Learning to help improve the world, for everyone in the world

Here are some ways I’m trying to learn to help improve the world, for everyone in the world, near and far:
1. Learning to think and act in ways that help brighten up the day for everyone around me, in everything I do, everywhere all the time.
2. Learning to be a better friend to each person in my life.
3. Learning to communicate more, and better, with each person in my life, about what really matters to me and to them.
4. Learning to help develop, practice and promote some kinds of community building, in neighborhoods and villages around the world, that I see as promising ways of helping to build a better world; and of helping to reduce and counteract the ravaging of military and economic warfare, and other natural disasters; at the same time.
5. Practicing and promoting friendship and fellowship across the widest ideological divides.
6. Spending time in side-by-side friendships with some of the people around me that I see being stigmatized, marginalized and ravaged the most.
7. Learning to improve my personality, character, health, capacities and conduct, in ways that serve those purposes, and to encourage and support others in their efforts to improve themselves.
8. Learning not to be confused, distracted, diverted and poisoned by alarm, anger and other passions, mine or anyone else’s; or by discussions about social issues, and about outrageous things happening in the world.

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Defending people against defamation and repression without helping them defame others

Imagine some popular authors and speakers who continually talk about the most alarming and outrageous things that atheists ever do or have ever done, insisting that what atheists do is supremely evil and threatens the lives of all people everywhere, without ever qualifying the word “atheists,” and insisting that those atrocities are inevitable consequences of not believing in God. They promote those views in irresponsible ways that stir up animosity towards all atheists everywhere, for example by misquoting and grossly misrepresenting surveys of atheist views. Apart from that, they never talk about atheists in any other context, except as partners in guilt. They never talk about what atheists are doing about the harmful behavior of atheists, or any other good that atheists are doing in the world, except occasionally when pressed to do so. They never show any concern about prejudice, discrimination and violence against atheists, and never even mention it, except occasionally when pressed to do so, or to deflect the blame from people who are campaigning against atheism. Their writings and speeches appear to authenticate popular prejudices against atheists, and that accounts for at least a part of their popularity.

I would be skeptical of claims that those people have no prejudice against atheists, but I would not presume to know that they do. Actually I would consider it more likely that they’re advancing their careers by appealing to other people’s prejudices, but I wouldn’t presume to know that either. However that may be, I would say that regardless of their motives and intentions, what they’re doing is helping to perpetuate prejudice, discrimination and violence against atheists.

That would not be a reason, in my view, to try to defame them, or to want their views to be censored or repressed, and I would object to people doing so. However, I would not want to enter the debate to defend them, without also acknowledging the harmfulness I see in their behavior. Would you?

—-

Now, in the three paragraphs above, I’ll substitute Muslims in the place of atheists.

Imagine some popular authors and speakers who continually talk about the most alarming and outrageous things that Muslims ever do or have ever done, insisting that what Muslims do is supremely evil and threatens the lives of all people everywhere, without ever qualifying the word “Muslims,” and insisting that those atrocities are inevitable consequences of Muslim beliefs. They promote those views in irresponsible ways that stir up animosity towards all Muslims everywhere, for example by misquoting and grossly misrepresenting surveys of atheist views. Apart from that, they never talk about Muslims in any other context, except as partners in guilt. They never talk about what Muslims are doing about the harmful behavior of Muslims, or any other good that Muslims are doing in the world, except occasionally when pressed to do so. They never show any concern about prejudice, discrimination and violence against Muslims, and never even mention it, except occasionally when pressed to do so, or to deflect the blame from people who are campaigning against atheism. Their writings and speeches appear to authenticate popular prejudices against Muslims, and that accounts for at least a part of their popularity.

I would be skeptical of claims that those people have no prejudice against Muslims, but I would not presume to know that they do. Actually I would consider it more likely that they’re advancing their careers by appealing to other people’s prejudices, but I wouldn’t presume to know that either. However that may be, I would say that regardless of their motives and intentions, what they’re doing is helping to perpetuate prejudice, discrimination and violence against Muslims.

