Category: humanism

What Game of Thrones Taught Me About God

By R.N. Carmona

Before I express my most current thoughts about the idea of god and where I now stand, it is important to go over exactly what relation the Game of Thrones character Bran Stark has to a common concept of god. Bran Stark, who is currently an entity known as the Three-Eyed Raven, has omniscience as it concerns people and events. It has been shown that he can be touched in the future (when the Night’s King grabbed his arm), manipulate the present (by employing his warg ability), and influence the past (as shown when he called out to a younger version of his father Ned and when young Hodor heard Meera in the present telling present-day Hodor to hold the door). Yet despite his omniscience, he is powerless to prevent the war between the living and the dead, the armies of men and the Night’s King and his army of White Walkers and wights.

In fact, many theories concerning Bran have been circulated. One theory says that Bran Stark is Bran the builder. Bran the builder, legend has it, built the Wall where Jon Snow completed his watch and also Winterfell. Another postulates that Bran is the Lord of Light, the god of the Red Priestesses who reveals future events in fires. According to such theories, Bran reincarnates and lives forever in a repeating loop or he’s ascended to the role of an all-knowing god. Game of Thrones could be a literal time loop in where Bran is trying to prevent a number of catastrophic events like the creation of White Walkers by the Children of the Forest, the Mad King’s holocaust of Westerosi citizens, and the events that have yet to transpire – which may include the deaths of Daenerys and Jon, not to mention every person in Westeros.

Game of Thrones could literally be a story about an omniscient and all-powerful or nigh-all-powerful mystic or god being rendered powerless by chaos theory. In other words, per Littlefinger: “Chaos is a ladder” and only that ladder is real. All else is illusion. In trying to prevent the creation of the White Walkers or the Mad King’s holocaust, Bran unintentionally sets off other horrific events. The prevention of one bad outcome or consequence results in the emergence of a new bad outcome or consequence. Thinking about Bran’s predicament got me thinking about the idea of an omniscient being.

God’s predicament, should one exist, wouldn’t be any different. Preventing a murder on one side of the world only ensures the emergence of a new, unintended one on the other side of the world. If the flapping of a butterfly’s wings results in a derailed train that kills dozens, a god might reason to prevent the flapping of the wings, but in doing so, an unintended volcanic eruption wipes out dozens in a separate location. The idea of omniscience along with omnipotence would ensure that such a being is rendered powerless! Westeros may not work very much like our world; there is after all magic, undead, dragons, and voices speaking from fires. Chaos theory might not feature in Westeros, but it certainly features in our world. A being like the Three-Eyed Raven would have incredible power, but will resign himself to inactivity.

God, should one exist, might have realized this long ago and has thus resigned himself to inactivity and indifference. Omniscience entails foresight and omnipotence entails prevention of what one foresees, but the two powers together would inevitably result in voluntarily powerlessness. In a world of chaos, an order that prevents all evil and all suffering is simply not possible; it is unachievable. Should there be a god, Nietzsche might be best read literally. God is effectively dead. He is a celestial vegetable, eternally inactive upon realizing that he could never achieve a perfect world. I am firmly a post-theist in that I am beyond entertaining the ideas of religion and writing extensively and frequently about such topics. But should there be a god, I would approach it with compassion and pity because despite having all that power, it’s as though it has no power.

A simply corollary might make things clearer. Humans are no doubt limited and finite in their power to prevent unappealing outcomes and consequences. They are equally limited in their capacity to formulate and execute contingency plans. Yet even when one succeeds at preventing one’s business from failure by taking out a sizable loan, there’s now the unintended consequence of realizing several months down the line that an extensive layoff is necessary to turn enough profit to pay off the debt and continue to operate the business. Preventing one bad outcome seems to ensure the emergence of another. Though some regard this study as debunked, the jury is still out on whether extensive gene editing results in hundreds of potentially harmful mutations.

It could be that chaos requires a balancing of the scales and it is only in that balance that order is achieved. God might have done all he could to prevent the abusive childhood of one person only to ensure the emergence of another person’s abusive childhood. The Three-Eyed Raven’s predicament might not be any different from what a god’s would be if it existed. Joan Osborne’s song comes to mind in thinking that perhaps god is essentially one of us. The poor bastard has all that power and can do absolutely nothing with it.

What is Post-Theism?

