Have you thought about (HYTA) the glaring contradiction(s) in our lives? (Part 2)

4c43a6000bb5192c6cec660f67248687.800x436x1

Even in Singapore, my country of residence, and a place I have a token measure of respect, problems seem to increasingly surface as the years go by. I suppose it’s because I am less accepting of what is told to me directly – probably a by-product of my cynicism.

It’s important to maintain a larger perspective, of course. Compared to America where they struggle with Creationism Vs Science or North Korea’s celestial dictatorship or even Malaysia’s blatant favoritism towards a race (and religion), Singapore’s problems may well be non-existent.

So what contradictions can be found in Singapore, or if magnified, be found all over the world?

Plenty, actually.

In Singapore, there’s considerable moderation of what’s allowed in advertisements, sales and discussion – you couldn’t make false claims with dubious evidence. So you aren’t going to see the spurious ads of magic pills plastered all over our advertising air time, and that’s good.

Yet, we openly endorse questionable concepts such as Chinese horoscope readings, Fengshui, and alongside that, supposed “lucky hours”, fortune telling, palmistry, ALL of which have already been unanimously debunked by the scientific committee as pseudo science (false claims). Look no further than Chinese New Year where you have “authoritative” figures giving you magical guidance on how to live your life.

“Culture” as it may be, the government’s encouragements for these dubious activities are a harmful suspension of critical thinking. Progress in humanity is not achieved through a blind servitude to the rituals of yore or to be enslaved to ancestral beliefs – we know better than that since most of those beliefs were often especially problematic. Apparently, magic pills are out, but magic psychic reading and mystical predictions are in. It makes for wonderful scientific commentary.

Likewise, religious harmony, an attribute we praise Singapore for, is in itself both paradoxical and also contradictory, and if I may add, completely oxymoronic. NONE of the holy texts advocate a blending of faith; in fact, the main religions are cunningly exclusive, each demanding unwavering fealty from the unthinking believer. Believers learn to ignore specific passages from their holy text(s) in order to find mutuality.

The respective religions each claim to know the truth, (a point I am darkly amused when churches advertise “the truth will set you free”) but if there’s a truth, there can only be one truth. It’s impossible for each religion to have an equal stake in the truth. Yet, we allow religions to operate as though they were in possession of a definite truth, which by the way, I am sure they are perfectly clueless about, and also, for the purposes of legality, counts as false advertising. But since it keeps the people occupied enough not to think of anything else, why not?

I remember once attending the Singapore Press holding’s recruitment drive. It was made adamantly clear that the press had freedom in what it wished to publish, and almost always without government interference. When I look at the more controversial opinion pieces on the internet, whether they be on religion, governments or free speech, I am  certain our Singapore Press publishes with sanitisation in mind – articles are carefully chosen not to interfere with the harmony here. In fact, we are ranked poorly for press freedom, so that should say plenty.

But that’s not all. Lee Kuan Yew’s death was unfortunate, and there’s no doubting he was a titan in what he did in having Singapore economically and politically displace its neighbours. But in the intervening time the nation was mourning for him, teachers were ordered to congregate, “required” (in the loosest sense of the word) to watch a long video extolling all his virtues, and then instructed to go back to class and remind or encourage students to praise him. Throughout it all, you were constantly hinted that you were being “observed” from a distance. There was no room for any critical discourse, just a souped up serving of his excellence, almost as if he was a paragon of virtue. And let’s not get started on the media.

It’s not like I can’t understand why they did what they did. I just don’t like it.

It’s hardly “freedom” (speech or political) is it? It resonates just a little closer to North Korea’s insistence that their leader is exigent for the praises of its common folks. Of course, Singapore is not remotely on the same level as North Korea, but we sure do dirty our hands here.

So look around you. Contradictions are the norm, not the exception.

So have you thought about (HYTA) other glaring contradictions in your life…again?

Have you thought about (HYTA) the glaring contradiction(s) in our lives? (Part 1)

MoralityandReligionatheism27554447720540

Often, as it has become an inevitable ritual after someone knows me long enough, I am sometimes asked why I refuse to conform, refuse to follow what others do, and why I reject a number of popular beliefs, systems and thoughts.

I am not a contrarian because I want to be one. Often, it’s easier to march to the one tune and revel in common, malicious & unintelligent gossip – it’s the easiest way to be social, but decidedly, at least for me, is a stutter step towards intellectual suicide.

Firstly, we are not normal – not by any means – and are very far from being rational. (Though we think we are) Abnormality seems to be the status quo. Our lives are awashed with glaring contradictions, smeared with paradoxes and we are rarely able to explicate our actions and thoughts.

To make my point, consider this: a while back, a friend of mine singled out a colleague for his bizarre beliefs of sprinkling water to deter spiritual infestations.

It is nonsense, she said contemptuously, and proceeded to dismantle his disconcerting claims of being able to communicate with otherworldly ephemeral beings.

I listened quietly, and pointed out that she wasn’t really any different.

After all, as a fundamentalist Christian, her beliefs were comparatively equally disturbing – she talked and prayed to an invisible friend who would apparently find some time to listen to her; joined others in praying to an unproven divine being whose portfolio of creating a world of suffering should have gotten his celestial ass fired many times over; believed that somewhere out there, her deceased loved ones were waiting for her, possibly cutting their nails to pass time.

Though it’s difficult to hear, we often fail to recognise our own abnormalities. It’s easier and way better, like an emotional catharsis, to just hammer away at the rogue nail and forget we are the biggest and blackest pot in the room.

There is no distinction between religions, the supernatural and cults. The first is more universally recognised, the second is often considered culture and the last simply doesn’t have enough members.

When a cult gathers a large enough following, it becomes a religion. One needs to look no further than Mormonism and Scientology (not to be confused with Science).

