One way to cut down on some of the junk mail is to put a notice on your mailbox for your postal worker reading: “NO ADVO OR MARRIAGE MAIL PLEASE.”
God just spoke to me….
He was in the bathroom while I was shaving.
He said that he wouldn’t intervene (except in this one instance) to tell me what he thought, and he asked me to pass it along.
He told me personally that all your problems and moral concerns are not his, and that you have to work them out yourselves, using your own reason.
He said he doesn’t need to punish you or reward you, because you are well equipped to punish or reward yourselves.
He said, “Either you can work this out yourselves or you can’t. If you can’t, it is your own fault and you will suffer the consequences.”
“On the other hand,” he said, “you can reap the rewards of your own efforts, and take responsibility for your own life and meaning.”
He said, “I say this: live the life you have and make it the best you can. Do your best while you can. It is the only life you get.”
He also said, “Any god who needs state support is a false god. Any god who needs you to worship him is a false god. Any god that threatens eternal torment to anyone for anything is a false god.”
He said, “If some god wants to punish you in hell-fire for eternity, then fuck him and the donkey, ass, or horse–winged or otherwise–he rode in on.”
Then there was my epiphany moment….
Just as Abraham had his epiphany moment and concluded there was just one God, I had mine and realized that there were none.
The God I was seeing was my reflection in the mirror. The God I was hearing was me.
“Well, what did you expect?” he asked.
“Man can do what he wills but he cannot will what he wills.”
-Arthur Schopenhauer, On The Freedom Of The Will (1839)
This is a large subject that has been debated for centuries. I don’t plan to even try and address and/or cover everything that has been said and debated about it here, even superficially. The point of this is merely to present my thoughts on the matter.
I began considering this issue when I was about 13 or 14-years-old because of my fascination with the concept of time. I was probably influenced by some of what I was reading back then (e.g.: “A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeleine L’Engle, “Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions” by Edwin Abbott, “Slaughterhouse Five” and “Sirens of Titan” by Kurt Vonnegut, and my research into other religions, especially Hinduism’s concepts about time).
Based on the thoughts that were introduced from these sources and others, I came to the conclusion that time may be like the film of a movie, that all the frames of the movie already exist, but that we can only perceive one at a time. I considered the idea that on another level—or higher dimension than the one we occupied—there was no time passing, and that every moment was eternal. This, of course meant that the past, present, and future exist simultaneously, and, if that were the case, everything had to be determined.
This was many, many years before I became aware that Einstein’s Theory of Relativity implied something called “Eternalism.”
According to Wikipedia…
“Eternalism is a philosophical approach to the ontological nature of time, which takes the view that all points in time are equally real, as opposed to the presentist idea that only the present is real, and the growing block universe theory of time in which past and present are real while the future is not. Eternalism is the view that each spacetime moment exists in and of itself. Modern advocates often take inspiration from the way time is modeled as a dimension in the theory of relativity, giving time a similar ontology to that of space (although the basic idea dates back at least to McTaggart’s B-Theory of time, first published in The Unreality of Time in 1908, only three years after the first paper on relativity). This would mean that time is just another dimension, that future events are ‘already there’, and that there is no objective flow of time. It is sometimes referred to as the ‘block time’ or ‘block universe’ theory due to its description of space-time as an unchanging four-dimensional ‘block’, as opposed to the view of the world as a three-dimensional space modulated by the passage of time.”
But for many years before I was aware that my ideas about time had any support from Einstein, I argued over and over again that every moment is eternal, and I was a hard determinist as a result.
In the early 2000s, I began to learn more about quantum mechanics—which has a little different take on things than Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. Quantum mechanics has to do with how things work on the smallest scales while the Theory of Relativity deals with larger scales. Both seem to work just fine within their respective domains, but they aren’t fully compatible. One of the big efforts of physics is to find a theory that will bring them together into some grand unified theory.
In 2004, I read a book called “The Fabric of the Cosmos” by the cosmological physicist Brian Greene (the narrator in the video above who works in quantum theories). This was one of many books I was reading on the subject at the time. As he says in the video and book, “perhaps the river of time is more like a frozen river.” He has said that “Everything that ever has happened or will happen, it all exists,” and I was surprised to see him use the exact same words as I had been arguing for years that “Every moment is eternal.”
He has also said that “Free will is the sensation of making a choice. The sensation is real, but the choice seems illusory. Laws of physics determine the future.”
While he admits that the Free Will vs. Determinism debate has not been definitively resolved one way or another by physics, he indicates that quantum mechanics doesn’t rule out determinism (as some would like to argue), and that—depending on future discoveries— quantum mechanics may end up being “every bit as deterministic as classical physics.”
Even more recently, when I was learning more about the neurosciences, I found additional support for my thoughts about the subject. For example, neuroscience has shown that the brain makes decisions before we are aware of them consciously (by about 300 milliseconds). In his book “Free Will,” neuroscientist Sam Harris writes, “Free will is an illusion. Our wills are simply not of our own making. Thoughts and intentions emerge from background causes of which we are unaware and over which we exert no conscious control.”
So, it seems there is some empirical support for determinism from both cosmological physics and neuroscience.
Nevertheless, upon further reflection of this issue, I considered the possibility that the “Free Will vs. Determinism” debate presents a false dichotomy. I think the problem lies in the phase “Free Will.” I think some of the problem can be resolved by using the phrase “personal will” or “your will” instead.
I think that based on your nature and nurture, and the circumstances you happen to be in at the time, whatever choice you make (or action you take) is inevitable. There is no other choice or action you would have made other than the one you did.
However, you are always expressing “your will” to whatever extent possible.
In other words, just because your choice or action could not have been something else, it doesn’t make it any less “your will.”
In fact, I would suggest that if it could have been something else, it wouldn’t be identifiable as your will (and it might as well be someone else’s). The fact that you did act a certain way in a given circumstance is what makes it your action.
This is a “compatibilistic” approach to the question (though, I may not agree with some aspects of others’ views on compatibilism entirely). [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compatibilism]
I think that based on who you are at any given time and place (your nature and nurture that proceeded the point of decision or action), and the environment and circumstances you happen to be in at the time, your decision or action is inevitable. In theory, if all these variables could be known, an accurate prediction could be made about what you end up doing. Of course, there are too many variables for anyone to know all of them, so it seems like the same difference as what some people think of when they say they had “free will.” Nevertheless, what people tend to think of when they think they could have done something different is an illusion. This view is fully compatible with determinism.
However, I think you are always fully expressing “your will” to the extent of your ability to do so. Obviously, you can’t will yourself to fly and take off unaided into the sky, and if someone else ties you up and throws you in a closet, your options are more limited, but you are always expressing “your will” to the extent you can, given the circumstances. This is compatible with your ability to express your will in the way it really matters.
I’ve sometimes used the following analogy. It isn’t perfect, but no analogy is….
Imagine a mountain. Imagine the mountain from top to bottom represents time. Where you are located around the mountain represents your environment, or place in the world.
You are born on the mountain at a certain place and time. You are a certain shape based on your nature. As you start rolling down the mountain, you will only roll down one path based on your shape and the terrain that you are passing over. The terrain will reshape you as you go (in a way, this is your nurture). There are others rolling down the mountain around you. They may help reshape you just like the environment you travel over does (just as you might reshape them as well as the terrain). Some people may be more malleable than others to be reshaped based on their initial nature and/or what nurture they experience.
On any given part of the path you travel, you will only roll one way, but that is entirely based on WHO YOU ARE at that moment (i.e.: the shape you happen to be at the time). You are fully expressing yourself by the path you take. It is YOU who is taking that path because that’s who YOU happen to be (that’s the shape you are). Obviously, you won’t necessarily take the same path as you did before if you encounter the same circumstances as previously, because you may not be the same shape as you were the first time.
While some like to throw in quantum mechanics effects, chaos theory, and the butterfly effect, as if this somehow changes things. These would be variables in the environment or in your circumstance to be taken into account just like any other.
Obviously, this doesn’t resolve all the issues and questions, but it does represent my thoughts on the subject at the moment.
According to Wikipedia, “Buddhism is an Indian religion and dharma that encompasses a variety of traditions, beliefs and spiritual practices largely based on teachings attributed to the Buddha. Buddhism originated in Ancient India sometime between the 6th and 4th centuries BCE, from where it spread through much of Asia, whereafter it declined in India during the middle ages. Two major extant branches of Buddhism are generally recognized by scholars: Theravada (Pali: “The School of the Elders”) and Mahayana (Sanskrit: “The Great Vehicle”). Buddhism is the world’s fourth-largest religion, with over 500 million followers or 7% of the global population, known as Buddhists.
“Buddhist schools vary on the exact nature of the path to liberation, the importance and canonicity of various teachings and scriptures, and especially their respective practices.”[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhism]
In what follows, I’ll be citing Wikipedia quite a bit (though, not exclusively). The main reason is that it’s convenient. I could easily cite other encyclopedias and reference books that cover the same information, but that would require readers to make trips to the library or bookstore to review them. Some may ask why I don’t cite this or that particular Buddhist website instead. I do in one case below, but mainly the reason is that many of them may only present one interpretation or tradition of Buddhism while Wikipedia at least attempts to cover it as objectively as possible as a result of a collaboration of perspectives rather than one in particular. There are clearly a number of different interpretations or traditions of what I’m about to cover. I’m sure people from different traditions may take issue with some of the things I say below, even when I’m covering the most general and basic bits of information. That only goes to show how many different traditions and interpretations there are.
Justifiable or not, Buddhism seems to get more of a pass from the secular community than most other religions. Of course, some say it is an atheistic religion, and you can find people who will argue that it is a philosophy and not a religion at all.
The problem is that it may depend on how you define “religion,” along with the fact it seems different people all over the world have different ideas in mind about what “Buddhism” actually is, with each of them claiming their version is more accurate or more “original” [Just like various sects of Islam and Christianity who argue their tradition is the only “True” one.]
The difficulty with this is that the traditions were passed down orally for hundreds of years (~400 to 500 years) before anything was written down. Anyone who has played the game “telephone” should be familiar with the problems associated with oral communications handed down through successive generations. Just as with Jesus and Muhammad, there are no writings attributed to Buddha, and we are forced to try and puzzle together an origin story well after the fact with conflicting information from these much later texts and traditions. Because of this, not only is it difficult to know what Buddha actually taught, advocated, or believed in his lifetime vs. aspects of Buddhism which were added on later by others, it is difficult to know details about his life that are accurate vs. what was later made up or became legend. In fact, as with Jesus, it is even possible that Buddha didn’t exist at all and the whole story is a legend. However, most assume the story was at least based on an actual person even if his story was altered and embellished over time.
As Wikipedia says: “The details of Buddha’s life are mentioned in many early Buddhist texts but are inconsistent, his social background and life details are difficult to prove, the precise dates uncertain.” Various traditions place Buddha anywhere between the 19th Century BCE to the 4th Century BCE. Wikipedia places him somewhere between the 6th and 4th centuries BCE. [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhism] That’s a pretty wide guesstimation for someone people claim to know even greater details about. In other words, people are assuming details of his life, sayings, and teachings without even knowing for sure what century he was born in.
According to Wikipedia, “The classification and nature of various doctrinal, philosophical or cultural facets or schools of Buddhism is vague and has been interpreted in many different ways, often due to the sheer number (perhaps thousands) of different sects, subsects, movements, etc. that have made up or currently make up the whole of Buddhist traditions.” Because Buddhism emerged from Hinduism, it is likely some ideas and concepts from that tradition influenced—and were adopted by–Buddhism from the beginning, and it was later mixed with other traditions and beliefs as it spread, which is why there are thousands of sects and traditions in Buddhism today.
It seems unlikely we will ever be able to know what “original” Buddhism looked like beyond reasonable disputes, and claims about what may be “essential” to Buddhism are problematic. People who talk about what Buddhism is or isn’t without qualification have probably never studied it, have only studied one tradition, or are assuming things about it from what they’ve heard or seen without examining it much further. I will only be able to cover some of it superficially here, but hopefully enough to make some of the points I’d like to make about it.
