Openly Secular

Recently I’ve come across the movement Openly Secular, encouraging people to embrace and profess their non-belief to the world. Now I have considered myself an atheist for a long time but it never really occurred to me to spread the word. I mean, most people don’t go around professing their disbelief in Zeus or fairies, these things are taken for granted. It always seemed to me that the things you talk about, the ones you fight for, are the topics and issues which you strongly believe in not the ones that you don’t. Through the wonder of the Internet and the ability to discover a much wider world of experiences I have had a change in perspective. It turns out that non-belief can be a very dangerous thing in some places, in some cases there is the threat of death or abandonment, simply for not believing. One thing I do strongly believe in is fighting against this kind of hatred and bigotry, so the hope is that talking about it and sharing solidarity with the Openly Secular movement can help to change that so everyone is free to believe what makes sense to them without fear of repercussion.

Growing up in a Catholic family, when I first came to acknowledge my non-belief I’ll admit to some hesitation in talking about it with family and friends as, to my knowledge at the time, everyone I knew was religious and there is some inherent fear in going against the grain, especially as a young person. However when it did come out, after I was asked directly and felt I had to be honest with myself and my family, as I recall there was some stunned silence at first but in the end it was accepted as is and was never an issue for anyone. For me it came down to the fact that belief or non-belief is irrelevant to being a good person and living a good life, which is the important thing, and I believe my family and friends felt the same way. Unfortunately, as the world has been learning the hard way, not everyone agrees with that sentiment.

In Bangladesh right now secular bloggers are being killed for their rejection of the prevailing faith. In 13 countries the death penalty can be used for anyone convicted of atheism. (Think about that for a minute, these people are being murdered, legally or otherwise, over a difference of opinion. How can any good person, secular or religious, stand for that?)In other countries, atheists have no legal standing and must identify with a faith on legal documents as atheism is not recognized. Expressing secular views has led to mob beatings, prosecution and jail time for many. Less drastic but still concerning examples of this discrimination can be seen in the fact that seven states in the US prohibit atheists from holding public office, recent studies in western countries have shown that atheists have lower employment prospects than believers and face distrust and hate on par with rapists. While being killed for your non-belief is not very likely in North America, there are still many who have legitimate concerns that they may be disowned by their family for expressing secularism.

The above examples range from heinous to simply disturbing, but it is very clear that taking non-belief one step further and including one more god to the pantheon of gods most of us no longer believe in comes with many, sometimes unimaginable, consequences. In this day and age, this level of hate should be unacceptable to any decent person, much as it is when it falls under racism, homophobia, or sexism. In supporting things like Openly Secular we can increase the visibility of these travesties and foster change exemplified in the civil rights, LGBT rights, and woman’s rights movements which continue to this day. Stop the hatred, equal rights for all, as it should be.

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Oculus Rift

Oculus Rift

Welcome to the Wonderful World of Science and Technology. Let’s begin with something exciting, a new technology, recently confirmed for a first-quarter retail release in 2016, the Oculus Rift.

The Oculus Rift is a virtual reality head-mounted display. Designed for video gaming, the Rift offers low-latency 360 degree head-tracking, a stereoscopic 3D view, and 100 degree field-of-view for an experience like no other. The immersive nature of the Rift will allow you to look around a virtual world as you would in real life, with movement tracked in real time, and the technology creates unique parallel images in each eye, which mimics the way eyes perceives images in the real world, the wide field-of-view also stretches beyond peripheral vision to complete the immersion. The entire package is designed to be comfortable and lightweight.

Designed by Palmer Luckey, who is also founder of Oculus VR, the Oculus Rift rises above and beyond other current VR technology. And Luckey would know, as his passion for the technology led him to build an extensive private collection of head-mounted displays. His frustration with their limitations led him to create prototypes and experiment with virtual reality technology in order to improve the product. A Kickstarter campaign brought this technology into the limelight and was successful beyond imagining, eventually raising $2.4million, far above the original target goal of $250,000. This financed multiple developer kits which began the integration of the device into various games and helped to further improve the product.

Now that you have the history, let’s talk potential of a new virtual reality product. I don’t know about you but virtual reality was like Nirvana for a kid growing up in the late 80’s, early 90’s. I first tried out a virtual reality headset at a K-Mart in the early 90’s. It was an incredible experience as a young child and while the actual technology was clunky and realistically not that great, the potential of this type of system fired the imagination. The idea of jumping into another world, feeling like you were really there, was amazing and is still amazing to this day. Picture yourself becoming a Jedi and actually seeing yourself standing on Tatooine or inside the Millennium Falcon, or how about exploring the Enterprise, or experiencing the fateful voyage of the Titanic, or even travelling in the TARDIS with the Doctor. While television and current gaming can bring us so far, we still require a large dose of imagination to really immerse ourselves in these universes but with the technology of the Oculus Rift the immersiveness of the experience can bring us that much closer to really being there.

While the Oculus Rift is being designed primarily for gaming the tech also has medical and educational applications, among many others, as well. VR is already used for training astronauts for spacewalks, simulating potential scenarios they may experience during their time outside the space station and prepare them to be able to solve any problems that may arise. Simulated training is a simple way to help professionals in many fields experience and prepare for a multitude of situations that will ensure they are well prepared to handle the unexpected curve balls that life often throws at all of us. Imagine a doctor using VR to train for surgeries or an engineer or architect testing the limits of their own imagination without incurring a fortune in materials. Virtual reality also allows for greater accessibility to a variety of experience. While we may not all be able to afford or have the ability to travel the world and experience various cultures, see great landmarks, climb Mount Everest, whatever it is that you may desire can be imagined and simulated.

The Oculus Rift is an exciting step in what can be achieved with virtual reality tech. Perhaps one day we may even see our own version of the Holodeck from Star Trek, wouldn’t that be incredible? I certainly think so.