"Great spirits have always found violent opposition from mediocrities. The latter cannot understand it when a man does not thoughtlessly submit to hereditary prejudices, but honestly and courageously uses his intelligence and fulfills the duty to express the results of his thought in clear form."
"Few people are capable of expressing with equanimity opinions which differ from the prejudices of their social environment. Most people are even incapable of forming such opinions."
"I cannot conceive of a personal God who would directly influence the actions of individuals, or would directly sit in judgment on creatures of his own creation."
"The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one. The happiness of credulity is a cheap and dangerous quality"
George Bernard Shaw
"All religions are equally sublime to the ignorant, useful to the politician, and ridiculous to the philosopher."
"Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful."
Seneca the Younger
"Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."
"I am convinced that I am acting as the agent of our Almighty Creator. By fighting the Jews, I am doing the Lord's work."
Alice didn't really talk to her mother anymore, but she talked to her grandma Gina in Tennessee a lot. When she told Gina she was afraid to go to Hawaii, Gina asked to talk to me. Alice gave her my number.
Gina called me and asked me about my intentions with Alice. I explained to her how I felt about her granddaughter, and that I wanted to show her a better life and convince her to get sober. We talked for over two hours. She wanted to know more about me, so I told her about my alcoholic father and how he had been the perfect negative role model, and that he made me want to be a better man than him, because I wanted to be nothing like him. And I told her what it was like to be married to Donna. And about my experiences with the girls I had met before Alice.
Gina could tell that I was not just some sleazy guy trying to get in her granddaughter's pants. She could tell I was sincere and that I genuinely cared about Alice. She understood that I didn't just see Alice as some drug addicted whore and I didn't just want to use her as my vacation sex toy. Gina loved me.
She was a very religious woman and told me she believed God had sent me to save Alice's life. She literally called me an angel sent by God. I was flattered, but it also made me feel pretty awkward. I was honest with her and told her I'm not religious at all. I told her I don't mind, if other people believe in God and it enriches their lives. It just doesn't do anything for me.
The one thing I didn't tell her was that when I was a teenager, my hacker name used to be Lucifer. Gina probably would have flipped out and tried to perform an exorcism on me.
She couldn't understand why I don't believe in God. I guess she had never really met someone who didn't believe in something that was so fundamental in her own life.
I told her that I grew up in Northern Europe, and people over there are far less religious than Americans. To most Europeans, the bible is really nothing more than a book of ancient fables, similar to Grimm's Fairy Tales. To many Europeans, it's bizarre that so many Americans still believe in gods, devils, angels and demons. It's like Americans are stuck in the Dark Ages.
I explained to her that as a teenager in Germany, I had studied theology at a catholic private school, and some of my classmates actually ended up becoming priests. So it's not like I hadn't heard the word of God before. And it's not like I was ignorant about who Jesus was, or supposedly was.
In those theology classes, we had to read up on different ancient philosophers. Some argued in favor of the existence of a god, and some argued against his existence. I knew that I was supposed to write in my essays, why the philosophers who believed in God were right. But honestly, I felt the philosophers who said he didn't exist made a lot more sense to me.
There are two religious concepts that contradict each other: There's the idea of free will, and then there's the fatalist idea of predetermination. Those two ideas are polar opposites. Free will means we are the masters of our own future. Predetermination means God is in control of everything, and everything that's about to happen to us was already predetermined by someone other than ourselves, so our fate is not in our hands.
Whenever you ask a believer why God allows bad things to happen, they'll say that God doesn't interfere in free will. If someone chooses to do something bad, and it has bad consequences, it's supposedly not God's fault. He supposedly had nothing to do with it. Because if he had stopped it, he would have interfered in that person's free will.
But didn't God create the bad man, with all his bad habits? No, the believers say. God is always good, God never does anything bad, and anything bad about that man is a result of his own free will.
Meanwhile, believers also say the exact opposite, whenever it is convenient for them: everything happens for a reason. Everything that happens is part of God's great plan. If something happens that looks bad to us, it's just because we don't understand God's great plan, and how that bad stuff fits into the bigger picture.
Well, if it's true that everything that happens is part of God's plan, then we really don't have free will at all.
Take the Holocaust for example: why did God allow Hitler to kill millions of innocent Jews? Because God didn't want to step on Hitler's toes and interfere with his free will? That's a pretty lame excuse. What about the free will of all those Jews who died? I'm pretty sure that getting gassed to death was obviously not their choice.
So, was the Holocaust part of God's great plan? Is that why he allowed it to happen? Is that why God didn't answer the prayers of all those Jews who begged him to make Hitler drop dead?
