I love how the World Wide Web leads in so many interesting unexpected directions. Like, from a brief Sam Harris twitter tweet to the blog of a guy who is both physically and intellectually capable of twisting religious believers into knots.
I started off listening to an interview Bobby Nelson, "The Paranormal Skeptic," conducted with Matt Thornton, a mixed martial artist and coach from Portland, Oregon -- just a short ways up I-5 from Salem, the much less cool city where I live.
You can listen to it here. Great stuff.
I've been involved with martial arts for almost twenty years, and enjoy the no-nonsense attitude of most practitioners. Meaning, they're pleasingly open, honest, and blunt. Thornton certainly is, along with being well-spoken and well-informed.
At the beginning of the interview he talked about how religious skepticism ties in well with the mixed martial arts scene. Traditional disciplines like Shotokan Karate (which I trained in for nine years) bear quite a bit of resemblance to fundamentalist religions -- in that what counts is the techniques and approaches taught by the founder(s) of some martial art.
Whether these really work... not nearly as important. By contrast, Thornton said that the mixed martial arts movement is dedicated to learning what happens when two guys go at each other with minimal rules/restrictions and a maximum desire to put some hurt on the other person.
Likewise, he's heartily in favor of testing the dogmatic claims of religions. "Show me what you've got" is his basic attitude, which he expresses in the interview forcefully.
Can't remember how I was led to Thornton's Guerilla Blog, where his philosophical, skeptical, anti-religion musings are posted. Maybe it was a mention during the Nelson interview. Check it out. The most recent post at the moment talks about the MMA-Skepticism Connection.
The parallels between the promotion of reason within the martial arts and the promotion of reason as it relates to religion or other faith based topics, are nearly endless. One clear example, is the nature of the criticism that tends to get thrown at you. Anytime you tell the truth in plain spoken, non obfuscated language, about anything, martial arts or otherwise, you will end up offending some people. It's just part of the process.
But what is important to realize is that these people are not offended because they think what we are saying is factually untrue, they are offended because we are saying something that is factually true, which they don't think we should say. And that is a very different matter all together.
I enjoyed browsing some other posts. Such as The Faith Hope shell game.
Here is the sneaky part, when non-believers use the word ‘hope’, believers want to be able to perform a slight of hand shell game and pretend that this too is a knowledge claim. As we can see from the examples above however, this simply isn’t true. If I state, “I hope there is life after death” I am not pretending to know something I do not know, I am simply stating my own desire for how I wish reality to be.
However, if, like a preacher I claim, “The soul survives death”, then I am positing an affirmative rather than just a hope, I am pretending to know something I do not know, I am lying; and it is in these situations, when pressed for evidence for these outrageous assertions, that believers are forced to play the ‘faith’ card.
One last point, there is an absolute distinction between those that temporarily find themselves searching, seeking, and running through the empty houses of mysticism, religion, astrology, mediums, spiritualism, psychics, bible codes, angel cards, chakras, past lives, karma, crystal healings, self help pop psychology, new age gurus, tarot readings, life coaches, philosophical yoga, and all forms of superstitious rubbish; and con men like Anthony Robbins, Wayne Dyer, Deepak Chopra, John Edwards, David Hawkins, Sylvia Browne, PZ Knight, L Ron Hubbard, Sai Baba, bhagwan shree Rajneesh aka: ‘Osho’, A. C. Bhaktivedanta, Rev Jim Jones and their ‘kind’ (to name but a handful), who, with various degrees of malevolence, profit on selling this poison to the credulous. And we must not forget that, just as we must be able to discern between the two when communicating.
People like the above mentioned ‘spiritual’ gurus are to human well being, what methamphetamine is to small towns. And the distinction I am drawing above is much the same as that between a dealer and a user. Users will self medicate in an attempt to ease suffering. Dealers, people like Chopra and Robbins, profit from exploiting the obvious weaknesses in their target market. They may be in the same pond, but they are not the same fish.
In the case of those stumbling through the empty landscape of woo-woo, I am pointing to a way out. For those selling it, I am offering nothing short of ridicule, and the strict isolation that sociopathic behavior requires.