Ghosts & Gods

A ghost is supposedly “the soul or spirit of a dead person or animal that can appear to the living.” So, to believe in ghosts it would seem you would have to believe that living things have “souls” or “spirits.” “Souls” are defined as “the spiritual or immaterial part of a human being or animal, regarded as immortal,” and “spirit,” in this context, is defined as “the nonphysical part of a person that is the seat of emotions and character; the soul.”

If we are to accept evolution, at what point would there be any evolutionary pressure for a “soul” to evolve in ANY living thing? What would be the evolutionary advantage that would drive it?

Of course, it would seem that you would also have to believe in the supernatural to believe in “souls” (by any literal definition), and there isn’t any empirical evidence for anything supernatural. So, most people who believe in them seem to be theists who believe that everyone has an immortal soul that will somehow exist beyond death for eternity in some kind of afterlife. And many of them believe the “soul” enters the body at the point of conception, which is why many of them are supposedly opposed to abortion.

And it seems to be a point of contention among believers in the supernatural if other lifeforms have “souls” besides humans. It seems dogs (as one example) may be excluded from heaven according to the beliefs of some (because only humans are “special” enough to merit “souls”). And, of course, some argue that any potential human clones would not have “souls.”

The way a lot of theists seem to think about it is that the physical human is just some kind of an avatar for the actual person, who only truly exists as a “soul” (independent of the material world).

Consider the case of Charles Whitman. According to Wikipedia, “Charles Joseph Whitman (June 24, 1941 – August 1, 1966) was an American mass murderer who became infamous as the ‘Texas Tower Sniper’. On August 1, 1966, he murdered his mother and wife in their homes, then went to the University of Texas at Austin where he shot and killed three people inside the university’s tower. He then went to the tower’s 28th-floor observation deck, where he fired at random for some 96 minutes, killing an additional eleven people and wounding thirty-one before being shot and killed by police. Sixteen people were killed in total; a 17th victim died in 2001 from injuries sustained in the attack.”

The day before he committed the mass killing, he wrote:

“I do not quite understand what it is that compels me to type this letter. Perhaps it is to leave some vague reason for the actions I have recently performed. I do not really understand myself these days. I am supposed to be an average reasonable and intelligent young man. However, lately (I cannot recall when it started) I have been a victim of many unusual and irrational thoughts. These thoughts constantly recur, and it requires a tremendous mental effort to concentrate on useful and progressive tasks.”

According to Wikipedia, “In his note, he went on to request an autopsy be performed on his remains after he was dead to determine if there had been a discernible biological contributory cause for his actions and for his continuing and increasingly intense headaches.”

The autopsy found that he had a “pecan-sized” brain tumor. Texas Governor John Connally commissioned a task force to look into the matter. Psychiatric contributors to the report concluded that the “tumor conceivably could have contributed to his inability to control his emotions and actions.”

Assuming the brain tumor had something to do with Charles Whitman’s actions, was his “soul” sending commands to his human avatar that were being blocked by the tumor? Was his “soul” responsible for his actions, or had his “soul” lost control of his physical mind? If we presume the latter case, it would seem the “soul” only has limited control of its human avatar that can be overpowered by the physical/material world.

This is probably only one of the most dramatic examples of a multitude of recorded instances where people have been known to start acting and behaving differently as a result of damage to the brain (either from physical injury or from other reasons like tumors or dementia). Where would we even begin to consider the “soul” responsible vs. some physical element?

I think this calls into question the whole idea of a supernatural “soul” having any kind of control at all. If we believed that it did, we would either have to accept that it could easily be thwarted by physical/material happenstance, OR that the “emotions and character” of the “soul” happened to change–just by coincidence–at the same time that damage to the brain occurred.

There are many other things that might be unpacked here (like why are there so many reports of ghosts wearing clothes; or what enables them to float and pass through walls, but keeps them attached to the earth; or if all aborted fetuses go to heaven, what’s so bad about that, etc. but I’ll not go into all that here).

The main thing I want to keep focus on here is how a immaterial, supernatural “soul” can have ANY influence or communication with the physical person while the person is living.

The most interesting answer to this question seems to have been resolved when the Higgs Boson was discovered in 2012.

Cosmological physicists such as Sean Carroll and Brian Cox make the argument that the physics we currently know is sufficient to rule out the possibility of such things as ghosts. As Carroll says, “Within QFT [Quantum Field Theory], there can’t be a new collection of ‘spirit particles’ and ‘spirit forces’ that interact with our regular atoms, because we would have detected them in existing experiments.”

Sean Carroll explained it at the 2013 AHA conference.…

Brian Cox agrees…

Ghosts definitely don’t exist because otherwise the Large Hadron Collider would have found them, claims Brian Cox

If this is the case, then it would seem to also rule out any definition of a “spiritual/supernatural” god who could interact with the material world. In other words, this may be empirical evidence that “gods” (by any definition that matters to us) don’t exist.

Buddhism

Introduction

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).

Supernatural Traditions

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.

“Western” Buddhism

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 considering such things considered “essential to Buddhism” such as “The Four Noble Truths” and “The Noble Eightfold Path” are considered “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).

–snip—

“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:

robes
a bowl to receive alms
a belt
a razor
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/]

Conclusion

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.

Things To Ponder…

#1

What kind of proof could there ever possibly be for atheists for an omni-max Supreme Being as imagined by believers?

Arthur C. Clarke once proposed that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Suppose a more advanced civilization wanted to fool us into thinking “the” omni-max Supreme Being God was making itself known to us? How would be able to tell the difference? In order for us to really “know,” if it was some all-knowing being or not, wouldn’t we have to be all-knowing ourselves? Even if it was able to prove it had supernatural abilities (or was supernatural itself) somehow, it would always be possible that there were a whole host of other supernatural beings that were superior.

