Friday, April 29, 2011

Swamis talking science

Every morning on my commute to work, I pass by a giant electronic billboard situated just a few miles straight north of the Stanford campus.  It's one of those where the ad changes on regular intervals, so that as you drive by, from the moment you first see it, you'll see at least 3 different advertisements.  Unsurprisingly, there's always at least one ad for some hocus-pocus "spiritual" leader or some psychobabble swami peddling more of his nonsense.  Not that long ago, the inimitably crazy "Sri Sri Ravi Shankar" was up there.  A while before him, there was someone speaking on behalf of (I wish I was making that up).  Prior to that, there was some lecture series featuring Sri Sakthi Amma (someone who is such a great humanitarian that he built a temple complex wider than the friggin' Tevatron at Fermilab and covered it in 1.5 metric tonnes of gold).  Now, for the past month or so, it's been advertising Sadhguru Jagadish (or Jaggi, as if it makes him more 'hip') Vasudev and his "Inner Engineering" program.

Many of these people sell the allure of having some sort of profoundly insightful philosophy which will awaken an instant and measurable change in your life...  for the low price of $500 per session.  The kinds of nonsensical babbling reaches levels of outstanding obfuscation at some points.  One occasionally hears things about some sort of "ultimate truth" which is not attainable through visual means, but through visualization of elements beyond the basal truth of fact which is discovered through spiritually dead modes of exploration...  what?

Beyond the fleecing, though, one of the most insulting and unforgivable common veins to all these swamis is whenever they get on the topic of science.  The kind of disdain they express for science, technology, and even the human intellect is not merely disingenuous, but downright vile.  It is indeed a valid point that the pace of the work-a-day world is a major source of stress for a lot of us when we face the pressures of our jobs, the pressures of financial troubles, the work involved in keeping our day-to-day lives at a stable quality of life...  and on top of it all, we keep our social networks actively up to date, or write more and more on our blog pages...  and being in a modern age has also yielded the reality that there are many more of us experiencing this sort of lifestyle for a longer time.  So what do our brilliant spiritual gurus do?  They put all the blame for all this squarely on science and technology.  The bane of our contemporary lives apparently lies in Facebook, Twitter, iPhones, and the Internet.  The very same Internet that allows swamis to deliver their messages of spiritual growth on Youtube.

I find a large part of the disingenuous nature of this practice lies in the need for these charlatans to sell their snake oil.  There is no point to simply declaring modern medicine to be a sham.  But when you declare modern medicine to be a sham and that true healing can be found on a spiritual plane, urging people to dismiss the value of scientific veracity in favor of yogic awareness of some unconfirmed (and unconfirmable) alternate reality, you can give weight to your own notions.  Selling the message of spiritual "truths" as a higher form of truth depends on the ability to trivialize science, technology, and the intellectual age that gave rise to them as very shallow avenues of inquiry.  When you do that, you are trivializing everything that gave us the modern lives we have today.

There is a general lack of understanding of what science really is among the general public, and swamis reinforce the average person's misconceptions.  Science is a method, and the technology which has become so endemic to our daily lives is a product of that method.  There is nothing innately evil or good about it.  It is about the choices we make in how we handle these tools we are given.  If you discount medical science in favor of spiritual yoga practices and unverified curative tinctures of nondescript composition, you are devaluing everything which has allowed us to live over 2 decades longer, and has increased the survival rate of all our children.  When you conflate something like the internet with the science and technology that brought us nuclear warheads, you are doing a disservice to all of humanity with your fallacious thinking.  Dismissing scientists as vain characters wrapped up in their own intellects who decipher only trivial realizations about nature, you sweep under the rug all the advancements that moved us from an age of geocentrism to an age of understanding dark matter and black holes;  from an age that treated by bloodletting to an age where we actually understand microbes and parasites and cancer.  It betrays a stunning ignorance about what value has come about not only by the methodical study of the world around us, but the ability to move that knowledge and all its fruits throughout humanity.  Perpetuating that ignorance throughout the people who follow you is nothing short of an egregious crime, and I find it a pity that there is no hell for you to burn in for that crime.

