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Monday, September 29, 2008

The Sixteen Decisions

I finished listening to Creating a World Without Poverty by Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammed Yunus from Bangladesh. I listened to the unabridged version but I recommend the abridged version because he tends to repeat.

Yunus is an economics professor turned banker to the poor. His moment of inspiration came decades ago when Bangladesh was in a famine and the economic theories of the West, that he was teaching, which were supposed to bring prosperity seemed to be lacking in effectiveness in Bangladesh. He recounts his first loan of $27 to a village of poor people who were caught up in a borrowing cycle caused by one of the local loan sharks. He loaned them $27 at no interest to get them out of the cycle.

I could immediately sympathize with this unfortunate situation having watched "pay day" check advance loan companies grow in Canada over the past decade. In Canada it is a federal crime to charge more than 60% per year interest. Yet these payday loan companies have been charging several hundred percent interest. These companies are now under legal scrutiny in Canada. If this type of wrong doing can be perpetrated in Canada imagine what happens in the 'third world'. Loan sharks prey on the poor and nobody steps in to intervene. Well, in Bangladesh Muhammed Yunus stepped in to provide an alternative.

Low cost loans to the poor. A 20% or 30% interest rate may seem high to many in the industrialized world but that's a great bargain when you are borrowing a small amount and have no collateral and no other access to capital.

After convincing the government Yunus was able to setup Grameen Bank as a social business. A social business as defined by Yunus is basically a profit seeking business that pays no dividends to shareholders and it's main priority is to effect social change in the area within which it operates. Social businesses can have investors but the investors can recoup their initial investment and nothing more. A social business seeks profit only to be self sustaining and to expand it's social good. He contrasts this with traditional businesses by calling them "profit maximizing businesses".

Grameen Bank, as one of the world's first examples of a social business, has learned many things by experience. One of those important lessons is to use community organization as a means to improve the social condition of the poor. Not only do the poor need access to money from a bank in order to build a mini-business but they need moral and educational support from their peers.

In order to make long term improvements to the conditions of the poor, education and lifestyle changes need to be made. Through several iterations Grameen Bank has developed the following Sixteen Decisions which borrowers voluntarily agree to abide by to help further the social goals of lifting the community out of poverty.

The Sixteen Decisions:
  1. The four principles of Grameen Bank --Discipline, Unity, Courage, and Hard Work-- we shall follow and advance in all walks of our lives.
  2. We shall bring prosperity to our families.
  3. We shall not live in dilapidated houses. We shall repair our houses and work towards constructing of new houses as soon as possible.
  4. We shall grow vegetables all the year round. We shall eat plenty of them and sell the surplus.
  5. During the plantation season, we shall plant as many seedlings as possible.
  6. We shall plan to keep our families small. We shall minimize our expenditures. We shall look after our health.
  7. We shall educate our children and ensure that they can earn to pay for their education.
  8. We shall always keep our children and the environment clean.
  9. We shall build and use pit latrines.
  10. We shall boil water before drinking or use alum to purify it. We shall use pitcher filters to remove arsenic.
  11. We shall not take any dowry at our sons' weddings; neither shall we give any dowry in our daughters' weddings. We shall keep the center free from the curse of dowry. We shall not practice child marriage.
  12. We shall not inflict any injustice on anyone; neither shall we allow anyone to do so.
  13. For higher income we shall collectively undertake bigger investments.
  14. We shall always be ready to help each other. If anyone is in difficulty, we shall all help.
  15. If we come to know of any breach of discipline in any center, we shall all go there and help restore discipline.
  16. We shall take part in all social activities collectively.

Maybe for a North American or a European these values may seem self-evident but for people living in poverty within Islam the principles above are in drastic need of being spread. You could think of these Sixteen Decision as the "prosperity memes".