#2

How could any being ever really ever know if it knew everything? How could any being ever really know for certain it was all-knowing? How could it ever know that there was nothing beyond its own knowledge? How does one know what one might not be aware of? So, even if some being thought it could be the all-knowing omni-max Supreme Being, how could it ever know it was for sure? It might be that as far as it could tell it was, but it could never really know for certain. And if that’s the case (and EVEN IF IT’S NOT), how could any human (who is clearly not all-knowing) think that they know something else is? In other words, wouldn’t you have to be all-knowing yourself in order to know if something else was?

#3

Let’s assume there is some Supreme Being God for argument’s sake. Why should be necessarily worship it? Maybe it’s “evil” as far as we can tell, or maybe it doesn’t have our best interests at heart. Just because it might have made us, does it necessarily follow that we should worship or love it? Shouldn’t it still have to gain our trust or give us good reason to have some affection for it? If it seems to be against us and our future advancement, shouldn’t we contest it? It seems to me that as far as we’re concerned, we are what matters, and if there is some being who has other interests that we must be sacrificed for, it needs to sell us on the importance of that sacrifice, or that being’s interests should be disregarded, and an effort should be made for our own interests instead.

God Wills It

Written sometime in the mid-2000s.

Launched in 1095 by Pope Urban II, the First Crusade hoped to liberate the “Holy Land” from Muslim control. “Deus Vult” (God wills it!) was their battle cry as they left a 2,000 mile path of destruction from Western Europe to Jerusalem, murdering thousands of Jews along the way in what some call the first Holocaust. Once they arrived, these “Christian” soldiers “purified” Jerusalem by killing almost everyone in the city. Cleric Raymond of Aguilers wrote, “In the temple of Solomon, one rode in blood up to the knees and even to the horses’ bridles, by the just and marvelous judgment of God.”

The First Crusade was not the last. When “Saint” Bernard of Clairvaux launched the Second Crusade, he declared, “The Christian glories in the death of a pagan, because thereby Christ himself is glorified.”

There were at least 8 other numbered Crusades, and six that were not numbered as such. They extend hundreds of years from the first and cost an unknown number of lives.

For example, in one of the six unnumbered Crusades, launched in 1209 by Pope Innocent III against Albigenses Christians in southern France, tens of thousands were tortured and murdered after instructions were given to “Kill them all. God will know his own.”

In the 13th Century, Inquisitions began against Albigensian heretics and torture was given holy sanction by Pope Innocent IV. By the 15th Century Inquisitions began to focus on witchcraft and up to 2 million accused witches were tortured and murdered over the years, lasting until the 17th Century.

I’m really just starting to scratch the surface here and I’m just giving the antiseptic version of events. I’m tossing off millions of people in a few sentences without even mentioning the gory details or getting into the personal agony, pain, and sheer terror each of them must have felt.

On the other side of the world during this time: Mayan’s in central America were cutting out hearts and beheading virgins while children were being burned in Peruvian temples, and later, the Aztecs were killing children so that their tears might cause rain, they were killing and skinning virgins, cutting out their hearts, eating their bodies, and sacrificing 20,000 people a year to their gods.

In India, the Thuggee sect was murdering another 20,000 people a year to their goddess, while the spread of Islamic armies from India to Morocco killed millions of people over 12 centuries.

Wait! There’s more!!! We are just getting started and I’ve just been skimming!

By the 17th Century conflicts between Protestants and Catholics had begun….

The Thirty Years’ War, according to Wikipeida:

Over the course of the war, the population of the German states was reduced by 30 percent; in the territory of Brandenburg, the losses had amounted to half, while in some areas an estimated two-thirds of the population died. Germany’s male population was reduced by almost half. The population of the Czech lands declined by a third. The Swedish armies alone destroyed 2,000 castles, 18,000 villages and 1,500 towns in Germany, one-third of all German towns.

Damn! Millions and millions killed.

Then there were the Puritans, starting their own little theocracy in the New World and torturing accused witches before they murdered them.

By the 19th Century, Buddhists in Burma were sacrificing men to sanctify the capitol, Muslims were murdering tens of thousands of followers of the Baha’i Faith, Muslims and Hindus were killing Christians in India, while in Bucharest, Christians were murdering Jews in the ghetto.

Throughout the 20th Century, there were many more violent conflicts between and within various Christian and Jewish and Islamic and Hindu sects that continue to the present day.

Today’s Conflicts

Over the centuries, more people have been killed for religious reasons than for any other. One of the main reasons our Founders wanted to separate church and state in the U.S. was to “keep forever from our shores the blood that has soaked soil of Europe for centuries.”

Today, almost every conflict in the world can be divided along religious lines. Even where it is not the root cause of conflict it is an exacerbating factor. Most every religion promotes the vanity that its adherents are right, special, or “chosen” above others and that it has divine authority for its claims of ultimate truth. Because these various claims cannot be resolved objectively by evidence or reason, it frequently leads to violence and conflict. There can never be “peace on Earth” as long as differing groups all claim to be in possession of ultimate divine authority based on superstitious exceptionality dogmas that cannot be rationally resolved.

These types of conflicts are an increasingly dangerous threat now that we have the ability to wipe ourselves off the face of the Earth.

Consider the current so-called “war on terror.”