That would not be a reason, in my view, to try to defame them, or to want their views to be censored or repressed, and I would object to people doing so. However, I would not want to enter the debate to defend them, without also acknowledging the harmfulness I see in their behavior. Would you?

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Reacting to harmful behavior by trying to discredit beliefs

I had written a long post, about not seeing any reason in my experience to think that discrediting and defaming religions and belief in God can do anything to help improve society. I was about to publish it, when I saw the comment from religionerased saying that however that may be, what matters is looking for the truth.

Well … yes. Agreed. Absolutely.

So I looked again at the post I had written, to try to see why I wrote it.

It was a response to some behavior that looks unhealthy and harmful to me, namely trying to discredit and defame religions and belief in God. I see people excusing that behavior as a response to harmful behavior in the name of religion. They seem to believe that religion is the cause of the harmful behavior, as if we could always trust everything anyone says about their motives.

Ironically, I keep doing exactly the same thing, myself! That is, I’m reacting to what I see as harmful behavior, by trying to discredit the beliefs that I see people using to excuse it.

If I can’t even convince myself to stop doing that, I don’t know how I think I can convince anyone else!

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Better ways for Atheists to help improve society?

For a long time I’ve been thinking that it’s a mistake to imagine that trying to discredit religion can do anything to help reduce violence and other harmful behavior in society. Now I see a new post at Atheist Revolution endorsing the idea of focusing efforts on faith instead of religion. At first glance that looked promising to me, but on second thought, that idea doesn’t really look any better to me at all.

What does look promising to me, in that post, is the sympathetic and helpful attitude that I see in it, towards followers of religions, and the step I see it taking towards discarding the imaginary line that people sometimes draw between atheists and other people. I see a lot of good in that, even if trying to turn people away from faith is as much of a mistake as I think it is, just as much as trying to turn them away from religion.

What I think is needed to improve society, that I’ve seen associated with atheism at its best, is training and mentoring in sound reasoning, free and critical thinking, encouraging and supporting expression of all points of view however much we may despise them, and loving self knowledge. As I see it, the people who have the best opportunities to train and mentor the people in any social circle, atheist or religious, are other people in the same social circle. One way I see, for anyone who wants to, to help with the training and mentoring in other social circles besides their own, is to find people who are doing that in those social circles, and offer them some encouragement and support.

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Can atheism be a remedy for violence in the name of religion?

I’ve been reading and commenting on the Atheist Revolution blog, but one of the other readers seems to have been annoyed and repeatedly distracted by my comments. There might be others feeling the same way, even if they aren’t saying so. I’ve decided to stop posting my thoughts there, and to post them here, instead.

It looks to me like the aim of the post “Atheism and Violence” is to highlight some kind of distinction between two hypothetical situations. I haven’t been able to see any distinction that looks consequential to me. If I understood the purpose of making that distinction, that might help me see it better, but I haven’t been able to find out what the purpose is, so all I can do is speculate.

The two hypothetical situations are:
1. A religious believer commits a violent act and tells the world that he did it for his gods.
2. An atheist kills and tells the world that he did it for atheism.

In a Web search I didn’t find any examples of an atheist killing someone and telling the world that he did it for atheism, so at this point, for me, that situation is purely hypothetical.

The post begins by saying that in the first situation it makes sense to look at the person’s religious beliefs. Considering what was said in previous posts, I’ll presume that’s in a context of trying to understand why the person committed the violent act. In other words, if the person says that they committed the violent act for their gods, then it makes sense to look at their religious beliefs, to understand why they did it. I have some doubts about that, but I’ll pass over it.

It looks to me like the rest of the post is devoted to showing that if an atheist kills someone, even if they tell the world that they did it for atheism, their actual reasons for doing it could not possibly have anything to do with atheism.