I think it's great that Yunus has devised a voluntary system where people are choosing to educate their children, live environmentally sound and care for their community. The dowry system alone is known to be harmful to the poor because a family may have to give away their life savings to get their daughter married. Also, child marriage is a huge violation of human rights and in many muslim countries girls are married off as young as nine. It's brilliant that Grameen Bank is asking the women who borrow money not to hurt their daughters in this way by marrying them off young. This type of change from within has been lacking in the muslim world and it's a ray of hope to see that the rate of children being educated going up and the number of children per family going down since the time Grameen Bank has been operating in Bangladesh.

Yunus mentioned in his book that the Bank focuses on loaning to women because men are more likely to spend their profits on themselves than on their family. Women are more inclined to spend on their children and by having a set of decisions they have agreed to for the betterment of their community they can more easily get their husbands on board with their spending choices. This also gives women an important status in the family which is severely lacking under Islamic law (women generally have half the rights of men).

Yunus has created and inspired many other social businesses and is a testament to how one person can change the world!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Everything happens for a reason

"Everything happens for a reason". I've heard that saying a lot. Whether it's from a Christian, Muslim, Hindu, a spiritual person or even a non-believer. It seems like some Memes are hard to shake.

Why I am bringing this up? Well I do not think everything happens for a reason and I think that religious people hold these types of bite size sayings in their minds as part of their religious thinking. The Bible is too big, confusing and boring to be a daily source of advice and council (unless you keep it handy as a reference guide) so people need little nuggets of philosophy to constantly hold close in their minds as a way to think through life's tough situations.

If you think scientifically you will understand that things that happen in the world/universe do not have a grand reason or purpose behind them. Things happen to you in your life as a matter of coincidence and reasoned decisions that other humans make that may effect you directly, indirectly or randomly. The laws of physics along with the uncountable variable of things that other people are doing in the world at any given moment set the environment for the things that will happen to you. There is no one or no god setting the stage for what will happen to you.

From anecdotal experience I feel like one of the major paradigm shifts in thinking someone needs to make when changing from a religious based thinker to a free thinker is to drop the notion that everything happens for a reason.

I feel there is a "spiritual" (in the emotional sense) awakening when one accepts that things do not happen for a reason. Because no one has declared a destiny for you; you are free to tunnel the path through life that you desire. Your situation in life or something tragic that happened to you or a loved one was not because a god does not like you or has cursed you. Whatever position and situation in life you currently find yourself in can be changed if you reflect on the power you have to shape and change who you are as a stream of thoughts and how you want to experience the rest of your life. Instead of dreams you can have goals. Instead of prayers you can have plans. It's a liberating feeling.

I think that atheists and philosophers should develop new bite sized memes to keep in our minds and to teach our children. These bite sized memes can serve as simple scientific answers to life's complicated questions that can help us feel more connected to our existence and the world around us. The responsibility to truthfully raise the next generation of people is on the shoulders of those who have seen Enlightenment and have not shied away from its bright glare!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

We are 50% of the way to our year-end goal of $50,000

We are currently the group with the most members and we have now raised $25,000 in loans in less than a month. We are doing great work for the world. I only wish that there were more available loans so we could explode our team in size.

Right now I'm listening to Creating a World Without Poverty by Muhammed Yunus which I downloaded from He is the Noble Peace Prize winner in 2006. He started the whole low-cost micro finance industry, decades ago, by setting up Grameen Bank in Bangladesh. I found it interesting that in order to receive a loan from the bank you had to agree to a set of ethical values (approx 15 of them) and join a borrowing team. One of those values is to put your children in school. Since Islam does not promote educating the young in anything but the Koran, Yunus has cleverly realized that to get people out of the grips of poverty that people need to work together and educating children is a central goal.

Update: The ethical values I was referring to in the post from Yunus' book are called "The Sixteen Decisions".

Decision #7 is: We shall educate our children and ensure that they can earn to pay for their education.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Matthew versus Peter - Believer versus Skeptic

In the North York region of Toronto, Canada we generally get two types of Christians who go door knocking: Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons. I rather enjoy when someone comes to my door and wants to debate religion with me.