Al Qaeda is an Islamic militant organization. Their objectives include the end of foreign non-Muslim influence in Muslim countries and the creation of a new Islamic caliphate (an Islamic form of government based on Islamic theology). They have launched a jihad (or “holy war”) against us. A couple of the reasons bin Laden became angered at the West and launched this jihad is because of our support of the state of Israel in the Jewish-Palestinian conflict, as well as the fact he objected to the U.S.(which he considers a country of “infidels”) setting up a base in Saudi Arabia on what he considered “sacred” soil. The terrorists praised “Allah” on 9-11 and thought they would become “religious martyrs” by their actions, thereby receiving what they believed would be 40 virgins in the afterlife (based on their religion).

Many Christians believe this conflict will bring about Armageddon and that this part of the world is where the battle will begin. Many of them also support the state of Israel because they believe certain objectives must be accomplished by this Jewish state before the “Rapture” or the “Second Coming” can happen, so they are supporting certain things that will lead to conflict and look forward to the “End Times.”

Many Muslims and Arabs believe the “war on terror” is a war on Islam itself and is a threat to their religion and way of life. Many of them also believe in a “final battle” between themselves and the people they consider infidels — and many of them are doing what they can to bring it on.

So we have believers on both sides driving the current global conflict of our times.

Some other recent or ongoing violent conflicts where religion has been either a cause or an exacerbating factor include: all the conflicts resulting from the establishment of the Jewish state of Israel (hijackings, suicide bombings, the Munich Massacre, the Six Day War…etc.), the thousands of people killed in the conflict in Northern Ireland over the years between Catholics and Protestants, the Hindu-Sikh-Muslim massacres in India, the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina between the Muslim, Roman Catholic, and Serbian Orthodox factions (with over 220,000 people killed), the hundreds of suspected witches killed in South Africa every year, the Muslim insurgency in Thailand against the Buddhist majority. Christian rebels in the “Lord’s Resistance Army” in Uganda (who enslave and/or rape 2,000 Animist and Muslim children a year, hoping to build a Christian theocracy based on the 10 Commandments), the conflict between Muslims and non-Muslims in Afghanistan, the conflict between Sunni & Shiite Muslims in Iraq, the massive genocide being conducted in the Sudan by the National Islamic Fundamentalist government there (in waging jihad on its own people in the South, who they consider to be non-believers that must be totally eliminated or converted to Islam — with millions killed, forced into slave labor, raped, forced into religious conversions, or given ritual female genital mutilations), as well as all the religious conflicts over the past few years in Cote d’Ivoire, Cyprus, East Timor, Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka, Chechnya, Nigeria, Macedonia, Kurdistan, Kashmir, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Tibet.

And all this is just in the past 80 years or less.

Even religious moderates are a threat because they help create the soil for extremists to flourish. As long as people accept the premise that it is possible for someone to have some kind of direct communication with ultimate divine authority, then they are giving a certain amount of legitimacy to anyone claiming it happened to them. They cannot effectively challenge anyone – no matter how extreme – that claims that authority. They can only dispute who has the better line of communication, and that dispute cannot be resolved using reason.

If extremists see that most of their society buys into this premise, they might either believe it themselves, and come to the conclusion it is happening to them, or believe they can get away with making the claim that it does.

On the other hand, if most of society rejects this premise, there would be a lot fewer people blowing themselves up or crashing planes into buildings, and the world would be a better place as a result.

Hitler and Communism

Many believers point to Hitler and the Nazi party as a counter example….

In all his public speeches, Hitler claimed to be a Christian and said things very similar to what you might have heard from Robertson and Falwell in the past. He framed what he was doing in religious terms (to motivate other believers) and included nonbelievers (atheists) in his persecutions and spoke out against them.

Hitler saw himself in the role of a Martin Luther-type reformer of Christianity into something he called “Positive Christianity.” He was hoping to merge Church and State into a “Volkish” version of Christianity with himself at its head.

The anti-Semitism was based on religion (the “Christ killer” story), the Aryan “Volkism” was based on a “folk” religion, the “Positive Christianity” their constitution supported was based on religion, the overwhelming majority of their population and their troops were Christian (approx. 2/3 Protestant and 1/3 Catholic), Hitler was a self-professed Christian, the slogan that the SA troops had on their uniforms was religious (“Gott Mit Uns”), they persecuted nonbelievers and people of a different religion (the Jews), so to think that religion had nothing to do with the Holocaust and that most of these people didn’t think of themselves as Christian runs contrary to all the evidence.

Sure, some can argue that there have been atrocities that resulted from Communism (or more properly, totalitarianism), but this ideology has many of the dogmatic aspects of religion with “cult-like” leaders at their head (a good example is the current leader of North Korea who considers both himself and his father divine). In most respects, these were ideological religions.

In none of these cases can you say that any atrocities were committed based on Enlightenment Principles of Reason.

Some could also argue that there may be other causes for conflict besides religion, or that there would still be violent conflict without it. Maybe so, but religion has always been an exacerbating factor even when it wasn’t at the heart of the conflict. At least without religion one exacerbating factor will be removed from the equation in those cases.

In the Beginning….

This was published by The Humanist for the Humanist Network News on May 13, 2010.

In the Beginning….

…there was void, or chaos, or nothing, or everything and nothing, or water, or darkness, or wind, or mist, or a mist of lights, or air and water, or a tree, or a shell, or a blue lotus, or an egg, or many eggs, or many regions, or different planes, or a sky world, or heaven, or heaven and earth together, or heaven and water together, or six heavens and six hells, or ice and fire, or a supreme formless Entity, or several Entities, or Tao, or some combination thereof with various modifications.