The other fallacy you commit in order to sell your philosophies that the human intellect and even logic itself are bad things which we must eradicate from our lives...  is this rosy retrospection bias.  This irrational belief in the "good old days" before we had Google and Microsoft...  back when taxes weren't among the certainties of "death and taxes."...  back when caste bigotry was the status quo and infant mortality rates exceeded 50%.  Oh wait, never mind that last one.  I'm sorry, but any notion of the "good old days" are based on days that never actually existed.  The ancient times were not some prosperous paradise where people rode flying chariots on a daily basis and were graced by the presence of deities walking the Earth and filling the lives of everyone with boundless splendor, while a benevolent king ruled justly for 60,000 years as the epic tales might tell in their glorifications of their characters.  It was a cruel and harsh time where people died young and struggled and toiled in horrible living conditions, suffered debilitating illness, and violent conquest was the most common means to every end.

At the same time, most of these swamis genuinely believe that faith in the mysterious spiritual realm is a path to a deeper understanding.  It is because of the fact that scientists and scientific thinkers generally reject the spiritual realm as an unproven and baseless assertion that it is seen as adversarial.  The fact that basic logic shows holes and flaws in their thinking is why spiritual figureheads must train people to ignore fact and logic and bask in wonder at mysteries which are seemingly illogical by nature and should be accepted as beyond understanding, at least through intellectual means.  This is nothing more than a philosophy of ignorance, and it is something that is inexcusable.  It leads in a vicious cycle where a stronger phobia unto intellectualism leads them to be more ignorant of it and breed more ignorance based on suppositions about the reality of science and technology.  But ignorance is important to spiritual leaders because it is only through ignorance that they have business.  So yeah, cast aside your intellect, your technology, and your material wealth and let the swamis who taught you to do so broadcast their message of anti-thought across "teh interwebs" from a gold-plated temple lit with 5700K spectrum fluorescent bulbs talking into a wireless condenser microphone with a Photoshopped background printed on a woven vinyl sheet.  No irony here.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

On Indian Classical Music (Part 2)

See Part 1

In order to highlight a little more the differences between Hindustani and Carnatic music, I feel it is necessary to illustrate through audio samples.  Well, in this case, I'll use some video, but this should at least give you some ideas.

I'm starting off with some samples of the raga Madhuvanti.  I chose this one to begin with because it is one that is actually quite similar across both systems, and yet in spite of that, you can still hear the difference across the two styles.  Madhuvanti was originally a Hindustani raga, and went over to the Carnatic system maintaining a lot of its original character.  Also, I should note that this raga has the same name in both systems, which is not often the case.  It's more common for the two systems to maintain different names, especially if the ragas were originally Carnatic, or if both systems developed the ragas independently.  For instance, Malkauns in the North is called Hindolam in the South.  Kalavati in the North is called Valachi/Valaji in the South.  It's also all the more confusing because, for instance, Hindustani has a raga called Thodi, which has no relation whatsoever to the Carnatic Todi, and is in fact closer to the Carnatic raga Subhapantuvarali.

Because of the quantity of content I'm likely to use (and also because some of these videos have embedding disabled), I'm giving you direct links to the videos rather than embedding them inline.

Here's a sample of Madhuvanti in Hindustani by the Ali brothers --

For comparison, here's Madhuvanti in Carnatic style by Thanjavur S. Kalyanaraman (aka SKR) --

As a third point of comparison, I offer a rendition of a song in Madhuvanti by Voleti Venkateswarulu.  Now while he is technically a Carnatic vocalist, it is worth noting that his style of rendering here has a hefty Hindustani flair to it, and so it's really a performance that blurs the line between the schools --