I've debated Matthew, a Jehovah's Witness (JW), on two occasions over the past year. I'd guess he's in his early twenties and has come by with a different female JW on both occasions. They canvas the neighborhood in a few teams of two.

Matthew was very pleasant to talk to and had an optimism about his religion that I could not shake. I got the impression from Matthew that he was genuinely curious that Rajvee and I do not believe in god and that we were so confident and ready with answers to defend our convictions.

Matthew pointed out that god's name is Jehovah and that through studying the bible he's come to believe in god and the bible. I explained to Matthew that I did not believe in god and that there is no evidence for god and that science provides a more plausible explanation of the origin of life. I let him know that I studied computer science and physics in university and I've done a lot of reading on evolution. Matthew asked how I explain life if I do not believe in god. I gave a brief explanation that science believes the universe started with a big bang which there is evidence for and that created the particles that eventually formed into atoms. I explained that after a few million years stars and galaxies formed and all the chemical elements (atoms) that are in the periodic table are the pieces that form all matter. Then I explained that 4 billion years ago the Earth formed around our Sun and after millions of years of atoms interacting to form molecules and molecules interacting to form complex molecules, that a molecule that could replicate was formed and that all life shares it's ancestry with a cell that formed 100 million years after the formation of Earth. I explained that evolution over almost 4 billion years has produced animals as refined as human beings.

Matthew then asked me how science can explain something as complex as the brain. I responded that we do not know everything about the brain but that brain research is an active field of study. I explained that we do know it's made up of trillions of neuron cells which act as a decentralized computer processor which produces a stream of thoughts and we experience 5 thoughts per second and the process of evolution has produced our brain which is the best in the animal kingdom. I said other animals have brains of varying degrees of complexity and that is evidence that our brain is decedent from a simpler brain, the brain of an ape.

Matthew had a curiosity about science but from the questions he was asking he clearly did not give scientists an authority above his religious teachings. He felt that humans were different from animals because of art and language. He believes human life began 6,000 years ago with Adam and Eve, although he believes that the Earth was around geologically as long as scientists claim but without human beings. I asked who Adam and Eve's children married to further the human species. Matthew informed me that it was a case of incest. I had never previously got a clear answer from anyone about that and have read different Christian interpretations at Skeptics Annotated Bible.

Matthew did not even bring up Jesus (I was surprised) his arguments focused mainly on the concept of God and he was prepared to defend the whole bible. None of my knowledge of the 4 canonical new testament gospels was of any use. If ever there was a question he could not answer he said he would research the answer.

On the second visit from Matthew we again debated (for a shorter time) and Matthew brought a text with him titled "Life How Did It Get Here? By evolution or by creation?" on the "binded" side of the book it says "Creation". It was published in 1985 and is clearly out of date, but it is an art work of propaganda. I may create a separate post to elaborate on the critical notes I've made throughout the pages of that book.

I did share a nugget of wisdom with Matthew from Richard Dawkins - The Selfish Gene (2nd Chapter, first paragraph):

In the beginning was simplicity. It is difficult enough explaining how even a simple universe began. I take it as agreed that it would be even harder to explain the sudden springing up, fully armed, of complex order-- life, or a being capable of creating life. Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection is satisfying because it shows us a way in which simplicity could change into complexity, how unordered atoms could group themselves into ever more complex patterns until they ended up manufacturing people. Darwin provides a solution, the only feasible one so far suggested, to the deep problem of our existence.

By Pete

Friday, September 12, 2008

Set Your Life Free

What humans really desire in life is comfort and security. This desire comes from the knowledge of being alive in a vast universe and knowing that we only have one life to live in this reality. Although this is a realistic view we constantly question the unknowns in life that reality has to offer.

From within the scientific realm we can see that humans have made truly wonderful discoveries that help to bring us closer to the truth but from the outside science can be thought of as just another belief system with gaps that may make life look hazy and confusing. I myself do not have this opinion but feel that science, and only science, can bring us closer to knowing our reality and the truth about our universe. But, for someone who does not know much about science, such as not knowing the structure and function of DNA, the feeling of knowing their reality comes from somewhere else that is not related to, nor can be compared to, science.

