Posts Tagged ‘Ruminations’

What It Takes To Convert An Atheist

jesus

Caucasian Jesus

How Jesus probably looked like, sans Kefiyeh

A picture of a Palestinian middle-aged man. How Jesus probably looked like, sans Kefiyeh. Acknowledging this would make wingnuts turn into pagans, since only pagans at the time of Jesus were Anglo-Saxon.

Over at the atheist mecca of Pharyngula, yet another broiling comment section ensues due to the latest conversion of former atheist blogger, The Raving Atheist (who apparently will be “The Raving Theist” from now on).

Many considered the possibility that it’s a hoax (still possible in my book, but I really can’t say one way or another), or that TRA was somehow goaded or wooed into his conversion. A few thought that a spade is actually just a spade and that TRA reached a decision in his life to follow his heart, and that no “violence” of any kind was inflicted, nor trickery used, on TRA.

I for one am not going to predict or ruminate on the matter of TRA’s particular conversion story. I would, however, say that I know what kind of events lead people to completely change their worldview, and Jeremiaically call the atheists’ bluff of certainty in their lack of faith (says I, a die-hard atheist).

See, I believe based on the books I’ve read about human nature, biology, and the cognitive dissonance we so often employ, and my personal experience, as well, that humans think and feel very differently. Many  times during my life, I feel certain things which I know for a fact  are patently false. I admonish myself, banging my head on the wall with accurate rationalizations to try and alleviate the damage my intuition and emotions cause. Sometimes it works.

The point I wish to make is that atheists make the decision to become heathens based on what they think (at least, atheists like me, who simply spent a few weeks with Dawkins and talkorigins and did the math). When I “became an atheist”, it wasn’t as though I needed any special encouragement from Dawkins or from any other atheist spokesman. Atheism was merely a result of a long string of computations I conducted faced with the evidence and non-evidence available.

What I feel, though, sometimes has nothing to do with evidence, but merely with the way my brain functions.

I say all of this because TRA didn’t say jack zilch about what made him think that Christ is his savior and why he knows that God exists and that he watches over him. Nope. TRA believes, and “knows God” in the “other ways” necessary to know him that Dawkins alluded to when he wrote :”There are many ways of knowing besides the scientific, and it is one of those ways that are needed for us to know God”.

There’s a point to this besides telling my “fellow atheists”  that they shouldn’t be so snarky at the bible-thumper formerly known as TRA. I wish to give an explanation as to why TRA converted in the first place, while trying to base it on the modicum of evidence available.

When mom died, I still remained an atheist. I was lonely, crazed, inflicted with mental illness and growingly paranoid. I didn’t find God, even though in these parts, God is almost everywhere (metaphorically speaking). I did, however, drastically departed from the person I was. I became, in many respects, my former exact opposite. This is the result of emotional trauma, not of rational thought, and everyone, atheist or not, can and often will turn against his beliefs and convictions when pressed hard against the wall with the hot-poker of reality.

I say then to anyone comfortable in his intellectually-based atheism: your atheism is a result of your personal worldview, and like all humans, your worldview is malleable, and mostly so when reality throws a hot cauldron full of shit into your life.

Addendum

I wouldn’t write this post the way I did if TRA’s post about his conversion contained anything besides appeals to emotion, evidence-wise. With all due respect to what I wrote vis. the way emotional turmoil can change a person, when I use my head to think and not my heart, I take every input cum grano salis, and in the case of amazing conversion stories like this, cum multis granis salis.

Pockets of Order

With much consideration to the tormented religious mind, I often contemplate what it means to think of our species, or life in general, as a pocket of order.

A lot of atheists who are into the evolution-creation debate probably know about the ancient and tired creationist argument about the second law of thermodynamics.

Now, I really can’t feel too comfortable talking about thermodynamics after I’ve interpreted and scribed for a deaf student who actually went to a TD course. There, I got a good glimpse of what thermodynamics actually is about and I wasn’t surprised to find out it doesn’t offer any evidence of any gods or creators.

But, I still have some idea of what this law is about, and I’ll put it out before this gets too messy:

the second law of thermodynamics talks about a quality or a physical entity called “entropy”. The thing really only makes sense physically if you take it into consideration with mechanical qualities in gases (although I bet the quality has some parallel in other phases as well). In short, entropy is just another variable in equations designed to predict the behavior of gases (that’s as far as I went in one semester, at least!).