First big difference you'll probably notice is the pacing.  Particularly when it comes to the pitch bends.  They feel a great deal more linear and drawn out in the Hindustani style.  One of the things about pitch effects in Hindustani music is that it is generally not limited to a minimum or maximum speed, which allows you to glissando very fast in high speed progressions or very slowly in slow progressions.  This is also what gives Hindustani music that characteristically "meditative" or "hypnotic" quality that people often describe it as having.  By contrast, the Carnatic performance keeps its pitch effects within a certain pace, which means that it can't generally get any slower than some X speed.  This means that if you are going at a slower pace than X, you have to hold some notes dead still and perform your glissando after some delay.  This does mean you may lose some "hypnotic" quality, but you also have the ability to highlight the shape of the pitch effects.  This is why Carnatic music, by its nature, needs and has a wider variety of pitch effects than Hindustani in order to sharply define the character of a raga (what is called "bhaavam").

A finer detail worth noting is that the improvisation in the Hindustani performance is far more free-form.  The vocalists are throwing out fairly arbitrary* phrases and coming back to the primary song theme when the time cycle comes back around (and part of the role of a Tabla player is to keep time so that the performer knows when that is if necessary).  In both the Carnatic performances, even the one which blurs the borderlines, the vocalists are keeping in time with the structure and rhythmic parsing of the song lyrics (which is significantly more complex).

A common sentiment I see in textbooks is to analyze this difference to mean that Hindustani music offers a far greater improvisational aspect than Carnatic.  I have to disagree with this to point out the fact that what is really happening is that Carnatic music has a different set of variables it is working with, so it improvises in multiple axes.  What that means is that it can appear as if there is less overall improvisation in one aspect because you're dealing with multiple scales.  Moreover, this is the level of pre-composed songs.  Both systems have forms of performance which are meant to be more free-form by nature and that's where you see the real levels of what performers are capable of.

By extension, I can look at samples of the percussion solos in both systems.

Take a Tabla solo by Zakir Hussain --

And a Carnatic Tani Avarthanam with Srimushnam Raja Rao on Mridangam and B.S. Purushottamam on Kanjira --

Now both of these performances are completely improvised on-the-spot, but fairly short.  I have been to performances where Raja Rao has done percussion solos as long as 45 minutes.  I think it should be fairly easy to see that the complexity of calculations in the Carnatic counterpart is several notches more complex.  Does this automatically mean that each of these Carnatic percussionists is superior to Zakir Hussain?  Not necessarily.  The real point here is that many of the types of calculations performed in the tani avarthanam are simply not even allowed for a tabla player.  Syncopation across count boundaries and using gaps and overlaying entirely different beat cycles inside the same root cycle is something you just can't do in Hindustani music, but in Carnatic, it's all but a requirement.  A Tabla player simply isn't at liberty to do those same types of things.  Also, it is worth noting that percussion solos are comparatively new in Hindustani music.  While they've been around in Carnatic music for at least 4-5 centuries, it didn't really exist in Hindustani music until Ravi Shankar and Alla Rakha brought it in, so perhaps there is time for it to develop still.

Again, the point is that for the same reason that I can't say that Hindustani is weaker on improvisation because its rhythmic complexity is held back, it is also unfair to say that Carnatic music is weaker on improvisation because it has more knobs to tweak in order to improvise on the melodic level.

* 'Arbitrary' here means that the phrases have no direct connection to the song itself and are purely germane to the raga and tala.  There's a certain "feel" aspect to them being appropriate, but that is also heavily dependent on what other phrases were done recently.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Ding-Dong, the Witch is Dead.

Ah, I'd almost forgotten to post about the long-awaited death of that sickening old troll, Sathya Sai Baba.  He finally died on the 24th, and I say good riddance.  Well, actually, nothing is likely to happen.  The practitioner of sixth-rate magic tricks has suckered so many millions in India that it's just a matter until the successor to his 11-billion-dollar franchise of fraudulent fleecing and fakery takes the throne as the next holy man and just continues to sucker generations again with cheap trickery a preschooler could perform with greater skill.