I will attempt to show that there are supernatural traditions in Buddhism (including deities), that the westernized form is only one tradition (which may be just as problematic as any other), and that there are some concepts and practices that are also problematic (some of which have similarities to Christianity and other religions).
While it seems to be the case that Buddhism rejects the idea of a creator deity, many of the traditions and sects have various kinds of demi-gods, spirit deities, wrathful deities, and other supernatural characters (e.g.: hungry ghosts). Some even worship the Buddha as a deity.
Here are just a few examples:
“The term Brahmā in Buddhism refers to the leading god, but in some Suttas the term broadly refers to all beings (deities) who live in heavenly realms. Ancient and medieval Buddhist texts define seventeen, or more, heavenly Brahmā realms (along with demi-gods, hungry ghost and hellish realms), in a stratified manner, which are reached in afterlife based on monastic achievement and karma accumulation. A brahma in these texts refers to any deva in the heavenly realms. The Buddhist god Brahmā himself resides in the highest of the seventeen realms, called the Akanistha.” [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brahm%C4%81_(Buddhism)]
“A deva in Buddhism is one of many different types of non-human beings who share the godlike characteristics of being more powerful, longer-lived, and, in general, much happier than humans, although the same level of veneration is not paid to them as to buddhas.” [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deva_(Buddhism)]
Other supernatural traditions apart from supernatural beings include—but are not limited to–the idea of heavenly and hellish realms (as noted above); the idea of an afterlife—or multiple lives through reincarnation or rebirth–which also implies the concept of a supernatural something that is being reborn (Buddhists reject the idea of a “self” or “soul,” but they disagree on what it is that is being reborn); and the concept of some kind of supernatural “karma.”
While some of these supernatural elements in various traditions of Buddhism may have been later additions or “corruptions” of whatever was “original”–and I’m sure that some can successfully argue that some most certainly were—it doesn’t appear possible that anyone can honestly say with any certainty that there were no supernatural elements in its original form, or to know for sure what the original form might have been. In fact, it seems almost certain there were at least some supernatural elements even in its earliest formations.
Just as in other religions, the various sects may dispute with each other over different interpretations, as well as what aspects of Buddhism are best, essential, or original. And just as in other religions, there may be disputes regarding what parts should be viewed as metaphorical or allegorical vs. what should be taken literally.
It seems that the more recent “western” forms of Buddhism have attempted to strip out as many of the supernatural elements as possible from the various eastern traditions. It seems these western forms are attempting to build a more “rational” or “intellectual” form of Buddhism, which they like to suggest is closer to the “original” or “essential” Buddhism, but which may never have existed in reality. They do this by selecting (cherry-picking) only the Buddhist texts and practices which might be more appealing to modern “Western Culture,” and by disregarding as much of the rest as possible to try to make it into a respectable philosophy of life. In many respects it reminds me of those Christians who argue that Christianity is a philosophy and not a religion. And just as in other religions, the difficult or problematic elements are either ignored or they become metaphors, just like some Christians who argue that some problematic parts of the Bible shouldn’t be taken literally (e.g.: the 6 day creation story, Adam & Eve, etc.).
They have been successful enough with these efforts that it has drawn in many in the secular community… even to the point that some vague western form of Buddhism is all many seem to know about, and others make assertions about Buddhism (e.g.: “Buddhism is atheistic,” “Buddhism doesn’t have gods,” “Buddhism is a philosophy,” etc., etc.) without any qualification about what type, form, or sect of Buddhism they are talking about.
How successful different versions or sects might be in stripping out various supernatural elements and/or making it more “rational” or appealing may vary depending on which version one picks. The concept of some sort of supernatural karma seems like it may be the most difficult to dispense with, but I’m sure some may have. Additionally, some may cherry-pick their own personal version of Buddhism that they think best suits them and then they may become a kind of superficial or weekend pseudo-Buddhist. They may just be a fan of some of the “philosophy” and/or enjoy the meditation, for example. But even this may be problematic as I’ll try to cover below.
Considering that “Scholars are hesitant to make unqualified claims about the historical facts of the Buddha’s life” and “No written records about Gautama were found from his lifetime or some centuries thereafter” and “The sources for the life of Siddhārtha Gautama are a variety of different, and sometimes conflicting, traditional biographies.” And also taking into account such things considered “essential to Buddhism” such as “The Four Noble Truths” and “The Noble Eightfold Path” are thought to be “later developments,” saying that this or that aspect of Buddhism is or isn’t “essential” or “original” when no one knows exactly what he was teaching hundreds of years before it was written down, sounds like a bit of a stretch to me. [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gautama_Buddha]
Some Problematic Concepts & Practices
One of the concepts that can be found in Christianity is the idea that everyone is a “born sinner,” that we are born with a flaw or defect, that there is something inherently wrong with us, and that the Christian religion provides the only “cure” through Jesus and his supposed teachings.
The concept of karma in many traditions of Buddhism suggests that if we are miserable or suffering in this life, it may be some kind of justifiable consequence for something either done by us in this life or in some previous life, and Buddhism is the “cure” through Buddha’s supposed teachings.
I imagine it may be just as psychologically harmful for some people to have the idea that whatever suffering they might be going through is always justified because it’s their own flaw or fault (i.e.: karma) as it might be for others to be told they are “born sinners” or born flawed, and that any suffering is a test from God or the result of turning away from God (as some Christians have it).
There is also a similar idea in both Christianity and Buddhism that the things of this material and sensual world can pose a danger and should be avoided to attain a better state in heaven or nirvana.
According to Wikipedia, “The Four Noble Truths refer to and express the basic orientation of Buddhism in a short expression: we crave and cling to impermanent states and things, which are dukkha, ‘incapable of satisfying’ and painful. This craving keeps us caught in samsara, the endless cycle of repeated rebirth and dying again, and the dukkha that comes with it. There is, however, a way to end this cycle, namely by attaining nirvana, cessation of craving, whereafter rebirth and associated dukkha will no longer arise again. This can be accomplished by following the eightfold path, restraining oneself, cultivating discipline, and practicing mindfulness and meditation.” [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_Noble_Truths]
And, “The Eightfold Path consists of eight practices: right view, right resolve, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right “samadhi” (meditative absorption or union).”
Elaborating further on the “Noble Eightfold Path,” we find ideas like:
“Right View: our actions have consequences; death is not the end, and our actions and beliefs have also consequences after death; the Buddha followed and taught a successful path out of this world and the other world (heaven and underworld/hell)….
“Right Resolve: the giving up home and adopting the life of a religious mendicant in order to follow the path….
“Right Conduct: no killing or injuring, no taking what is not given, no sexual acts….
“Right Livelihood: beg to feed, only possessing what is essential to sustain life….”
…and so on. [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noble_Eightfold_Path]
Of course there are various traditions and interpretations depending on which tradition or interpretation of Buddhism you want to look at or discuss (for example, the Chinese and Pali canons have a tenfold path instead of an eightfold one). But the basic idea seems to be a suggestion to turn away from (or renunciate ) the “impermanent states and things” in this world because they cause “craving and clinging,” which results in pain and suffering.
You can find the same kinds of ideas in other religions. There are dozens–if not hundreds—of examples from the Bible….
“Do not accumulate for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal.” – Matthew 6:19
“Keep your mind on things above, not on worldly things.” — Colossians 3:2
“…abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul.” –1 Peter 2:11
“For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.” –1 John 2:16
“Don’t love this evil world or the things in it. If you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. This is all there is in the world: wanting to please our sinful selves, wanting the sinful things we see, and being too proud of what we have. But none of these comes from the Father. They come from the world.” –1 John 2:15-16
Other examples can be found in James 1:13-15, 2 Peter 1:4, 2 Timothy 2:4, Colossians 3:5, Galatians 5:16-21, Titus 2:12, and so on and on.
As Jesus supposedly said (according to John 18:36), “my kingdom is not of this world.”
In Buddhist cosmology, there are the six “Realms of existence.” [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sa%E1%B9%83s%C4%81ra_(Buddhism)#Realms_of_existence] While Humans are supposedly in one of the higher realms, the whole point of Buddhism is to advance beyond that, beyond the pain and suffering of the endless cycle of “samsara” or “the beginningless and endless cycle of rebirths throughout the six realms; the confused state of suffering from which Buddhists seek liberation” or “the worldly realm of suffering; conditioned existence” (that’s two definitions among many).
“Nekkhamma is a Pali word generally translated as ‘renunciation’ or ‘the pleasure of renunciation’ while also conveying more specifically ‘giving up the world and leading a holy life’ or ‘freedom from lust, craving and desires.’ In Buddhism’s Noble Eightfold Path, nekkhamma is the first practice associated with ‘Right Intention.’ In the Theravada list of ten perfections, nekkhamma is the third practice of ‘perfection.’ It involves non-attachment (detachment).
“The entire course of practice from start to finish can in fact be seen as an evolving process of renunciation culminating in Nibbana [Pali; Skt: Nirvana] as the ultimate stage of relinquishment, ‘the relinquishing of all foundations of existence’ (sabb’upadhipatinissagga).” [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nekkhamma]
“Dukkha (Sanskrit duhkha) or dissatisfaction (or ‘dis-ease’; also often translated ‘suffering’, though this is somewhat misleading). Nothing found in the physical world or even the psychological realm can bring lasting deep satisfaction.” [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_marks_of_existence]
Also, in the Mahayana tradition, for example, they have the “Five paths.” The “path of accumulation” includes “Renunciation of the worldly life.” The path of seeing includes “Realization of the emptiness of reality.”
“The goal of all Buddhists is to reach Nirvana. Death, for a Buddhist, is not the end. Buddhists believe in re-birth. To attain Nirvana, we must break the cycle of birth and rebirth, which is only possible when a person is free from ignorance, hatred and greed. Buddhists believe that everyone can reach enlightenment. However, many young boys and girls train to be monks and nuns from an early age.
“They willingly give up all material possessions except the following eight objects:
a bowl to receive alms
a needle and a ball of thread
a water filter
a walking stick
a tooth pick” [http://library.thinkquest.org/07aug/00117/buddhism.html]
Some of the most serious Buddhists become “monks or nuns,” giving up material possessions to focus on attaining nirvana.
There is this idea in many religions—if not most or all—that we are somehow inherently flawed and this world is flawed, and that we should try to avoid the material or the sensual to focus on the spiritual in hopes of being liberated from this life into some better one, that life in this world is something to be escaped or liberated from. This concept gives some people the idea that suffering in this world is inevitable, so it’s something to be accepted rather than addressed.
One thing I’ve somewhat glossed over is the Buddhist concept of the self or soul which Buddhism rejects. This may be surprising considering the concept of an afterlife or rebirth into this realm or some other one in Buddhism would seem to imply a belief in one. It would seem to be problematic. What exactly is being reborn? Of course, as you might expect, there are different explanations in different traditions. Rather than try to parse through what different traditions believe gets reborn into different realms, I’d like to just touch on what the nirvana objective is supposed to be….
According to Wikipedia, “The state of nirvana is also described in Buddhism as cessation of all afflictions, cessation of all actions, cessation of rebirths and suffering that are a consequence of afflictions and actions. Liberation is described as identical to anatta (anatman, non-self, lack of any self). In Buddhism, liberation is achieved when all things and beings are understood to be with no Self. Nirvana is also described as identical to achieving sunyata (emptiness), where there is no essence or fundamental nature in anything, and everything is empty.”[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nirvana]
So, in addition to the idea of being liberated from the material world, there is supposed to be a liberation from the self as well. Focusing on the selflessness of the world is supposed to be helpful in causing Buddhists to act more selflessly and easing the fears of death….
Here are the results of two surveys on the subject:
“In short, the no-self doctrine, rather than equipping the Tibetan lamas with serenity regarding end of life, seems to provoke a deep-rooted anxiety of self-annihilation, and does nothing to reduce overall fear of death.
“In another survey, we gave participants a tradeoff task to measure generosity in end-of-life decisions. Imagine, we said, that you have a terminal disease that will kill you in six months unless you take a medication. There is only one dose of the medication available. If you take it, it will prolong your life by six months. If you don’t take the medication, it will go to someone else who has the same condition and, like you, will die in six months. If the medicine would prolong his life by twelve months instead of six, would you still take the medicine? What about two years? How much more life would the stranger have to receive before you would give up your medicine?