The interesting part about the second law of TD is that it can be, in a not-entirely-figurative-way, a term used to denote a sense of disorder. That’s quite interesting, because it is actually a fact that in certain systems (ain’t going there), the amount of entropy always increases unless there’s some work/external energy or in English, “external factors” operating on the system. To put it in an example, if you take a low-entropy  gas and suddenly let it loose inside a large space/container, the atoms of the gas will, without interruption, aspire to become all messed up and pretty much evened-out throughout the space they’re situated in. The god of physics forgive me for the extremely loose and inaccurate description here. This can be called “disorder” because of a somewhat subjective definition for the word “order”, and in that case, I specifically remember what the professor said about “order”:

if you have a lot of ways of arranging a certain collection of atoms and, for some improbable reason (the improbable element plays a really important part here) – they tend to all arrange themselves in the same unlikely position – then the arrangement is considered ordered.

That said, order is nothing more than statistical euphamism designed to express improbable arrangements of matter in space.

The reason such arrangements, in the case of gases, for example, are improbable is because when there’s a large space for a collection of atoms to spread itself in, the energetic factors of each an every atom will always lead the atoms to be as evened out as possible as to minimize the amount of energy every atom has in accord to other atoms. This is just following a basic chemical and physical law: that atoms aspire to be in the lowest-energy conformation.  This is not some strange devil in nature that has strange whims – this is simply and observed and yet unrefuted reality – to be quickly discarded once refuted.

That puts even more subectivity to the term “order” – it means that the order we’re talking about follows from a definition of improbability based on our ignorance of situations in which matter does not follow the laws of physics that we know of. Order is nothing more than a convenient way of expressing a phenomenon in reality as we know it. There’s nothing about this term that means “special characteristics in life”. The “order” we have has nothing to do with the “order and discipline” that exists in, say, armies, goverment, police forces, etc. Even that “order” is nothing more than an abstraction to explain away certain obsreved patterns.

The reason I’m going through this whole caveat is because I’m fascinated with what this whole “order” thing really means: it means that us living creatures are doing something that is physically unlikely in a closed system. It is, of course, 100% likely in a non-closed system, in which tiny pockets of order are formed in an ocean of disorder.

My mind really starts sailing off when I try putting it into a more poetic use:

I think about the course of human history and the fact that even today, when there’s regulation books in the amazon river, civilization is still a tiny pocket of “order” in a messy sea of chaos. The order that exists in civilization is, of course, nothing like the order that exists in gas atoms. Actually, even though I didn’t go that far in the material, the TD professor said that things get really wobbly when you get the liquid and solid phases and eventually even to describe simple conditions, you need statistical physics to reach convenient approximations.

So it’s really stupid to actually draw evidence from thermodynamics to anything us humans do. Which is not what I’m doing in this post.

What I am doing is trying to make a poetic comparison between the two:

The order in our lives, expressed in the comfort that today and tomorrow are not going to be too drastically different from each other, the knowledge that it is quite unlikely for us to get killed or to lose a family member or a loved one, and that if something bad does happen to us, then someone’s going to pay for it.
Of course, even in the western world, it’s not like that. I’ve lost loved ones, I’ve had todays extremely different than their respective tomorrows, and sometimes life is indeed turbulent and unpredictable.

However, in many places in the world, even right now, people are whimpering in fear just like their animal counterparts in the wild. Women who are constantly raped know that it can happen again and no one’s going to help them. Men and children will be attacked, their family members will not be expected to survive – they live in a chaotic world with no rules or even a slight attempt to enforce them.

And I consider the kind of world I live in, with blogs and police forces and lawyers and imaginary lines in the sand that people actually do not cross to be as unlikely as a pocket of order. I consider it a rather striking simile that it is unlikely to have this kind of law and order anywhere in the world and it is much more likely to be utter chaos.

For the better part of human history, people have been obeying the laws of the jungle to survive. Of course, this has become much more refined in the modern world: people are not killed, they’re bought. People are not tortured into faith, they’re brainwashed or even simply tricked into faith – all for the personal gain of the leaders who perpetuate these faiths.

So the course of human history eventually bubbled enough steam and on the mountains of corpses of the past grew a world of smiling, fat, self-serving average folk who think they got the world by the balls and that everything’s going to be okay.