Another belief system exists in our reality which has gained much power from the time it was first conceived, religion. Although it may have been devised as a way of adhering a growing society or reaching out to those in need, its powers today wield a strong influence on the majority of human beings around the world. Many religious belief systems have forced their way into the minds of many and these beliefs have been passed down from generation to generation slowly transforming into beliefs that many have made a part of their biology, such as the soul. Today human beings grow up in societies that teach about the importance of a particular religious belief system to help people believe that there is meaning in life and that our moral compass can be derived from believing in religion. By doing this human beings can more easily believe that their actions in life are governed by a higher power; a power that has all of the answers for life and the universe. By praying to this higher power, God, one can remain close to God and in so doing can find knowledge about their own existence as well as comfort and security that humans long so much for.

The problem with this kind of adherence to a religious belief system is that people are given a false sense of reality. When reality is skewed by merely a religion then the facts of science are broken down into very little pieces and scientific credibility and truth are lost. Since religion offers comfort and security to people through the idea that there is a higher power governing their actions there is little need to believe in something like science that to them seems down right confusing. But, science is not confusing at all. For someone who is seeking comfort and security science offers much more than what a simple religious belief can offer. Science can provide every person on Earth with the knowledge of comfort and security; one does not have to go as far as praying to God somewhere in the sky for comfort and security but rather can create it themselves from the knowledge of their own lives. For example, if we hold ourselves accountable for our actions we can ensure that the next time around we will perhaps make a better decision and create a more desired outcome. If we constantly seek forgiveness from God we will never blame ourselves for our bad decisions and, in turn, never learn from our mistakes.

We need to devise a set of common values that human beings can follow in order to lead a life of peace, love, happiness, and security. If we can find harmony in life through following a set of sacred values then following a religious belief system will seem unnecessary, almost silly. For those who strongly adhere to a religious belief system, they will need to find 'salvation' by first getting in touch with their biology and family history. Knowing what your strengths and weaknesses are and about your heritage can only set you free from religious belief!

By Rajvee

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

We are team #2

We have just become the number 2 team in terms of amount of money loaned and we are about to become (or may be in a few minutes) the biggest group in terms of members!! Good work everyone.

I did a little investigation on the number of Kiva lenders who have joined a team. This is not a scientific analysis but just some estimates based on what I dug up. There are approximately 334,000 Kiva lenders. I added up the number of team members on the first 15 pages of the community area and then added 20 members for each of the remaining 80 pages. Based on this there are approximately 6015 Lenders who have joined a team (this does not take into consideration that people may be members of more than 1 team).

Our team has 360 members. So our team represents 6% (360/6015) of all team lenders. Unitarians are 1.1% (67/6015), Flying Spaghetti Monsters are 0.5% (31/6015) and all other religious teams combined are (115/6015) 1.9%. There is no way to know if this is reflective of the whole Kiva community, and clearly not everyone lends based on their religious beliefs, but our numbers surely are impressive.

This reminds me of a conversation I had with a moderate Christian friend of mine where he said religious people give more to charity. I think the work we are doing here has drawn that old idea into question!

By Peter

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Expand Your Knowledge Through Self-Conscious Reflection

Self-conscious reflection is the highest level of operation of a human brain. Although human beings have evolved from primates, these organisms lack the ability to reflect. This is evident in the behavior of primate species, such as chimpanzees. Chimps like to play games with their friends but cannot strategize and think about how to improve their skills while playing a game. They lack the ability to organize multiple thoughts and ideas in their brains because their brains are not as complex and well-developed as human brains. However, the brains of primates are well-developed compared to brains of lower order mammalian species such as dogs and mice.