“What we found surprised us. While Abrahamic and Hindu populations chose to give their medicine away when the stranger would live an additional couple of years, Buddhists were exceedingly reluctant to give their medicine away under any circumstances. If there is a ceiling on how much Buddhists value their lives over others, we never found it. Our scale only went up to ‘more than five years’—more than 70 percent of Buddhists selected this option.
“Much of Buddhist philosophy and religious practice is aimed at cultivating selflessness, rechanneling concerns to the larger moral universe around us. But we did not find this effect in our studies. Ironically, it seems that these teachings, instead of mitigating fear of death and nurturing generosity, engender some of the behaviors and thought patterns they seek to destroy. These effects are especially strong among monastics who have the deepest understanding of these doctrines. They are the most fearful of self-annihilation, and the least generous with their lives.” [http://www.slate.com/bigideas/is-there-life-after-death/essays-and-opinions/buddhism-and-the-loss-of-self]
Even the Buddhist seemingly beneficial or innocuous practice of meditation seems to be problematic for some people….
“Research on meditation suggests how variable its effects can be. Meditation reportedly reduces stress, anxiety and depression, but it has been linked to increased negative emotions, too. Some studies indicate that meditation makes you hyper-sensitive to external stimuli; others reveal the opposite effect. Brain scans do not yield consistent results, either. For every report of heightened neural activity in the frontal cortex and decreased activity in the left parietal lobe, there exists a contrary result.” [https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/why-i-dont-dig-buddhism/]
As an atheist (i.e.: without a belief in a God or gods), I find whatever supernatural claims there are in Buddhism just as absent of any empirical evidence to support them as in any other religion. It has contradicting origin stories, sects, texts, and traditions just like many other religions. It has some differences, but it also has many similarities with both eastern and western religions. I find the attempt to westernize it by making it more palatable or “rational” for a western audience–with claims about what is or isn’t “essential” or “original”—to be misinformed (or arrogant) and problematic. They are not much different than competing sects of Christianity who claim their version is closer to the truth, or how some want to sell or repackage Christianity as a philosophy rather than a religion. While Buddhism may promote some positive things, other religions can make the same claim. And while it may be better than the Abrahamic religions in some respects, I’d suggest a Humanist philosophy of life is even better without the woo, bullshit, and religious baggage (IMO).
Finally, I find problems with some of its concepts and practices (or “philosophy”). While those may vary from sect to sect and person to person, there seems to be some basic or general implications that are contrary to—or seem to be in competition with–human flourishing, enjoyment, and appreciation for our life in this world (which is the only life we know we have). It seems some of its practices—like meditation–may have varying and opposite results depending on the individual (and are therefore problematic), that some of its ideas may be psychologically harmful, that some may be a disincentive to focus on making this world a better place, and that some may create a “deep-rooted anxiety of self-annihilation” and selfishness in at least some of those who seriously practice it.
There may be some sects of Buddhism somewhere that are entirely free of all the problems I cite here (though, I’m not aware of them), and, just like in other religions, some may say it works for them. That may be great for them, but it’s not for me.
I want to live in the here and now, and I enjoy trying to have a close, personal relationship with reality… to whatever extent it can be determined by empirical evidence. I have human goals and desires for making THIS world a better place, not escaping or being “liberated” from it. I accept—and maybe even need—the pain and suffering insomuch as it gives me motivation to combat it and make things better, or to whatever extent it helps me to appreciate the joys in life to an even greater degree.
As an atheist, I accept my own “self-annihilation” when I die. Death is what makes every moment in life more precious and valuable. I’d rather embrace life, and enjoy as much of it as I can in the sort time I’m here, living in–and focusing all my attention on–this world to make the best I can of it.
This is a great flyer from FreethoughtAction….
My father smoked in the house while I was growing up, but that was common back then. In fact, for generations people smoked almost everywhere: at work, at home, in theaters, in bars, in restaurants, in stores, in airplanes, and even in the hospital. Smoking was fairly ubiquitous for decades. In the 1960s when I was growing up, almost every other person was a smoker (today it’s down to about 15% of the U.S. population). Rarely did anyone complain about it.
Cigarette ads were everywhere: on radio, on television, in magazines, in stores, on billboards, and in movie theaters. Cigarette vending machines were commonplace. Cigarette companies even targeted children. They appeared in cartoons like The Flintstones and Tom and Jerry, and you could buy candy cigarettes at the candy store across the street from the elementary school.
Anyone can watch old movies and films to see how prevalent it was. About the only place I remember you weren’t supposed to smoke was in the elevator because of the confined space.
I have an old picture that someone took of my father on one knee proposing to my mother. One hand is holding hers, and the other is holding a cigarette.
Despite his own habit, Dad did try to discourage my brothers and I from smoking a couple of times while I was growing up. When I was very young, he satisfied my curiosity about it by letting me take a drag off his cigarette. He knew I wouldn’t like it, and he was right. I spent a long time in the bathroom afterwards brushing my teeth.
Later, he gave us all a demonstration that he hoped would keep us from ever smoking. He asked us to watch him as he took a puff and then he blew the smoke out through his handkerchief. It left a brown spot. He said, “That’s just what I blew out. Most of it stayed inside me, and that was just one puff. Imagine how that might build up over time in my lungs… so many puffs for each cigarette, a pack of 20 cigarettes a day, 7 packs a week, week after week, and year after year.”
It did make some impact on me, but I wasn’t planning to smoke anyway back then, so I didn’t think it was something I would ever need to worry about.
Things did start changing slowly after the 1964 United States Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health suggested there might be a relationship between smoking and cancer, but the changes after that were very slow and gradual—and almost imperceptible for years–and there didn’t seem to be any concern for nonsmokers. Things pretty much continued as they were, except later some tobacco companies began to introduce lower tar or “lighter” cigarettes and new kinds of filters.
By 1971 there was the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act, which banned cigarette ads on television and radio. I probably didn’t notice.
I started smoking in 11th grade. It was January or February of 1975. I’ve been a smoker on and off—but mostly on—ever since.
My best friend smoked, some of my other friends smoked, and I had dated a couple girls in high school who smoked when I was in 10th grade and earlier that year. I didn’t see what the attraction was, but it didn’t bother me that they smoked. After all, I had grown up with my dad smoking, and it was so common that I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about it.
If it hadn’t been for one especially cold and windy night, I might never have started. I asked my best friend to let me have one of his cigarettes to distract me from how cold it was while we were walking outside. Despite wearing my heaviest coat, it felt like the wind was blowing through my bones, and we couldn’t talk without our teeth chattering. I was looking for anything to take my mind off the cold. The cigarette didn’t seem so bad, so I started thinking about trying it again… and one lead to another over the next few days….
I kind of liked the buzz I got off them before class when I first started. Of course, that didn’t last, but all the cool kids hung out in the designated smoking area in high school, and I was making new friends there.
Cigarettes were fairly cheap back then, about 35 cents a pack in NC. That was probably less expensive than anywhere else on the planet because North Carolina was the tobacco capital of the world.
I went to Myrtle Beach with some friends after graduating 11th grade and partied hard for a week, smoking and drinking. I may have gone through 15 packs while I was there. I had made myself sick of them by the end of the week, and I quit when I got back home. I didn’t feel any withdrawal symptoms at all, so I didn’t think it would be so hard to quit any time I wanted to. That was part of the reason I didn’t see any problem when I started back up about a week later.
Maybe it was in the late 1970s–or sometime in the 1980s–that there started to be separate sections in some (not all) restaurants for smokers and nonsmokers, but there wasn’t anything to stop the smoke from travelling from the smoking section to the nonsmoking section. It just kept it from being quite as direct or in-your-face as it might have been previously.
I bounced around a bit after college in the early 1980s, and tried to find work in the Clearwater Beach area in Florida. I wasn’t having much luck trying to find a job without a car before my money was going to run out, so I thought it might be productive to try and quit again before I was going to have to move back home. A few days spent floating around in a pool and trying to relax as much as possible worked. By the end of a week, I had gotten over the physical addiction. It had been a little harder than when I quit before, but it wasn’t too bad.
It was about 8 months before I started back. I started to realize that there was the physical addiction that I had already dealt with, but there was also the psychological addiction that might be more insidious.
The cost of cigarettes went over a dollar a pack in the 1980s.
I remember when it happened in Nashville. It may have been 1982 when I moved to Nashville with one of my younger brothers, and I got a third shift job at a corner convenience store called Hot Spot. It was just something to pay the bills until I could find better job.
I had been working there a few weeks when the cost of a pack went over a dollar. Near the end of my shift an old man came in to buy a pack, and I quoted him the price. He was outraged. I tried to tell him about the price increase, but that didn’t help. He was so mad that he took out all the coins he had in his pocket and threw them into my face as hard as he could. “THERE’S YOUR MONEY!!!” he screamed at me and walked out the door.
I wasn’t in Nashville long. I moved back to North Carolina in 1983 and it wasn’t much later that the cost went over a dollar there as well.
In 1984 the Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act forced cigarette companies to place Surgeon’s General warnings on all cigarette packs and advertisements, but that didn’t stop anyone I knew from smoking.
I made another attempt to quit smoking in the late 1980s because a woman I was in a relationship asked me to. It was even harder this time. It took 2-3 weeks now to get over the physical addiction. This time my abstinence only lasted about 6 months before I started back. Once again the psychological addiction came into play when I was going through some stressful times.
In 1988 smoking was prohibited on all domestic flights less than two hours. In 1989 it was expanded to include all domestic flights. I didn’t do much flying, so that didn’t impact me. The only flight I made during that time was not domestic, and I was able to smoke in first class on my trip to Cancun, Mexico.
Things really started changing at a faster pace in the 1990s….
In 1993 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) concluded that secondhand smoke caused lung cancer. It designated secondhand smoke a Class A carcinogen, a proven cause of cancer. This put it in the same category as asbestos and radon.
As a result of the EPA report, by the mid-1990s smoking bans in some public places began to be enacted in hundreds of local governments and in 40 states, but I don’t believe North Carolina was one of them.
My younger brother in Nashville got married around then, and that was the first time I ended up in a smoke-free hotel when I went to his wedding. It seemed fairly noteworthy at the time because it was somewhat uncommon.
My parents stayed in the same hotel, and my father later told a story about an experience he had while he was there. He said he was heading outside to have a cigarette, and he was holding one unlit, cupped in his hand, when he got on the elevator going down. A woman got on at the next floor and saw the cigarette filter sticking out from his hand. Dad said she gave him a dirty look when the door closed. She assumed the cigarette was lit. He said she was waving her hand back-and-forth in front of her face to keep from inhaling the imaginary smoke. She was also “tisk, tisk, tisking” and making noises of exasperation as she continually looked from his face to his hand to the elevator door and back again.
When the door opened in the parking garage, he stepped out. He said he made sure that she saw him light the cigarette as the door closed.
It wasn’t long after this that a friend who was a few years older died. She always smoked like a chimney and everyone always bugged her about her smoking, telling her it would be the death of her. She died after being in a coma for 3 days after falling off the back of a golf cart and breaking her neck. No one ever warned her about falling off golf carts, and all that time spent worrying her about smoking was for nothing.
Probably every smoker has friends who bug the crap out of them about their smoking. I once told one of my friends like this that “One day you’ll be looking at my dead body, someone will ask you why I died, and you’ll have to tell them that you worried me to death about smoking.”
But probably every smoker has an army of friends and family who are always bugging them to death about smoking, as if we haven’t heard it thousands of times before. It is frankly annoying as hell, and not very likely to motivate me to quit. In fact, it tends to have the exact opposite effect. I might sigh and say, “Yes, I know” when they bug me, but I feel like saying, “Would you just shut the fuck up about it already? Don’t you think I KNOW all this by now?”
Nevertheless, I did make another attempt to quit smoking in the 1990s, and, once again, it was harder than the previous occasion to get over the physical addiction. It took about a month this time, but I did go about 1 ½ years without smoking before I got caught by the psychological addiction again. It happened after I broke up with someone I was in a relationship with. I was feeling down after the break-up, and I was out drinking with friends at a bar. Someone lit up a cigarette, I said “Give me one of those,” and BOOM! I was smoking again.
