Monday, June 01, 2015

On the feeling that life is meaningful

Time for Monday morning philosophizing!

Here's Sarah Perry (that is, the antinatalist* Sarah Perry, not the novelist Sarah Perry), writing in Every Cradle Is a Grave, making a point worth consideration about the role one's concept of "the meaning of life" plays in providing existential stability beyond the sum of its intellectual parts:
Subjectively, the feeling that life is meaningful - that there are ultimate values, that life has a purpose - tends to point to a source of meaning, something higher than and external to the mere feeling or intuition of meaning. While sources of meaning vary greatly (and often contradict each other), the sense and expectation of meaning itself is surprisingly universal - so universal that the intuition is almost never challenged. This very universality should motivate us to be cautious about taking meaning’s claims at face value. One should be suspicious of any claim that is defended for contradictory reasons, and most people who agree that life is meaningful disagree as to what makes it so. The belief that life is meaningful tends to take the form of a strong feeling rather than a reasoned conclusion; indeed, one of the functions of meaning is to shield a person from the harmful effects of reasoning by providing a value that is justified for its own sake, a foundational rock for cognition below which no “whys” need be answered. (p.31)

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I rather appreciate that she begins with the acknowledgment that the feeling there is a meaning to life waiting to be discovered or articulated is just that: a feeling, rather than an empirically observable fact about the universe. It's a widespread feeling, to be sure, but even so I suspect no one here** or anywhere else has ever come across that big eff-off stone tablet, ten hundred feet tall, covered with big eff-off graven letters, spelling out the text of the cosmic meaning of life Mad Libs? "The meaning of life is __________ (insert noun) and to live one's life __________ (adverb). The best tips for this meaning of life can be found in __________ (book title)."

The publisher of Every Cradle Is a Grave has made a PDF of the entire book available for free download, here.
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* The antinatalist is sometimes referred to as 'the wisdom of Silenus': "For he lives with the least worry who knows not his misfortune; but for humans, the best for them is not to be born at all, not to partake of nature’s excellence; not to be is best, for both sexes."

** If you HAVE found such a tablet, feel free to spill the details. We may be skeptics, but in view of such evidence, I don't think we're so proud that we wouldn't revise our worldview as needed to admit the existence of some great eff-off cosmic Mad Libs publisher out there somewhere, leaving tablets around willy-nilly to remind us that there is a meaning to life waiting for us to fill in the right answer.

Monday, January 19, 2015

An atheist's thoughts about MLK Day

Martin Luther King, Jr, who preached nonviolence as an instrument to repudiate injustice, who helped initiate the civil rights movement in this country, who was assassinated in 1968, would have turned 86 this month. 

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Christian Science: Spiritual Stealing?

The Boston Atheists don't often 'shop up hoax photos, but when they do, they do it to put the screws to churches that kill kids:

(We're cross-posting this from Twitter; follow us there, why don't ya?)

To learn more about how the problematic history of Christian Science, religiously-motivated medical negligence, and lobbying efforts to preserve loopholes that permit such negligence, visit the site of CHILD: "Children's Healthcare Is a Legal Duty."

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Godless love for Christmas

From "Christmas Is a Wonderful, Secular Holiday" by Rich Juzwiak:
Late in my teens, I stopped attending church. There were all kinds of reasons for this, but even the most politically righteous ones (where to begin: the Catholic church's inherent anti-gay stance, its allowance of child abuse, its institutionalized misogyny) didn't hold a votive candle to the simple fact that I left church because it was fucking boring. Whiling away the hour in church on Christmas was a metaphor for my general relationship to organized religion—I was really just waiting for it all to be over. 
I never stopped loving Christmas, though. To me it's a secular holiday, and its importance in my life is unwavering.
Read more on Gawker.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Dahn Yoga: scamming folks in NYC, Boston, and beyond

Over at Gawker, writer Cat Ferguson has added a new installment to the Cult Rush Week series, titled "I Punched Myself at Dahn Yoga." A snippet:
On its face, Dahn yoga is not very scary. It is a vague combination of yoga and tai chi that promises practitioners they will "experience the transformative power of energy." But the cult is championed by shady "Grand Master" Ilchi Lee, who is described as "a global educator, mentor, and innovator devoted to teaching energy principles and developing the full capability of the human brain," but was also the target of a 2010 lawsuit that accused him of preying on young recruits, brainwashing members, and fraud.
Ferguson was dipping into Dahn down in NYC, but we've got our own Dahn locations here in the Boston area: Arlington, Cambridge, Brookline. If you keep your eyes peeled, you'll see Dahn brochures occupying choice street-facing locations in store windows all over town.