I haven’t seen any response to my question about what prompted devoting an entire post to that observation, so all I can do is speculate. It might have something to do with criticisms of atheism saying that atheism could be used to promote violence and other harmful behavior, just as easily as religion can. Religion as a cause of violence and other harmful behavior, and atheism as a remedy for that, are popular topics of discussion in atheist circles, at least on the Internet. That’s a possible reason I could understand, for wanting to show that it would be impossible for atheism to facilitate violence, without invalidating the idea of religion as a cause of violence.

That may or may not be what prompted that “Atheism and Violence” post at Atheist Revolution. However that may be, I want to respond here to the question of whether atheism can be a remedy for the violence and other harmful behavior that we see happening in the name of religion.

It seems self-evident to me that if more people were atheists, there would be less violence and other harmful behavior in the name of religion, and in particular, less behavior harmful to atheists. On the other hand, I don’t see any reason to think that simply increasing the number of atheists would do anything at all to reduce the total amount of violence and other harmful behavior. What would change would be the excuses people use, and their choice of targets. Apart from that, even though there would be less behavior harmful to atheists in the name of religion, some atheists would still be targets of harmful behavior under other banners, including harmful behavior of other atheists. We’ve already seen that happening.

Even so, I do see a possible parallel between more atheism, and less violence and harmful behavior. I imagine that the kinds of changes that I think are needed in all people, and in society, to reduce violence and other harmful behavior, will at the same time result in more atheism, as “atheism” is most commonly defined among online atheists. That is, there will be more people who will not presume that any of the beings that followers of religions are imagining when they say “God” or “gods,” really exist.

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Possible misunderstandings in comments to a blog

Someone commenting on a blog where I’ve been commenting, apparently misunderstood some things I’ve said, about what Muslims think, and about opinion polls. I’m not sure anyone cares, but in case anyone does, I want to try to clarify what I’ve said.

What Muslims think

I’m not denying that there might be a lot of popular support among Muslims, all around the world, for suicide bombings and other violence against civilians in Europe and North America. I’m not sure there is. I’m not sure there isn’t. I’m presuming that there is. However that may be, I’m certainly not imagining that reducing prejudice, animosities and hostilies towards Muslims, will do much, if anything, in the near future, to reduce violence against civilians by Muslims, in Europe and North America. There might be some things that governments and some other people and organizations can do, but at this point I don’t see any way for me to help with that. I’m thinking of doing some research to find out if there’s anything I can do.

One reason I’m presuming that there’s a lot of popular support among Muslims, for violence against civilians, is because of all the support I’ve seen among
Americans for some of the atrocities committed in our name, and all the other Americans I’ve seen ignoring, denying and excusing them. In any case, clearly it makes no difference to our government how many of us disapprove of anything it does, and we’re powerless to do anything about it.

I don’t see any reason to suppose that Muslim populations would react any differently to atrocities committed in the name of Islam. I imagine that some would applaud them, and most of the others would ignore them, deny them or excuse them. Some others might object to them, but be just as helpless to do anything about it as we are.

Opinion polls

What I think about opinion polls is that I haven’t seen any explanation anywhere, of why we should trust them to tell us how many people think what, in the whole world or any part of it. I just searched the Web to find out if there has ever been any independent verification in any population, of projections from any opinion poll, and so far I haven’t even found any *discussion* of that. In other words, I haven’t seen any sign that anyone has ever tried to find out if the percentages in any opinion poll were actually true for the population that was sampled, or that anyone even cares.

I’ve seen some reasons *not* to trust opinion polls. For example, Pew Research Center seems to have a reputation for quality, and its practices do look better to me than some others I’ve seen, but I didn’t find any information on its Web sites, or anywhere else on the Internet, about what it does to prevent interviewer falsification. If it doesn’t even consider interviewer falsification worth discussing, that creates serious doubts in my mind about its integrity, however good its practices may be. Besides that, I see signs of dishonesty in the Pew reports that I’ve looked at, in the way the questionnaires are designed, and in the reports themselves. If I can’t trust a polling organization as highly regarded and reputable-looking as that, I don’t see why I should trust any others.