Why didn't God just make Hitler have a heart attack before he could start World War 2? Why didn't he simply prevent Hitler from being born? How could a God who is supposed to be all good all the time allow something like the Holocaust?
Or did God not just LET it happen? Maybe God MADE the Holocaust happen, because everything that happens, happens for a good reason? Are our minds simply too tiny, too inferior, to understand God's divine plan? Are we just too stupid to see the greater good that came out of the Holocaust?
If that were true, and everything that happens, including the Holocaust, is part of God's perfect plan, then that means that Hitler really wasn't a bad man at all. He was actually doing God's work. And if Hitler did exactly what he was supposed to do in God's great plan, then Hitler obviously didn't have free will, but was just God's puppet. So that means Hitler was a good guy. A man of God.
Sorry, but there is no religion in the world that could sell me on believing THAT bullshit.
So that's my problem with free will versus predetermination. But it gets worse: both of those concepts contradict the idea that God answers prayers, like a genie in a bottle who makes wishes come true.
If God didn't come down from heaven to smite Hitler before he could kill millions of people, or at least snip his fingers and make Hitler die of a heart attack before he could start World War 2, although clearly millions of people were praying to God for just that to happen, then why would God answer your prayer when you have a flat tire and you're stuck all alone in the woods? If God won't spare the lives of millions of innocent Jewish men, women and children, then why would he answer your prayer when you ask for your hospitalized grandpa not to die from cancer?
To me, prayer is completely useless as a solution to any problem. It really just makes you feel better about yourself, without actually doing anything to solve the problem. The way I see it, it's really just a way for people who sit on their asses and do nothing, to feel like they're magically helping someone in need.
If Timmy needs a new kidney, don't sit at home and talk to yourself and pretend you're helping Timmy by talking to God for him. If you want to help Timmy, get off your ass and donate some blood or collect money for a new kidney, or take Timmy's parents into your home if they can no longer afford to pay rent, because of the high medical bills. Do something!
And as far as Alice was concerned: It wasn't going to help her one bit if I sit at home or at church and "talk to God" about Alice. That wasn't going to do a damn thing for her. Because if God didn't influence Hitler in any kind of positive way, then why would God influence Alice in any kind of way, and violate her free will by making her go to rehab or changing her mind about liking drugs? And why would he do that anyway, if it's true that everything happens for a reason, and her getting raped and abused and becoming a drug addict was part of his great predetermined plan to begin with?
I thought I had lost Gina when I told her how I felt about all that, but she was actually very interested in what I had to say and very open-minded. She listened to every word I said, without making me feel like a crazy, blasphemous heathen who was going to burn in hell for saying these things. She agreed that there are a lot of hypocrites who go to church and pretend they are good Christians, but then never really do anything to actually help someone else.
I agreed. I told her that I have nothing against God or religion. If believing in an invisible friend who looks out for you makes you feel better about your life, why not? If having religion in your life makes you do good things for other people, why not?
My only problem with religion is that there are so many self-righteous people who pretend to be good Christians, and then really just do selfish, evil things, supposedly in the name of their God. How can you claim that your God has a problem with gay people? If God really created everything, then he created everyone, black, white, straight, gay, tall, short, Christian and Muslim. Don't go around telling other people they won't go to heaven just because they won't buy into your personal superstitions.
Gina asked me if I believed in heaven. I told her that if there really is life after death, then it's a natural process, that happens to everyone equally, whether they are good or bad. Just like in my drowning example earlier. Everyone drowns if their head is under water too long. It doesn't matter if you are a good or a bad person.
And if human beings really have some kind of spiritual energy or soul that can exist outside of the physical body after death, then we all come equipped with one. And whatever happens to that soul after death is just a natural process. As natural as drowning.
Do I believe anything happens after death? No. I think once we're dead, we're dead. You are who you are today, because of all your past experiences. You burned your tongue on a potato, and suddenly you don't like potatoes anymore. The color purple reminds you of your prom and the first time you made love to your spouse. So now you love the color purple. All that information of who you are and what you like is stored in your brain.
Look at Alzheimer's patients. Somewhere in their brain, they have information stored about their spouse of fourty years. Then that part of the brain is destroyed, the information is lost, and suddenly they no longer remember who their spouse is.
Or look at car accident survivors with brain damage. If the part of their brain is destroyed that stored their vocabulary, or their reading skills, they can suddenly no longer speak or read. Sure, through years of therapy they can try to learn what they lost, but the fact remains that it was lost.