In 1998, it came out that perhaps the EPA had “cherry-picked” their information to come up with a desired conclusion regarding secondhand smoke risks back in 1993. In a case the tobacco industry brought against the EPA, a federal district judge ruled that the EPA had “committed to a conclusion before research had begun” and the “EPA disregarded information and made findings on selective information.” The judge also ruled that “using standard methodology, EPA could not produce statistically significant results,” and that the “EPA cannot show a statistically significant association between ETS [Environmental Tobacco Smoke] and lung cancer.” Based on this, the judge vacated the study.
Afterwards, the EPA appealed the ruling against them and had it overturned by the fourth circuit court of appeals on a jurisdiction technicality, not the merits of the ruling. But the media didn’t pay much attention to the controversy at the time. Things proceeded as if there was never an issue with the EPA’s conclusions, the EPA stuck by its guns, and the EPA report continued to be cited without any qualification about its legitimacy.
Nevertheless, for the most part, most things hadn’t changed very significantly for smokers. They might be a little inconvenienced here-and-there, but they could do much of the same things they were doing before. You could still smoke in a lot of places, and you could easily avoid most places where you couldn’t smoke. You could still smoke in bars and many restaurants and in many (but maybe not all) workplace environments (if not on the sales floor, in your office, for example). While many hotels now offered smoke-free rooms, you could still easily get a hotel room you could smoke in.
It wasn’t until sometime after the turn of the century that things began to change more dramatically.
By the early 2000s, an ever growing number of jurisdictions across the country began enacting smoking bans in bars and restaurants, reaching some areas sooner than others. By then, some restaurants had begun seating customers in a separate room rather than a separate section in the same room. As the decade progressed, many restaurants began to seat them at tables outside. By then, you could no longer smoke in most theaters, in most stores and malls, in hospitals, at work, in buses or subways, in planes and trains, or inside almost anywhere. Even the very small, designated smoking areas at airports began to disappear.
Another decade and another attempt to quit smoking. Again, it was harder and took longer to overcome the physical aspect. It took a couple months or more this time, but I did it. But once again I fell back to smoking a year later because of the psychological aspect.
Giving up cigarettes is supposedly harder than giving up heroin, as far as the physical addiction goes. I had proven I could make it through that, but I evidently may never be able to overcome the psychological addiction. It was at this point in my life I began to think I’d not bother to try to quit again. I mean why go through all that suffering when I just keep going back to it later??? I’ve heard that Einstein said that “the definition of insanity is trying to do the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result.” I don’t know if he actually said it or not, but it seems to make sense.
By the 2010s, it seemed restaurants, bars, and some hotels were the last to have smoking banned, but they went pretty quickly as state governments began to ban smoking in all public and commercial buildings.
I happened to be in Washington, DC when that kind of ban was enacted there. As I approached a bar near where I was staying, it seemed to be packed with people overflowing outside. I thought the bar must be very popular. When I went inside, no one was there except the staff. Everyone was outside smoking because of the ban. North Carolina passed the same kinds of restrictions soon afterwards.
Even many restaurants have stopped offering a table outside for smokers, and most places not only stopped allowing smoking inside their establishment, they insist you must be beyond a certain point outside of it.
When my father had undergone (not smoking-related) surgery several years earlier, he was in a room recovering for 17 days. I had to sit with him most of that time so that he would have someone to take him outside in a wheelchair every couple hours to have a cigarette. He had been smoking since he was 14 and wasn’t about to stop this late in his life. No one else was there to do that for him, so I had to sit in an uncomfortable chair–while he had the bed–to be at hand for him for the full 17 days. Each time he wanted one, I had to get him into his wheelchair, push him to an elevator, take him downstairs, and push him outside so many feet away from the entrance so he could have a smoke. Then take him back when he was finished.
Now hospitals don’t even allow you to smoke on their property at all. You can’t even smoke in the parking garage in your car with the windows rolled up. I really can’t believe that could possibly be worse than the carbon monoxide pouring out of the back of a car.
I had to have surgery myself a few years ago, and I thought I’d check out the smoking situation before my admission. The closest area was across the street from the hospital, under a bridge that ran over a creek. A security guard told me that hospital patients were frequently injured falling down the steep decline to the creek trying to find a place to have a smoke. He said that someone had stumbled, fallen into the creek, and drowned the week before. Imagine that! People actually dying to have a cigarette at the hospital!
It would seem that hospitals would try to make some kind of better accommodations for smokers that don’t plan to quit rather than insisting they have to be entirely off their property.
Hotels are now smoke-free. The last time I stayed in a hotel, they offered three benches in the open air across the street as their designated smoking area. Beach hotel rooms with balconies don’t even allow smoking on those balconies in the middle of winter, even when it’s unlikely anyone else would be on a neighboring balcony because of the cold.
So, now smokers are forced outside, away from everyone else in all kinds of weather, in the blazing heat or the freezing cold or in the driving rain.
A couple years ago smoking was banned in parks in my city, and I know at least some beaches in some states that ban it. So, it’s increasingly banned in outside public places. Some rental apartments prohibit it. And it wasn’t long ago that the condo complex where I live sent out a newsletter telling us we shouldn’t smoke inside our own condo.
It’s increasingly banned inside and outside public places and commercial areas, and now there seems to be an effort to ban it in your own personal space.
I told someone then that it was beginning to seem like we were being driven off the planet, step-by-step.
Not only is it becoming harder and harder to find a place to smoke, it is also becoming more expensive….
The cost of cigarettes has continued to rise with additional federal and state “sin taxes” added onto the cost to theoretically lower consumption and cover the supposed health cost on society. Today the federal government adds on $1.01 per pack in taxes, and state taxes vary from 17 cents per pack in Missouri to $4.35 per pack in New York. In North Carolina, the state tax is 45 cents, so smokers pay an additional $1.46 per pack, and now cigarettes cost about $4-$6 per pack (the cost is roughly $200 per month for a typical non-casual smoker in NC, but probably higher in other parts of the country).
Health insurance rates are also higher for smokers, so they are paying more there as well.
There are also the social costs. Not many people today are interested in dating or entering into a relationship with a smoker (except possibly another smoker), and it seems like they are treated almost like lepers by society.
Aside from friends and family always bugging smokers about smoking, It’s not at all unusual for total strangers to give smokers some shit about it as well. Many will wag their finger and tell you how bad it is, how it will kill you, how you ought to quit, and so on.
It’s funny how no one would presume to tell some overweight person eating something unhealthy the same kind of thing, for example. But, if you’re a smoker, it seems like you’re fair game to be chastised by anyone who sees you smoking.
And people always point out the people who die of lung cancer to you: “SEE! Just think. He would still be alive, if he hadn’t smoked!”
Well, not necessarily. If he had been more health conscious, he might have been hit and killed by a car while he was out jogging by the side of the road years earlier. How can anyone know? Being a smoker might have prolonged his life.
Even when some smokers try to transition to electronic cigarettes or vaping to rejoin society, which shouldn’t be an issue for others, it’s treated just the same way as cigarette smoking in most places. Many nonsmokers are evidently freaked out by the very IDEA of smoking, even when it’s water vapor coming out.
In my mind, it has gone over-the-top, to a point beyond reason. I’ve always tried to be as considerate as possible towards nonsmokers, but why, for example, can’t we have some designated smoking bars and restaurants? A smoking car on the back of the train? Or a courtyard in the back of the hospital? I know it may be an issue for the staff in some of these places, but no one would be forced to work there. I’m a bit of a libertarian in cases like these. Why can’t we let the market decide?
I know it may be a health risk for me to smoke, but it’s bad for me to do a lot of things like eating too much saturated fat, or driving on the highway in 5 o’clock traffic. In the end, it should be my decision, and I should be free to take my own risks in life without people pestering me about it.
I know many people don’t want to believe it, but there are some good things about smoking. Aside from being a relaxant and calming, it can act as both a depressant and a simulant. It speeds up your digressive processes, and it makes you more alert by making the neurons in your brain fire faster. I sometimes joke that it also takes the monotony out of breathing.
I know that might not be much, but the point is it isn’t absolutely evil. It does seem to aversely effect some people more than others, possibly due to genetics. For example, my father smoked all his life, never had a problem with it, and it wasn’t the cause of his death. And a cigar-smoking George Burns lived to be over 100, for example. But I do know some families where it seems to be a greater risk factor. Of course, those kinds of things should be factored in to whatever decision someone might make about it.
I understand that my rights might end when it affects other people adversely, but there should be a way to make accommodations where the odds of that are minimized. In my life I’ve had neighbors who have had a lot of wild parties and played loud music late into the night. I never complained because I hoped they would show the same consideration for me when I wanted to party. I’ve had neighbors with dogs that barked for hours, day and night sometimes. I never complained because I might want to practice my guitar on occasion. The point is that we all might do things that bother other people sometimes, but the more slack we can give each other, the more freedom we have for ourselves to do the things we might enjoy.
I understand that we might be taking it to another level where other people’s health is concerned regarding secondhand smoke, but we can always try to work something out if that’s the case.
But I do wonder if that’s really so much the case with secondhand smoking as it’s made out to be.
I already pointed out how the 1993 EPA study about secondhand smoking was flawed, which may have set many of these cultural and societal changes in motion. Now it seems that everyone takes it as a well-established fact that secondhand smoking is dangerous. It is hard to find anyone—or almost anything on the internet—to challenge it. People seem to be able to find later studies to support the EPA study even if that one was flawed.
But how reliable were these later studies? Is the mindset of most of society so committed to the idea that secondhand smoking is a fact beyond question that people are unwilling to believe anything that might contradict that perception?
I’ve personally never been fully convinced that secondhand smoking is as bad as they’ve been saying for all these years. I’m not talking about how it might affect someone living in the same home as a smoker, someone constantly exposed to it like I was as a child. I’m just talking about people who might be occasionally exposed to it.
There have been several studies that have come out over the last several years that seem to put all these assumptions most people seem to have about secondhand smoke into question.
Is it something people are even willing to consider or are most people’s minds closed on the subject?
I know people aren’t going to go back to how it was—and that might be for the best after all–but maybe we can become a little more reasonable and less over reactionary about it.
Here’s an article from January 2017 which fills in the part of the story I left out of what I covered above. As the article’s subtitle asks, “Will we look at the new evidence for long enough to at least consider whether we’ve gone too far?”
We Used Terrible Science to Justify Smoking Bans
This is a selection of quotes I’ve collected over the years. I expect to add to it over time.
Impact on Music
“[The Beatles] almost single-handedly rescued the Western musical system.”
— Howard Goodall, music composer named “Composer of the Year” at the 2009 Classical BRIT Awards
“The impact of the Beatles – not only on rock & roll but on all of Western culture – is simply incalculable … [A]s personalities, they defined and incarnated ’60s style: smart, idealistic, playful, irreverent, eclectic…. [N]o group has so radically transformed the sound and significance of rock & roll. … [they] proved that rock & roll could embrace a limitless variety of harmonies, structures, and sounds; virtually every rock experiment has some precedent on Beatles record.”
“In their initial incarnation as cheerful, wisecracking moptops, the Fab Four revolutionised the sound, style, and attitude of popular music and opened rock and roll’s doors to a tidal wave of British rock acts. Their initial impact would have been enough to establish the Beatles as one of their era’s most influential cultural forces, but they didn’t stop there. Although their initial style was a highly original, irresistibly catchy synthesis of early American rock and roll and R&B, the Beatles spent the rest of the 1960s expanding rock’s stylistic frontiers, consistently staking out new musical territory on each release. The band’s increasingly sophisticated experimentation encompassed a variety of genres, including folk-rock, country, psychedelia, and baroque pop, without sacrificing the effortless mass appeal of their early work.”
–Icons of Rock: An Encyclopedia of the Legends Who Changed Music Forever by Scott Schinder and Andy Schwart
“The Beatles were an English rock band that formed in Liverpool in 1960. With members John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, they became widely regarded as the greatest and most influential act of the rock era.
