposing a person, a policy, an action or anything else. We cannot know if there is a god (though we can recognize that there is no evidence for one) or what such an incomprehensible entity would favor or oppose if it did exist.

Stephen Hawking was recently asked, "How should we live to fulfill our potential on Earth and make good use of our lives?" He replied, "We should seek the greatest value of our action." (Source: The Guardian, "Stephen Hawking: There Is No Heaven - It's A Fairy Tale," May 15, 2011.)

That works for me - while generously broad, it is consistent with the criteria for a wellness that I just sketched.

So then, what about Weiner. What action in the matter of Weinergate will give the American people the greatest value? Specifically, his resignation - or not?

Well, it depends, really. It depends on whether one interprets value from a moderate to progressive point of view, or a Right Wing Republican Christian (RWRC) point of view. These are the two Americas that we have today - there is little question but that what is seen as greatest value is totally different, one side from the other. By comparison, the divide in 1860 between the northern and southern states was less wide and deep. Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln were more cordial to each other than are such leading RWRC characters as Sarah Palin, Rick Santorum, Michelle Bachman or Mike Huckabee toward Barack Obama.

Sex scandal of all kinds has prurient appeal for sexually repressed Americans. The RWRC wants Weiner's head, that is, his resignation from Congress, for multiple reasons. Among them are because he sent suggestive racy messages and photos of his manhood to multiple women online, because he lied repeatedly about his actions, because he brought dishonor on the House of Representatives and because it would be cool if they could elect a Republican in his place. 

Sending the photos was lame and dorky and unbelievably stupid. It seems 100 percent impossible that a famous person, a politician with countless enemies, could not understand that he would get caught and be disgraced. Since he's clearly not stupid, he must be crazy in some sense of the term. Not dangerously crazy but frustrated sexually.

It was lame to do what he did and simply awful, no - dreadful, to lie about it consistently and inartfully as he did. But, consider that an adult probably has a right to send photos and ‚??racy messages‚?Ě to other consenting adults - at least in America, so far. You can't do it in Iran, Saudi Arabia or most other countries. But, we still have freedoms, including many most of us do not care to exercise. What Weiner did might still be among them, even if he is a public figure.

At least he is not a ‚??family values‚?Ě hypocrite. He did not get elected as a moral scold and he has not advised others how they should or should refrain from expressing their own sexuality. He has not broken any laws, the public trust was not compromised and no evidence has been offered that his weird behavior kept him from doing his job.

Weiner is guilty of awful judgement, not following conventional social mores and lying. Not so good, but not fatal. He should keep his job.

That's my wellness take on the matter. What do you think about the idea of a wellness take on anything and/or my wellness take Weinergate in particular?

Should You Be A Patriot? It Depends.

by Don on June 2nd, 2011
in Politics

Patriot is a word much abused in today's America. The simplest definition of patriot is one who vigorously supports his country and is prepared to defend it against enemies or detractors. Yet, many who wave the flag, associate the nation with a superstition (one nation, under God), support every war, approve laws dubious at best if not unconstitutional (e.g., The Patriot Act) render patriotism unattractive. Today, many would say, If that's patriotism, count me out.

What is patriotic often changes with conditions - and the nature of the population. Today, we consider George Washington, Samuel Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, James Madison, Thomas Payne, John Hancock and all the founders patriots. However, in 1775, loyalists in the colonies thought them conspirators, traitors and/or seditionists. As far as the government was concerned (i.e., the one in England of which they were citizens), they most definitely were not considered patriots. How times and perceptions can change.

So, are you a patriot? Do you want to be a patriot?

Personally, I think the appropriate answer to the question (s) depends. We might choose to be patriots about some things, not so much about others. Some facts about America and its policies, traditions, actions and representations we support vigorously and would defend against enemies or detractors. However, sometimes those enemies and detractors (i.e., critics) are the very same folks who in time might be judged the true patriots. As noted, it depends.

There are some things about this country that many of today's flag-waving, USA USA, We're # 1 patriots don't want to learn, think about or acknowledge. Many Americans, perhaps a majority, know little about some extraordinary realities of the nation's history. I'll give you one example. The example I have in mind reflects a fact about one entire section of the country, the Southern states. I believe the situation, what it reflects and how it is viewed today shows that there is profound ignorance about the evil nature of a good proportion of the American people who lived at that time.

