Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Open Courses

The best thing thing in the internet besides Wikipedia, is the increasingly common practice of putting the content of classes for free in the internet. At the forefront of this effort is MIT. They have been putting a lot of material out there, and not just their world-famous engineering courses. Check it out for your self. ocw.mit.edu

Yale University's Open Courses, while not offering as many classes as MIT, does offer one unique advantage, the course transcripts are provided, so I don't have to watch the lecture, I can just read it, this offers multiple advantages, for once, I can read it a lot faster than I can watch it. It's better for my embarrassingly-short attention span. And I can read it pretty much from anywhere, my phone, laptop, without having to wear headphones or anything like that.

I started out with the New Testament and Old Testament classes, I struggled a bit with the Old Testament stuff, some of it was kind of boring for me. But the New Testament course was fascinating, there are so many things in the New Testament's text that reveals so much about the history of Christianity, and I never noticed it. It's there, in plain sight, you just have to open your Bible and read it. Text Criticism was something new, I just never studied the Bible that way before.

But the class that compels me to write about this is the new course I am looking at, it is called Introduction of Political Philosophy, and it just hit my brain's sweet spot. It deals with the idea of the "Ideal Regime" the questions that are extremely relevant today have been asked for a long time by some great thinkers of the human race, learning about it is an awesome experience. I think that's what learning is supposed to be about. I think this is one of those course that will shape the way I think about politics for the rest of my life.

Well, that's all for now, I am sitting next to a fireplace in a Panera in Schaumburg, it's 6:30 AM, and I am headed for the office, long day of work ahead of me.

Be Good to each other.


Saturday, March 27, 2010

Some personal thoughts about beliefs systems

Disclaimer, this post may not make much sense from the structural point of view, because I am just going to start typing things as they come to my head.

There's something I need to tell you, because many people may be dealing with the same thing, this is tearing me apart.

On one side, I understand perfectly and completely the thing about people living their lives the best way the know how, I know many people out there who consider themselves christian and who live decent lives, some people I consider close friends, believe in some form a god, most often is the christian god Jesus Christ, it's not accident, I do after all, live in a Westernized society, if I were born in Saudi Arabia, most of my friends would be muslim, If I were born here, but 400 years ago, chances are my friends would be worshipping mother nature or something. Anyway, the thing is, I live in a society where the majority consider themselves some form christian.

I don't respect or care for Christianity, but that doesn't mean I don't respect or care about you as a person. If I know you, and you are a nice person, I don't care if you worship a grilled cheese sandwich, Zeus, Yahweh, or Lady Gaga, I don't give a damn. The same applies if you are atheist, if you are a total douchebag and you call yourself an atheist, it doesn't mean that I am your pal.

Going back to Religion in General and Christianity specifically, I do have many issues with it. This position comes from a lifetime of thinking, analyzing scriptures, being around church and what not, my doubts did not come on a whim, this is not a phase that I am going trough, it's not a response to an oppressive childhood, I did meet hypocrites in church, but even if 100% of the people I met were true christians, I still would have my doubts. Some people (i.e my Mom) think that I was influenced by the "liberals" that lurk universities , my Dad thinks that Iraq made me an atheist, he maybe onto something there. But, the truth is, it all started very early, however, I did want to believe, I wanted it all to be true! I did not rebel against it just to be different, I did want it all to be true, and it took courage to separate from a community that gave me so much comfort, I miss the close-knit feeling of belonging you get when you are part of a church. I still do.

But it was reasoning that made me change my mind, I knew there are a lot of other religions, so I thought, are they all true? some are more true than others? (Catholics vs Protestant, vs Jehova Witness, Mormons?) what's the deal here?
Then it was the problem of evil and suffering, the explanations that I got for it were mentally unsatisfying, then it hit me,
what if they are all wrong? what if this is something we made up to make sense of the world? and then everything makes sense.

How I figured it out is the silliest thing in the world, but I'll share it anyway, the first church I ever went to, I had a crush on the pastor's daughter, ( I was 12 ok?) I was too shy to actually tell her that, but that did not stop me from having a romance and a relationship with her, all in my head. I moved to FL and never saw her again, but to me, this was my first love, to her, she probably didn't know I existed.

This silly example is a instance of the power of the mind, when you really want to believe something, you can go off and make the world fit your views.

But what I did when I was older was to look for evidence that Christianity is the right faith. See, I knew the answer was that God is real, and Jesus is the way. But I wanted proof, so I looked, and looked, and did not find anything that would make my faith more valid than any other faith, so I keep going to church because I though of faith as a virtue, and I was lacking in that virtue, but I though God would provide me with faith if I kept on praying for it.

Then I went to Iraq, I saw that rightous people suffer in this world, regardless of how faithful you are. Suffering. Seeing people suffer for no reason got to me, Then I came across a book that told me it was ok to say that I don't believe in God.

"The God Delusion" made me aware that I was not alone in my reasoning, so I embraced that label. My mistake was thinking that if I showed other people my arduous path to my current position, they would see that I was diligent, that it was an honest inquiry and that they would follow me. I wanted all my friends and family to know, that it's ok, that you can leave the church, and it would be allright. But I found out the hard way that people don't want their beliefs challenged, when somebody wants to believe something they will make everything fit what they want to believe.

When I see somebody make a statement 3*2 = 7, I have to say something and correct it. When I see someone saying they have proof or reason that God exists I feel compelled to tell them that I have been down that road and came up empty, But they don't want to hear it. Nobody does, So my question to myself is, what should I do?

Should I keep my opinion to myself? Well, I don't know,
If everyone takes the same path, then nothing would ever change, if that was the attitude of our forefathers, we would still be a colony of England, we would still have slaves, women would not be able to vote, and I would probably have to go to a different bathroom in certain parts of this country. So no.

I think is wrong for religious groups that feel that they are so righteous, they can get away with intolerance in this country in the name of their beliefs. I think is wrong to block scientific research in the name of a religious belief. I think it's utterly ridiculous to "teach both theories" when it comes to science, clearly, one thing is science, the other is not. I think it's wrong to discriminate based on sexual preference. I am tired of otherwise good people to pick and choose from an old book what they think is right or wrong, I think is wrong to call this country a "Christian Nation" it is a secular government where most of citizens are christian, that's something very different from having a Christian Government.

It's hard to say these things without hurting people's feelings without offending. I am very sorry, that's not my intention, I just want to make this place a better world for everybody whether you are a believer or not. A world where we are equal, a world were we can tolerate each other and everyone has the freedom to pursue happiness.

In conclusion, I don't think I can convince people in a personal level that their beliefs are wrong, no matter how well I present the argument. But I think that we can at least stop the side effects, teaching science in schools, stopping the intolerance are a good start. Religion is at the root of these issues, but its also a touching subject to people, so attacking religion is a risky thing.

I am torn because, if I choose one path, I compromise the other. I don't want to alienate my friends, but I do want to make people aware of these things. I don't want to turn into an intolerant bigot. But I do want to fight against social injustice.