Concerning the figure of 350 million, I don’t see how that can be derived from the Pew report, and the only place I found that figure was here: Moral Compass blog. I see some mistakes and misrepresentions in that post, but the comments on it are closed, so I posted my response here: Quora.

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The path of God, ravaged people, and improving the world

I’m writing this to try to organize my thoughts about it, and I’m posting it here because I’m not entirely sure that it won’t ever do anyone else any good.

My thoughts return continually to what any and all of us can do to help improve the lives of the world’s most ravaged people, near and far. At the same time, I want to look beyond that for what any and all of us can do to help bring out the best possibilities in human society, in general.

I’m finding answers to both of those questions, for me, but I keep wondering how to explain them to others, and whether I should even try. One thought that came to me was that if my thoughts about it can help anyone, how I came up with my answers, and possibly the principles I see in them, might mean more than the answers themselves.

Periodically I’m tempted to boycott some product or company, and sometimes to warn others against it, because of the role I see it playing in ravaging the earth and its people. I gave up that idea some time ago, as a way of improving the world or reducing the ravaging, although I still see some possible value in it as part of our own personal development.

When I try to see how I came up with my answers, all I can think of is simply that I never give up searching for better answers. I feel much better than ever before about the answers that I’ve found, but I’m still not satisfied, and I don’t imagine I will ever be.

What does all this have to do with the path of God? Only that I have to keep reminding myself to ask myself that question. How might it please God for me to try to respond to the ravaging of the earth and its people? How might it please God for me to try to help bring out the best possibilities in human society? Then I try to remember what I’ve learned from the scriptures, and from experience, that might apply to that, and I study, meditate and practice some more.

—-

Some of the principles I see in my answers:

1. I was looking for things to do that can help rebuild ravaged communities, in ways that
– benefit every person in a community, rather than some at the expense of others.
– genuinely improve people’s lives, in all their dimensions, rather than in ways that look good from materialistic and justice-blind points of view.

2. I was looking for things to do that can benefit communities far away, in the near future, and not only those near to me, or in the far future.

3. I see some principles and practices that look promising to me, for working within ravaged communities, in fellowship and collaboration with the people in them, learning from them and with them, to bring the best from each culture and each individual, in all their dimensions, into the process of rebuilding their communities. Anything I can do to help improve and promote those principles and practices, and to encourage and support people working that way within ravaged communities, can benefit communities far away, in the near future.

While I was writing this, a thought came to me that it might be as futile for me, individually, to speculate about ways to help stop the ravaging arising from human nature, as it would for me to speculate about ways to help stop floods, hurricanes and earthquakes. At the same time, as there are ways of reducing the harm done by other natural disasters, and helping communities recover from them, that we all can support, the same might be true of disasters arising from human nature.

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Going back to the question of what all this has to do with the path of God, one way I see to think of that is learning to follow the light He puts in front of us. For me that currently includes immersing myself in the scriptures, and systematic, sustained and prayerful efforts:
– to improve my character and conduct
– to learn to be a better friend to each person in my life
– to learn to nurture the spirit of faith and the love of God, in myself and in others, everywhere all the time.
– to learn to help light up the day for everyone around me, everywhere all the time.
– to learn to help bring out the best in human society, and in everyone around me.
– to help improve the world.

I see all of those interests, and my ideas for pursuing them, as partly inspired by my understanding of the scriptures. My urge (which might possibly qualify as an obsession) to find better ways to help improve the lives of the world’s most ravaged people, may or may not be directly inspired by the scriptures, but I do get from them some encouragement and ideas for it, and I want to always remember to turn to them and to think of God’s pleasure, whenever I’m feeling that urge.

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