Malaysian Atheist

An avowed atheist living in Malaysia.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Do not despair!

Have you ever been through one of those days where at the end of it, you wished you hadn't gotten out of bed that morning, because so many bad things happened to you throughout the day? I'm sure we all have had those before. So far, I've been having bad days everyday this week!

On Monday, I dropped my iPod and damaged the screen. Everything else is working fine, but now, half the screen is gone. Then in the evening, some unscrupulous thieves stole some parts off my car. I discovered it Tuesday morning. I didn't think those parts are worth much money but they had to take it anyway. In the evening, I noticed one of the fog lamps on my car is missing too. I'm not sure if someone took them or they fell off. Then during soccer, I busted my left big toe and hurt my right foot. My toe was bleeding under the toenail, and it'll fall off soon while I'd have to quit soccer for a while for my foot to heal. All this while, work was piling up at the office, all mundane and uninteresting work. Meanwhile, the local stock market has been heading south and I'm seeing my portfolio shrink.

Ok, perhaps I'm allowing my emotions to get the better of me, but that is only human. We are not robots; we can't live on cold logic alone. In such a situation, one can't help but feel that everything just isn't going right. You just don't know what bad thing will hit you next. The irrational part of me fills me with dread but the rational part of me knows that this is just the gambler's fallacy, which is the incorrect belief that certain, independent events are more likely to occur because it has happened recently.

In a way, it does explain why in such situations, so many people turn to religion. When people get hit by a run of bad luck, they feel helpless and really need to believe that somewhere out there, there is a god or a deity who is in control. If you worship the deity or pray to it or give offerings, the deity might end your run of bad luck. It explains why some people are all superstitious - they wear charms and amulets to ward of the bad luck. If we apply Pascal's reasoning:

1. You pray/give offering/wear amulet to improve your luck
  • If God exists, He hears you: your luck improves.
  • If God doesn't exist, your loss is nothing.
2. You don't bother to pray/give offering/wear amulet
  • If God exists, you've pissed Him off for not being penitent: your luck remains the same or worsens.
  • If God doesn't exist, you lose nothing and might not gain anything.
The only prudent action here would be to pray/give offering/wear amulet or do something to change your luck. So what if you are an atheist? You don't believe in prayer, you don't believe in amulets, you don't believe there is any God out there who can help you. So what CAN you do?

To be honest, I don't have the answer. Whoever said being an atheist is easy? The rational thing to do would be see the events as independent and unrelated. Then, one would need to think positively, talk to someone, write about your worries, or do something pleasurable to take your mind off things. Remember, do not despair.

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Saturday, May 19, 2007

Rich Pastor, Poor Pastor?

I've heard of young pastor. I've heard of lady pastor. Heck, I've even heard of gay pastor. But rich pastor??? Now, that is something to think about.

Recently, in the US, a church bought its pastor a $3.6 million mansion. Of course, the mansion belongs to the church, not the pastor, but being pastor of a big church, like being CEO of a company, one is accorded many perks including an opulent house, fancy cars, an expense account. Strange isn't it? In the olden days, pastors and church-workers lead a simple lifestyle. The church provides them with food, accommodation, transport and a meager salary. They are content with their simple lives as they serve God to build treasures in heaven. That's why we have the idiom "poor as a church mouse" - because church mice are traditionally poor.

Nowadays, however, church mice are not poor anymore. As the church-going population grows, more and more people give a portion of their income as offering to the church. Seeing that they have a captive market, the church mice also learned to write 'church' books, record 'church' music, make 'church' TV programs. That would generate more money, attract more people to their church, and even more people will offer money to the church and so on. The rewards just keep compounding! These days, the church mice can afford the best cheese, the best cars and the biggest mansions. They say it is God's blessing, but really, it is just simple economics.

The question is, "Is there anything wrong with pastors being rich?" Since they say that they believe everything in the Bible, let's see what the Bible says. In Matthew chapter 19:
16Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, "Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?"

17"Why do you ask me about what is good?" Jesus replied. "There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments."

18"Which ones?" the man inquired.

Jesus replied, " 'Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, 19honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as yourself."

20"All these I have kept," the young man said. "What do I still lack?"

21Jesus answered, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."

22When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

23Then Jesus said to his disciples, "I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."