In this primordial Initial State, either Kamui, Udan, Hadau, Pangu, Mbombo, Mangala, Damballah, Olurun, Unkulunkulu, Hiranyagarbha, Purusha, Brahma, Vahiguru, Ptah, Dayuni’si, Allah, Jehovah, Tu-chai-pai, Maasaw, Jamahara, Marduk (or Assur), Atum, JoMulJu, Gitche Manitou, Ahura Mazda, Con Tiqui Viracocha, Esaugetuh Emissee, Inktomi, Coatlique, Chaos, a Spirit, the “King Above the Sky,” the “Grandfather of All Things,” the “Holy Supreme Wind,” the Dreamtime gods, a supreme formless Entity and the Archetypal Man, Izanagi and Izanami, Ranginui and Papatuanuku, Langit and Linaw, Tepeu and Gucamatz, Jehovah and Elohim, Olodumare and Obatala, Niflheim and Muspelheim and Ginnungagap, Nu/Naunet and Amun/Amunet and Kuk/Kauket and Huh/Hauhet, Earth-Initiate and Turtle and Father-of-the-Secret-Society, men and women living in the Sky World, the ground of being, the trickster in the form of Raven, the Goddess, a small bearded man inside a white and yellow disc, a water beetle, a bird, two loons, or some other divine, or supernatural, or superhuman, or extra-human being (or beings) or elemental essence or concept that I might have overlooked…

…either dreamed, spoke, vomited, stole, shed, caused, separated, gathered, blew, churned, collected, stabbed, split, made, impregnated, laid eggs, planted seeds, gave birth, brought forth, arranged, formed, melted, sacrificed itself, was sacrificed by others, masturbated, or some other such action or series of events that eventually resulted in the creation of the universe as we know it.

Whew!

Later, in some cases, either Alcmene, Athena, Chimalman, Coatlicue, Cybele, Devaki, Hera, Hertha, Isis, Juno, Mary, Maya, Nana, Neith, Nutria, Ostara, Rohini, Semele, Shin-Moo, Sochiquetzal, or some other virgin mother whose name is lost to us (or who I may have overlooked), may, or may not have, given birth to other gods or god-men like….

Kukulcan, Huitzilopochtli, Krishna, Horus, Osiris, Serapis, Mars/Ares, Buddha, Lao-kiun, Attis, Dionysus/Bacchus, Quetzalcoatl, Jesus, Adad, Adonis, Apollo, Heracles (“Hercules”), Alcides, Baal, Bali, Beddru, Crite, Deva Tat, Hesus, Indra, Jao, Krishna, Mikado, Mithra, Odin, Prometheus, Quetzalcoatl, Salivahana, Tammuz, Thor, Wittoba, Xamolxis, Zeus’s children, Zarathustra/Zoroaster, Zoar, or a dozen or more others I missed, many of whom were either crucified or executed in sacrifice for mankind.

From there it gets more complicated. In fact, were I to continue, it may become entirely incomprehensible.

What I attempted to do is combine stories from many of the various beliefs of the past and present. The point is to show how many there are (and these aren’t all of them by a long shot).

They can’t all be true, so how do I determine which one to believe in? I’ve been told my “eternal soul” might be at stake and I don’t want to bet on the wrong horse after all.

Should I pick whichever one is the oldest? I don’t know which one that might be since many were passed down orally for many years before they were written down. The oldest ones might have been lost by now anyway.

Should I pick whichever one has the largest number of adherents? I’m not sure that would be right. There have been times in the past that more people believed something different than they do today. Christianity has the largest number of adherents now, but that wasn’t always the case. Did the truth change at the moment belief in Christianity exceeded whatever beliefs were more popular before it? If Islam overtakes Christianity in number of adherents in the future (considering it is growing faster), would that make a difference in whether or not it’s true?

Also, since the majority of the world’s population doesn’t believe in Christianity would that outweigh the fact that it had the largest number of adherents? What if people stopped believing in it entirely?

OK, I just sent my Southern Baptist brother an email. I asked him hypothetically if in 5,000 years (more or less) no one believed in Christianity anymore, would that mean it was wrong.

He said no.

Although this in no way constitutes a scientific survey by any stretch of the imagination, I suspect this would be the opinion of most believers. Obviously there have been many things in the past that most people believed that turned out to be wrong, so I can’t decide this based on the number of adherents.

I guess that rules out my next question; that is: “Could I dismiss all the ones no one believes in anymore simply because no one believes them?”

It would also rule out my question: “Should I decide by whichever one was oldest that still had adherents?”

Should I believe in whichever one is the most recent? Since new religions keep popping up, I would have to expect to have to change my beliefs every so often. That doesn’t seem to be very smart.

What if I picked based on what my parents’ believed? Would that make sense? I guess that’s no way to tell which one is true for sure. It appears that believing what your parents’ believed has resulted in people coming to many different conclusions.

I think Newton was a pretty smart guy… should I choose based on what he believed? I know there have been other very intelligent people that had other beliefs, so I can’t go by that.

What if I picked based on what most people around me believed so that I won’t be shunned or ridiculed? I don’t think that would be very courageous or any more likely to result in me choosing correctly.

Should I pick based on which one I like best? Would that be the best way to decide which one is true? I know from experience that the truth about something is not always the most appealing thing I might want to believe. What if I pick one I really like and it turns out to be wrong? I might spend eternity in hell-fire or something.

Maybe I should believe the one that makes the most terrible threats for not believing it? If I do that at least I’ll know I won’t suffer the worst fate among all the options….

The problem with that is that there are several of them that seem equally bad. Also, what if a new one comes along that threatens something worse?

What if I just come up with my own? Evidently some people have done it; why not me?

I suppose coming up with my own wouldn’t necessarily make it true (no matter how fun it might be).

What if I put a list of all the gods I know down on paper, close my eyes, and ask for guidance before I put my finger down somewhere on the page without looking?