It deeply saddens me that in this day and age that we still have people who believe that a man can transform water into diesel fuel, materialize things out of thin air, walk through walls, etc... yet under no circumstance will the same man put these claims to any sort of test.  Not even to the cursory level that say, an Uri Geller was willing to do.  It always gets dodged with a straw man claim about knowledge being intrinsically false or the inadequacy of science to meet up with a reasonable standard of holistic valuation...  what?!??  The best one I've heard, since every single one of his claims and tricks are exposed and/or disproven rather conclusively online or in print, he admonishes his followers not to browse the internet because it is a trash can made only to store lies, and that truth can only be found on the "innernet"...  I need Maalox.

Now, I'd have less problem with this sort of thing if this was just some sort of small-town guru in some backwater hole in the ground with a tiny village of followers.  Don't get me wrong, I'd still have a problem with it, but that's less of a threat to humanity at least.  It's the sort of thing that can be defeated by being squashed under the thumb of knowledge and education, as well it should be.  But Sai Baba's empire has amassed a fortune currently worth just over 11.2 billion US dollars.  Yes, it's worth mentioning that the money that swine has amassed over the decades has gone towards some positive output like schools, hospitals, water infrastructure, etc.  That's a fair point.  What I don't agree with is how this money was attained.  All of it, on the basis of outright lies.  And even if every penny went towards things I would otherwise find agreeable, we can't escape the fact that most of those billions did not come from people who could actually afford to give.  They came from people who were poor and desperate and sought a beacon of hope and got it in the form a disgusting pedophile who pulled out a few simple tricks that are so old and so low-grade that even the most tight-lipped of professional magicians don't mind sharing them with the average Joe.  We have to remember that donations to religious leaders, especially in a poor or developing country, come from the people who seek out and feel the draw to religion the strongest...  and that is a population not made up of people who are well-off.  It is made up of people who struggle the most and need the most comfort, even if entirely imaginary.  Of course, that's precisely why self-styled holy men have such "humble" beginnings, most of which are highly embellished to make them sound much less humble than they actually were.  It's precisely why the poor and suffering make such easy targets to prey upon, and they know it.  And by looking as if you're giving the poor some hope after taking all their money, you come off as a great humanitarian without ever having to help anybody.  So of course, if some spiritual leader comes along and has a following of some 20 or 30 people in a tiny village, it's not enough to make any huge waves....  when he forms an empire worth 11 billion dollars...  now you've got a permanent wart in the future of humanity that will be difficult to wear down without some sort of catastrophic self-destruction on the part of its successors.

Well, if I ever got even the slightest impression that prayer was actually functional in reality in any sense...  that's something I'd pray for.

Monday, April 25, 2011

On Indian Classical Music (Part 1)

I happen to be a student of the classical music of South India, referred to as Carnatic Music.  Most people outside of India, when they think of Indian music, the name Ravi Shankar comes to mind.  Well, nowadays at least one other Indian composer has a load of fame outside India (that being A.R. Rahman ever since Slumdog), but he's not really a "classical" composer per se.  Ravi Shankar, otoh, is a student of the North Indian, or Hindustani, style of classical music, which holds a lot of differences from Southern India's school of thought on music.

Although the basic elements are the same -- still Sa-Ri-Ga-Ma, and so on -- the main differences lie in handling and what sorts of elements are prioritized.  Now for those unfamiliar, I mention the Sa-Ri-Ga-Ma-Pa-Dha-Ni earlier as they are our swarasthana syllables.  Basically, the equivalent of solfeggio syllables (Do-Re-Mi-Fa-So-La-Ti).  Now Indian music utilizes a system of Just temperament rather than Equal temperament, and there are up to 22 pitches per octave.  Just as we have flatted and sharped versions of pitches in the scale, Indian music has sharped, flatted, double-sharp/flatted of its notes.  I could go on for several dozens of pages on the theoretical aspects of how the scales are formed, but that would be a separate topic.