So how has such a marvelous characteristic evolved in human brains? Self-conscious reflection is built on several levels of processes that Marvin Minsky calls the Six-Level Model of the Mind:
1) instinctive reactions
2) learned reactions
3) deliberate reactions
4) reflective thinking
5) self-reflective thinking
6) self-conscious reflection

Instinctive reactions are already operating in a human at birth since these reactions have evolved from the time of the earliest humans. The next two processes are developed at an early age as a young human being explores and studies their surroundings and interacts with their imprimers (family and friends). Throughout adolescence the remaining processes are developed and strengthened as a result of new experiences that challenge an individual to think about their choices and reflect on their actions.

Education tremendously facilitates a human's ability to problem solve and make informed choices and goals. It helps an individual gain knowledge of life and the universe and, in turn, expand their minds to different possibilities in nature. Educated individuals have the freedom to reach the highest level of the mind which is self-conscious reflection. For those who are oppressed by their communities, families, and poverty there is much difficulty in reaching this level because they lack the basic knowledge of life and nature to facilitate their human abilities-- they are limited in their abilities to learn and grow as a human being. This is the case for Muslims around the world, particularly women. It is also the case for many people who are forced to believe in religion at an early age without the proper knowledge of other religions and belief systems.

In many parts of the world, there is no open discussion about religious beliefs of other peoples around the world and, as such, a person's scope of nature and world views is limited to the belief system their family and community hold so strongly. When a child grows up in this environment and is forced to adhere to one religious belief system they are robbed of their freedom to learn about all religions and make informed choices. They become limited to learning only about their parent's religion. This hinders a child's ability to reach the higher level processes in the brain because they are taught about a world-view that is skewed and inaccurate. Since there is little discussion about religion in the modern education system today a child remains closed-minded about the differences and similarites between all people and their world-view is reduced to their own communities and families. Their level of understanding of life and nature remains immature and simple. As they grow up their transition to adulthood is more difficult because their view of the world does not change so much as a result of the influence on them to adhere to their religious belief.

Any idea they encounter throughout their life which encourages them to question their belief system is ignored and dismissed because of what they have been taught to believe by their family and community. To these people the complexities of science are misunderstood, like the structure and function of the cell, so they remain immature in their thoughts and practices. They build their knowledge around their religious belief, whether moderate or strong, and leave out important facts, such as quantum physics, neuronal transmission in the brain, and evolution, which they find unnecessary or insufficient to learn. Their religious belief helps them to fill in the gaps so there is no need to further their understanding of the facts. But, what their religious belief actually does is hinder the development of their mind. Having a religious belief is closing one's mind to the world and all the possibilities in the universe, it negatively effects the way people live and think.

Self-conscious reflection, the highest level of the mind, can be reached by an educated human being that considers all the possibilities of a given idea and that can let go of their pre-conceived beliefs about an idea. The reason for this is that in order to comprehend a particular fact or concept one cannot believe in something that is unproven or make-believe because it may conflict with a given fact and cause the person to be confused and misunderstand the fact itself and all other facts and concepts related to that fact. When ideas and concepts are understood properly a person can self-consciously reflect on their thoughts and come to accurate conclusions and decisions. Moreover, this reflective process can stimulate new thoughts and questions that are completely in line with existing facts and concepts.

Self-conscious reflection is important because it gives human beings the power and encourages them to understand their own nature and the nature of the universe. It helps people to understand their niche on earth-- that we have evolved over millions of years for the purpose of surviving for as long as possible on planet Earth. And in doing so, we have been able to sense the beauty of nature and depend on the fruits of it. Isn't life grand?! It should be, since all life has worked hard to survive for millions of years and make the Earth their home.

Charles Darwin was a very intelligent man that had reached the highest level of the mind, and this is a remarkable feat in his time. He was able to properly collect, analyze, and organize his thoughts to correctly explain the concept of evolution. He devised a concept from previously built concepts. What a remarkable human being indeed! If it weren't for him, our children today would not have the benefit of understanding the history and biology of life on Earth.