Hold on….

It looks like the old Korean god JoMulJu wins! Believers have always told me to ask for guidance and put my faith in something and I would get an answer. If that is true, JoMulJu is the one true God!

Hmmm… The problem with that is it seems when other people do it they get other responses. Maybe that isn’t the best way to do it either.

Are there any of them that seem to have anything special about them, something to recommend them above the others? Hmmm….

Let’s see… several claim that their prophecies have been fulfilled, so I can’t go by that. There are many that claim a Son of God figure, death and resurrection, healings, revelations, miracles and such things, so I can’t go by that. We have already ruled out judging by whichever one is the oldest, has most adherents, is oldest that still has adherents, is most recent, is most threatening, is most appealing….

What else?

Can I judge based on the effects various religions have on adherents? Maybe that is the something special I could look for?

Buddhism might be the least violent, but then there are the Quakers and Jehovah’s Witnesses…. Christians might have the most material wealth overall, but that seems like it might be contrary to their own scriptures…. Jews seem to have survived as a people for a long time despite facing some really harsh attacks over the years…. Islam seems to be more dynamic lately….

It seems there are some unique things about each one, but how do I pick which unique thing is more important (or relevant), or if being unique in some way is any more likely to make something true?

Can I eliminate some based on how silly or absurd they seem? Some of them seem pretty strange: a god vomiting the sun, a god being impregnated by an obsidian knife, a god placing land on the back of a golden frog, a god making a woman out of a bear, a god making a man out of clay, a god making a woman out of a man’s rib…. If you get into them you find everything from winged horses and virgin births to “stopping” the sun and parting the seas. Most of them are filled with hard to believe, miraculous, or supernatural claims.

I guess if I had to pick one that had the least absurd aspects, Buddhism might come out on top (or maybe some of the ones I didn’t cover like Jainism or the Baha’i Faith).

But some may make the argument of fideism, that is, credo quia absurdum or “I believe it because it is absurd.” So I might not be able to rule out something just because it seems absurd.

Can I judge by their “holy” books?

I’ve read most all of the holy books of the major religions. They all seem to have internal problems that their adherents have to do tortured and convoluted back-flips to explain. Another problem is if I pick any one of them, I will find their adherents interpreting the same holy book differently, which leads to different sects within each of the various beliefs….

That compounds my dilemma. Even if I pick one out of these, I’ll then need to pick among the different sects. There might be just enough difference between the Baptists’ and the Catholics’ requirements for salvation, for example, that it would significantly affect my fate. And then there are all the different Baptists, and the different individual interpretations even within the same congregation…but I’ll not worry about that right now.

Some people claim to have had personal revelations from their God, but you can find people claiming personal revelations in every religion that has adherents. I’ve had my own epiphany moments, but I’ve never had some supernatural being providing revelations to me even when I was open to receive them. The only person I found I was talking to when I prayed as a kid was myself. Even if I did have some God come down and talk to me, how could I distinguish it from some mental delusion (or some powerful demon posing just to lead me astray)?

There are people in every active religion that think they hear their God speaking to them or claim some personal revelation, so I can’t go by that.

So how do I pick? If I want to bet that one of these is correct, if I want to bet that there is some absurd or supernatural explanation (rather than a natural one that we don’t yet understand), how do I decide?

See, it isn’t a 50/50 chance here. It isn’t like I can just bet there is a God rather than bet there isn’t to cover my ass (Pascal’s Wager), I’ve got to decide which supernatural explanation of the ones that have been proposed is the correct one (and I’ve got to consider the possibility that there is a supernatural explanation that no one has conceived of yet — or that there could be some supernatural explanations that might never be conceived — that could be the correct one).

I know there will be some believers that read this and think they have some convincing reason for their belief that I didn’t cover. I’ve been studying this most of my life and I haven’t seen or heard a convincing one yet. There is nothing they can say that I haven’t heard something similar about regarding another religion. If there is something they think is unique, then believers of other religions have some other unique thing they can say about their religion as well.

“True” believers of any of these religions should try to talk to “true” believers of some of the other religions. If they spend some time listening to the other believer’s argument, I’m sure they will find things that will seem absurd to them, things that don’t make sense, and things that appear outrageous. That is how they all sound to me. If they can understand why they don’t buy what a “true” believer of another religion is saying (or why they reject most all the other beliefs I’ve touched on here), they will begin to understand why I’m not buying what they are saying.

I’m sitting here in a default position of not actively believing in any of these, just like a newborn baby. I’ve been told I should take a “leap of faith” in one direction or another into belief, but how do I decide which way to leap? It seems to me that leaping in the wrong direction might be worse than not leaping at all.

I don’t actively have to do anything not to believe something, I don’t have to believe one thing to not to have a belief in something else, and I don’t even have to know with absolute metaphysical certainty if something is true (or not true) not to believe it.

What would cause me to take such a leap into belief?

I would have to be provided some compelling reason and, as Carl Sagan said, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” Until and unless someone or something provides me with that evidence, I see no reason to move from my default position.

I don’t have to prove that all these beliefs (and the gods that go with them) aren’t true. If people ask me why I don’t believe in God, I have a right to ask them which one they are talking about. Since some people have a different idea about what they mean by God (e.g.: Nature, a “force” as opposed to a being, etc.) than anything I’ve covered here, I think I have a right to ask them to define what they mean by “God,” so I will know what they are asking me. If they don’t want to define what they mean, then how can I know what they are talking about? I’m not aware that I possess any mind-reading abilities.

If they can describe what they mean, then I might be able to answer them. If they can’t, then the best answer I can give is that I’ve not seen any compelling reason or evidence that would motivate me to take that “leap of faith” into belief in any one of these many supernatural options.

