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10 questions for Atheists February 18, 2019

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Responses.
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12 comments

I haven’t done one of these lists of questions for a while, especially since they tend to be so repetitive.  But Makugutu put up this list of questions, which were originally collected by Godless Mom.  It includes some different questions that had not come up before, so I’ll give them a shot:

1. How do atheists name their children, if most names have some sort of religious background?

However they want to.  I chose old family names for my kids, which also happened to be popular names in the English Renaissance.  They are coincidentally also biblical names, but that’s not why I chose them.

2. Is atheism a form of Satanism?

By definition, no.  Someone who believes there is a “Satan” is holding a belief in a powerful supernatural being, in other words, a god.  So someone who actually believes in a real Satan is a theist, just as much as any christian is.  (However, most modern “Satanists” actually use Satan as a symbol only, and don’t profess belief that there’s a real Satan out there, so those people would qualify as atheists.)

3. Why has atheism become so popular in the 21st century?

The internet.

Really, I think that’s it.  We can talk to each other now.  When I deconverted 30+ years ago, it was just me and a lot of books.  I didn’t have anybody else to talk to about it, and it took all the way til the end of college for me to finally get to full deconversion.  The internet would have helped a lot.

4. Why do atheists choose atheism?

We don’t just “choose atheism”.  People don’t wake up one morning and say “gee, I think I’ll become an atheist now.”  Some people never had a belief in a god, but others spend a long time thinking about what they believe before concluding that they don’t believe there’s a god.   Suggesting that someone “chooses atheism” in the way that they choose, I don’t know, a laundry detergent, really minimizes and disrespects difficulty and seriousness of  the thought processes that go into this.

5. Are atheists a threat to the United States?

Not in any way.  We are, however, a threat to the religious organizations that are currently holding too much power and influence in the U.S.  (I think those organizations are themselves an actual threat.)

6. How do atheists keep a positive outlook on life?

The meaning and purpose of our life is ours to decide for our ourselves!  It’s ours to create!  And every day is a precious thing to be appreciated, not a “vale of tears” to be endured.  That’s way better than any “good news” any religion pushes.

7. Why do some atheists insist that atheism is not a “group”?

Because it’s not.  People who don’t watch TV are not a “group”.  People who don’t collect stamps are not a “group”.  There are various organized groups of atheists out there, but atheism itself is not a “group”.

8. Why do so many atheists fail to understand that belief doesn’t require proof?

You can believe in anything you want to without “proof”.  If you don’t need evidence, you could believe every fairy tale and work of fiction is actually true.   But if you are concerned that the things you believe ought to be true, or at least likely true, you should have some kind of reason for belief, some evidence that points to your belief being true.  For most atheists, religious claims do not have sufficient evidence to support them, so we don’t believe them.

9. What is paramount for most atheists?

I can’t speak for most atheists, you would have to ask them.  But for me and a lot of the atheists I know, I’d say it’s making the most of the limited time we have.

10. Is it difficult being an atheist?

Sometimes.  It depends on a lot of factors.  For me where I am now, not so much.  In some cases the US people have faced expulsion from their families or shunning by their friends, or loss of work, when their disbelief became known.  In some other countries, lack of belief carries the death penalty, so I’d say that’s difficult, yeah.

 

So that’s it for this list.  Any different answers?

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No coincidence January 16, 2019

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Events, Humor.
Tags: , , , ,
8 comments

I just had to write a quick post about something fun that happened recently.

My spouse and I took a weekend at a local hotel for our anniversary. (33 years!  Woo!)  One of the drawbacks to our tiny townhouse is that it doesn’t have a proper bathtub, and a long hot bath is one of my favorite ways to relax.  There’s a hotel near my office that has a whole bunch of jacuzzi suites, so we have occasionally gone there for our anniversary weekends over the past years.

Whenever I go to a hotel I check to see if there is a Gideon bible, and there usually is.  And before I check out, I’ll leave some helpful annotations in it.  Sometimes on the pages where they are recommending certain passages to read for certain concerns, I’ll add a note to be certain to check out the actual story of Gideon, or the story of Dinah, or Judges 1:19, or some other part that most christians aren’t aware of.  But I’ll always go to the first page and line through “In the beginning” and write in “Once upon a time”.

We cut our trip short this time because of way too much snow, but as we were packing up I realized that I hadn’t done my usual annotations yet, so I pulled out the bible to at least add a quick “Once upon a time.”  But it was already there!  I grinned – was somebody else doing this too?  Were there enough people not taking this book seriously that I had encountered another “fixed” bible?  Wow!