By R.N. Carmona

Many might be confused by the post-theist label. It does not mean that one is a theist unaffiliated with organized religion. This doesn’t mean one believes in a deity. Post-theism describes an attitude that one is beyond the god question. The atheist label no longer makes sense because the question of god is a settled fact; a god doesn’t exist and never did, so one doesn’t lack belief, but rather proceeds with the knowledge that there’s no god and conducts their life as such.

One no longer dwells on the question or considers the question. Yes, this is compatible with gnostic atheism because it requires knowledge rather than mere non-belief sans knowledge, i.e., agnostic atheism. However, the question of whether a god exists no longer interests the post-theist; it no longer occupies her time in that it’s something she gives no thought to. Religion and belief in god is a relic of human history. So she is as post-atheistic as she is post-theistic.

Post-(a)theism is a stronger position in that it isn’t a proclamation of non-belief or even knowledge of there being no god. It’s a stronger claim: religion was borne out of human ignorance; our lack of scientific knowledge, historical knowledge, philosophical understanding and reasoning, and technological progress resulted in a belief stemming from agency over-detection, among other fallacious conclusions. Religion was the result of primitive thinking, underdeveloped reasoning, and a severe misapprehension of the world we live in.

In many ways we are all post-theistic in that we don’t attribute lightning, tidal waves, strong winds, volcanic eruptions, and earthquakes to the wrath of a god. We moved passed polytheistic explanations of natural phenomena and remain only with the palpably silly idea that a god created the universe and world. The post-theist gets to a point where those notions are as ridiculous as the idea that Zeus launches every lightning bolt everywhere – including on planets like Jupiter. If one is to learn about causation, the dispositions of material objects, and the universe, one will see that these do not allow for such an explanation; never mind that god is a human projection, a way of seeing our own image even behind phenomena we can’t even begin to control.

God is the name of an idealized human, infinite in every domain we are finite in: infinitely knowledgeable, powerful, moral, and good; every one of us will die and yet god is considered eternal. God is the name of human naiveté and arrogance, the notion that the creator of the universe must be a perfect version of ourselves. God is the name of the lack of imagination of our ancestors. If anything, imagination hasn’t discovered a super-human controlling and governing the universe; imagination has discovered natural forces that move celestial bodies and oversee their formation; imagination has scaled down the universe to previously incomprehensible small scales; imagination has proven once and for all that the universe is probabilistic, that chance rather than agency is more prevalent in the universe. Imagination has shown that the idea of god was borne from a lack of creativity rather than masterful ingenuity. Whether you like it or not, we are beyond the need for god as ultimate explanation or temporary placeholder; we are beyond the question of whether one exists. This is the age of post-theism.

The Injustice of Tithing and the Anti-Tithe

By R.N. Carmona

In reading Peter Singer’s Famine, Affluence, and Morality, I came across the bit in where he mentions that he and his wife donate 10 percent of their gross income to Oxfam. I was at first astounded by that figure, but 10 percent sounded all too familiar, so that got me thinking. 10 percent is precisely how much a tithe is in church. You’re advised to give 10 percent of your gross income to the church. This will of course pay the church’s rent and thus, keep the doors open, but it will also buy furniture and fixtures, pay for repairs and maintenance, and, in the best case scenario for the church leader, line the minister’s pockets.

Singer argues that if everyone gave in accordance to his utility margin – a threshold at which you give just enough so that you don’t increase your own suffering and the suffering of your kin – one would not only be leading an ethical life, but one would also be helping to alleviate poverty on a global scale and feed starving children. To help bolster his case, he quotes Aquinas who states:

Therefore the division and appropriation of property, which proceeds from human law, must not hinder the satisfaction of man’s necessity from such goods. Equally, whatever a man has in superabundance is owed, of natural right, to the poor for their sustenance. So Ambrosius says, and it is also to be found in the Decretum Gratiani: “The bread which you withhold belongs to the hungry; the clothing you shut away, to the naked; and the money you bury in the earth is the redemption and freedom of the penniless.

Leave it to a thinker greatly admired by Protestants and Catholics alike to make a case against tithing, not to mention the excessive and elaborate riches of the Catholic church. Surely, a Catholic apologist will not fail to mention that the Catholic church can be considered a charitable organization in its own right; this will no doubt be followed by boastful posts like this one, all in an effort to distract from the point being made.