The main difference between Hindustani music and Carnatic music lies in rhythm.  Hindustani music is actually incredibly simple in these regards, with its most common rhythmic cycles being either Ektaal (12 beats divided into 6 pairs or 4 triplets) and Teentaal (16 beats divided into 4 quadruplets).  Hindustani has only about 9 common talas (rhythm cycles), while Carnatic music has 35 "common" talas.  The longest Hindustani tala is one of 28 counts, while the longest of Carnatic talas is one of 128 counts.  Though in both cases, the most common talas are the ones used in the majority of songs, and more complex ones are reserved for exhaustive expositions of complexity by performers -- for example, a Ragam-Tanam-Pallavi, which involves 3 segments of improvisation (one melodic, one rhythmic, and one both which relies on a simple improvised stanza of poetry).  In Hindustani music, among the most complex rhythmic calculations involve dealing with phrases at multiple speeds, while Carnatic music may do alternative parsings of rhythms with offsets, multiplications, overlays, etc.  Conversely, this means that Hindustani music has to focus almost all of its improvisational aspect on development of melodic variations, while Carnatic does a fair split between plays on melody and on rhythm.

Take for instance a simple phrase like --
G - - - M - - - P - - - D - - - N - - - S - - - N - - - P - - -
This can be reparsed very simply at double the rate like so  --
G - G - M - M - P - P - D - D - N - N - S - S - N - N - P - P -

But a more complex parsing might use a delay and an offset to syncopate across boundaries to come out something like this --
G - - M - M - P - - - D - D - N - - - S - S - N - - N - P - - -

Notice that the speed up and slowdown puts you ahead a fraction of a beat, so you end up with a fifth lining up with a beat boundary of the original calculation -- this is also generally considered a good note to line up on since the fifth is a strong interval no matter what system of music you are playing.  These are the sorts of calculations a performer will do on the spot when improvising these sorts of phrases and variations.

Now, a lot of the differences that people notice between Indian classical music and Western music have little to do with these details, but they tend to notice more the drawn-out pitch bends and the smooth glissandos and the tonal inflections and vibratos everywhere that carry an exotic flair to them.  A lot of this has to do with the fact that pitch is generally implied in Indian music, rather than being explicit.  In a raga, you have more than just a raw up and down scale of notes (and the scale may be different going up than when going down), you also have characteristic inflections on those notes and rules thereof.  Those pitch effects are really what define the character of a specific raga as opposed to another even if two ragas might otherwise have identical raw pitches on their scales.

One of the big corollaries I see here is the difference in philosophies of religion.  Hinduism and its offshoots like Buddhism and so on are very introspective personal religions.  It lays out a plurality of basics and explicitly demands personal individual interpretation of religion.  It doesn't involve massive groups having unified opinions (or at least, it shouldn't in theory), but rather one individual at a time.  As a result, the musical form, which consists very predominantly of devotional music, is clearly conceived in the form of individual voices and how much can be done with an individual voice.  It's also why improvisation and the well-thought-out application of tonal inflection and variation is not only significant, but downright essential to the music.  The analogy is that what does one person on their own have to lift the name of god on high? Their own voice, and their own style of singing.

Conversely, in a lot of Western religions, you have many people gathering together in unison all singing the same identical praises, and by corollary, you see Western music have an emphasis on harmony and the layering of multiple voices in multiple ranges.  It's also one of the reasons why pitches need be absolute such that an A below middle C is explicitly defined as 440 Hz and so on -- so that certain "ground truth" expectations about where voices fit in a harmonic layout can be guaranteed to be met.

Well, I could go into more detail, and I very much intend to as I continue this series of posts.  I am also intending to cover a particular peeve I have on the subject, but I felt that for readers who might come to view this blog, not all of them are certain to have the background knowledge to get where my rant is coming from, so I figured I'd start off with an introductory post.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Fideism lives on in WLC