On the most basic level; theism is “a belief in a God or gods,” a-theism is “without a belief in a God or gods.”

I guess that makes me an atheist.

The Gods Themselves

This was published by The Humanist for the Humanist Network News on June 9, 2010.

There are thousands and thousands of supernatural beings that people have believed in over time.

Here are some of the ones that start with the letter “A” (feel free to skim):

A, A’as, A’ra, A-a, Aa Maakhuer, Aabit, Aaghu Gugu, Aah, Aahmes Nefertari, Aakuluujjusi, Aasith, Aataentsic, Aatxe, Ab Kin Xoc, Aba khatun Baikal, Abaangui, Abaasy, Abaddon, Abandinus, Abarta, Abassi, Abat[t]ur, Abeguwo, Abello (Abellio), Abeona, Abere, Abgal (Apkallu), Abgal, Abhijit, Abhijnaraja, Abhiyoga, Abira, Abnona, Abora, Abowie, Abraxas (Abraxis, Abrsax), Abu, Abuk, Abunciada (Abondia, Habondia), Abundantia (Abundita), Abziu, Acala, Acat, Acatl (Omacatl) , Acaum (Ah Can Cum), Acaviser, Acca, Acca Larentia, Accasbel, Acchupta, Acco, Achelois, Achiyalatopa, Achlae (Achelous, Acleloos, Aclelous), Achtland, Aclla, Acna (Akna), Acolmiztli, Acolnahuacatl, Acoran Gran Canary, Adad, Adamanthea, Adamisil Wedo, Adam[m]as, Adaro, Addanc, Adekagagwaa, Adeona, Adeos, Adhimukticarya, Adibuddha, Adidharma, Adimurti, Aditi, Adityas, Adonis, Adonis, Adrammelech, Adrastea, Adrasteia, Adro, Adroa, Adsullata, Aea, Aeacoc, Aebhel (Aeval), Aebhel Afekan, Aed, Aedos, Aegeria, Aegir, Aelus (Aiolos) , Aengus, Aeolos, Aequitas, Aericura, Aerten (Aerfen, Aeron), Aesculapius (Ascelpius), Aesir, Aesma Daeva, Aestas, Aesun, Aether, Aetna, Aeval, Afekan, Afi, Afreet, Ag’o, Agaman Nibo, Agamede, Agas, Agasaya, Agathos Daimon, Age Fon, Agischanak, Aglaia, Aglibol, Agni, Agni Hindu, Agnikumara, Agnostos Theos, Agrona, Agrotera, Agu’gux, Aguara, Agwe, Agwe, Agwe, Agweta, Ah Bolom Tzacab, Ah Bolon Dz’acab, Ah Chun Caan, Ah Ciliz, Ah Cun Can, Ah Hulneb, Ah Kin, Ah Kin Xoc, Ah Kinchil, Ah Kumix Unicob, Ah Mun, Ah Muzecab, Ah Patnar Uinicob, Ah Peku, Ah Puch, Ah Tabai, Ah Uaynih, Ah Unicir Dz’acab, Ah Uuc Ticab, Ah Wink ir Masa, Aha, Ahat, Ahau Chamahez, Ahau Kin, Ahemait, Aheramenmthoou, Ahladini-Sadini (Parvati), Ahmakiq, Ahnt Alis Pok’, Ahnt kai, Ahone, Ahriman, Ahsonnutli, Ahti, Ahuic, Ahulane, Ahura Mazda, Ahurani, Ai Ada, Ai Apec Mochica, Ai Tojon, Ai Tupua’i, Aiakos, Aialila’axa, Aiaru, Aibell, Aibheaeg, Aida Wedo, Aidin, Aido Wedo, Aife (Aoife), Aige, Aijo, Ailsie, Aimend, Ain, Aine of Knockaine, Aino, Airmid, Airsekui, Airyaman, Aisha, Aisha Qandisha, Aittsamka Bella, Aitu, Aitvaras, Aius Locutius, Aizen-Myoo, Aizen-Myoo, Aja, Aja, Ajalamo Yoruba, Ajatar, Ajaya, Ajbit, Aje, Aji Suki Taka Hi Kone, Ajok, Ajtzak, Ajysyt Yakut, Aka, Akasagarbha, Akelos, Aken, Aker, Akerbeltz, Akert khentet auset[s], Akeru, Akewa, Akhushtal, Akkadia (Isara), Akkadia (Sulman[u] Mesopotamia), Akonadi, Akongo, Akras Karelian (Egres) , Aksayajnana-Karmanda, Aksobhya, Aktunowihio, Akuj Akuj, Akusaa, Akycha, Akycha, Al Kahdir N. (Kahdir), Al Lat, Al Shua, Al Uzza, Ala, Ala Ibo, Ala Muki, Alaaye (Olodumare) , Alaghom Naom Tzentel, Alaisiagae, Alako, Alalahe, Alalu Ossetian, Alalus, Alastor, Alatangana Kono, Alaunus, Alauwaimis, Albasta, Albina, Alcis, Alecto, Alecto of Eumenides, Alectrona, Alemona, Alephus, Alfhild, Alfs, Alignak, Alii Menehune, Alisanos, Alk’unta’m Bella, Alkonost, Allah, Allatu[m], Almaqah, Almha, Almoshi, Aloadae (Aloidae), Alom, Alopurbi, Alpanu, Alpheus, Alphito, Altan Telgey, Altria, Aluelp, Aluluei, Am-Heh, Ama, Ama No Uzume, Ama Terasu, Ama-arhus (Amat-Ama-arhus, Arad-Ama-arhus), Ama-Tsu-Mara, Amaethon, Amagandar, Amakandu (Sakka[n]) , Amalthea, Amasagnul, Amaterasu O-Mi-Kami (Amaterasu), Amatsu Mikaboshi, Amaunet, Amayicoyondi, Amba Dravidian, Amberella, Ambikas (Mataras) , Ambisagrus, Ame No Uzume, Ame-No-Kagase-Wo, Ame-No-Mi-Kumari-No-Kami, Ame-No-Minaka-Nushi-No-Kami, Ame-No-Tanabata-Hime-No-Mikoto, Ame-No-Toko-Tachi-No-Kami, Ame-Waka-Hiko, Amelenwa, Amelia, Amen, Ament, Amesha, Ami, Amida, Amimitl, Amitabha, Amitolane, Amm, Amma, Amma, Amma, Ammavaru, Ammit, Ammon (Amen), Amn, Amogahasiddhi, Amoghapasa, Amon (Amun), Amor, Amphion, Amphitrite, Amponyinamoa, Amset (Imset), Amsu, Amun, Amunet, Amurru, Amymone, An, An Zu, Anael, Anahita, Anahita, Anaitis, Anala, Ananke, Ananse, Ananta, Anantamukhi, Anantesa, Anapel, Anasuya, Anat (Anath), Anath, Anatis, Anatu, Anaulikutsai’x Bella, Anbay S., Ancasta, Anceta, Andarta, Andjety, Andrasta Icene, Andriaahoabu, Andriam Vabi Rano, Androgyne, Andromeda, Andvari, Anextiomarus, Angels, Angerona, Angina, Angitia, Angitia, Angpetu Wi, Angru Mainya, Angus, Angus Mac Og, Angus Og, Anguta, Anhouri, Anhur, Ani, Anieros, Anila, Aningan, Anjea, Ankalamman, Anna Kuari, Anna Perenna, Annalia, Annallja Tu Bari, Annapatni, Annapurna, Annis, Anpao, Anqet, Ansa, Ansar, Anshur (Ashur, Asshur), Antaboga, Antai, Anteros, Antevorta, Antheia, Anti, Antu, Anuanaitu, Anubis, Anuket, Anukis, Anulap, Anumati, Anunit, Anunitu, Anunnaki, Anuradha, Anus (Anann, Anu), Anwho, Anyigba, Anzety, Aondo Tiv, Apa, Apacita, Apam Napat, Apap Teso, Apate, Apaturia, Apedmak, Apep, Apesh, Apet, Aphaea, Aphrodisias, Aphrodite, Aphrodite Pandemos, Apis, Apiu, Apo, Apollo, Apolonia, Aponibolinayen, Apophis, Apozanoltl, Appias, Apsaras, Apsu, Apuat, Aquilo, Aquit, Arachne, Aralo (Aparajita, Aray), Aramazd, Aranyani, Aranzahas, Arapacana, Ararat, Araua, Arawa Suk, Arawn (Arawen, Arawyn, Arrawn), Arazu, Archons, Ard Greimme, Ardhanarit savara, Ardra, Arduinna, Ardvi Sura Anahita, Ardwinna, Arebati, Areimanios, Ares, Arete, Argante, Arge, Ari Au Tchesf, Ariadne, Arianrhod, Arianrod, Aricia, Arimanius (Areimaios), Arinna, Aristaeus, Aristatos, Arito, Arjuna, Arma, Armaz, Arna’kuagsak (Nuli’rahak), Arnakua’gak, Arnamentia, Arnemetia, Arom Kafir, Arsan Duolai Yakut, Arsay, Arsu, Artaius, Artemis, Arthapratisamvit, Artio of Muti, Aruna, Arundhati, Aruru, Arvenus, Arya-Tara, Aryaman, Aryong Jong, As, As ava, As-im-babbar (Nanna), Asa Poorna, Asalluha, Asar, Asase Afua, Asase Ya, Asbit, Ascelpius, Asertu, Asgaya Gigagei, Ashera, Asherah, Asherali, Ashi, Ashiakle, Ashima, Ashimbabbar, Ashirat, Ashis, Ashkit, Ashnan (Asnan), Ashtaroth, Ashur, Ashvins, Asi, Asiaq, Asima Si, Asintmah Athabasca, Asira, Asis Suk, Askelpios, Aslea[s], Aso, Asokottamasri, Asopos, Aspalis W., Asrael, Asratum, Assur, Astabis, Astamastara, Astapaios, Astar, Astaroth, Astarte, Astarte, Astarte, Astarte, Asterodeia, Asthertet, Astlik Georgia, Astoreth, Astraea, Astraeos, Astrik, Asuha-No-Kami, Asuras, Asurkumara, Asvayujau, Asvins, At Em, Ataa Naa Nyongmo Gan, Atabei (Attabeira), Ataecina, Atahensic, Atai, Atalacamani, Atanea, Atanea, Atar, Atargatis, Atasamain, Ate, Atea, Aten, Atete, Athena (Athene), Athirat, Athor, Athtart, Atida, Atira, Atius (Tirawa), Atl, Atlacoya, Atlahua, Atlaonin, Atlas, Atma, Atoja, Atropos, Attabeira Atahensic, Attar, Attis, Atua Fafine Tikopia, Atua I Kafika Tikopia, Atua I Raropuka Tikpoa, Atugan, Atum, Atunis, Au, Au Co, Auchimalgen, Audjal, Aufaniae, Augeus, Augralids, Auilix, Aura, Aurita, Aurora, Ausaitis, Auseklis, Auset, Austeja, Auster (Notus), Austrine, Autyeb, Auxesia, Avalokitesvara, Avatar, Avatea, Averruncus, Aversa, Aveta, Avfruvva, Avrikiti Fon, Awitelin Tsita, Awonawilona, Axiocersa, Axo Mama, Aya, Ayaba, Ayas, Ayauhteot, Ayauhteotl, Ayi’ Uru’n Toyoy’n Yakut (Uru’n Ajy Toyo’n), Ayida, Ayiyanayaka, Ayizan, Aylekete (Agbe), Ayt’ar, Ayurvasita, Ayyapan, Azacca, Azapane (Bele), Azele Yaba, Azer Ava, Azi, Aziri, and Azizos.

