Ubi dubium… | Inaugural Installment: Consoling Atheists

A map of the world, showing the major religion...

A map of the world, showing the major religions distributed in the world as of today. A different type of map which views only the religion as a whole excluding denominations or sects of the religions, and is colored by how the religions are distributed not by main religion of country etc. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m an atheist, of course, though not particularly anti-religion. Let others believe as they will, so long as what they believe does not negatively affect me or mine. I do criticise the excesses of Fundamentalist sects, as with the excesses of any ideology. I believe that no idea is or ought to be beyond critique, though I recognize that religion, like any human enterprise, can lead others to do great good as well as great harm. I find religion fascinating, though I do not believe in mysticism or in any religious doctrines. Of particular interest to me are the great religions of India.

In two recent episodes of the podcast The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe, Ep. 536, and Ep. 537, the issue came up of what to say to religious nonbelievers when they lose a loved one or friend, what sort of condolences one should and shouldn’t offer to those who do not practice or believe in a religion.

To those interested in the sorts of consolation appropriate for atheists, there’s the book Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing To Do With God, by Greta Christina.

Why mention that? Well…

Being immersed in a religious culture can make it difficult to recognize that immersion, and hinder empathy to those of not part of it or part of some other religious culture. So some religious consolations can seem awkward to nonbelievers, or believers of other religions, even empty. Being told that my loved one is in a better place, or residing, say, with Jesus, or in Paradise, or in Valhalla, or in the fields of Elysium, brings no comfort to me.

But I have no objections to being sincerely told that I or mine are being prayed for, or being offered blessings and other well-wishes from a believer, as it’s the caring that counts.

So, it is best not to assume that others necessarily share your beliefs, especially in a pluralistic society with those of many religions or of none, and to be aware of and understand the beliefs or non-belief of others outside of your particular religious culture or faith group.

We all grieve, we all lose someone close to us, and for most of us, it hurts like nothing else. In considering the belief-systems of others and their particular approach to existential questions at the end of life, the grief you console may be that of your closest friend or dearest loved one.

Ubi dubium… gets its title from a Latin proverb, and the current tagline for this blog. It is a limited series of posts of 160 installments dealing with science, secular issues, scientific skepticism, atheism, and the unruly twin dragons of pseudoscience and antiscience. Join me, if you will, on an exploration of science and reason, their borderlands, and why a good understanding of both is crucial to living in this age so dependent on science and technology.

Future Fluff | Gods of Terra: Dasaelos & Gr’ozz

The Ri’jt’ar are a tough-minded and conservative species, Pseudoreptilias tenax, given to the rule of law over individual freedoms and a communal lifestyle, contemplating the long-term consequences of their actions, and in general being sensible if somewhat resistant to change.

There are two notable individuals of this species who break the rules, the massively-built but brilliant Dasaelos of Caste Gurao, a powerful warlord and fearsome in personal combat, and his defective first attempt at cloning a new body for himself, the intellectually challenged but mighty Gr’ozz.

Both are giants of the species, standing almost three meters tall and massing about 1000 kilograms each, with very different personalities despite their genetic similarity.

Dasaelos (not his real name, only a humanly pronounceable corruption of it) is narcissistic, possibly psychopathic, and pathologically afraid of death, though this apparently doesn’t dampen his lust for war and power. He wants to grab death by its metaphorical horns and wrestle it to oblivion, leaving him to outlive, well, everyone. He’s a little like the Mesopotamian hero Gilgamesh in that regard, seeking immortality even at great risk to himself. For this end, he searched for and found technology once the property of an ancient elder being, the Crawling Clone-lord, in the form of a ring made of transparent metal that taps and stores data from his brain up till the moment of death of the body that wears it. It’s sort of a repository for what might count as his “soul” which may be placed on the same finger of another body, preferably a blank-minded clone, to bring him back to life in this new body. He has a vast supply of cloned bodies on hand and in storage just for this purpose, all of which have the same cybernetic augmentations as he.

Dasaelos is a mutant, and part of his mutation involves the hormonal condition leading to his gigantism and another his malformed limbs, which would ordinarily cripple him without the bionic enhancements. The most obvious such enhancement is his left hand, a cybernetic living-metal weapon that may shift form into a variety of other tools and weapons, including a particle-beam blaster and a force-screen generator. In the form of a hand, and with his other augmentations it is capable of punching through solid concrete without injuring him, and he is capable of pressing about 10000 kilograms without noticeable fatigue for about 20 minutes.

Dasaelos is also psionically gifted, possessing the ability to manipulate nuclear forces, in his case the ability to generate and control thermonuclear plasma as a weapon. He has enough fine control over this to affect the operation of nearby fusion reactors, either by dampening reactions or causing a catastrophic detonation before shutdown can be initiated. He may also use this on nearby tactical thermonuclear weapons to prevent them from detonating.

Gr’ozz, on the other hand, is a different sort. Gentle in disposition, as the prototype of all other cloned bodies of Dasaelos he is not the brightest of the lot, more than a bit of a halfwit. He likes humans for some odd reason, as his own species, usually under orders from Dasaelos, are often trying to kill him. Humans have offered him asylum on Terra, and he knows of and has met the Mirus, even fighting by his side against their mutual enemies. Gr’ozz seems stupid, but this is a ruse. Deep within his brain is a font of brilliance, lending him his “moments of Zen,” when he conceives items of great practical wisdom even in the middle of a fight, often, though not always, leading to his victory.

Gr’ozz differs from Dasaelos physically as well. Though he shares similar bionic enhancements (upgraded by human allies) his left arm is tipped with a mass of ultra-dense, sculpted bone with the general look of a medieval spiked mace. This bone mace is grown from his own cells and was a gift to him from a young bio-psi to replace the malformed stump he had after first escaping to earth. This cannot change form, unlike Dasaelos’s cyberhand, and so Gr’ozz has developed great skill at doing things one-handed. He uses the mace for little else but smashing holes in things and general smackdowns with people who try to kill him or hurt his friends.

Gr’ozz has been described in attitude as “a big scaly teddybear,” and acts the part.

Perhaps with a fear greater than his fear of death, Dasaelos has a reason why he has attempted to have Gr’ozz terminated; He dreads the mere thought that his brilliant, calculating mind may by some chance be transferred, through his body-hopping technology, perhaps by a malicious servant seeking to betray him, into Gr’ozz’s damaged brain, to live another portion of eternity as, and I quote, “…intellect hobbled by a mindless existence, too slow-witted to realize my predicament even as the universe grows cold and dark.”

Frankly, I think that would be horrible to Gr’ozz as well, to have such a kind and congenial mind however slow replaced by that of a madman driven by fear, rage, and self-aggrandizement. The tradeoff would be bad for both, but Gr’ozz would get the worst out of the deal.