Among the sea of Christian apologists out there, William Lane Craig probably stands as one of the most annoyingly loquacious of the bunch.  His primary approach is basically one of taking particularly low-grade and pathetic apologetics without a shred of rigor and then wrapping them in a veneer of sophisticated language and elocution, giving the appearance that the argument is stronger than it actually is.  His favorite argument, the Kalam Cosmological Argument, is nothing more than a variant on the "First Mover" argument which has a lengthy history going back far before Judeo-Christian traditions, though most people in the West might be familiar with it in the form put forth by Aquinas...  5 times...  The naive version of it contains the premise that "whatever exists has a cause", and the easy weak point here is that in order to say God exists, you have to include the fact that God has a cause, else your premise of causality is not axiomatic.  Trying to make an exception for your god constitutes a special pleading fallacy.  The Kalam argument as put forth by WLC uses a different play on words by stating that premise as "whatever begins to exist has a cause."  By including the assertion that "God is eternal", you can claim that there was no beginning to God's existence.  Of course, you're still left with the fact that the "eternal" nature of the posited god is merely a blind assertion and not something you can take as an axiom.  So on what basis can you say that your god is eternal?

Well, in the video above, Mr. William Lane Craig gives his answer for how he knows about the nature of his god.

In many debates, he likes to feign an acceptance of scientific principles and its rigorous approach involving physical evidence and well-reasoned logical conclusions based on that evidence.  Yet, in feigning to do so, he always demonstrates a bold hypocrisy in holding anything he wants to believe up to the same level of scrutiny, which he hides either by the smoke and mirrors of his windbaggery, or by outright lies which are difficult to expose without information readily on hand.  Here, he shows his hand as a flat-out fideist.

Fideism is the epistemological approach which argues that at least a certain range of truths can be found by faith, and that where faith reveals something, it is superior to evidence.  His main point here is that if you have doubts, the problem is that you need to trust your faith.  He believes in the Bible and the Christian faith because he feels the emotional experience that the Bible and his church leaders have told him to look for in order to strengthen their belief.  It is a classic case of circular reasoning, but by not mentioning the sources, he covers up that failure.

Even aside from the fallacious thinking on that level, there's a blatant disregard for objectivity in his assertion.  In his own words, the so-called witness of the holy spirit "in his heart" provides a "self-authenticating means of knowing that Christianity is true wholly apart from the evidence."  In other words, even if the evidence in reality were to disagree with his preconceived notions, he doesn't have any need to re-evaluate his faith because the feeling "in his heart" proves the truth of Christianity absolutely.  What he's actually saying is that if reality disagrees with your faith in Jesus, it's reality that's wrong.  This is an easy cop-out away from rationality because he's providing a mechanism by which objective evaluation of the truth value of any religious claim is devalued in favor of deciding ahead of time that it is true because you believe it because you believe it because you believe it.  You get to conclude what is true ahead of time, and from that point on, it is not open to discussion.

William Lane Craig...  you make me physically ill.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Are you atheist or agnostic?

I get this question more often than I'd like to admit.  I'm sure most any atheist who is open about their leanings has probably gotten this one.  A large part of it rests on how you define the terms, and rarely do people ever really get it right even among people who aren't really believers in some supernatural deity.  The fact that this question even exists as phrased above shows a misunderstanding of the terms.

To put it squarely, I am an agnostic atheist anti-theist.  Now there are those who wonder how that combination is possible.

I am an agnostic in the sense that I don't have the ability to say that I know with absolute certainty that there exists absolutely no supernatural deity.  There is enough variation and enough vagueness in the term "God" to make room for just about anything.  Now if you bring to me, a very specific "God", such as one described exactly as in the Old Testament, I can say with certainty that that particular god does not exist because too many of that god's acts can be shown never to have occurred, nor did creation transpire exactly as described by the Old Testament.  I can say, also, for instance, that Rama as described exactly in the Ramayana never existed because there is simply no way that an arrow can fly through 14 tree trunks nor could there be a flying chariot or a monkey taller than a mountain.  Now, the idea that these stories have a tinge of truth to them or are based on a handful of real characters and events is a separate matter.  But when you say those things really happened as described in the stories, you are definitively delusional.