In 1848, the United States had just won a war with Mexico War that gave it lots of new territory, soon to be states. The president, Zachary Taylor, was from Louisiana and owned slaves. The great question was whether the new states would be slave or free. Imagine that - what a choice. What kind of people would enslave others? Well, the answer obviously, is the people of the south at the time. Its leaders in the Congress and the Southern States wanted a new tier of slave states. Oddly, Taylor himself was against more slave states. Sentiment in the North, while not enthusiastic against slavery in the south where it had a firm hold, also opposed more of it elsewhere. Compromises were made by 1850, brokered in good part with the aide of a southern Senator Henry Clay and Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois - with the support of the new president, Millard Fillmore. In this bargain with the devil if there ever were such a creature (not), the South got a fugitive slave law. A more villainous, heinous, despicable betrayal of the Founder's hopes for the nation surely never came to light before this time. The Fugitive Slave Law required the federal government to arrest and return any slaves who made it to the north seeking freedom from oppression in the south. Returning slaves was the patriotic thing to do.

The good news is that this law would eventually create the very conditions that convinced previously neutral whites to oppose slavery. It also contributed to secession and the Civil War, a war that, at least theoretically and legally, would liberate the slaves. (Of course, things did not turn out so well for at least a century after the Emancipation Proclamation but that's another story.)

Today, patriots in the south honor those who fought for slavery. There are parades in their honor. Statues line a main avenue in Richmond. Robert E. Lee, who turned against his country to lead a rebellion, is judged a hero by most people throughout the present souther states. It's mind-boggling and infamous.

Who better to put the nature of the southern (white) people then and their apologists today in perspective than Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899), who fought valiantly as a Colonel in the Army of the Republic. In his Decoration Day Oration in 1882, he said:

... in the South, the negro toiled unpaid, and mothers wept while babes were sold, and at the auction-block husbands and wives speechlessly looked the last good-bye. Fugitives, lighted by the Northern Star, sought liberty on English soil, and were, by Northern men, thrust back to whip and chain. The great statesmen, the successful politicians, announced that law had compromised with crime, that justice had been bribed, and that time had barred appeal. A race was left without a right, without a hope. The future had no dawn, no star -- nothing but ignorance and fear, nothing but work and want. This was the conclusion of the statesmen, the philosophy of the politicians -- of constitutional expounders: -- this was decided by courts and ratified by the Nation...Ours appeared to be the most prosperous of Nations. But it was only appearance. The statesmen and the politicians were deceived. Real victories can be won only for the Right; The triumph of justice is the only Peace. Such is the nature of things. He who enslaves another cannot be free. He who attacks the right, assaults himself. The mistake our fathers made had not been corrected. The foundations of the Republic were insecure. The great dome of the temple was clad in the light of prosperity, but the corner-stones were crumbling. Four millions of human beings were enslaved. Party cries had been mistaken for principles -- partisanship for patriotism -- success for justice.

But Pity pointed to the scarred and bleeding backs of slaves; Mercy heard the sobs of mothers raft of babes, and justice held aloft the scales, in which one drop of blood shed by a master's lash, outweighed a Nation's gold. There were a few men, a few women, who had the courage to attack this monstrous crime. They found it entrenched in constitutions, statutes, and decisions -- barricaded and bastioned by every department and by every party. Politicians were its servants, statesmen its attorneys, judges its menials, presidents its puppets, and upon its cruel altar had been sacrificed our country's honor. It was the crime of the Nation -- of the whole country -- North and South responsible alike.

What kind of a patriot today honors the infamy of that Southern cause? The parades, the statues, the defense of those people and their leaders is grotesque.

Patriotism depends - it depends on human decency, on values of kindness, respect, help for others in need, love and the verities of equality, equal opportunity and a fair regard for everyone's right to the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness. There were a few patriots in the south of that time, no doubt, as there are in the south today. But the history of the Confederacy is a history of shame and treachery, cruelty and dishonor that deserves nothing but our disgust and rejection.

Let's be very, very careful about the things we associate with patriotism. If our better natures prevail in the future, our heirs may not be so impressed. And let us also be quite clear about the worthiness of causes we associate with patriotism.

These considerations are some of the things that patriotism depends on.

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