Alas, I quickly realized that the annotation was in my own handwriting.  Apparently we had stayed in the same room in a previous year.  Oh, well.  At least that shows how little used those bibles are.  The book looked brand spanking new, no wear and tear at all.  And even though the Gideons encourage people to keep the bibles if they want to, nobody had taken this one.  It was still there, pretty much untouched, for years.  I hope that someday all “holy books” can be so thoroughly ignored.

That one weird thing that didn’t happen July 7, 2018

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Brain Glitches.
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8 comments

This morning, just before I woke up, I was having some long complicated dream about marble racing.  (That’s not completely out of the blue; I’ve been waching “Let’s Plays” of Myst III Exile, and it has a whole section of rolling ball puzzles.) As part of the dream, however, one of the things that came up was that Dan Barker had just died.  (Dan is a co-founder of FFRF, if you don’t recognize the name.)

After I got up, I checked the internet, and as far as I can tell, he’s fine.  Not dead.  This was a total non-event.

This kind of thing happens to people all the time.  Someone or something pops into our minds and for a moment it seems significant.  And then it turns out that it isn’t significant, and we FORGET.  All those old songs you thought about, but didn’t then hear on the radio.  All those old friends you were just thinking of that didn’t call you.  That famous person you were reminded of, and who didn’t have any big news that day.  This is normal, boring, and we just have no reason to remember these things, or how often they happen.

So the few times when, by coincidence, you DO happen to hear that old song, or get a call from that old friend, it seems completely amazing!  Hey everybody, I must be psychic!  I was just thinking about that person, and here’s a news story about them!  What are the odds?

The odds are, that since so many people are thinking about so many things, that once in awhile that coincidence should happen.   What would be weird would be if those coincidences never happened.

As an example, how many people do you think are listening to a Michael Jackson song right now?  Probably quite a lot.  How many people were listening to one, or had just listened to one, when the news broke that Michael Jackson had died?  Probably a similar number.  And a lot of of those people probably told everyone they knew about their amazing coincidence, and how it meant something.

But all it meant was that human brains are very susceptible to confirmation bias.  We remember the hits, and forget all the misses.  We forget all the boring stuff and remember only what was interesting and different.  The price of keeping our brains free of everyday clutter is that it messes with our understanding of coincidences.

Our Lord of Inconspicuous Consumption July 3, 2018

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Responses, Wow.
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7 comments

Recently, my spouse and I were driving from DC out to Indianapolis, and decided to see if there was anything interesting to stop and see along the route.  We were going to have a whole day to make the drive, and we were thinking maybe there was a mound with an interesting museum attached, or some other educational point of interest.  So I hit the internet, to see if there was something at a good lunchtime stopping point, and I saw “Palace of Gold” pop up.  A Palace of Gold?  In the hills of the West Virginia panhandle? What the heck was this, and why hadn’t I heard of it? (more…)

I love Perfume! I hate Perfume! June 10, 2018

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Rants.
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7 comments

Some long while ago, I wrote a column about my love-hate relationship with shoes.  I’ve realized that I also have a similar relationship with perfume, so I think I’ll have at a rant on this topic.

First, there’s what’s to love.  There is so much creativity that goes into creating the ingredients and elaborate smell profiles of perfume.  Spices and florals and all sorts of interesting stuff. There is a website that I’ve found called Fragrantica where you can look up which ingredients are in each perfume, look up exactly what each of those ingredients is and where it comes from, and read reviews. Fascinating.

Smell takes me back like nothing else can.  Sometimes I’ll smell something that I have not smelled in years, and I’ll immediately remember where I smelled it before.  Or, you can mention a smell, and I’ll immediately be able to recall just what it was like.  For instance, for me Williamsburg smells like boxwoods.  I can bring that smell to mind right now, so vividly that it amazes me.  So many other smells come back to me just as easily, things I haven’t been around for years, like a freshly run ditto, violin rosin, burning autumn leaves, Play-Doh, or volcano fumes.

I also find it interesting how different scents interact differently with people’s chemistry.  Something may smell good in the bottle, but not on a specific person.  Or it’s initially pretty bad, then after a few minutes blossoms into something nice.  Or on one person it’s great, and on another person the same scent just smells like bath powder.   That’s one of the reasons I’m unlikely to buy an expensive perfume, unless I’ve tested it several times.

But my perfume collection is mostly things I’ve gotten from other people.  My sister gave me some partial bottles of Obsession and Vanilia, and a huge bottle of Joan Rivers Now and Forever.  My Mom gave me some partial bottles of Beyond Paradise and Tatiana.  And I have samples that I’ve been given over the years of several others.  From somewhere I wound up with bottles of Enjoli and Cachet from the 70s.