It is an alphabet soup of supernatural beings up there (aren’t you glad I didn’t go through the whole alphabet?). You could just about stir up some random combination of letters and come up with a god. There are even some different ones with the same name.

Some of these are creator gods; some are chief gods; some are gods of the sun or moon, some are gods of fire, water, rain, and war; some are demons or gods of the underworld; some are gods of storms and other natural catastrophes; some are gods of various human passions or sex; some are gods of the fetus, some are gods of women and children; some of the names are of whole hosts of supernatural beings; some are gods for construction workers, sailors, or other trades; some are local gods; some are gods for potato crops, wine, salmon, etc.; some gods are for toothaches or other pains and illnesses, there are even a couple of gods for bees in this list — and this is an incomplete list of just the ones that begin with “A.”

I didn’t notice a god of incontinence, but I’m pretty sure I could find one if I looked hard enough.

It is funny how you can find gods of water; gods of oceans or seas; gods of rivers, springs, and mists; gods of rain; gods of running or fresh water, etc., all from the same group of people. There seems to have been a lot of gods who were specialists in their fields…. Or should I say field? In many cases, while there might have been a god of the crops (who must have been like an overseer), you could still dig up a god of the potato crop (for example), who was just in charge of that specifically. Of course, he might have to have dealings with the god of the soil or earth, the god of the sun, and the god of the water or the rain (while appeasing the god of the storm or the god of droughts).

In other words, people seemed to have some very specific information about these beings. It wasn’t like some vague notion that there is this god that has been hanging around… or there is this god that has something to do with liquid or growing things. It is like they knew their names and specifically what their areas of responsibility were. They even seemed to know stories about them, their history, their personality types, events in their lives, other supernatural beings with which they interacted, what would make them pleased or angry, and so on. They seemed to know their gods fairly intimately, almost as if they lived around the corner and popped by on occasion to gossip over tea and crumpets.

I don’t guess most of the people reading through this list truly believe that most of these supernatural beings really exist, so where did all this information come from?

I mean, there are a lot of gods here and this is just the tip of the iceberg. That is a lot of detailed information about a lot of supernatural beings that had to come from somewhere. Where did it come from?

Where did they all come from?

If they aren’t real, if the stories aren’t true, then they must have been made-up.

Who made up all these stories?

It seems fairly evident to me (although I expect there will be some who differ), that it was human beings that made this stuff up.

Why did they make it up?

Well, there might be a number of reasons for that, but I would venture to guess the main reason was to explain what they didn’t understand.

Where did all these gods go? Why don’t most people believe in most of them now?

Could it be that as people begin to understand more and more about how nature really worked more rational explanations replaced them?

I can hear some believers making the claim (on one level or another): “But my god is different! He is much more sophisticated than these other gods.”

Yeah? In what way? Wasn’t he originally made of the same stuff as these others were, out of the imagination of the human mind? Old Jehovah, for example, started out as a tribal war god that lived on a mountaintop before he “evolved” into the omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, supreme creator God Being that we are presented with today. This conception is more sophisticated only in that he has made himself less available for examination and detection than he supposedly was when people were much more ignorant about the world than they are today. Although he is supposedly more powerful than he was formerly, he uses his power with such subtlety that even the best scientists can’t tell the difference between his actions and events unfolding as they would have if he wasn’t even there at all.

If all these other “lesser” gods have been exposed for the shams they really were when the light of knowledge was pointed in their direction, how are gods people still believe in today any different than these others except that they have managed to retreat into the last refuges of darkness where the light has yet to shine? They have removed themselves not only beyond human detection but beyond all human reason as well. They have become increasingly irrelevant and nonsensical. Yet despite all this, believers claim to know some fairly intimate details about their histories, their natures, their personalities, their desires, what makes them pleased or angry, their plans, how they want us to act, what they have in store for us, etc., etc., but they don’t want to define their god, no sir. It is “beyond human understanding and reason,” they will say.

I see no good reason to take these claims any more seriously than the claims made before about all the other gods.

We haven’t found proof of one supernatural being yet, out of all the ones that now seem to have been demoted to the mythological realm. If we had run across at least one or two of the lesser ones when we were learning about our universe, it might make sense to think we might run across some more powerful ones later. We’ve never captured a demon to study, or an angel that has fallen from the sky. We haven’t ever turned up even an elf or a fairy or any other supernatural thing ever. It looks like in all this time we might have found one scrap of irrefutable evidence of something or anything that was supernatural: a magic wand, a genie in a bottle, a magic hat with an unlimited supply of rabbits….

Finding something like that wouldn’t necessarily prove or disprove a god, but it might demonstrate that supernatural things were at least possible.

Not only is it the case that there is no empirical evidence for whatever god you might believe in, there is no evidence for any god, or gods, or supernatural beings, or supernatural things, or any evidence whatsoever that the word “supernatural” might mean anything more than the word “imaginary.”

If we can’t tell the difference between something that is supernatural and something that is imaginary, then why should we give any more respect for people’s claims of knowledge about a supernatural god than we give for other people’s claims about an imaginary friend?