But this “okayness” is, again, something very unlikely. Like in TD, to perpetuate such “order”, you have to put in a lot of “work” into it. I consider the order that I enjoy so much to be the product of a lot of hard labor for a lot of people who want the same thing. It’s a win-win deal. In Israel, every person serves in the army for 3 years and that way we don’t get thrown into the ocean. In America, people pay taxes, obey the law, or are forced to obey the law by the hard work of the government and law enforcement agencies. The order is perpetuated by the muscle of those who desire it.

But the idea that this is a permanent situation is an illusion -we will always have to work to live in such a sheltering environment and we will always have to deal with the challenges the future brings to keep this “order” alive. This order could slip off our fingers any moment, any minute, and throw us into the dark ages. Our women raped, our men murdered, our children enslaved – the easiest way and the stupidest way to get personal gain out of other human beings is simply to steal them or remove them – and without working hard for a rational and moral humanity, that’s exactly what we’ll end up getting.

Shenanigans

This is a post written in English that is going to be followed by a post translating it into Hebrew. I’m making points in this lengthy, yet, I promise, interesting post that I wish both my Hebrew-reading friends to enjoy easily and any English readership I might attract here.

It’s been quite a nasty day for me yesterday. I don’t usually write blog posts like diary entries, even though I do write personal posts, but something that I did yesterday caused me to do a lot of thinking. Really disconcerting, nasty, shocking, sickening things usually do.

I should probably add it to my “about me page”, but for now, I’ll put it here that my “job classification”, if you could call it that, is a “freelancer English/Hebrew/Sign Language interpreter and transcriber”. It’s a very high-paying job for an untrained student and, more importantly, since I freelance, I can supply my services when I want, to whom I want and to what extent I want. So when I’ll be busy with exams, I’ll have the legal privilege to simply work less. It also means that I negotiate my payment before every job and I get a lot of experience with a huge variety of subjects.

I’ve been doing this for about 6 years now, ever since I was 17 and my dad needed me to come and not only translate for him, which was something I got used doing and never actually expected payment for it – but he also asked me to transcribe for him too because his regular transcriber was sick. Transcribing to deaf students is simply to sit next to them in class and try and type whatever the professor says. My dad was having a course in auto mechanics and he had government funding for either a typist/transcriber or a sign language interpreter. In my case, since I’ve been living behind a keyboard ever since I was 5 (when I got my first 286 computer) and by now have achieved sonic typing speed, and because I’ve been interpreting for mom and dad all my life -Dad got both.

So, needless to say, Dad was extremely pleased. Whenever the lecturer said things that he had to memorize or explained really complicated ideas, I wrote them down, word-for-word. Most people, fortunately, don’t talk faster than 80 words a minute, which is about how fast I type in both Hebrew and English. I even managed to write down some comments and questions from the other students and the answers the professor gave. I really gave dad the feeling that he was really IN the class, aware of everything that’s happening. Even today, the knowledge of this makes me cry.

When dad simply wanted to understand a concept, or, after I wrote down what the professor said, to ask a question, I removed my fingers from the laptop social security gave me and I started interpreting to dad in sign language and voicing my dad’s questions to the professor.

In that respect, I think I became and might probably still be the ONLY transcriber who is ALSO a sign-language interpreter. After my dad finished his course (he got like 98 or something! woohoo dad!), I was just about to graduate and I had thoughts of actually getting a job so that I could save up some money. I had about 2 months in which I worked in telemarketing, delivered newspapers and there was one more thing I don’t even remember… Until one day, my dad told me about a deaf student he knows who majors in special education. He said that he thought I was really good at transcribing and being able to sign is a huge bonus for any deaf student. I reluctantly agreed to accompany this girl for one semester and it was just amazing. First of all, I was making about triple minimum wage. That is, I made twice as much money as any of my friends in half the time. All the while, having complete access to academic courses and almost the entire week off. I worked 3 days a week, about 10 hours in total, and they paid me so friggin’ much, I simply couldn’t get why. This “business” took off as more students heard of my “special skills”. By the time I joined the army and had to stop working, of course, I had 2 more long-term jobs: one was with a girl who studied dental hygiene and another who learnt marriage-counselling. Needless to say, I was exposed to information I probably would never have been exposed to.

During the army, I did a lot of jobs “in the black market”, because Israeli soldiers aren’t allowed to have jobs without a special permit, which I wouldn’t be able to get because my family wasn’t poor. So I had the opportunity to go to court with deaf plaintiffs, transcribe official hard-of-hearing conferences and even professional lectures by foreign lecturers in technical subjects such as audiology. I gained so much information that I have no current use for that it’s kinda funny. Of course, a soldier doing this “on his free time” – I got paid in cash and no one was any wiser. I helped a lot of people with my services, so I think anyone with an IRS-oriented morality should just leave me alone, at that.