I have some interesting older bottles that I must have gotten from my Mom when I was young.  Mom said that perfume goes off when it gets older, but apparently that’s not always the case.  There’s a market on ebay for old bottles of perfume, that are either not made anymore, or have been reformulated and the new versions now smell very different.

I have a little bit of Chantilly from back when it was made by Houbigant, which apparently is quite a classic now:

And a big bottle of Midnight, by Tussy, that I can’t find a proper photo of online, that’s how old this bottle is.  For me, it smells like a classic musty-old-lady smell, the kind of smell your grandma would have worn, or maybe that teacher you didn’t like.  (I never wear this, but it’s interesting to have.)

And there are perfumes I remember vividly from years back that I don’t have now, like Love’s Baby Soft, which was a big thing when I was in high school.  Or the perfume samples from the Avon lady, that I thought smelled pretty much all the same, and uniformly awful.  I couldn’t imagine why people wanted to smell like that! Still can’t.  Ew.

There aren’t many bottles I have bought for myself.  I’m picky, and tend not to buy perfume very often.  I have a bottle of Cinnabar that I got back in high school, and still smells just the same.  This is probably the first perfume I got because I liked the smell, and not because someone had randomly given it to me.  It’s an oriental perfume, full of spices and incense, a lot like YSL’s better known Opium.

When I went to Hawaii more recently, I came home with several tiny bottles of pure florals: plumeria, pikake, and puakenikeni.  Each of those takes me right back to the islands.  And more recently, I realized that a bar of soap whose smell I had been liking was lemon verbena scented, so I got myself a small bottle of the oil, and it’s lovely.

But sometimes what I buy for myself are imposter perfumes.  Knock-offs of the expensive designer stuff that often smell just as good, and for a fraction of the price.  I have a copy of Obsession, one of Eternity, and just recently I’ve gotten a copy of the old perfume “Giorgio” that was such a big thing back in the 80s.  These copies don’t smell cheap, they just don’t have to cover the advertising budget of the big designers, so the price is pretty reasonable.

But now the hate part.  Number one on my “I hate perfume” list is people who wear too much of it.  You all know who I mean.  The person that you can smell coming.  You can tell they’ve been in a room, even if it was an hour ago, because they’ve left the air full of their smell. (There’s even a word for this effect: “sillage”.) If they brush up against you, you smell like their perfume for the rest of the day. One of them sits near you at a restaurant, and suddenly you can’t smell your food anymore, just the perfume bomb at the next table.  People!  Have mercy on us!  Stop dousing yourself in the stuff!  No more than one spray, ever!  If your perfume is really strong, spray one spritz into the air, count to five, and then walk through the mist cloud, and that’s probably enough.

And I sing in a really good chorus, where there is no acceptable amount of perfume. Imagine taking a big breath to hit a high note, and getting a lungful of Chanel instead!  Try that for two hours of rehearsal.  Now our members all know this, and are careful not to wear any scent when singing, but every once in awhile we have instrumentalists with us who didn’t get the memo.

Next on my hate list: perfume samples in fashion magazines.  Bleh.  I don’t subscribe to any of that sort of magazine, and those samples are part of the reason why.  If I did, I’d have to start by tearing out all of those pages first, and throwing them in the trash outside.  Those samples never smell like actual perfume, anyway, they just stink.  But perfume advertising is another thing I don’t like.  Since a commercial can’t show you what the product smells like, they do all of this flashy “image building” stuff, with no attempt to tell you what it smells like.  I’d rather see advertising that says “this smells like roses, orange blossoms and cinnamon,” that would be more useful.

Really, do you have any clue about what “Charlie” smells like from watching this?

And strongly scented products that don’t need strong scents, I don’t get those either.  I have a couple of stories about those.  Shortly after we got our cat, we tried a “fresh” brand of kitty litter.  The scent of it was not actually bad, but it was strong, and it lingered on his paws for a long time afterwards.  When I pick up my cat, I’d really prefer not to be reminded of his litter box visits, so we had to change brands.  Or, another time, I had someone hired to clean my kitchen, and she bragged about using only “natural” cleaners.  She cleaned our microwave with a lilac-scented cleaner, and the next time we used the microwave we were hit with a blast of the stuff.  It turns out that while lilac is a lovely scent, it’s really not compatible with reheated leftovers.  At all.  We had to scrub out the microwave again.  My kids still talk about that smell.

I asked UbiDubiKid#2 for her perfume recollections, and she told me about a particular smell that she would smell repeatedly in the halls of her high school,and even back to middle school.  She said it was probably not just one specific person, because it would show up all over the place. Last Christmas someone gave her a bottle of “gingerbread latte” lotion, and my daughters reaction was “That’s the same smell!”  It brought back a lot of her most unpleasant memories of her school years, and she won’t use the lotion.