“The Beatles are the best-selling band in history, with estimated sales of over 600 million records worldwide. They have had more number-one albums on the British charts and sold more singles in the UK than any other act. According to the RIAA, the Beatles are also the best-selling music artists in the United States, with 178 million certified units. In 2008, the group topped Billboard magazine’s list of the all-time most successful “Hot 100” artists; as of 2017, they hold the record for most number-one hits on the Hot 100 chart with twenty. They have received ten Grammy Awards, an Academy Award for Best Original Song Score and fifteen Ivor Novello Awards. The group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988, and all four were inducted individually from 1994 to 2015. They were also collectively included in Time magazine’s compilation of the twentieth century’s 100 most influential people.”
Impact on the Soviet Union
“More than any ideology, more than any religion, more than Vietnam or any war or nuclear bomb, the single most important reason for the diffusion of the Cold War was … the Beatles.”
–Mikhail Gorbachev, former President of the Soviet Union
“The West spent millions on undermining communism but it had much less impact than The Beatles. The Beatles, Paul, John, George and Ringo have done more for the fall of Communism than any other western institution. They alienated a whole generation of young, well-educated, urban Soviet kids from their communist motherland.”
–Artemy Troitsky, Russian journalist/music critic
“The Beatles had this tremendous impact on Soviet kids. The Soviet authorities thought of The Beatles as a secret Cold War weapon. The kids lost their interest in all Soviet unshakeable dogmas and ideals, and stopped thinking of an English-speaking person as an enemy. That’s when the Communists lost two generations of young people. That was an incredible impact.”
–Dr Yury Pelyoshonok, Soviet Studies professor
“It sounds ridiculous but it’s not. I’m convinced the Beatles are partly responsible for the fall of Communism.”
–Milos Forman, Czech film director/screenwriter/actor/professor
“[The Beatles brought] a taste of freedom, a window on the world”
–Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation
“The Beatles promoted a cultural revolution in the former Soviet Union that played a part in the demolition of communism in that part of the world,”
–Leslie Woodhead, British Cold War spy
Impact on Other Musicians
“We were driving through Colorado, we had the radio on, and eight of the Top 10 songs were Beatles songs…’I Wanna Hold Your Hand,’ all those early ones. They were doing things nobody was doing. Their chords were outrageous, just outrageous, and their harmonies made it all valid… I knew they were pointing the direction of where music had to go.”
“This was different, shifted the lay of the land. Four guys, playing and singing, writing their own material … Rock ‘n’ roll came to my house where there seemed to be no way out … and opened up a whole world of possibilities.”
“It was just magic – it was like being hit by a bolt of lightning. I even remember where I was and what I was doing. I was walking down the road in Aston one day, with my light blue transistor radio, and this song came on. I thought, ‘What the f**k is that?’
“It changed my life forever, and at that point I knew what I wanted to do with my life. I never knew it would turn out the way it did – it turned out way bigger than my wildest expectations – but I knew that I wanted to be the singer in a band.”
“The Greatest Band To Ever Walk The Earth!”
–Ozzy Osbourne, Black Sabbath
“If it hadn’t been for The Beatles, there wouldn’t be anyone like us around.”
–Jimmy Page, Led Zeppelin
“There’s no outdoing The Beatles.”
“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is probably the greatest single album I ever heard.”
“the Beatles ultimately “eclipsed a lot [of what] we’d worked for … [they] eclipsed the whole music world.”
–Brian Wilson, the Beach Boys
“The Beatles were in a different stratosphere, a different planet to the rest of us. All I know is when I heard ‘Love Me Do’ on the radio, I remember walking down the street and knowing my life was going to be completely different now the Beatles were in it.”
–Justin Hayward, The Moody Blues
“Probably my two biggest musical influences were the Everly Brothers and the Beatles, in chronological order. Both of them have had a very simple-sounding musical style that’s actually quite complex as far as popular songs are concerned.”
“My favorite artists have always been Elvis and The Beatles and they still are!”
–Johnny Ramone, the Ramones
“I don’t think anybody comes close to The Beatles, including Oasis.”
–Brian May, Queen
“The minute I saw The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show — and it’s true of thousands of guys — there was the way out. There was the way to do it. You get your friends and you’re a self-contained unit. And you make the music. And it looked like so much fun. It was something I identified with. I had never been hugely into sports. … I had been a big fan of Elvis. But I really saw in The Beatles that here’s something I could do. I knew I could do it. It wasn’t long before there were groups springing up in garages all over the place. ”
“That one performance changed my life … Up to that moment I’d never considered playing rock as a career. And when I saw four guys who didn’t look like they’d come out of the Hollywood star mill, who played their own songs and instruments, and especially because you could see this look in John Lennon’s face — and he looked like he was always saying: ‘F— you!’ — I said: ‘I know these guys, I can relate to these guys, I am these guys.’ This is what I’m going to do — play in a rock band’.”
“I took one look on the Ed Sullivan Show and it was ‘Fuck school. This makes it.’ I memorized every Beatles song and went to Shea Stadium and screamed right along with all those chicks.”
–Joe Walsh, The Eagles/James Gang
“The Beatles were the first to actually find that middle path between the artistic and the intellectual, and at the same time still be on the street.”
–Keith Richards, The Rolling Stones
“The four-headed monster.”
“They gave us our first big hit in England, which was a song they wrote “I Wanna Be Your Man.” And we were very grateful for that because it really broke us in England.”
“Their success in America broke down a lot of doors that helped everyone else from England that followed, and I thank them very much for all those things.”
–Mick Jagger, The Rolling Stones
“When The Beatles arrived, from then on, a thousand different things arose.”
–Peter Townshend, The Who
“A big influence was seeing the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. They were a quartet and we said, wow, we can do that. If these guys from England can come out and play rock ‘n’ roll, we can do it … We bought Beatle wigs. We went to the drama store, and I guess they were Three Stooges wigs at that time.”
–Doug Clifford, Creedence Clearwater Revival
“The lightning bolt came out of the heavens and struck Ann and me the first time we saw the Beatles on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show.’ … There’d been so much anticipation and hype about the Beatles that it was a huge event, like the lunar landing: that was the moment Ann and I heard the call to become rock musicians. I was seven or eight at the time. … Right away, we started doing air guitar shows in the living room, faking English accents, and studying all the fanzines.”
–Nancy Wilson, Heart
“There is no way I’d be doing what I do now if it wasn’t for the Beatles. I was watching ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ and I saw them. Those skinny little boys, kind of androgynous, with long hair like girls. It blew me away that these four boys [from] the middle of nowhere could make that music.”
“The Beatles were a band, of course, and I loved their music. But they were also a cultural force that made it OK to be different. They didn’t look like everyone else, and they still made the girls scream.”
–Gene Simmons, Kiss
“The night The Beatles first played The Ed Sullivan Show, boy, that was something. Seeing them on TV was akin to a national holiday. Talk about an event. I never saw guys looking so cool. I had already heard some of their songs on the radio, but I wasn’t prepared by how powerful and totally mesmerizing they were to watch. It changed me completely. I knew something was different in the world that night.”
–Joe Perry, Aerosmith
“One of my earliest memories was sitting cross-legged on the floor in the living room of the house I grew up in and looking up at the black-and-white TV set and watching the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show. I was five years old and I remember thinking, ‘Wow! That’s what I want to do.’ I know it sounds absurd — most five-year-old boys say they want to be firemen or policemen or baseball players, or even the president. Not me. I wanted to be one of The Beatles.
–Richie Sambora, Bon Jovi
“After the Ed Sullivan Show, Feb. 9, 1964, at approx. 8:04pm, after that moment every album, every guitar, every set of drums that was ever sold … 10% should have gone right into their pocket!”
“The Beatles were formative in my upbringing, my education. They came from a very similar background: the industrial towns in England, working class; they wrote their own songs, conquered the world. That was the blueprint for lots of other British kids to try to do the same.”
“I think The Beatles are the reason I’m a musician.”
–Sting, the Police
“John Lennon has been my idol all my life.”
–Kurt Cobain, Nirvana
“There’s a big jump from ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand’ to ‘was she told when she was young that pain would lead to pleasure.’”
“Michael Jackson can sell records until the end of time, but he’ll never matter to people as much as The Beatles did. Every record was a shock when it came out. Every single was an event.”
–Elvis Costello, Elvis Costello & the Attractions
“The Beatles were the ON switch to my life. I can’t even put into words the impact they had on my seven year-old soul. It is almost 50 years ago I saw them on Ed Sullivan and this was the music that changed my life. I got a copy of Meet the Beatles and a guitar for my seventh birthday, and the guitar has been welded to me ever since. I was drawn to the sound of the guitars and the songs and the vocals, the way they looked and how they acted…well really everything about them! It was pure magic to me. I learned to play to those records, and like all the people my age that play music , we all wanted to be the Beatles. I think the Beatles are my generation’s classical music, and as time has shown, they still are our musical gold standard. John, Paul, George, and Ringo changed the entire planet like no one ever will again! They are and always will be the greatest band of all time.”
–Steve Luthaker, Toto
“The British Invasion changed everything musically and culturally. Like a “big bang” there was a before and an after. Ideas changed, music changed, society changed, and the impact of The Beatles alone will keep fans and historians busy forever. A defining moment in the 20th Century that continues to resonate, and will continue strongly for all time.”
–Todd Sucherman, Styx
“From one generation to the next, The Beatles will remain the most important rock band of all time.”
“The Beatles are the foundation of everything we do.”
“If it weren’t for The Beatles, I would not be a musician.”
–Dave Grohl, Foo Fighters
“They completely turned the world upside down.”
–Phil Collins, Genesis
“The greatest rock band of all time. Nobody even comes into the same planetary system in terms of songwriting and presentation. They never repeated themselves. They kept going from strength to strength.”
–Lemmy Kilmister, Motorhead
“Then my mother gave me a copy of “Let it Be” by the Beatles. It was all over after that. I bought every Beatles album and every album by anyone who hung out with the Beatles- The Stones, The Kinks, The Who, etc. I went through the British Invasion about 20 years too late.”
–Miles Zuniga, Fastball
“Everybody was influenced by somebody, but I think everybody was influenced by The Beatles.”
“I fell in love with music through The Beatles. I still think there has never been a band as good as them.”
–Adam Levine, Maroon 5
“They were a great influence on us because they were songwriters. They broke a lot of rules and they created an artistic credibility in the pop music business which had never been there before.”
–Robin Gibb, the Bee Gees
“The Beatles showed up with their great sense of humor, their completely infectious pop songs, their “Woooo!” you know, their everything. It was impossible not to fall in love with them.”
–Susanna Hoffs, The Bangles
“I do remember actually learning chords to Beatles songs. I thought they were great songwriters.”
–Mick Taylor, Rolling Stones
“I liked the Beatles because there was so much melody.”
“The Beatles just changed the whole world of music.”
“The big turning point, really, was the Beatles’ influence on American folk music, and then Roger took it to the next step, and then along came the Lovin’ Spoonful and everybody else.”
“That’s my No. 1 biggest influence. If you’re a rock musician and you say you don’t like The Beatles, then you’re a jerk. You’re just trying to be cool, but you’re really not. You can’t deny The Beatles.”
“You know, I was such a big Beatles fan, and when I’d buy a new album I’d invariably hate it the first time I heard it ’cause it was a mixture of absolute joy and absolute frustration. I couldn’t grasp what they’d done, and I’d hate myself for that.”
–Andy Partridge, XTC
“And I said, ‘Why not? It’s the truth! Why can’t I say I’m a Beatles fan?’ I used to get criticized for that.”
–Buck Owens, musician/singer/songwriter
“When I was a kid, I went through a lot of musical phases, and one was when I’d learn everything that The Beatles ever recorded. After I started drums, I fell in love with their music so much that I just wanted to learn everything.”
–Eric Carr, KISS
“You can’t love music without loving the Beatles.”
–Nick Cannon, rapper
“The first time I heard ‘You Really Got a Hold On Me’ by The Beatles, I was very, very, very happy. The Beatles chose one of my songs! And they wrote great songs!”
“All Beatles, all the time. They were the cornerstone.”
