This was originally written as a response to a post in /r/religion asking “How has ubiquitous access to the sum of human knowledge (aka the Internet) affected your faith (or lack thereof)?”
I wouldn’t say that the Internet caused me to lose my faith. More that it helped me discover that I didn’t really have it in the first place. Reading and learning from the Internet for many years led me to a point where I was an “agnostic Catholic” (though many object to equating “agnostic” to “weak”, it was pretty much true then). I then discovered deism, which defines God as only the Supreme Architect, the non-intervening creator of the universe. Reading the definition made me recall sitting in church one afternoon and trying to figure out how I could make the Big Bang theory and God work together at a young age. For that reason, I embraced deism readily. The Internet also encouraged me later to realize that I was only a deist because I didn’t want to let go of God, even if my “God” would be more recognizable to Epicurus or Spinoza than Aquinas. I decided I was an atheist and later started reading a lot about Humanism. My readings on Humanism, at first mostly on the Internet but later in a couple of physical books as well, has profoundly influenced the way I view the world and humanity; to steal a phrase from Douglas Adams, Life, the Universe, and Everything. So though my faith in God was never strong (and when it was, only because I was convinced by a scientific apologetic book), my faith in humanity as a Humanist is stronger than ever, and I have the Internet to thank for it.
Subject: Out of the night that covers me, black as the Pit from pole to pole…
…I thank whatever gods may be for my unconquerable soul.
The opening lines of “Invictus”, the poem that I had never heard before taking your class, a poem that I’ve had almost memorized since then, until I made efforts to memorize the parts I had missing a few weeks ago. Yesterday I decided to look at the manilla folder sitting on a shelf on my desk; as I suspected, it was the folder from my summer Speech class. Luckily, I hadn’t lost it. It would be tragic to lose the contents of that folder. At some point, I decided to think more seriously about an impulsive idea I’d had a couple of months ago, to send you an email, at the time settling with copying “Invictus” into a Facebook status and tagging the people I had bonded with the most over those few weeks. Perhaps I’m a bit late, emailing you at a school address just as we’ve been released for mid-winter break, but better late than never, right? I owe a lot to your class. Perhaps the most memorable happening of those few weeks in the summer was the interestingly arranged pseudo-debate between Christian and myself, our persuasive presentations taking opposing stances on more or less the same issue. That presentation was a large part of the impetus to become more active in my Humanism. Though I still tend to awkwardly stumble through a carefully worded definition of Humanism when asked, trying desperately to skirt around the ‘no God’ part, I’m largely “out”, much more confident than I was when announcing the words I’m an atheist to the room during the very interesting Q&A session following my presentation led to a catch in my throat. I’ve led the effort to start a chapter of the Secular Student Alliance, a national organization that advocates for the rights of young non-believers like myself and helps provide a supportive community for them, at West Brook. An article about the club was published in the school newspaper today and we’re having the first public meeting on the first week after we return from the break. Inspired in part by my relatively recent discovery of my role model and occasional Twitter conversation partner, atheist interfaith activist Chris Stedman (who recently wrote a book, Faitheist: How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious), I’m helping a Muslim friend, Eraj, who from my understanding has also had you, start an interfaith club called Coexist. It doesn’t have the outpouring of support that the SSA has (Eraj, the sponsor, and myself are pretty much the only people working on it), nor the Secular Student Alliance’s extensive library of resources, so it hasn’t quite materialized yet. But it will. So to conclude this veritable wall of text, thank you for giving me the opportunity to discover my voice and use it to promote causes I believe in. Your class was extremely helpful; you could even say it changed my life.
With my recent discovery of the existence of Desiderata, the texts that I use for inspiration works out into a triad. For anyone interested, here are the texts.
The Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebhur
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
“Invictus” by William Ernest Henley
Into the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance,
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance,
My head is bloody but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
Desiderata by Max Ehrmann
Go placidly amidst the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Strive to be happy.
In which I explain why I actually rather like Thanksgiving, and then proceed to shamelessly participate in the clichéd practice of listing what I’m thankful for. Fair warning: what follows is a full 1000+ word essay.
What is your stance on abortion? Also, what do you think about NASA's budget cuts and the attempted privatization of the space industry? Finally, do you assign yourself to any political party?
I don’t really think there’s anything morally wrong with abortion (most of the arguments against it use the concept of a soul or try to say that unborn fetuses are people, but I don’t consider a baby a person until it’s actually born) until the later stages of pregnancy, when the baby could be said to be able to survive independently of its mother. Even if I did, though, I wouldn’t want it to be outlawed, because ultimately, it’s up to each individual to decide whether they think it’s a morally right thing to do. This position is summed up very well by a slogan I’ve seen in a few places: “Against abortions? Don’t get one.”