So, when I do wear perfume, the amount I want to wear is just a trace, just enough that I can smell it, but not enough for anybody else to smell it, unless they are really near me.  Another gripe I have  is that most perfume comes in spray bottles, so you can’t get less than one squirt, and one squirt is often way too much for my use.  I mentioned the trick of spritzing into the air and then walking through the mist, but even that’s too much with some scents, and I’d also be getting it into my bedroom carpet and on my furniture when I do that.  So I’ve come up with what I think is a creative solution:

I dilute them.  A little grain alcohol in a dropper bottle, and then I add a squirt or two of the scent, and I get a much lighter version of the smell, in a form where I’m in control of how much I use.  You won’t know I’m wearing it unless you are standing right next to me, and then you might only get a subtle whiff of it.  Perfect.  Plus one bottle lasts me pretty much forever this way.

 

Anybody else have a story about a smell to share?

The End of the World Show March 21, 2018

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Rants, Responses.
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7 comments

Well, a few days after I got the ultra-impressive, extremely professionally produced Shen Yun booklet, I got another flyer for a religious event.  Full color, yes, but much thinner paper, and only four pages, so I’m going to post them all here for you.

Oh my.  The Shen Yun flyer had really professional graphics, careful layouts, and even if it was advertising a cult recruitment event, it was at least lovely to look at.  This one hurts my eyes.  Look at the cover, they’ve plopped a bunch of random images down, and then put yellow and white text on top of an image that already has a lot of yellow in it.  And I think there’s at least three different fonts.  Ow.

So let’s look at the content.  It’s inviting us to a series of lectures on “Revelation’s Ancient Discoveries”.  On the front it’s at least quite clear that this is a “Bible Prophecy Seminar” and it’s also clear that it’s free, so at least there’s that much up front.

So who is presenting this?

Join Mark Finley, a world traveler, an international speaker, for an incredible journey through Bible Prophecy.  You will be amazed that recent world events are a fulfillment of these ancient predictions.

Finley has traveled extensively throughout the Middle East to Jordan, Israel, Egypt and Turkey.  You will thrill at his clear state-of-the-art, fully-illustrated presentations that reveal the secrets of the ancient past and their meaning for our lives today!

I notice that Mark Finley is described as a “world traveler” but not as a scholar.  All you need to be a world traveler is a passport and sufficient money.  (I traveled all around southern England, but I don’t think that makes me qualified to lecture on the “Mysteries of Stonehenge”!)

So what organization is behind this?  I had my suspicions, but first I thought I’d start with the information on the flyer.  No religious denomination is listed anywhere on it.  Ah, but there’s a website listed!  revelationsdiscoveries(dot)com.  Surely there’s more information there?  No, just a single page with a link to reserve a seat, and no additional information at all.

So off to Wikipedia, where there’s a page for Mark Finley, identifying him as a Seventh Day Adventist, and a televangelist.  Which is exactly what I was expecting to find, and that’s entirely thanks to the “Oh, No, Ross and Carrie” podcast (their motto is “We show up so you don’t have to”).  They recently did a hilarious multi-part series on the lectures called “Amazing Facts” and I’ve listened to all the podcast episodes.  When this flyer arrived, my first thought was “Is this Amazing Facts?” because it’s so similar.  It had the same sort of focus on “end times”, and having exactly the right understanding of Revelation, was also free, and also was very cagey about what the organization was behind it.  Amazing Facts started with one set of lectures, but once those were completed, of course there were additional lectures for anyone who wanted the whole story.  If you look at page 3 of this flyer, it lists six scheduled lectures, but then there is a section that says “Future programs include”, so that’s the same as well.  So if you have any curiosity about what might be in a these lectures, go listen to the podcast series, because Ross and Carrie have already endured the pain of this for you.

But, I will have to say, I don’t think this flyer is trying to trick me in the same way the Shen Yun one is.  Once, when I was a kid, I went to a lecture series on Ancient Egyptian history, which was one of my hobbies back then.  The first couple were really interesting, but then in the next one the speaker went off on a bunch of “end times prophecies” nonsense, and even though I was still Presbyterian at the time, I was massively disappointed.  How worthwhile is your religion if you have to trick people into listening to you preach?  I guess I had just run into my first instance of “lying for Jesus”.  Mark Finley isn’t trying to trick anyone into listening to him blather about the bible, at least.

Except – on the back, there’s a box labeled “Children’s Program Ages 4-9” with no further information about exactly what they will be telling the children.  No.  Just NO.  Parents, even if you are interested in this series for yourselves, please DON’T subject your kids to it!