Why should we hinder our children's brain development by teaching them about our religious beliefs thus limiting their horizons. What ever happened to the idea that "our children are our future". Education in today's modern societies cater to the proper care and development of our children, which is funded by the citizens. Why should we interrupt this education by teaching our children about magical beliefs that conflict with what they are learning in school. There is no benefit in this but rather the cost of burdening our children with the difficulty of grasping scientific, mathematical, historical, and social concepts. What a burden! It will be our children that will build institutions and projects, based on the foundations earlier generations have built and preserved for them, to carry us all safely into the future (Dennett, Breaking the Spell 2006). Our children need to be encouraged and given time to grow and learn. Open discussions about religion at home and in the education system are important for there to be an open society and for expanding our knowledge of nature and the universe. With this knowledge people can focus on making the world a better place to live and recognize that their lives do have meaning.

By Rajvee

Sunday, September 7, 2008

$10,000 loaned. I'm so proud

I'm so proud to have discovered all these atheists hiding in the Kiva bushes. In 11 days we have loaned $10,000 to the working poor. We are team number 3 in terms of members and amount of money loaned (we are team 4 in terms of number of loans but inches from spot 3). Great work everyone!

I took a screen shot to remember this moment. We are 20% of the way to our 2008 year-end goal.

I cannot wait until there is a greater inventory of loans... I have an idea or two to increase our membership. If anyone else has ideas they want to share please leave a comment.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Are ghosts real?

I know.... ghosts are NOT real. But to my surprise some atheists, or at least one, believe in ghosts.

There are many paths one can take on the journey to becoming an atheist (or going back to the atheist they were when they were born... but that's a debate for another day). So it can be refreshing to discuss the details of our atheism and share our views.

An old friend of mine and I were sitting on the dock at his cottage, late one evening with beers in hand. I brought up the subject of ghosts by saying "Remember when you said you believe in ghosts? Well, I think, if you really think about it you don't believe in ghosts. Because if you don't believe in god then you don't believe in a soul and if there is no soul then nothing leaves the body when you die and there cannot possibly be ghosts.". He responded that he had seen a ghost on two occasions and how do I explain that.

Here are his two encounters with ghosts and my explanations.

First encounter, he and a former girlfriend were in the girlfriends house they walked into the family room and pictures that were on the bookshelf and ALWAYS facing forward were all (several pictures) turned around (facing backwards). He claims no one else was home and that several minutes earlier they walked into the room and all the pictures were facing forwards.

My approach to this was first to say "Did you actually see the ghost?". His response was "No". I said the following are more probable explanations then a ghost.
1) Your girlfriend turned all the pictures around without your knowledge (this was not a convincing explanation).
2) Someone else, earlier that day, turned the pictures around before the two of you walked into the room the first time. Upon, entering the room the first time you did not notice the pictures had been turned around. You left the room and then came back several minutes later and noticed the pictures had been turned around. (Like when someone gets a haircut and you don't notice right away). For me this is the most probable explanation but I still had not convinced my friend.

I also questioned by what theory are ghosts able to move physical objects, my friend responded that poltergeists can supposedly do that. Which I rebutted by saying that's just in the movies and there is no evidence for ghosts or that they have those abilities.

At this point what I really wanted was to show him this video on youtube by Mahzarin Banaji at the Beyond Belief 2006 Conference. Without the Internet at hand I went on to explain that scientists have now discovered that consciousness and our feeling of self is really a production of our brain. And that we have one conscious thought ever 200 ms, or 5 thoughts per second. This stream of thoughts determines who we are and how we feel. I know I left my friend with some insight to ponder for another day and we moved on to the second example.

The second encounter was a more vivid experience. My friend recounted that on one evening, in the early morning hours, he was a passenger driving in his friends car and they were heading back to town. For various personal reasons the driver was in a hurry to make it home in the neighboring town. My friend because he is nice and probably because he was drunk said to his friend "don't worry about taking me all the way home you can just drop me here and I'll walk". Bad idea since there was only 20 minutes left in the drive but the walking would take him 4 hours (I'm sure the alcohol effected the decision). About 3 hours into this walk he passed the Masonic Lodge that is on the outskirts of town, which has an adjacent graveyard. Since I've driven by there before I acknowledged that it would be a spooky place to walk by in the wee hours of the morning (or night). My friend said that as he walked by the graveyard he saw a ghost appear about 1 metre beside him and he knew it was a ghost because it had no feet. He said he closed his eyes a few times and re-opened them and the ghost was still there (a figure of a man). The ghost scared him but did not harm him and after a few minutes of walking he closed his eyes again and re-opened them and the ghost was gone.