When you die, your brain is destroyed completely, and everything in it, everything that makes you you, is destroyed as well. Every bit of information that makes you who you are today, is gone. And that's why I don't believe I'll continue to float around as a ghost, or go to some kind of heaven, once my brain has died.
Stephen Hawking, the famous wheelchair-bound physicist, is considered by many to be the smartest man alive. The Albert Einstein of our time. Hawking said: "I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark."
And Albert Einstein once wrote: "The word god is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honourable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish."
I would love it if Hawking and Einstein were wrong. I love the idea of becoming some sort of immortal ghost that can fly around the universe and explore other planets and stuff. How cool would that be? But do I believe that's what's actually going to happen? No. I'm pretty sure Hawking and Einstein are right.
Do I think that believing in an invisible man in the clouds will make any kind of difference in what happens to me after death? No, not for a second.
If God actually existed, that'd be kinda cool. Kinda like as if Superman or Spiderman were real. But they're not. To me, God is really just Santa Claus for grown-ups. A cute fairy tale that makes a lot of people feel all warm and fuzzy inside, but beyond that God doesn't do anything for anyone. So waiting for his help is pretty pointless. You have to help yourself. Or hope that another human being, who cares about you, will help you.
A lot of people simply believe in God, because everyone else around them believes it, too. They never actually took the time to really think about it on their own.
It's no coincidence that the bible keeps telling you to obey and believe, not to think for yourself and ask questions.
The bible is a tool. Throughout history, dictators have used religion, and the bible, to manipulate the masses. That's how and why the bible was created in the first place. The Roman Emperor Constantine, a pagan himself, decided he needed a tool to unify his fracturing empire. So he told a bunch of Christians to put together a book. He offered them money, and they produced the bible. And it has been a political tool to manipulate the masses ever since the days of the Roman Empire, right up until today.
How does one little guy with a funny mustache take control over an entire country and gets to tell millions of people what to do? By invoking God's will. Just like every dictator before him.
Nowadays the Nazis are portrayed as pure evil. But the reality is that most Nazis believed they were the good guys during World War 2. They believed they were good Christians. German soldiers wore belt buckles with the words "Gott mit uns" (God is with us) engraved on them.
And Hitler's violent anti-semitism really was nothing new among Christians. He was a big fan of Martin Luther, the German who, a few hundred years earlier, had more or less single-handedly started the Protestant movement. Martin Luther, one of the founding fathers of the branch of Christianty that dominates America today, was viciously anti-semitic. He hated Jews and felt they were the root of all evil and they needed to be driven out of Europe or killed. He promoted the idea of a Holocaust hundreds of years before Hitler was even born. You never heard about that in your church, have you? I'm not surprised. But, well, it's true. Google it.
Anyway, even the ancient Egyptian pharaohs convinced ordinary people that God had put the pharaoh in charge, and that it was God's will that everyone else was starving and working themselves to death building pyramids for the pharaoh, while the pharaoh bathed in milk and honey.
For centuries, religion has been used by the rich people in power, to tell the poor, that it was God's will that they were poor: "God made me your king. Don't question my authority. It comes directly from God. If you don't obey me, God is gonna be really pissed at you."
And then the rich added insult to injury, by convincing the poor that God wanted them to have miserable lives, because everything happens for a reason, and God was testing their faith. And if they got through a lifetime of poverty and misery, they would be richly rewarded for never losing their faith by going to paradise, or heaven, after they die. Meanwhile the rich lived their lives of luxury and excess in the here and now, at the expense of the poor they exploited and fooled with promises of rich rewards in the afterlife.
Ever since the Age of Enlightenment, Europeans slowly learned to see through that scam, and today it is really really bad political form for a politician to ever mention God in a speech. In Europe, you can believe in whatever you want, but don't ever try to pretend that you are acting on God's behalf or that you are speaking for God, and that if someone disagrees with what you do, they are going against God's will. That's simply manipulative bullshit. If a German politician said that God told him to invade Iraq, his career would be over in a heartbeat. People would look at him like he has lost his mind.
But in America, that ancient religious scam still works. American politicians, especially right-wing extremist Republicans and Tea Party fanatics, still pretend they know God better than anyone else does. And they claim they know exactly what God wants, and if you disagree with them, you are a bad person, and God is really mad at you, and you're going to hell.
To Gina it was pretty baffling to hear me say these things. A lot of the points I raised had never occurred to her before, because she never questioned her beliefs. She just assumed that what she was being told about God and the bible was true.
At the end of the conversation, she said that she could tell that I really cared about Alice, and that I was a good person, even if I don't believe in God.
Then Gina called Alice and told her that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity for her and of course she should go to Hawaii with me.