–Jeff Murphy, The Shoes
“From 1962 to 1965, the guitar became this icon of youth culture, thanks mostly to the Beatles.”
–Pat Metheny, jazz guitarist/composer
“I just got into the Beatles a couple years ago, you know, I like it.”
–Ziggy Marley, Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers
“So whenever I hear The Beatles I always feel I’ve got a lot in common with everybody else.”
–Robyn Hitchcock, singer/songwriter
“If Elvis was the first wave of mega-fandom, then The Beatles just sort of blew that out the water.”
“Almost everything The Beatles did was great, and it’s hard to improve on. They were our Bach. The way to get around it may be to keep it as simple as possible.”
–T-Bone Burnett, musician/songwriter/record producer
“I honestly think that there are certain things in life that help people understand themselves. I think The Beatles are one of those things. They resonate the journey of true selfhood, really.”
–Sophie B. Hawkins, singer/songwriter/musician
“There was so much excitement for music at the time, and much of it had to do with the Beatles. The Beatles inspired probably more bands than we will ever know, and they certainly inspired me.”
“I love the Beatles. What more can I say? I’m not gonna lie to you. I love ’em. They make me happy. And I think they were the best, and still are.”
–Liam Gallagher, Oasis
“I remember exactly where I was sitting. It was amazing. It was like the axis shifted … It was kind of like an alien invasion.”
–Chrissie Hynde, The Pretenders
“The British invasion was the most important event of my life. I was in New Jersey and the night I saw the Beatles changed everything. I had seen Elvis before and he had done nothing for me, but these guys were in a band.”
“This was the main event of my life. It was certainly the major event for many others, whether or not they knew it at the time. For me, it was no less dramatic than aliens landing on the planet. … There’s no equivalent of that today, TV shows that literally everybody watched. All ages, all ethnic groups, all in black and white on a 14-inch screen. … It was their sound, their looks, their attitudes. It was so many things. A time to look at things differently, question things a little bit. All kinds of things were new.”
–Steven Van Zandt, Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band
“It was like aliens landed. Look at that and look on how they act and they — wow.”
–Micky Dolenz, The Monkees
Impact on Others
“The Beatles were like aliens dropped into the United States of 1964.”
–Todd Leopold, CNN
“I say in speeches that a plausible mission of artists is to make people appreciate being alive at least a little bit. I am then asked if I know of any artists who pulled that off. I reply, ‘The Beatles did.'”
“My model for business is the Beatles. They were four guys who kept each other’s negative tendencies in check. They balanced each other and the total was greater than the sum parts. And that’s how I see business. Great things in business are never done by one person, they are done by a team of people.”
–Steve Jobs, Apple Computer
“When The Beatles came around everybody freaked. They just loved the look. It revolutionized how people dressed. It triggered in my mind to start a business.”
–Tommy Hilfiger, fashion designer
“That’s when the world turned. That’s when we escaped from the doldrums and moved on to a brighter, better, more joyful future…. Every record was an event, every cut was an opera, the entire story told ours.”
“It was like hearing the future.”
“They blew the walls down for everybody else.”
“The Beatles were my favorite group. This is the nearest I will ever get to being a Beatle.”
–J.K. Rowling, author
“When I was living on North Ninth Street in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in a two-room flat, on welfare, the only decoration in a room I shared with a half brother and sister were Beatles posters.”
“When I was a little colored girl, honest to goodness, I was the biggest Beatles fan.”
–Oprah Winfery, talk show host
“I’d never seen anybody that looked like them. It was like a revelation. And when you’re a little kid, you don’t know it’s a revelation, but it was like the whole world lit up. Suddenly I felt like I could be friends with them… and I’m black! I never thought of them as white guys. They were The Beatles. They were colorless, you know, and they were fucking amazing! The Beatles gave me this idea that everybody was welcome. If you weren’t the hippest kid in the neighborhood, it didn’t matter because you could be a Beatles fan, and I liked that. And that sort of carried me into these older days where it’s like I am my own person. I can look the way I want, I can be the way I want, and it’s okay. And I got that specifically from them.”
–Whoopi Goldberg, actress
“Growing up, I liked all the stuff that everyone else was listening to, like Motown, but the biggest group of all was The Beatles.”
“I love the Beatles.”
–Eddie Murphy, actor, comedian
“I lived in the projects in Brooklyn, you know, in a black community, and The Beatles were everywhere. It wasn’t like this was a white phenomenon. They were everywhere.”
–Nelson George, author
“In Las Vegas I advised them that the Jacksonville Gator Bowl–one of the biggest stadiums in America–would be segregated. To a man, they argued against it. They said they weren’t going to do it. There were 19 days of negotiations. Eventually the Jacksonville Gator Bowl was desegregated for the first time.”
“The people who ran the Gator Bowl integrated for the first time ever, which from my historical perspective and study ended all that in most of the big stadiums in the south.”
–Larry Kane, WFUN
“I was 15, living in segregation. It was an apartheid that’s probably difficult for a lot of people to even picture. The only white person I would even have contact with was a salesman who would come into the community. I was ripe for something different, I think, by the time I heard that The Beatles were coming to town. It was my first concert, and I went by myself. The only catch in my breath that I got was when I went to my seat, and there were all those other people around me. And I still can feel that to this day, that there were all these white people around. But I was standing up with everybody, and then just yelling as loud as I could and singing along. That was the first experience I had where it was possible to be around people who were different and, at least for a while, those differences could disappear.“
–Dr. Kitty Oliver, historian
“The whole thing of The Beatles was they made life more fun.”
–Eric Idle, Monty Python
“Their songs are in my memory banks. I think they’re actually in my genetic material.”
–Robin Williams, comedian/actor
“I wasn’t a fan until I listened to the White Album and became an instant convert.”
–Steven Spielberg, Film maker
“The Beatles created something that never trailed off. What a gift that was to their fans. If you’re into the Beatles, you loved them from beginning to end.”
“Whenever a Beatles song comes on the radio, I reach for the volume and turn it up, because I still haven’t gotten enough of them.”
–Jerry Seinfeld, comedian
“The Beatles originality, passion, and virtuosity, remain undiminished, if not enhanced.”
–Alec Baldwin, actor
“I like the Beatles. They’re at the core of my musicality. And John Lennon’s my spiritual father.”
–Esai Morales, actor
“The greatest rock band ever, ever! They built a great reservoir of melody and poetry which we’re still drawing on today.”
–Victor Spinetti, actor
“They were always original, and that’s thing that comes across from the beginning to the end. These people thought differently from everybody else, and that’s why they made it to the very top.”
–Mark Lewisohn, author
“I felt as much as a girl can feel. I was in love with John…. It was this sense of world music, that we were loving them all over the world.”
“We belonged to them and they belonged to us, and it was so meaningful to us, you know. It just gets me excited just thinking about it.”
–Sigourney Weaver, actress
“My big love was the Beatles. I was more into music.”
–Gary Oldman, actor/filmmaker/musician/author
“Even at all my mother’s concerts, I had never seen people go crazy the way they did with the Beatles.”
–Lorna Luft, daughter of Judy Garland
“Lennon and McCartney were superb composers – their songs were brilliant and remain brilliant.”
–Martin Goldsmith, author
“Artists who broke through the constraints of their time period to come up with something that was unique and original … in the form of popular music, no one will ever be more revolutionary, more creative and more distinctive. They not only sparked the British Invasion of the US, they became a globally influential phenomenon as well.”
–Robert Greenfield, former Rolling Stone associate editor
“I declare that the Beatles are mutants. Prototypes of evolutionary agents sent by God, endowed with a mysterious power to create a new human species, a young race of laughing freemen.”
–Timothy Leary, psychologist
“When The Beatles did the Sullivan Show, everything at the radio station changed. There were no more requests other than The Beatles.”
–Bob Eubanks, radio DJ/concert promoter
“The city has never experienced the excitement stirred by these youngsters from Liverpool called The Beatles.”
“The Beatles first appeared on our show on February 9, 1964, and I have never seen any scenes to compare with the bedlam that was occasioned by their debut. Broadway was jammed with people for almost eight blocks. They screamed, yelled, and stopped traffic. It was indescribable … There has never been anything like it in show business, and the New York City police were very happy it didn’t – and wouldn’t – happen again.”
–Ed Sullivan, host of The Ed Sullivan Show
“Over 55,000 people saw the Beatles at Shea Stadium. We took $304,000 – the greatest gross ever in the history of show business!”
–Sid Bernstein, music producer/promoter
“This is the greatest phenomenon in the century thus far.”
“I quickly sensed that the band represented the biggest cultural shift in generations, and maybe ever.”
“Let me explain to you the type of feeling that you get after 15 performances watching The Beatles in action and watching the crowd. It’s a chilling feeling inside because you know you are experiencing a phenomenon that is the only one of its kind in the century thus far and will probably go down in history as the greatest show business example of music and admiration in many, many hundreds of years.”
“None of the police in any of these cities were prepared for this. Nobody is prepared for this.”
–Larry Kane, WFUN
“They’ve all seen crowds before. They all say we know our own people, we know the police potential, and we’ll be able to handle it, but what they’ve never seen is a Beatle crowd. This is the biggest thing that’s ever happened, no question about it. It’s like nothing before. it’s not like Presley, it’s not like Sinatra, it’s not like the late president Kennedy… it’s The Beatles and they are without precedent.”
–Derek Tylor, press agent
“We’ve never seen anything like this before, ever. Never. Not even for kings and queens.”
–Unnamed airport official
Pre-fame Beatles Quotes
“It was like a merry-go-round in my head, they looked absolutely astonishing … My whole life changed in a couple of minutes!”
“All I wanted was to be with them and to know them.”
“I was top of the bill and wearing a white suit. The boys [the Flamingos] are wearing purple suits. We’re doing The Shadows and all that and the girls are screaming. These guys came walking in, they all had leather and black polo necks and John Lennon had big rips in his jeans. I thought, good God, what’s this? They’re going to ruin everything – the state of them! John Lennon hit his amplifier with a hammer, Paul put on a solid red Rosetti guitar with three strings on it, not even plugged in.
“No stage clothes, just this scruffy, stinky, smelly group. All of a sudden I heard this voice, ‘Oh, my soul! Baby, baby, baby.’ Paul just ripped it out. My fans came screaming from one end of Litherland town hall [Merseyside, England] to the other to watch them. Usually all the girls tried to talk to me, but I was completely ignored! Beatles, oh man, I was sick.”
–Faron Ruffley, Faron’s Flamingos
“Paul and George would come from next door in their school uniforms and all they could talk about was chords and guitars and music. They were sitting around this pile of chips and they’d start playing and strumming, and I would sit down and the hairs would stand up on the back of my neck when I heard the voices – the three of them, you know, at the age of 16, 17, 18. It was amazing!”
“Don’t you think that the Beatles gave every sodden thing they’ve got to be the Beatles? That took a whole section of our youth – that whole period – when everybody else was just goofin’ off we were workin’ 24 hours a day!”
“The Beatles saved the world from boredom.”
“From a standing start, knowing only a handful of chords between them, John Lennon and Paul McCartney turned themselves into the most influential composers of the late twentieth century. Their music wasn’t just immensely popular. It also proved that traditional western harmony – the main building block of European music – still had plenty to offer. (Even though avant-garde composers had turned their back on it.) By mixing pop and classical techniques, and cross-fertilising them with Indian, and electronic music, The Beatles refreshed and revitalised western harmony. They also transformed the recording studio from a dull box where you recaptured your live sound, into a musical laboratory, of exciting and completely new sounds. This was one of the most crucial advances in the way popular music was to be produced. But Lennon & McCartney didn’t just influence all popular music that followed them. They influenced classical music too. The leading classical composers of our own era have turned back to traditional harmony. More than anyone, Lennon & McCartney prefigured this trend. They showed that the old musical forms could be refashioned and refreshed, to make music that was both exciting and popular, and sophisticated and new. They, more than anyone, saved the western musical tradition from extinction, and gave it a new purpose and a direction. Not bad going for two boys who met at a local church fete and taught themselves their instruments.”