My response to this was that I believed he thought he actually saw a ghost but that the human mind has the awesome power of allowing us to hallucinate and that drugs are not required to invoke a hallucination. Since he was tired from walking so long, partly drunk, a fan of horror movies and since he just walked by a cemetery those were enough elements to allow his mind to fabricate that a ghost had appeared before him. Since he "witnessed" the ghost my line of reasoning was not easy to swallow.

I then noted that when someone takes a hallucinogenic drug it's not the drug that has the information for the hallucination but it's the mind that formulates the hallucination (that seems real) because the drug causes the mind to cascade it's thoughts in a way that it normally does not do. I also recounted a lesson I had learned by reading "How to See Yourself as You Really Are" by the Dalai Lama. One of the Buddhist philosophers, in the book, reminds us of the experience of being in a dimly light room and seeing a coiled snake on the floor (vivid in your mind) and then turning the light on to discover the coiled snake was just a coiled rope. Where did the snake come from? It was dependent on the mind. And the mind has the power to formulate images of things that do not exist outside the mind.

With all these examples and explanations I was not able to completely convince my friend but I was able to get him to agree that it was in fact MORE probable that he hallucinated then the alternative that ghosts are real.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Freedom From Religion

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms provides for the freedoms of conscience and religion; as well as the freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression. These freedoms can be limited by parliament but needs to be justified by the Supreme Court of Canada. The US Constitutions first amendment provides for similar freedoms of religion and specifically that the government cannot choose one religion over another. The purpose of these freedoms is to allow different sects or denominations of the various mainstream religions a safe and comfortable environment to practice their respective religions. What I really want is freedom from religion! So the children of the future can grow up without falling prey to religious ideas.

My problem is that none of these freedoms apply to people who are not deluded by religion. Intellectuals, Brights, Non-religious Peoples or Atheists (whichever terminology you prefer) do not have equal rights under the law because they are not part of a religion even though they amount to 1.1 billion people collectively. This is the third largest identifiable group behind Christians and Muslims and ahead of Hindus and Buddhists. Who's responsible for clouding this fact? Why is it that atheists feel like outcasts? Why are many of them in the closet? If you add Buddhists to the secular bandwagon there are slightly more of "us" than Muslims.

"Let my people go"
-- Moses, Exodus 5: 1 (KJV)

I want to be free from religion, I want my neighbors to be free from religion and more importantly I want all children to be free from religion. If an adult wants to violate his "freedom from religion" and become a religious/cult member well that's his/her choice but placing children in Roman Catholic schooling because their parents are infected by the Christian Religious Meme (x-meme) is child abuse. Considering the cloud of doubt over whether Jesus Christ existed and the greater doubt over his alleged divinity and the fact that God does not exist it is immoral to teach children about Baby Jesus and the fabricated Nativity. I have derived this moral from the moral that people should be truthful with each other and that they should share the true knowledge of the universe with each other. People should not be able to refer to the x-meme in court or use it as a defense against crimes they commit. They should not be able to request concessions from their employers or the government because they suffer from the x-meme. We don't allow people infected by HIV to donate blood and we should not allow those infected by x-meme or any god-meme to teach children. We simply cannot trust them to tell the truth. There was a time when we trusted the tobacco companies to market to minors but we no longer give them that liberty. I would like to see it that all paranormal businesses (churches, pyschic parlors, mosques, synagogues, etc) require entrants to be 18 years old. If sexual materials should be kept from minors then certainly religious material should be kept from them too.

It seems like there is an unwillingness by religious people to admit that other humans can accept the fact there is no God. They believe there is something wrong with atheists. Should they be free to believe this? Are people still free to believe in racism?