As for NASA’s budget cuts, I think it’s a shame that money is being diverted increasingly away from meaningful scientific research on the frontiers of human understanding to fund multiple pointless wars in the Middle East. It’s ridiculous to look at a graph showing the space budget versus the military budget and see how drastically the space budget pales in comparison to the military budget.
I’m not sure how I feel about the privatization of the space industry. Time will tell whether it’s a good or bad thing. In general, though, it would probably be wise to leave the science to those not interested in profit or material gain.
And finally, I don’t really assign myself to a political party. My stance is somewhat consistent with the general Democratic Party stance in the American political system, but not exactly. From what I’ve observed, political party, though having pretty significant majorities, in the end says nothing about an individual’s political views. There’s the idea in American politics of liberal and conservative being equivalent to Democratic and Republican, respectively, but there are most certainly conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans. It seems that political parties are just another meaningless divide setting up the “us versus them” mentality, just like religion, nationality, and others.
Also, as a final thought, why do a bunch of people care about my opinion on stuff all of a sudden?
What's your opinion on the social effects of religion?
This question is a little difficult to answer, because there’s so much that comprises religion. From fundamentalism to moderate religion and monotheistic Western religions to more spiritual and possibly atheistic Eastern philosophies, you can’t really make blanket statements about all of religion. I do want to say up front, though, that unlike certain notable atheists, I don’t think that “religion poisons everything”. Perhaps if everyone practicing a religion strictly adhered to the exact letter of the texts of their respective holy books, religion would be quite a negative force, but as I’ve said before, it’s not words that matter so much (though words certainly do play a key role); it’s actions, and the truth is that the if the people who use religion to justify hate didn’t have that religion, they’d find something else. In general, good people are good whether it’s their religion that inspires them to do good or just their own moral sense (which the religions are just tapping into, anyway). Religion has been a major factor in many social movements, catalyzing change by inspiring its adherents to do good (think the Golden Rule, present in one form or another in most religions). Many charities are religiously-oriented, and there are all sorts of messages of compassion and selflessness to be found in religious teachings. Some Other Place, a soup kitchen that I volunteer at sometimes, is a religious organization. However, and this is where a lot of the ammunition for the New Atheist argument comes from, religious movements such as fundamentalism that encourage strict adherence to dogma and embracing the negative aspects of holy texts can be a profoundly negative force in society. Encouraging irrationality, legitimizing hate… the list goes on and on. So in a way, our religions are like ourselves. If we emphasize the good, good things will come of them; if we emphasize the bad, bad things will come of them. And this makes sense, because in the end, religions are made up of people, so religion’s influence on society is just a reflection of people’s influence on society.
Would you consider yourself more atheist or agnostic?
I interpret agnostic as being a qualifier for a belief, i.e., someone could be an agnostic atheist, meaning that they don’t believe there’s a god but don’t claim to know for sure, or an agnostic theist, meaning that they do believe there is a god, but, like the other agnostic, don’t claim to know for sure. I think the gnostics, the other side, claiming to know for sure that there is or is not a god, are just deluding themselves. A big part of many people’s (including my own) justification for atheism is the lack of evidence for the existence of a god or gods. However, this does imply that if the existence of (a) god(s) could be proved well enough, that they would believe in it/them. A true gnostic atheist would not believe in any god even if it were conclusively proven and confirmed to exist. So, to answer your question, I consider myself an agnostic (as some call it, a “weak” atheist) before I consider myself an atheist. In the end, my dedication is more to an evidence-based belief system than to a disbelief in deities.
Though, as a bit of a post-script, far before I’ll call myself an atheist or even an agnostic, I’ll call myself a Humanist. Even more than my dedication to either is my dedication to my positive belief in humanity and my attempt to lead an ethical life. Because in the end, it’s not words that matter, it’s actions. Words may inspire change, but actions are the actual mechanisms for change. I won’t think any less of an ethical, compassionate human being if their beliefs with regards to the existence or nonexistence of a deity are different from mine.
I'll ask, then! What does "theforeshadow" mean?
Weeeeell… Okay, so the basic story behind it is that there’s a thing in my school district called shadowing where a fifth grader gets to follow a sixth grader around school for one day to get a feel for what it’s like. The sixth graders I interacted with said that I was cooler than the guy I was shadowing (mainly because of the many immature jokes I made, to be honest, but hey, I was 11 years old), so I was like his foreshadow, as one person put it. That’s part one.
Now for part two. Fast-forward to about a year or so ago. A few of my friends are using this website called Tumblr, and I think I’ll get it on the action. However, I’m dissatisfied with the username I most commonly use for things, the notoriously difficult to pronounce “Iyunkateus” (I usually pronounce it as /aɪjunkətiəs/ or /-teɪəs/), and decide to wait until I can come up with a suitably cool name before I make a Tumblr. Eventually, the events of part one come to mind, and this Tumblr URI and my new username for things is born.
And that’s how
Equestria this Tumblr was made.