Tithing is an injustice. That churches, organizations that pay no taxes, require its members to give 10 percent of their gross incomes is ludicrous. If instead they were to give 10 percent of their incomes to charities that can be trusted (e.g., UNICEF, American Cancer Society), they would do more to help others. The tithe does nothing but what I mentioned earlier: keep the doors open, pay for expenses, and line the minister’s pocket. To the believer, it also opens up the windows of heaven for a blessed abundance. In this also, one can see the basest self-interest that drives the believer. Who cares about the child in the pond when the believer receives his blessing? Who cares about children dying of childhood cancers when above the believer the doors of heaven have opened up? 10 percent of their income means much more for them though if redirected away from the church and toward charitable organizations, it could mean a hell of a lot more to others.

So, to summarize, the believer prefers his invisible, faith-based blessings over the sustenance of others. Certainly a good number of believers will mention feeding the homeless, coat drives, and the like, but fail to mention that, at best, such activities happen once a week or once a month and this, at convenient times of the year. The believer also prefers to keep his community church’s doors open over the well-being of others, especially them in foreign countries. Singer touches on this as well, as people in general tend to believe proximity affects whether or not an act has moral significance. Add to that that bystander effect becomes more pronounced as we are very often not the only people capable of offering help and thus, we often rely on the intuition that one of us among the many will take charge. Sometimes and often with disastrous consequences, no one leaps into action; everyone falls victim to that same flawed intuition.

I’m not interested in exegetical debates about tithing, but it was my belief as a Christian that tithing was not canonical as it related to the New Testament. Yes, it is mentioned explicitly in the Old Testament and it is one of those convenient items dragged out of the barbarism of the Old Testament canon, but it is not advised by neither Jesus nor Paul. Jesus, in Matthew 23:23 mentions tithing, but this is more in condemnation of the Pharisees and not as a principle for his disciples to follow. Paul never explicitly makes mention of it and as I remember discussing with a then “brother” in the church, Paul would seem to advise a “give as much as you can possibly give” sort of principle, a principle of equality as seen in 2 Corinthians 8:13-15. Given this, there is a sense in which tithing is justified by ministers as means to keep the church open and as means to expand, as is common in Protestant denominations in New York. Tithing is unjust in the main because it’s an elaborate deception preached to the believer as biblical truth. It is unjust furthermore because it would ask a believer to give a significant portion of his post-tax income to an endeavor that is trivial when compared to the plethora of issues people face in the modern world.

With this in mind, I propose the Anti-Tithe. I want to be a leader of many in this movement that compels non-believers and non-Christians to give as much as 10 percent of their income to charitable organizations of their choosing. Now, I am not advising that one give exactly 10 percent. If you cannot donate that much of your income, then don’t. Give 3% or 5% or even 1%; give in accordance with your own situation. I myself cannot afford to go as high as 10 percent. But if you see tithing as unjust and moreover, you see the issues humanity faces and see the need and moral obligation to help those in need, then the Anti-Tithe Movement should make sense. Eventually, I want the movement to lose that identity as I don’t want it tied to the appalling practice of tithing in any way, shape, or form. I do want, at least initially, to contrast it with tithing for sake of winning over believers as well. I want believers to realize that that percentage of income can do far more good! I want them to develop an anti-tithing attitude irregardless of whether they continue to believe as they do.

When Singer wrote his seminal work in 1971, 9 million or so refugees were in crisis in what is today Eastern Pakistan. Today, in the wake of Hurricane Matthew, many Haitians are in need. Many childhood terminal illnesses are harming children across the country and around the world. Many women and children find themselves below the poverty line in the U.S. Syrian refugees are in crisis. Child poverty is still too high for our comfort and about 6 million of the world’s children die before the age of five due to preventable causes like malaria and pneumonia. There are still plenty of problems to solve, plenty of causes to support. The Anti-Tithe Movement is a segue into compelling humanists to live a more ethical life. It is the beginning of a shift in collective consciousness, an increased sense of responsibility and accountability towards others. We may not be accountable to any god, but we have moral obligations to one another, so if you can forgo a new pair of Jordans, a new palette of makeup, or a newer model of the car you favor, and instead give to a cause(s) of your choice, please do. The old childhood mantra of “make the world a better place” comes to mind. The world is our place, so if it isn’t better, it’s our fault. Let us change that.