Tuesday, October 28, 2014

So what is it the atheist doesn't believe in?

Or to put it another way, "What is a god?"  (Remember, "Ray, when someone asks you if you're a god, you say yes!" )

Hopefully this one will last a while... Generally, believers tend to see atheists as being "against" their god and/or belief system - a popular question being "why do you hate God?" And the answer, "We don't hate what we don't believe in," tends to be looked at oddly. 
After all, "How can you not believe in God?" 

Well, let's do something here, and take that capital G away. "god." Making it nicely generic, and still true. Atheists don't believe in a god or gods. Why?

Well first, what *is* a god? 

If you ask someone that, they'll likely go into whatever the specifics of their chosen deity or deities are... but that's not the question. Atheists don't just not believe in *your* god, it's the entire class of beings known as gods we're disbelieving at. 

But why? I mean, we have to believe in *something,* right? Maybe it's the specifics that turn you off! 

Let's step back. I think if we look at the species as a whole, we can agree, generally, on what a cat is. Not if one's better than the other, but just what it *is.* Everything from the little fuzzy kitten in the pet shop to the lions and tigers most of us will never get closer to than a TV set or the zoo - they're all *cats.* Similarly, with a few outliers, we all have general agreement on what a "car" is, or a "tree." 

So if a god or gods are so fundamental to the universe, why don't we agree on what they are? About the only thing that can be agreed to is that something labeled a god is "divine." Which... is defined as "coming from a god" or "being godlike." 

Well, that's a fairly useless definition. Well, "Deity" is another word for a god. But it's defined, via Mirriam Webster, as... having the rank or essential nature of a god. Or someone exalted or revered as supremely powerful... which itself doesn't work, as there are plenty of examples of  gods who were decidedly not "supremely" powerful. (The defeats of Set and Osiris, Ragnarok, the fear of sun gods dying and thus requiring sacrifice and more.) 

We could just call a god the "supreme something," which allows usage like calling Clapton a "guitar god." But that's simply a rank. It works, honestly, but as a top rank, nobody worships a general (usually.) 

How about something "more than human?" It's a vague phrase, but understandable - that said, there have been plenty of everyday humans worshipped as gods (generally kings,) and plenty of natural phenomena with gods assigned to them. Not to mention plenty of tales of humans outwitting and defeating gods. So as part of the definition, it's kind of useless. 

How about "Having a supernatural component?" (Or more specifically belief that there is one.) Well, we'll start ignoring the use of things like "Clapton is a guitar god" then. The problem is defining what this "component" is and what it does. It's not innate - there are, after all, tales of humans being raised to the level of gods. There's no real definition of what this component is. It's certainly not the same between every one. But the belief it exists - sure. So we've got a "supreme something" with a "spiritual component." 

How about all knowing? No. Here we get into specifics of deities. And all it takes is a quick browse through mythology - including the bible - to show gods being taken by surprise. So they definitely aren't all knowing. 

All powerful? Nope. For the same reason. It doesn't take much looking for anyone to find stories of gods being overpowered or being unable to do something. Honestly, we can throw out almost everything that starts with omni- or all - ... because it's not consistent. 

 How about immortal? Again, no. There are plenty of acknowledged gods dying and not coming back in their myths. Though the idea is popular.

 We can't use definitions that include just (as there are plenty of unjust gods, tricksters, liars, cheats and the like,) or wise (different from all knowing, and there are plenty of gods that do stupid things.)

Which leaves us with what? A "something divine?" 

"I'll know it when I see it?" 

Just what is it that makes a god a god, other than belief that it is one?

Saturday, July 5, 2014

"People with dementia see ghosts, should I get a priest?"

Yes, it's been a while since I've posted, thanks to the job and nothing really jumping out as an "I have to write about this!" subject.

Until now.

See, I do tech support for a company that supports long term care and nursing homes. Which means I get to utilize my knowledge in a way that, generally, is helping take care of some of the most vulnerable members of our society.

A lot of what I hear in the background, as these older citizens deal with the problems of getting older, some of the mental illnesses, etc. is heartbreaking. Of course, there's a lot of bingo playing and karaoke (I kid you not here) going on, as well - sometimes very loudly. And there's the people who just need a bit of help but otherwise are sharp as a tack and in great spirits - which always brings a smile to my face.

But it's not the older folks that have me writing here - though someday I may get to thoughts on mortality. No, this is a nurse. I won't say who, not that it would matter, or what facility, only that it was one down south.

They were discussing some patient in the background and how she was walking - apparently keeping her head bowed or some such. The patient could hold her head up if she wanted, but apparently she believed (from the comments of the nurses) "that ghost makes her walk like that."

This led to some discussion among the nurses (apparently it was a mean ghost, easily angered, and a lesbian to boot, which caused much tittering among the staff.) However, in the course of the discussion, the nurse who had called for tech assistance was talking about how ghosts, spirits and demons can cause problems.

Not "They can believe it," but saying it as seriously as if she were discussing medication delivery or how warm it was outside. This, to her, was a fact. Ghosts, spirits and demons can cause problems... like it's the tenth century.

Now, I was professional and said nothing - they're not calling for help with THEIR delusions, only their computer. But the fact this medical professional, educated in first-world schools, entrusted with the care of these people, was saying this... just floored me. But that itself wasn't the kicker.

Within a minute, she also mentioned "People with dementia often have supernatural experiences." Way to go, girl. You've just pinned down the cause of this poor woman's "ghost." She has mental issues (she did, actually, this is not my opinion.) End of discussion. You may "humor" her, sure. But someone with dementia seeing things and believing things that aren't real? Of course!

... Except not four sentences later, she was asking if she should call her pastor to perform an exorcism. And not in the "to make her feel better" sense - which I would fully understand. Given tone and wording, she was asking if the woman needed her pastor (not priest, not catholic) to perform an exorcism like she was asking if they should call the doctor to adjust medication.

... We have a long way to go before this sort of superstitious nonsense is eradicated. Listening to this... I honestly, despite my past, cannot wrap my head around this sort of belief any more. And it made me very glad I was not entrusted in this woman's care.