The experience that prompted me to right this blog entry was my recent visit to a hospital in Ontario Canada for a routine blood test. I had to register with the hospital and in doing so they asked me a handful of questions, one of which was "what is your religion?". My knee-jerk response was "there is no religion". The lady understood that I meant I am not religious. But sadly the computer system they use at the hospital does not have an option for "none" so I was labeled as "NON-D". For those who live in a Christian influenced community you will understand this to mean Non-Denominational Christian. I chose not to say anything because I prefer to be a pleasant person and I know that the person who asks the questions at the hospital is not the person who decided what questions to ask. However upon reflection it is offensive to my intelligence to try and label me and then mislabel me and it is beyond apology for the government to be collecting this information and implying that I should have an answer to "what is your religion?". Immediately after I answered I contemplated the thought that I should have responded "Bright" and then went through the mutually awkward exercise of explaining the term but they would have probably still labeled me NON-D anyways. I checked with a Hindu I know and she was labeled as "PRESB" or Presbyterian. Knowing about Christianity, I came to the idea that maybe the hospital asks your religion because Christians like their "Last Rights" read to them on their death bed. But if that's the case they may read the Last Rights to an Atheist or a Hindu with no regard to their beliefs. If indeed the hospital takes this information so that they can perform services for you after you die then why can't they ask each person what arrangements they want after death and then maybe we would see a service in the name of freedom.

Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God (see the Canadian Constitutions preamble). Where is the room or tolerance for those who do NOT recognize the supremacy of God. When you hear people tell you that Canada is secular that's just political lies. Canada has a Monarch who is God's representative on Earth. In what way does this contribute to this pretend notion that Canada is secular? In the US, atheists are constantly (see Google) having to fight religious symbols and slogans that are constantly being forced, by the majority Christian population, on all citizens whether through religion in public schools or crosses on public grounds. Christian charities get special tax treatment that Atheist charities do not both in Canada and the United States. This allows extremists like Osama bin Laden intellectual material to convince Muslims that Christian Nations are coming to dominate the Islamic world!

The liberal western democracies of the world lose credibility with the Islamic world because from an outsiders perspective it's clear these democracies are Christian based. The type of reasoning that leads to the legitimization of the Pope among world leaders is what has given the Iranian religious leaders all the intellectual capital they need to establish a Muslim based democracy which has a supreme leader (also known as a supreme judge or Supreme Islamic Jurist) who filters all the societies activities through the lens of the Koran and Islamic Sharia Law. How can we criticize them? In what way are we different? Is not our Queen similar to their Supreme Islamic Jurist? Is not their Guardian Council similar to our Senate? You have to swear your allegiance to Mohammed to be involved in the democratic operation of Iran and you have to swear allegiance to Her Majesty the Queen, ruler of the Church of England to be involved in the upper levels of Canadian democracy. Where is the clear difference? Iran has freedom of religion.. anyone born to Christian parents or Jewish parents or Zoroastrian parents can keep practicing their faiths. But Atheists/Non-believers well they get no rights, not even the right to life!

For a truly free society to exist people should be free to have opinions, thoughts and beliefs that are based on evidence and the scientific method. "Truths" that are determined through non-repeatable experiments or experiences like Moses talking to God through a burning bush or Mohammed discovering God up on the mountain or the infamous non-discovery of cold fusion are not real truths and we should not respect them no matter how taboo that may be.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

We are awesome

In less than a week we loaned over $5,000 we have over 125 members and we are ranked 7th on the Kiva communities page. Way to go team!

Our exposure on the first page of the communities section will help us get more members. I'm just so proud that we are ahead (way ahead) of any religious organization. Before Kiva Teams we were just a bunch of individual atheists wondering who were these other lenders and what are their motivations. It feels really good to know there are so many of us with Atheism as a common interest.

Over the next few weeks I see our team being in the top 3 with only Bloggers and KivaFriends being able to compete with us. In a few months I think we'll be team number 1.