–Howard Goodall, music composer named “Composer of the Year” at the 2009 Classical BRIT Awards
Their musical innovations and commercial success inspired musicians worldwide. Many artists have acknowledged the Beatles’ influence and enjoyed chart success with covers of their songs. On radio, their arrival marked the beginning of a new era; in 1968 the programme director of New York’s WABC radio station forbade his DJs from playing any “pre-Beatles” music, marking the defining line of what would be considered oldies on American radio. They helped to redefine the album as something more than just a few hits padded out with “filler”, and they were primary innovators of the modern music video. The Shea Stadium show with which they opened their 1965 North American tour attracted an estimated 55,600 people, then the largest audience in concert history; Spitz describes the event as a “major breakthrough … a giant step toward reshaping the concert business”. Emulation of their clothing and especially their hairstyles, which became a mark of rebellion, had a global impact on fashion.
According to Gould, the Beatles changed the way people listened to popular music and experienced its role in their lives. From what began as the Beatlemania fad, the group’s popularity grew into what was seen as an embodiment of sociocultural movements of the decade. As icons of the 1960s counterculture, Gould continues, they became a catalyst for bohemianism and activism in various social and political arenas, fuelling movements such as women’s liberation, gay liberation and environmentalism. According to Peter Lavezzoli, after the “more popular than Jesus” controversy in 1966, the Beatles felt considerable pressure to say the right things and “began a concerted effort to spread a message of wisdom and higher consciousness”.
“So much has been said and written about the Beatles — and their story is so mythic in its sweep — that it’s difficult to summarize their career without restating clichés that have already been digested by tens of millions of rock fans. To start with the obvious, they were the greatest and most influential act of the rock era, and introduced more innovations into popular music than any other rock band of the 20th century. Moreover, they were among the few artists of any discipline that were simultaneously the best at what they did and the most popular at what they did. Relentlessly imaginative and experimental, the Beatles grabbed hold of the international mass consciousness in 1964 and never let go for the next six years, always staying ahead of the pack in terms of creativity but never losing their ability to communicate their increasingly sophisticated ideas to a mass audience. Their supremacy as rock icons remains unchallenged to this day, decades after their breakup in 1970.
“It’s hard to convey the scope of the Beatles’ achievements in a mere paragraph or two. They synthesized all that was good about early rock & roll, and changed it into something original and even more exciting. They established the prototype for the self-contained rock group that wrote and performed its own material. As composers, their craft and melodic inventiveness were second to none, and key to the evolution of rock from its blues/R&B-based forms into a style that was far more eclectic, but equally visceral. As singers, both John Lennon and Paul McCartney were among the best and most expressive vocalists in rock; the group’s harmonies were intricate and exhilarating. As performers, they were (at least until touring had ground them down) exciting and photogenic; when they retreated into the studio, they were instrumental in pioneering advanced techniques and multi-layered arrangements. They were also the first British rock group to achieve worldwide prominence, launching a British Invasion that made rock truly an international phenomenon.”
–Richie Unterberger, Allmusic.com
“The Beatles were an English rock band that became arguably the most successful act of the 20th century. They contributed to music, film, literature, art, and fashion, made a continuous impact on popular culture and the lifestyle of several generations. Their songs and images carrying powerful ideas of love, peace, help, and imagination evoked creativity and liberation that outperformed the rusty Soviet propaganda and contributed to breaking walls in the minds of millions, thus making impact on human history.”
“The Beatles were an iconic rock group from Liverpool, England. They are frequently cited as the most commercially successful and critically acclaimed band in modern history, with innovative music, a cultural impact that helped define the 1960s and an enormous influence on music that is still felt today.”
Over the years the word “atheist” has been used in various ways. At one time Christians were called “atheists” by pagans because Christians didn’t believe in their gods. Later, deists like Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine were called “atheists” by Christians. So, for many years, believers have used the word to define those that didn’t believe in their particular god, even if they believed in some other god or concept of god.
Some definitions of the word in the last couple centuries or more may define an atheist as someone who “denies or rejects the existence of God” and/or someone who “believes there is no god,” or variations of these. These definitions were likely formulated by believers and not the atheists themselves.
This explains quotes by people like American writer and professor of biochemistry Isaac Asimov (1920-1992), who seems to have one of those definitions in mind when he said….
“I am an atheist, out and out. It took me a long time to say it. I’ve been an atheist for years and years, but somehow I felt it was intellectually unrespectable to say one was an atheist, because it assumed knowledge that one didn’t have. Somehow, it was better to say one was a humanist or an agnostic. I finally decided that I’m a creature of emotion as well as of reason. Emotionally, I am an atheist. I don’t have the evidence to prove that God doesn’t exist, but I so strongly suspect he doesn’t that I don’t want to waste my time.”
Definitions of this sort are the ones many self-identifying agnostics also seem to have in mind when they resist self-identifying as “atheists.” They correctly think that asserting a claim either for or against the existence of a god without empirical evidence is “intellectually unrespectable.” Some believe these types of definitions puts “atheism” on the same ground as belief, requiring an equal conviction—or “leap of faith”–without knowledge, and frequently leads some to assert that “atheism” is equivalent to religion in that respect. Using definitions like these may also unfortunately result in placing the burden of proof on both sides–theism and atheism–in equal measure.
Typing “atheist definition” into Google today comes up with this result: “a person who disbelieves or lacks belief in the existence of God or gods.”
Other online sources that come up near the top of search results include the following:
The Urban Dictionary: “a person who lacks belief in a god or gods.”
Merriam-Webster: “a person who does not believe in the existence of a god or any gods.”
Rational Wiki: “Atheism, from the Greek a-, meaning ‘without’, and theos, meaning ‘god’, is the absence of belief in the existence of gods.”
Wikipedia: “Atheism is, in the broadest sense, the absence of belief in the existence of deities.”
These are more modern definitions of the term.
I submit that the best definition for “atheist” is someone “without a belief in a God or gods,” or as the Oxford Book of Atheism defines it, someone who has “an absence of belief in the existence of a God or gods.”
Here are my 5 main reasons….
#1: Practical Use
According to their website, “Since 1963, American Atheists has been the premier organization fighting for the civil liberties of atheists and the total, absolute separation of government and religion.” American Atheists is a national organization representing thousands of self-identifying atheists in America.
American Atheists use this definition: “To be clear: Atheism is not a disbelief in gods or a denial of gods; it is a lack of belief in gods.”
Dan Barker is the co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), FFRF is the largest national organization advocating for non-theists in the U.S. On page 135 of his book Losing Faith in Faith he says: “Atheism is not a belief. It is the ‘lack of belief’ in god(s).”
Aron Ra is the president of the Atheist Alliance of America, he has said that “A-theism means ‘without theism.’ It is not necessarily a claim of knowledge or even a conclusion. It is simply any perspective that does not include or accept the beliefs held in theism. It is the default position regarding the failure of theists to make an adequate or compelling case for their unsupported and evidently false assertions. Theists know they can’t bear the burden of proof, so they try to reverse it, to shift it onto us, by saying that atheism is a belief that there is no God. No, atheism is a lack of belief in the existence of a god; not the existence of belief in the lack of a god.”
These organizations–American Atheists, FFRF, and Atheist Alliance of America–are the largest membership organizations of this type in the U.S. and they all advocate for a definition that is absent (or without) a belief in a God or gods.
Having been well engaged in the secular/atheist/humanist/freethought movement over the last decade, I can say this definition is typical in local, national, and international nontheist secular organizations.
The American Humanist Association (AHA), for example, touts that one can be “Good Without God.” Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the AHA has said, “By definition, identifying as atheist indicates that one doesn’t have a belief system that includes a god, nothing more.”
From a 2012 Center for Inquiry (CFI) blog post: “Being an atheist doesn’t even mean that you must deny the existence of God. That’s why the proper definition of an atheist includes ‘lacking belief in any god’ and not necessarily also ‘claiming to know no gods exist.’ Reasonable doubt, not epistemic certainty, is enough for an atheist.”
There are other examples, but these are some of the largest nontheist secular membership organizations representing secular nonbelievers in the U.S. that I’m citing. I am not aware of any counter-examples which propose any kind of rejection, denial, or belief that there is no God as definitions of atheism.
Of course, I haven’t surveyed atheists across the world to find out how all of them might define themselves, but it seems we might pay at least some attention to how those organizations who represent them might define it. And it would seem if there were any significant objections from their various memberships, there would be some significant noise about it, which there doesn’t seem to be.
The point is that it might be most relevant to use the definition that people who self-identify by that term would use, especially those organized atheists who are most invested in it. To impose a definition on them from outside would seem to be less accurate in understanding what they actually think.
#2: The Various God Definitions
“God” is certainly a term that is well-known to be used by different people to mean different things. [Note: I won’t be focusing on secondary definitions of the word here (such as: His “god” was money), but more on primary definitions.] Believers of different religions (or faiths) have different concepts in mind when they use this word (although there is some overlapping among some of them, and sometimes different words are used such as “Allah” by Muslims), and different sects within each religion may have somewhat different things in mind when they use the word. It may even be difficult to find two people of the same sect who have exactly the same concept in mind. For this reason, some have suggested that each believer creates “God” in his or her own image, and some charge believers with SPAG (Self Projection As God), but I will pass over that here. Nevertheless, if this is the case, then the term could have a different meaning for each believer.
A review of some selected dictionaries seems to indicate a difference between the use of the word when it is capitalized and when it’s not. For example, Merriam-Webster seems to be providing a definition for the lowercase “god” with its second definition here: “a spirit or being that has great power, strength, knowledge, etc., and that can affect nature and the lives of people : one of various spirits or beings worshipped in some religions,” and Dictionary.com explicitly provides a lowercase definition as “one of several deities, especially a male deity, presiding over some portion of worldly affairs.”
Focusing solely on 1st definitions in these dictionaries and the uppercase use of the word, we find Merriam-Webster defining the term as “the perfect and all-powerful spirit or being that is worshipped especially by Christians, Jews, and Muslims as the one who created and rules the universe.” According to The American Heritage Dictionary, “God” is “a being conceived as the perfect, omnipotent, omniscient originator and ruler of the universe, the principal object of faith and worship in monotheistic religions,” and according to Random House Kernerman Webster’s College Dictionary, “God” is “the creator and ruler of the universe; Supreme Being.” The World English Dictionary defines “God” as “a supernatural being, who is worshipped as the controller of some part of the universe or some aspect of life in the world or is the personification of some force.” Collins English Dictionary defines “God” as “the sole Supreme Being, eternal, spiritual, and transcendent, who is the Creator and ruler of all and is infinite in all attributes; the object of worship in monotheistic religions.” And Dictionary.com defines “God” as “the one Supreme Being, the creator and ruler of the universe.”
According to Wikipedia…
“God is often conceived as the Supreme Being and principal object of faith. In theism, God is the creator and sustainer of the universe. In deism, God is the creator (but not the sustainer) of the universe. In pantheism, God is the universe itself. The concept of God as described by theologians commonly includes the attributes of omniscience (infinite knowledge), omnipotence (unlimited power), omnipresence (present everywhere), omnibenevolence (perfect goodness), divine simplicity, and eternal and necessary existence. Monotheism is the belief in the existence of one God or in the oneness of God. God has also been conceived as being incorporeal (immaterial), a personal being, the source of all moral obligation, and the ‘greatest conceivable existent.'”
Without exploring every last dictionary and encyclopedia available, we can began to gather some idea of how many different believers conceive of the term when it is used in an uppercase sense. “God” seems to be a supernatural and supreme being who created and/or rules the universe. As a result of this “supreme” status, other attributes might or might not include: an eternal and necessary existence, transcendence, perfection, omnipotence, omniscience, omnibenevolence, and omnipresence.
However, as the Wikipedia entry attempts to address, there are some differences between the theistic, deistic, and pantheistic concepts of “God.” If you explore even further, you will find different–and sometimes highly developed–schools of thought about the definition of “God” not only among theists but deists and pantheists as well.
Therefore, it is important to understand what someone means when they use the word in order to understand what they might be claiming or talking about. If the term is undefined, it could mean a very wide range of things. The person using the word may be talking about a personal God who intervenes in the world or they may be talking about an impersonal God who doesn’t. They might have some Eastern concept of God or they might have some Western concept. They might be talking about a Christian God or an Islamic God. They might be talking about “Nature’s God” or even just “Nature,” or they might even be talking about “All That Is” or some ill-defined or undefined “force” or undetectable “energy.”
