Sunday, September 8, 2013

Religion and Me: A Photo Essay

Hi, this is me! A 26-year-old from Ontario, Canada.

I like spending time with family:

And friends:

And I like to play the guitar:

And I am an atheist!

However, I have not always held my anti-theistic views. In fact, I used to be an altar boy in my small, rural town's Catholic church.

I would like to take a few moments of your time to show you how I went from altar boy to atheist. Let's start by looking at what religion is, shall we?

But I didn't always see religion for what it truly is, I used to view it like this…

…but as I started to grow up and pay less attention to myself, I began to pay more attention to the world around me. I noticed that the world was in dire need of help--God's help! So, I began to do what I was taught to do when I was in need, pray!

It didn't seem to be working, so I changed how I asked things, tried to be a "better" person, and continued to pray…

…and pray…

But no matter how much i prayed, the terrible things continued to happen:

Nobody but me seemed to mind that our prayers were going unanswered. Maybe it was because the people around me still had food on their tables, a vehicle in their garage, and a safe environment to live in. It was frustrating to me, though, that God wasn't blamed for the bad stuff, but when something good happened we attributed it to His benevolence.

And around the time of Japan's most recent earthquake and subsequent tsunami, I realized that:

So I decided to start helping and I concluded that praying was not as productive as I had been lead to believe. I realized that I was brainwashed: that everything I had been told about God; His love, His commandments, His hatred of human nature, His stories that only a child should believe, yet all the adults were swearing by, were all falsified and fabricated. I realized that religion is just a pervasive venom we were being spoon fed by irresponsible adults--the people who were supposed to be teaching us how to think, not what to think.

To begin, I had to break free of my old, primitive ways of thinking--that natural need for appeasement that comes with religion and the complacent attitude I had been indoctrinated with my whole life. I decided to take a risk and throw out everything the Bible had taught me, lessons like the Adam and Eve story…

…were only hurting me. Next, I started listening to the other side: the secularists, non-religious, anti-theists, and atheists. The people who, where I come from, are still the most mistrusted group of individuals.

But as I continued to let dissent of religious indoctrination spread secretly through my mind, I realized that the people who truly understood the way the world was supposed to be run were not the religious persons I was surrounded by:

I quickly came to the understanding that I had been mislead; that atheists were not bad at all, they've just been given a very bad reputation:

I chose to begin studying religion openly; its influence on human beings, and of course, where it all came from. I came to a stark realization one day when I stumbled on the discovery that:

As I grew up and began to mature, some of my friends became open about their homosexuality — I didn't care, they were my friends; sexual preference was too small a personality trait to matter to me. In fact, I respected them. I was ashamed of my disbelief in God and religion, afraid of who might say what at school. Yet these individuals were brave enough to be themselves in a place that very much scorned any act of individualism. High School is not an accepting place.

In my mind, even if the entire Bible was just passages saying that same-sex relations were a sin, I would still argue that there were worse things happening in the world. To me, sin is just an invented sickness designed to sell you a fake cure--a pill you could swallow whole, using your code of morals as the liquid chaser. The name of that cure is Religion, and along with its imaginary illness, Sin, the duo write the greatest prescription for permission to hate that the world has ever seen.

I just couldn't understand why everybody hated my friends. Were there really any legitimate worries because they had desires to love a member of the same sex?

I believed quite strongly that the rest of the world was wrong, while I was right about the same-sex debate. It was not too long, however, that people in the public eye began to express the thoughts that I, and surely several others were having:

At that point in my life I was convinced that if there ever was a god, he lost interest in us long ago. Our prayers go unanswered, and to be brutally honest, they should--they deserve to be ignored. They should be ignored because as each person mutters their own selfish, pathetic, depraved prayers, we contradict someone else's prayers. We cant all win the lottery, we can't all win at sports and certainly, we can't all have God protect us from bullets while ensuring the bullets we fire find our targets.

Speaking of death, why do religious people continue to scare the rest of us, when it's really themselves who can't wait for death? How many times have they scared us into believing the world is about to end? The world isn't about to end, unless it comes in the form of a war that religion itself creates.

The harder I looked at the evidence (lack thereof) for an omnipotent, omniscient being, the more I understood about human nature. God didn't make people good, he made them bad — his message was a corrupt one. People become so twisted by religious brainwashing that they commit heinous acts and feel no remorse for them — they believe they're divinely warranted. Other people, the ones already morally corrupt, those who are naturally sick and don't need the imaginary cure religion sells, take the pill anyway and use religion as a convenient curtain to hide behind. Whether you are made sick by it, or let yourself become more depraved of humanity by allowing it to be your protective blanket is irrelevant — the one thing it does not ever do, is make someone better. Disagree? What about:

Child abuse:

Suppression of women:

Manipulation of fears, pushing an agenda of gang-like mentality:

Hoarding money for mega-churches, mansions, personal wealth:

The blocking of scientific frontiers such as stem cell research, or evolution, despite its obvious and irrefutable benefits:

It seems so hopeless at times, as if religion will always be in control--fighting against reason and free thought. But even when it seems like I'm surrounded by people who disagree I remind myself that religions are on their last leg; they retreat more everyday. We are winning!

There will be good people and there will be bad people, with or without religion; that is a fact of civilization and the human condition. But without humanity, we largely tip the scales in favour of the bad. After all, it is much easier to hate a person when you refuse to see them as just that: a fellow person. 