A memorable quote aptly summarises it:

“When one person suffers from a delusion, it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion, it is called a religion.”

Evidence is the great equaliser, but since neither religion, cultism or the supernatural barter in scientific evidence, their baseless assertions surely can be dismissed.

Is it not ironic and contradictory that we dismiss others with a snap of the finger and fail to dismiss our own credulous beliefs?

So, have you thought about (HYTA) other glaring contradictions in your life?

Have you thought about (HYTA) the potency of human beliefs? (ISIS’s attack on Indonesia)

extraordinary-claims-require-extraordinary-evidence

Belief is no simple word. It’s possibly the only English word with the most severely understated meaning – you get a dry technical treatment and it completely misses the point on just how potent beliefs are.

Consider the following:

If you believe you are going to die in 7 days, would your behaviour change?
If you believe your religion was the most accurate path to spirituality, would your perspectives and policies change?

The only intellectually honest answer here is a unanimous yes.

Every belief we hold, from the simplest to the most complex, is like a master lever, and once pushed, dictates how we understand and interact with the world.

Left by itself, a belief can claim no man, change no person or hurt no one.

It’s only when a belief is consumed by the human mind – methodically applied – does it change from something shapeless and senseless into a seemingly alien life-form that masquerades the actions of its host – and this formless flesh can either be parasitic, benign or beneficial.

And such beliefs, especially those of the popular monotheistic religions (Hinduism too, though it is polytheistic), are especially problematic.

Unless you compartmentalise how you think, science and religion are completely incompatible. Not only are they in the same competing business of proving the reality of the world, their methods differ with greater polarity than the North and South Poles.

Consider Carl Sagan’s quote: “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” Then, throw in Hitchen’s “What can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence” and you realise that religion inside out, and from top to bottom, is a series of illogical and contradictory claims.

I am somewhat amused when I am told that “God” is a loving father. If heathens are tortured in a very special place called Hell, and you are commanded to believe only in him  – with the dire (and often repeated) threats of damnation if you don’t pray – anyone with the common sense of a marble can see that it’s a psychologically twisted relationship. Follow me and be blessed. Look the other way and burn. It’s pathological.

Tell someone to read Cinderella and everyone knows its a fable. It’s a fun story but contains no truth. It’s forgotten the next moment.

Read the story of Muhammad flying on a seemingly winged donkey-like creature or that of Moses magically parting the red sea and the religious folks will try their best to insert all sorts of “evidence” to impress you with the veracity of the stories.

It’s the truth, they say, as they scramble to find verses from their holy texts. There are at least thousands of religions with thousands of different holy texts. Let me find you my own holy text, shall I?

I once asked a religious Geography teacher how he went about teaching the age of the Earth. Since he was of the Islamic faith, he believed the Earth was young (4000-6000 years old) which was hugely contradictory with our scientific understanding (4.543 billion years).

He said he presented both views and taught that they were both acceptable.

Take a moment and reflect on just how especially damning this statement is.

The evidence supporting Science is indisputable (radiometric age dating), yet he elevates his religious assertions (with no evidence) with the same certainty as Science?

Would you be bothered if I presented the views of Scientology, Mormonism, Shamanism, Mithraism & the Aztecs alongside Science as equally valid truths?

This is just one of many examples of how especially troubling religion can be.

Here’s another: Recently, an attempt to ban child marriages in Pakistan was shamed as anti-Islamic and blasphemous. This is not an isolated case – many other parallel incidents (homosexuality, drugs etc) have all been made stupidly worse because of religious beliefs.

Religious beliefs (and anything superstitious) bleed into the human mind, causing an intellectual aneurysm in young, impressionistic minds that haven’t developed the ability to think independently.

The ISIS attack on Indonesia is again, a resounding reminder of the potency of human beliefs and the inherent contradictions of religions.

But more importantly, for most of us who know this well, it serves as a poignant reminder of the human brain’s tendency to believe first and ask questions later (if at all).

So, have you thought about (HYTA) the potency of your beliefs?

The above writing isn’t meant to be an academic treatise of any sort, and certainly doesn’t do much justice in developing more cohesive arguments. My intent was to keep it simple. If you need an introductory approach, do read Guy P. Harrison. Else, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris would be excellent authors to check out.

Have you thought about (HYTA) your brain?

throne_of_the_empress_by_deusindaemone

If there is a metaphorical throne for the human soul, it would reside in the seemingly innocuous organ we call the brain. Creased and bulbous, almost like a gently pulsating mass of coalesced flesh, it is the engine of the human body, and the architect of all our perceived reality and emotions.

This is not to be contested – whether it be the unspun yarns of love, the putrescence retch of disgust or the brief shimmers of optimism, all that is and will be, have been unanimously proven to originate from the brain.

We are who we are because of the collected experiences and memories that reside in our brain. A single powerful memory – of person, place or trauma – leaves an indelible scar that molds and stretches our behaviour with indiscernible subtlety, and very often, its lingering effects last for many years ahead, if not for life.

The brain may seem feeble at times: a computer solves a mathematical problem with glided ease and deserving arrogance, while most human brains will slave away, fatigued, and eventually produce results that are usually rife with inaccuracies.

Yet a computer can no more tell the difference between one mammalian expression from the next, nor can it extricate meaningful sense from contexts dependent on inferences – here the human brain excels with preternatural agility.

Our brain is a remarkably complex organ, and understandably, we are yet to piece together a complete theory on how different parts of the brain come together to communicate and create a coherent reality. Such is the sophistication that underlies brain circuitry.

But it’s incredible that all our memories, habits, tendencies, expectations, extremities of emotions and darkest thoughts are all birthed in this sentient organ.

What are we?