Here's what I do when I see one of their stand-up brochure holders: I duck into the establishment -- nail salon, grocery store, what have you -- and breezily tell the clerk that I'm "here to pick these up." Then pick them up I do, leave, and then and, just like I do with Maum flyers, I throw them away in the first trash receptacle I see. Lest you think I'm on the dole for Scientology, let me set the record straight: I'm not favoring one scam cult over another. It's just that Scientology is more about palm-cards than brochures. I simply can't conscience the marketing of yet another pseudo-scientific, pseudo-spiritual extractive industry in our fair city, so, sorry Dahn yoga, they've got to go.

Read Ferguson's full post over at Gawker to learn more about the Dahn experience (tldr; they want your money), or check out these informative links:

Boston Nonsense Watch is a free service of the Boston Atheists.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Boston Nonsense Watch: Maum flyers seen in the wild

I've just uploaded a new document to the Boston Atheists Meetup files section, accessible here. It's a PDF scan of a flyer I saw at Panera Bread at Alewife plaza where I was meeting other members of the Sunday Assembly Boston planning team. What caught my eye was the provocative slogan on the front panel: STOP THINKING. Whoa! Is thinking so dangerous? I've been doing it all this time... think of the damage I might have been doing to myself!

So I pick it up and, lo and behold, it turns out to be up a propaganda for Maum Meditation, a network of cultish storefront offices found across the globe. Maum links its gospel messages of "Calm your spirit!" (hmm, okay) and "Empty your mind!" (wait, what?) to the fashionable craze for gobbledygook neuro-nonsense. The Maum system may be nothing more than a heap of reheated philosophicalish New Age fluff married to scientific-sounding terminology, but it is very good at extracting money from members-cum-victims.

Now, I see these flyers all over town: cafes, bookstores, stacked on the inside counter at beauty salons and grocery stores. When I see them through the window, I go inside, and in businesslike fashion, pick up the whole stack, and leave. I throw them away in the first trash can I pass, ripping them in half first to ensure that they aren't put back into circulation by well-meaning parties who don't know the background about Maum.

There are a number of other dubious outfits in Boston, including Twelve Tribes, New Acropolis, and Eckankar. (And of course members likely already know about the fine brownstone on Beacon Street off Mass Ave near the south footing of the Harvard Bridge, the one that houses the Boston branch of the Church of Scientology.) Let's make a collective agreement to stay alert to these kinds of organizations. Some may be benign, or merely nonsensical, while others that seem just as nonthreatening may afflict members with coercive, disorienting, destructive teachings and pressures. Make sure to let us know here at Boston Nonsense Watch headquarters about anything you want us to know more about.

Boston Nonsense Watch is a free service of the Boston Atheists.

Related reading:

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Slate: "The Real Victims of Satanic Ritual Abuse"

Everyone's been talking about the proposal to put a statue of Satan on the grounds of the Oklahoma state house; it's timely then that we see this article at Slate magazine, reporting on recent affairs relating to one of the strangest, widest-reaching, and most damaging moral panics in America’s history: the satanic ritual abuse panic of the 1980s and 1990s."

From the article:
"[It] was literally a witch hunt," said Keith Hampton, pro-bono lawyer for the Kellers. "We say ‘witch hunt’ in this figurative way, but that was a modern-day literal witch hunt. They really were after people who they thought were worshipping at the feet of the Dark Lord."
The defendants profiled in the article seem to have been the victims of a bizarre and antirational social affair, but that isn't to say that child abuse itself is a figment of overactive supernaturalistic imaginations. I think here to mention the good work of the organization CHILD ("Children's Healthcare Is a Legal Duty"), that works to identify and lobbies to close legal loopholes that allow persons guilty of religiously-motivated medical neglect of children to avoid prosecution.

The example closest to home of this kind of abuse is seen in the Christian Science religion, whose teachings tell parents that prayer facilitated by a religious practitioner is enough to heal any ailment... as long as one's faith is strong enough, of course.

Related reading

  • "Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds" by Charles MacKay
  • "Why People Believe Weird Things" by Michael Shermer
  • "A Delusion Of Satan: The Full Story Of The Salem Witch Trials" by Frances Hill and Karen Armstrong