THE NO. 1 SHOW in the world? March 21, 2018

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Rants, Responses.
Tags: , , , , , ,
9 comments

I received an advertising flyer at my office a few days back.  This is nothing unusual, I get stuff like that all the time – restaurant menus, computer sale flyers, postcards from one particularly pushy dental office.  But this time I got something different – a large ten-page full-color glossy brochure on heavy paper, advertising one theater production:


 Holy cow.  Everything about this ad is over the top with “this is the most wonderful show you will ever see in your whole life ever”.  It’s full of lush photos in brilliant color of dancers in front of vivid Chinese backgrounds.  Like this:

Testimonial after testimonial after gushing review from random celebrities and officials.  They are trying really hard, and have certainly sunk a lot of money into this ad campaign.  So what’s up with this?  Who are these people really?

The answer was in the return address: Falun Dafa.  Otherwise known as Falun Gong, a group that originates in China, but the Chinese Government considers it a cult and has outlawed it.

So I went looking to see what regular people had actually said about this performance, to see if it was overtly a push for their religious cult or was actually a nice cultural event.  When I first googled “Shen Yun” all that came up were ads for it and gushing articles raving about how wonderful it was.  Likewise, a search on YouTube comes up with trailers and other videos that are either direct advertisements or full of glowing praise for them.  So, in addition to the slick glossy brochures, this group has obviously put a lot of effort into doctoring their internet presence, and removing anything negative from the first few pages of search results.

But then I tried looking specifically for Yelp reviews.  Oh, boy, was that ever a different perspective!  I found some reviews from people who liked it, but others were so disappointed that they had walked out of the show in the middle of it.  They wrote that it was pretty, but not nearly as impressive as the advertising had let on, that many of the dances were overt pushes for their cult beliefs, that the singing performances were religious propaganda songs with lyrics like “The heresy of evolution now eclipses the Divine word.”  It wasn’t a spectacular cultural event, it was mediocre evangelizing.

How, then are they funding all this?  The brochure I got was just addressed to “postal customer” so it’s a sure bet that they mailed out massive numbers of these ads.  And the effort required to make sure that every google search returns only positive things about the group for the first few pages can’t be cheap either.  Where’s the money coming from?  Here’s one answer:Even the nosebleed seats on a weeknight will set you back $80, and the good seats are $250!  (For comparison on seat prices, the New York City Ballet is at the Kennedy Center in this same hall this weekend, and the best seats can be had for $99.00.  I didn’t find any nearly comparable prices for seats in this hall until I looked at the prices for Hamilton.  And I’m pretty sure that the audience for Hamilton won’t be disappointed by bait-and-switch preaching.)

I’ve scanned the entire brochure to a .pdf file, so if you’d like, you can get a look at all of the hype in its full glory:

Shen Yun Flyer – click here

 

You won’t believe the BEST reason for being an atheist! February 5, 2018

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Brain Glitches, Responses.
Tags: , , , , ,
18 comments

A while back Jim posed a question on his blog, The Common Atheist.

His request was “If each of you would share right here one of your best arguments for atheism…”

And I replied with one of my best reasons, but since it was in a comment thread I tried to keep my answer brief.  However, I think the point I was making deserves a more careful discussion.  So here’s a full post about it. (more…)

“So You’re Going on a Mission!” Deprogramming (Part 2) February 4, 2018

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Books, Rants, Responses.
Tags: , , , , , ,
1 comment so far

So this will be the last post in this series, I think.  It’s been interesting to peer into this world, where devoting two years of young adulthood to being an overworked salesman for a religion (at your own expense) is considered an important Thing To Do.

For anybody just joining us, a while back I found this book at a used booksale:

This is not the official LDS book of rules, this is supposed to be a helpful guide, based on the author’s experiences, and those of many returned missionaries she knew over the years. It was published in 1968, but it’s obvious that some of the advice and tips in it are from many years before that.  I’ve been looking at it chapter by chapter, and it’s been interesting to see what’s changed, and what hasn’t. (more…)

“So You’re Going on a Mission!” Deprogramming (part 1) January 14, 2018

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Books, Responses.
Tags: , , , , ,
7 comments

At last we are at the end of this book.  (The 1968 guide for Mormon Missionaries, if you remember)

We’ve learned how to be a perfect Mormon robot, selling the product, living with no privacy, working incredibly hard every waking hour, not even thinking about subjects that aren’t approved to think about, and don’t forget to smile!

Now she’s finally going to talk about coming back home.

Chapter 23.  The After-Mission Adjustment (more…)