Anyway, after I discharged from the army, I got an official “card” and”opened up a business”, and I’m only writing that in quotes because it feels ridiculous to write it without them, and, well, got myself a name, a reputation. I started working with private companies, those who REALLY pay big bucks for broke, young, discharged soldiers. And here I am now. Now I mostly do the most difficult type of transcribing, but I do it from home and on my own terms, which is great because it means I can work whenever I want. The most difficult part of transcribing I just mentioned is formal government and judicial material: conferences/meetings/law suits/commities, etc. They’re all of a very similar vein: all exquisitely recorded, all requiring a lot of experience as a transcriber.

Now that I’ve finished droning on how I got into transcribing and interpreting (something, admittedly, that I did less and less when I got into transcribing for private companies for a lot more than what the government pays interpreters), I’ll get to the point of what happened to me yesterday and how hard it shook me.

I got a new “supplier”, or “well”, as I call them, for transcription jobs. A solid, good, credible company with lots of work that was recruiting new transcribers and translators in English and Hebrew. The first job they gave me was yesterday, in which I completed transcribing two hours of audio. Now, there’s a legal agreement that prevents me from saying exactly what happened in that piece of audio, mainly because it was of a closed-doors serious crime law-suit and even if I could, I don’t think I’d have the balls to really tell what happened, just that listening and writing down with my own fingers the course of those two hours was such a horrible, nasty, sickening, bowel-churning experience that it simply screwed up my mood for the rest of the day. I was supposed to go this geek party thing afterwards and simply didn’t. I stayed up alone, drank too much and tried really, really hard not to think about human evil.

But the actual serious crime itself wasn’t the only thing that made me so battered.

Well, yeah, first of all, there was the part that I literally stopped working in some cases where something simply unbelievable was said by someone (things were said that shocked me so much that I simply froze for a few minutes and literally had a physiological response to it, I could actually throw up.), but in the aftermath, and after, somehow, getting used to hearing really horrible descriptions from the witness stand, something else REALLY bothered me. Notwithstanding the fact that horrible, nasty, incomprehensible evil is alive and kicking on this planet, there was also the fact that when people investigate witnesses, be they the victims, defendants, or anyone else, lawyers, being what they are, are capable of twisting words and using verbal gymnastics in a way that would make almost anyone believe almost anything. I found this extremely troubling because on the one hand, I heard a victim depicting what has happened to him/her and then, when cross-examined, the lawyer actually did a REALLY good job at discrediting the witness.

I know it’s his job, but it’s as if the guy had absolutely no sympathy, he was doing his job like there’s nothing else in the world but defending his client. And when I listened to what he said, I was shocked to realize that at some points, I almost believed him. I believed him when he discredited the witness. And then I shook my head and realized that serious criminals get to walk away so many times simply because of people like that lawyer.

Some serious crimes have very little evidence to support them, and in that case, the only thing left to investigate is the witnesses. That said, people who are confused, scared, have been suffering from many years by the same person and can’t recollect and reproduce events in the far past – they all give screwed up descriptions of what happened to them. Possibly, to the extent where they say one thing at the police and another in court, simply because they’re too emotionally wound up to be completely consistent. This is also, sadly, enough to discredit almost ANYONE because in cases of serious crimes that are well-hidden, there’s usually discrepancy even between what the victim says and what other people who confided in the victim say. It’s so… dirty, the whole business.

I finished working yesterday feeling, more than any sympathy that I felt, more than any pride I felt in taking a small part in something this important, I felt sick. I felt sick with the fact that humans can twist words any way they like and with that allow such evil not only to exist, but also to escape judgment. I wouldn’t assume to be both judge and jury, but hearing what cross-examination is like in cases like this, I can be almost certain that sometimes, lawyers help the bad guys walk away and then the bad guys continue doing bad things. It is a failure that humanity suffers from that I find so heart-breaking and mind shattering,

I do not know how to reconcile this with myself, and I know that there’s very little that I can do.

It is quite amazing what evil lurks in the hearts of men. In some, insanity or an unrestrained compulsion drives people to destroy other souls or even to take them. But in other cases, it is greed or indifference that allows for such visceral evil to exist. I can’t make which evil is worse.