History proves time and time again that the simplest, most potent forms of hate come from viewing other human beings as inferior, sub-human creatures. It worked with Nazis and the Jews, Israelis and the Palestinians, and certainly much closer to home, it is working with the Christians and the Muslims. Religion blocks humanity; humanity is all we have. I don't know what the best solution is in regards to the problems religion perpetuates. I also can't say for sure what things would look like without religion when it is gone. I don't know where this fight against the stupidity known as religion ends; I do know one thing however, and that is how it begins — by taking a step back and imagining how the world would look without religion.

You can find me right here on Twitter if you wish to discuss this further or you can leave a comment below. Thank you for your time.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Stranger Than Science Fiction: 11 Places You Won't Believe Exist

1. Izu Islands, Japan

Off the coast of Japan are a series of volcanic islands where the sulfur in the air became so heavy that evacuations were mandated by the government. Despite the still-lethal levels of sulfur polluting the air, people have actually moved back to the islands. However, they must wear gas masks when going outside; which has prompted a group of scientists to study their daily lives and the effects that the debilitating environment has on their physical conditions.

2. Pripyat, Ukraine

On the 26th of April, 1986, a failed systems test caused a massive rupture in the reactor vessel of the Chernobyl power plant. As the result from plumes of radiation blanketing a huge geographical area with deadly radiation, nearby Pripyat had to be evacuated; forcing 49,400 residents to abandon their homes. Pripyat is, to this day, covered in lethal pockets of radiation. This ghost town has been the backdrop of several pieces of fiction literature and most recently provided part of the setting for the popular first-person-shooter Call of Duty: Modern Warfare.

3. Coober Pedy, Australia

Coober Pedy is an Australian mining town where scorching hot temperatures inspired residents to build underground "dugouts" -- parts of the town where people reside when above ground becomes too hot. Some of the main attractions are an underground chapel and a golf course open only at night because of the intense daytime heat. In fact, the only real building above ground is the town's post office--which has been blown up several times by bored miners playing with excess TNT.

4. Centralia, Pennsylvania

During the summer of 1962, a massive coal fire ignited in the mine running underneath the town of Centralia, PA. Sinkholes and deadly eruptions of steam and fire occur at random from underneath the city's streets, even to this day. Despite this, the town was still populated until 1981, when the government ordered a mandatory evacuation. You may think that this looks like the real life Silent Hill, and you would be right; the creator of the series has cited Centralia, PA as one of his inspirations for its setting.

5. Karni Mata's Temple at Deshnoke, India.

This temple in India (known locally as The Temple of The Rats) believes that when someone is reincarnated, they come back as a rat. The people who worship at Deshnoke not only let rats come and go as they please, they even feed and worship with them. Unlike other temples that worship Karni Mata, this one has no statues or major symbols, only an imprint of what is said to be the Goddesses footprint, so all who enter must go bare-footed.

6. The Island of The Dolls, Mexico City, Mexico

Known as "La Isla de la Munecas" by the Spanish, this mysterious island is located in a series of canals south of Mexico City. A hermit named Don Julian Santana moved to the island and lived there alone for 50 years. Don Julian used to claim that he was haunted by the ghost of a little girl who drowned in one of the canals. He hung these mutilated dolls on every single tree on the island to commemorate the memory of the spirit that tormented him. In 2001, Don Julian was found dead by his nephew via drowning, floating in the same canal that the little girl drowned in years earlier. Given its uniqueness, this place should be a more popular tourist attraction in Mexico, but people are so convinced it is haunted that it actually deters most tourists from visiting.

7. Hashima Island, Japan 

Hashima is an island located near Japan that was a coal mining facility from 1887 to 1974. When the coal mine was ordered to be shut down, the island was abandoned and rapidly fell into a state of disrepair. Several buildings have collapsed as the island has not been given any form of maintenance since its closing. Rumours circulate that the reason it has never been revisited is because of superstitions. These stem from people who claim that the ghosts of several ill-fated coal miners who died on-site while the mine was still operating having said to appear to any who come near Hashima Island. This superstition is so strong that government officials refuse to allow interested parties access to the island.

8. Sedlec Ossuary, Czech Republic

The Sedlec Ossuary is a Roman Catholic chapel located in the Czech Republic. After one thousand years acting as a burial site, the church began to run out of room to store the bones of the deceased. In 1870, a man was hired to find a solution to the bone overflow problem. His solution? Reinforce the inside walls, pillars, coat of arms, benches, and lamps, with decorations made from human bones. The Sedlec Ossuary is said to house the bones of nearly 70,000 people, who are now resting peacefully as decorative footstools and chandeliers.

9. Thames Town, China

Thames Town is a fully functioning re-creation of how the Chinese view a typical market town from England, located just outside of Shanghai, China. Thames Town is just the beginning of other-country themed towns, as the Chinese government plans to build re-creations of towns themed after Sweden, USA, Italy, Spain, traditional Chinese, and Germany.

10. Manshiyat Naser, Egypt

Manshiyat Naser (also known as "Garbage City") is located near Cairo, and its entire economic system revolves around collecting and recycling garbage. The city has shops, streets, apartments, and the largest church in all of the Middle East, but it lacks any real infrastructure, and has no running water, no sewage, and no electricity. This place is ripe for the picking if you're looking for a unique locale for a shoot-out scene in a sci-fi movie.

11. The Mummy Museum at Guanajuato, Mexico

The "Mummies of Guanajuato" are naturally mummified bodies that are the result of a cholera outbreak in 1833. Due to the deadliness of the outbreak, bodies were put into the ground immediately after death, with some people being accidentally buried while they are still alive; which sheds light on why several mummies have horrific expressions on their faces. The museum at Guanajuato was once visited by famous sci-fi author Ray Bradbury, who later wrote the short story Next in Line about his "wounding and terrifying experience" at the museum.

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