So that is what Jesus said. Jesus, mind you. The Son of God, not some lesser prophet from the Old Testament! The lumbering camel will have an easier time passing through the eye of a needle that the rich pastor entering Heaven.

Let's see what the church says. They say that God wants His followers to do well, be healthy and have rewards. So effectively they have abandoned Matthew Chapter 19 in favour of some other obscure verse. If you think about it, they're actually more interested in securing health and wealth in this present life than securing treasures in Heaven, aren't they?

Anyway, their wealth is their private property. It really isn't any of my business. In fact, I'd recommend that young people seeking a career path should seriously consider going into ministry. Remember, in church, you have a captive audience who'll buy anything you sell. And, they'll feel guilty if they didn't give you 10% of their income each month! Theoretically, it doesn't even matter whether you believe in Christ or not. You just have to say the right words, do the right actions, fake it long enough and not get caught. Then you can enjoy all the financial rewards from the church.

My point, though, is that Christians are guilty of picking and choosing which Bible verses to follow and which to ignore. Done this way, you can simply justify anything, including killing another human being. Your religion then becomes, not what God says, but what you say.

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Illogical faith & Eternal life

Here's an interesting post from Raja Petra Kamarudin (RPK) over at Malaysia Today. The article is about Malaysian political parties, but there's an interesting bit that is relevant here:

Malays are both fanatically nationalistic as well as fanatically religious. Umno serves one and PAS the other, so both have a fantastic captive market. While nationalism can be explained, argued and debated using logic, religion does not need any convincing. Religion, as Mahathir said, is based on faith, and faith has nothing to do with logic. “How do you defeat faith?” asked Mahathir. Faith does not require logic so it is most difficult to beat PAS which draws its support from ‘illogical’ faith.

Humankind needs religion. It finds comfort in knowing that the end of life does not mean the end of everything but just the beginning of permanency. Humankind would be very upset if it thought that its time on earth is temporary and once life ends then that would be it. What a total waste of time, especially if you have been good all your life. So, humankind needs an assurance that life here on earth may be temporary, but the next life is permanent. But what happens to you in the next life would all depend on how you lead your life here on earth.

RPK is a fine blogger and I enjoy his writings, but I see some problems with the above reasoning. Firstly, he wrote that people need religion because it is comforting to believe that there is life after death. Well, just because it is comforting doesn't make it TRUE. Richard Dawkins has brought this point up many, many times. A person with cancer may find it comforting if the doctor lied to him about the fact that he has cancer, but that doesn't make it true. The cancer is there whether he acknowledges it or not.

Secondly, RPK says your next life is determined by whether or not you've been good here on earth. I think Christians will disagree with him because they believe they're saved by God's grace, not by their deeds. Anyway, I don't want to go into religious dogma here, but it seems RPK is suggesting that people are good and behave decently in order to gain favour from God. Doesn't that make theists seem like hypocrites? Surely there are much better, earthly reasons for being good and kind to others. Lots of atheists are nice and kind.

Finally, RPK is suggesting that life after death is permanent and that is a good thing. I've always wondered about this and I'd like to ask theists if they are absolutely sure that eternal life is a good thing? I wonder, once in heaven, if you get tired of living eternally, could you choose to end your eternal life? Can you even imagine what it's like to live forever? I truly suspect that in heaven, there will be lots and lots of cases of suicide. That's because eternal life has no meaning!

Logotherapy is a form of psychotherapy, developed by Viktor Frankl, that focuses on a "will to meaning". In a nutshell, logotherapy says that life has meaning under all circumstances (even the most miserable ones) and our main motivation for living is our will to find meaning in life. Imagine if you know that you will live on forever, how will you find meaning in your life? You will not be able to assign value or meaning to any experiences of love, kindness, despair etc. because you will be experiencing them for all eternity. Pretty soon you'll realise that this gift of eternal life is just as bad as the curse of eternal damnation. Let's hope they have damn good psychiatrists in heaven!

I know, theists will tell me that the concept of heaven is beyond the comprehension of our mortal minds. Well, they just don't want to admit that they're as unsure as I am about what heaven and eternal life would be like. I can't accept their explanation. I say that life is much more meaningful because it is temporary! Richard Feynman's last words were "I'd hate to die twice. It's so boring." We can certainly imply that Richard also meant he'd hate to live twice (or live forever).

"How do you defeat faith?" asked Mahathir. The only way is through reason.

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