I am an atheist in the sense that I do not believe that there is any supernatural being of any sort.  There is simply no evidence, nothing whatsoever to support the idea, and every unknown, every gap in my knowledge, whatever it may be is not a valid point of entry for a deity to be inserted.  This is a key point that a lot of self-professed "pure agnostics" miss.  Agnosticism is a matter of knowledge/knowability.  Since a hypothetical deity or intelligent agency beyond our apprehension is unknowable with our current capacity for data-gathering, we cannot know one way or the other.  This is entirely separate, however from whether we believe or not.  Theism or atheism is a question of whether or not you have a belief in a supernatural deity.  I do not, and that makes me an atheist.  Plain and simple.  My primary suspicion about people who define themselves as "agnostic" only is that they are either unfamiliar with the fact that the two terms are independent of each other (just as you can also be an agnostic theist), or they are just too cowardly to own up to the specific nature of their beliefs and wish to avoid confrontation by feigning entry into some sort of hypothetical middle-ground which doesn't really exist.

I am also an anti-theist in the sense that I do feel that it is wrong to believe in a god.  It is harmful to individuals and it is harmful to society.  It is a seed for fallacious thought processes and it is an avenue by which delusions can compound throughout life.  In a sense, if I were nothing more than an agnostic atheist to the extent of the dictionary definition, I would probably be less vocal about it.  Nonetheless, my unrelenting dedication to reason and rational thinking means that I also revile and openly hate ideas which brazenly violate that requirement.  I do not subscribe to the notion that reason and faith are both valid mechanisms of enlightening oneself.  Reason and faith are inherently separate and hostile to one another.

As a tool for attaining knowledge, faith is inferior to reason in every way.  Reason alone has that capacity, and faith never can.  However, when it comes to spreading knowledge, faith has one key advantage over reason, and that is the fact that it is easy.  It takes no effort to believe something on faith, because you simply don't have to think about it, and that's precisely what makes it attractive, and also quite effective in enabling religions to carry on for several generations.  The downside of course is that it is much more often used to spread untruth than truth, and that is the reason why it simply can never be possible for me to take theism as a phenomenon within our society which is worthy of even the slightest bit of respect.

To be an anti-theist

There's a reason why I call myself an anti-theist.  I feel there's far too much faith in this world.  That is to say...  there's more than zero.

I know the term "anti-theist" probably conjures up imagery of hate, and I am not entirely distancing myself from that.  The point that needs to be made clear is that what I express hate onto are ideas.  Ideas do not have feelings to be hurt, nor do they have any sort of tangible component to take on physical damage.  Ideas, however, have the potential to do a great deal of damage to the people who hold them.  They can lead people to bad decisions and bad actions on behalf of those ideas.  They can also lead people to do harm to those who don't hold those same ideas for the supposed crime of not holding those ideas.  Conversely, good ideas can have the opposite effect.  What I hate are bad ideas, and faith is the worst idea ever.

Faith is simply believing something without valid supporting evidence.  That is, in every way, unacceptable.  I do not call myself an anti-theist because I think there is no god.  I call myself an anti-theist because I find belief in god to be a bad idea, a harmful idea, and one that sets the stage for downright awful ways of thinking.  I am against belief.

To say that I do not believe there is a god is an understatement.  The difficulty with being absolute about it is that the definition of "God" is so variant from one person to another.  Because of that, you can define "God" any way you want.  The more specific you are, the easier it is for me to say that your "God" definitely does not exist since you will introduce a variety of foundational falsehoods into the picture.  In which case, your idea is flat out false.  The less specific you are, the harder it is for me to say that, but by extension, so too does the relevance of the idea.  In which case, your idea is downright useless and holds no merit whatsoever, because it is anyway resting on unproven (and likely unprovable) assertions.  Beyond the uselessness and facile nonsense, the risk of giving rise to stupid actions is the real danger.

It is one thing to say that faith in a god gives you comfort, but it is another thing to say that your faith deserves respect.  Faith is not a path to truth or knowledge of any kind.  It is not a good reason for anything.  It is not a solid foundational principle of any kind.  Faith is flat out wrong, and there is no place for it in this world.  It is time to give faith what it deserves -- boundless rebuke.