Muhammad had a different “God” in mind than Martin Luther. John Calvin had a different “God” in mind than Thomas Jefferson. Albert Einstein had a different “God” in mind than Billy Graham, and so on.
It was precisely because Einstein didn’t define what he meant when he used the word “God” at one point that he had to clarify it later because of the confusion it caused….
“It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.”
In order to understand what anyone means when they use the word, it is important to understand the context or the definition that individual might be using, including the possibility they might be using it only as a metaphor.
So, if we define “atheist” as “someone denying or rejecting the existence of god” or “someone who believes there is no god”–as some persist in doing–we run into the problem of what definition of “god” we are talking about. While I might be able to rule out some definitions as possible (if they are self-contradictory or irrational, for example), I might not be able to rule out all of them. And I certainly can’t rule out every definition any believer might come up with prior to learning what that definition is.
The burden is on the person making the claim to define what they are talking about when they use the word “god.” If they refuse to give a definition, they might as well be using a nonsense word, so what they are talking about is meaningless, and it can be dismissed as such with no reason to even consider it. Until the word is defined, nonbelievers have no way to know what they are talking about, so it would be difficult (if not impossible) to have an opinion on the subject (unless they themselves are assuming their own definition). For example, if the person using the word simply means “nature,” I imagine you would be hard pressed to find an “atheist” who didn’t believe in nature. This is just one example. Some people use the word to mean “All That Is.” If that is what the person using the word really means, then again, you would probably have a hard time finding an atheist who didn’t believe in that (while one might suggest the believer use other words for clarity regarding what they are talking about, we have no control over how people might use the word). I think you will have a difficult time finding an atheist anywhere who is willing to reject the possibility of any and/or every definition of “god” that a believer might come up with.
You might find some who will positively reject some definitions of “god,” perhaps because those definitions are internally self-contradictory or illogical/irrational, which may be fully justifiable, but not every possible definition someone might present. And even if someone thinks they know all possible definitions, new ones are likely to spring up at any moment.
As Gordon Stein pointed out regarding the word “atheism”:
Actually, there is no notion of “denial” in the origin of the word, and the atheist who denies the existence of God is by far the rarest type of atheist — if he exists at all. Rather, the word atheism means to an atheist “lack of belief in the existence of a God or gods.” An atheist is one who does not have a belief in God, or who is without a belief in God. The importance of these distinctions is that one cannot understand what one cannot define accurately. An atheist cannot deny the existence of that which he finds to be without meaning, namely the term *God. In order to deny the existence of something, one must know what the term one is denying means.
Certainly one cannot reject or deny what has yet to be defined. That would be irrational.
#3: Burden of Proof
As I pointed out in the introduction, using definitions for atheist such as someone who “denies or rejects the existence of God” or someone who “believes there is no God” unfortunately puts the same kind of burden of proof on the atheist as it does the theist who believes there is one. The definition “without a belief in a God or gods” avoids that problem entirely.
As a result, this definition is useful in combating the theists’ common assertion that atheism is as much a belief system as theism is, and that it takes just as much “faith” to say there are no gods of any possible definition as it is to say there is one.
It removes the “intellectually unrespectable” issue that Asimov struggled with, as well as the issue that self-identifying agnostics who shun self-identifying as atheists have with it.
As Michael Martin (1932-2015) former professor of philosophy at Boston University explains it:
If you look up “atheism” in a dictionary, you will probably find it defined as the belief that there is no God. Certainly many people understand atheism in this way. Yet many atheists do not, and this is not what the term means if one consider it from the point of view of its Greek roots. In Greek “a” means “without” or “not” and “theos” means “god.” From this standpoint an atheist would simply be someone without a belief in God, not necessarily someone who believes that God does not exist. According to its Greek roots, then, atheism is a negative view, characterized by the absence of belief in God.
This would result in treating the definition of “atheism” in the same way we treat other words like “amoral,” “atypical,” and “asymmetrical,” with the “a” meaning “without” or “not,” which would seem to make the most sense.
Here are some other related quotes on the matter, selected because they may be of some interest….
Atheist, in the strict and proper sense of the word, is one who does not believe in the existence of a god, or who owns no being superior to nature. It is compounded of the two terms … signifying without God.
— Richard Watson (1781–1833), British Methodist theologian, author of A Biblical and Theological Dictionary
Etymologically, as well as philosophically, an ATheist is one without God. That is all the “A” before “Theist” really means.
— G.W. Foote (1850-1915), English secularist and journal editor, author of What Is Agnosticism (London, 1902)
The word atheist is a thoroughly honest, unambiguous term. It means one who does not believe in God, and it means neither more nor less.
— Robert Flint, (1838-1910), Scottish theologian and philosopher, author of Agnosticism (Edinburgh, 1903)
If one believes in a god, then one is a Theist. If one does not believe in a god, then one is an A-theist — he is without that belief. The distinction between atheism and theism is entirely, exclusively, that of whether one has or has not a belief in God.
— Chapman Cohen (1868 -1954), English freethinker, atheist, and a secularist, author of Primitive Survivals in Modern Thought (London, 1935)
… the absence of theistic belief …
— Joseph McCabe (1867-1955), English writer and speaker on freethought defining the word atheism in A Rationalist Encyclopedia (1950)
Obviously, if theism is a belief in a God and atheism is a lack of a belief in a God, no third position or middle ground is possible. A person can either believe or not believe in a God.
If theism is the belief in the existence of God, then a-theism ought to mean “not theism” or “without theism.”
— Gordon Stein (1941-1996), American author, physiologist, and activist for atheism, former senior editor of Free Inquiry and the American Rationalist
“Atheist” is quite clear in its meaning of “somebody without a belief in God.” It is more complex in its usage since it has often been used to blacken anyone with the slightest doubt about the teachings of religion.
— Jim Herrick (born 1944), British Humanist and secularist
All children are atheists — they have no idea of God.
— Baron d’Holbach (1723-1789), French Enlightenment philosopher
The man who is unacquainted with theism is an atheist because he does not believe in a god. This category would also include the child with the conceptual capacity to grasp the issues involved, but who is still unaware of those issues. The fact that this child does not believe in god qualifies him as an atheist.
— George H. Smith (born 1949), American author of Atheism: The Case Against God (1974)
Calling Atheism a religion is like calling bald a hair color.
— Don Hirschberg, in a letter to Ann Landers
Atheism is a religion like abstinence is a sex position.
— Bill Maher (born 1956), American comedian, political commentator, and television host
Atheism is a belief system, like “OFF” is a TV Channel.
— Ricky Gervais (born 1961), English comedian, actor, writer, producer
“Atheism is a religion like not collecting stamps is a hobby.”
— Penn Jillette (born 1955), American magician, comedian, author
If we accept that an atheist is “someone who is without a belief in a God or gods,” then atheism and agnosticism (or theism and gnosticism) are not mutually exclusive because one has to do with belief and the other has to do with knowledge.
One can be…
An agnostic atheist – one who thinks we can’t know with certainty, but lacks belief.
An agnostic theist – one who thinks we can’t know with certainty, but believes regardless.
A gnostic theist – one who claims to know and believes.
A gnostic atheist – one who claims to know and doesn’t believe.
You will find some who refer to the agnostic atheist position as weak, soft, implicit, negative, or pragmatic atheism and the gnostic atheist position as strong, hard, explicit, positive, or theoretical atheism.
If the “without a belief in a God or gods” definition is used, then not only is it compatible with agnosticism, it also necessarily includes all atheists (weak/soft/implicit/negative/pragmatic/agnostic and strong/hard/explicit/positive/theoretical/gnostic). It becomes an all-inclusive umbrella definition for atheists of all stripes.
Therefore, I submit that the best definition for atheists is “without a belief in a God or gods” or “an absence of belief in the existence of a God or gods” because 1) that is the way I think most organized atheists would define it today, 2) that definition resolves the issue of rejecting in advance something that is yet to be defined, 3) it removes the problematic burden of proof issues, 4) that is the etymology of the word, and 5) that definition makes it compatible with agnosticism and it can include all types of atheists (weak/soft/implicit/negative/pragmatic/agnostic and strong/hard/explicit/positive/theoretical/gnostic).
If anyone is interested in going into further detail regarding some of the things I’ve covered above, as well as some reasons that I didn’t cover, I’d suggest reading this excerpt from the Oxford Book of Atheism on “Defining Atheism.” It is a little long, but it is also interesting and informative.
Regarding the unfortunate ruling in the Greece v. Galloway case, instead of just banning invocations outright, the Supreme Court ruled that invocations before local city council meetings can be allowed when they are open to everyone.
To test this, Humanists have suggested applying to give Humanist invocations, Satanists have suggested applying to give invocations to Satan, and others have suggested atheists might apply to give invocations to the Flying Spaghetti Monster or the Invisible Pink Unicorn.
All of the above might be better ideas than this one….
My first inclination after the ruling was to try and make a total mockery of the occasion (to an even greater extent than giving invocations to the Flying Spaghetti Monster or the Invisible Pink Unicorn might be).
Imagine showing up as some kind of cross between a witch doctor and a magician (e.g.: body paint and a rattle, a magician’s hat and a wand, etc.). Then, giving an invocation like this…
Ooogla Boogla, Ooogla Boogla, Ooogla Boogla, Shazam!
Abracadabra, Alakazam, Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo!
Hocus Pocus, Voodoo, Hoodoo, You do!
Jantar Mantar, Jadu Mantar, Joshikazam!
Mecca lecca hi, mecca hiney ho!
Klaatu barada nikto!
Sim Sala Bim, Presto, Ju ju!
Ep-pe, Pep-pe, Kak-ke!
Hil-lo, Hol-lo, Hel-lo!
Ziz-zy, Zuz-zy, Zik!
Meeska, Mooska, Mickey Mouse!
A la peanut butter sandwiches!
Izzy wizzy, let’s get busy!
Of course, aside from dancing around and shaking a rattle, you could throw around some glitter and blow some “Miracle Bubbles.” You might even consider becoming “possessed by the spirit” at the end and conclude by frothing at the mouth and shaking violently on the floor.
Note: The words above were drawn from a number of sources related to “magical words.” I’ve also included the chant from the novel (not the movie) “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” It’s the chant to summon the flying monkeys.
The Bible is full of contradictions, and anyone can build a God or Jesus in their own image by cheery-picking the parts they like.
The character of Jesus as relayed in the Bible is a mixed bag. It is NOT a consistent message of peace, love, and understanding, despite what so many seem to want to believe.
Matthew 10:36: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s foes will be those of his own household.”
Luke 14:26: “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.”
Matthew 15:22-26: “A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, ‘Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession.’ Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, ‘Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.’ He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.’ The woman came and knelt before him. ‘Lord, help me!’ she said. He replied, ‘It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.'” [Although, he did eventually help her, he basically calls non-Jewish people “dogs.”]
He curses a fig tree to death for not bearing fruit out of season [Matthew 21:19], and he seems to disregard the poor when he is advised that the costly ointment being used on him could be sold to help them (“The poor you will always have with you” -Mark 14:7).
In Matthew 12:30 and Luke 11:23, Jesus acts like a Sith Lord when he says, “He who is not with me is against me.” Jesus introduces the idea of thought crimes in his Sermon on the Mount. And Jesus is the one who introduces the idea of eternal hell and damnation for nonbelievers (Believe or Burn!).
Also consider that most Christians believe in the idea of the Trinity, that God, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost are one God, that they are “co-equal, co-eternal and consubstantial, and each is God, whole and entire.”
However confusing this might seem to be, it means that Jesus is also responsible for all the mean, nasty, insane, and genocidal stuff the character God was supposed to have done in the Old Testament as well.
So despite how much liberal Christians might LOVE to find ways to call conservative Christians hypocrites and conservative Christians might LOVE to reinterpret the nicer bits, they both overlook the fact that there are enough contradictions in the Bible (and enough different ways of interpreting it) to make Jesus/God into whoever you would like them to be by cherry-picking whichever parts you like best.