English: Atheist avatar.

 

Updated 7/21/2013

People call atheists ‘immoral’, ‘amoral’ and evil without having anything factual to show for it. That is wrong, and this is why.

_____________________________________

From a correspondent who wants to banish ‘religious’ words from usage:

>- “Ethics, or morality, or whatever we choose to

>- call it, is a human invention. We could travel the

>- universe forever in the Starship Enterprise and

>- never find any morality. The only time it would

>- appear is when we opened our mouths and let

>- the word issue forth.”

______________________________________

I have to disagree with those choices of words. They cause such a statement to be entirely erroneous. To start with, any disclaimers you choose to apply to ‘morality’ also apply to ‘invention’, ‘distance’, ‘time’, ‘reality’ and many other words whose applicability to human existence we choose to take for granted by remaining oblivious to “argumentum ad absurdum“. Logical fallacies do not make for truth (another word you will never find any of on your starship trip).

Invention, even as you describe it, is to view something as a human creation, something artificial, which does not separate it from being natural. “A human invention”, as you call it, is not absolutely so about morality in a natural rather than religious setting. The religious setting is what you should seek to deny; as a secular person, the natural is what you ought to understand and support, not abandon with a wholesale contempt for a valid expression. The natural is testable; predictions made about it can be tested and the results verified.

Morality is a word for our recognition of a condition, as valid as any other word that does the same for us. Red is a condition of light reflected from a surface. Dark is a condition, hard is a condition, painful is a condition, steep is a condition. All of them describe something our senses tell us about objects or events. Morality, as described according to dictionary definitions, is about intentional good or bad. To be natural, it would have to be as recognized throughout the animal kingdom, the same recognition a secular person should give to it in order to be logically consistent. It is not proscribed by laws or priests. It has nothing to do with how we dress. It is how we learn to behave to earn trust and respect.

But, first, let’s get down to basics. From what can we draw inferences about morality in order to give it valid natural meaning and substance?

All of existence, everything in existence, boils down to events and processes if you want to get at the rootmost level of things. In fact, if you want to get at the root of things, that is the only way to do it, and everything to exist can be understood according to that. So called “concrete” things result from events involved in the processes that result in them: a galaxy’s worth of submicroparticles that assembled into whatever their configuration is, all interacting in the processes and systems that resulted in their semblance of concreteness. Awareness of that has resulted in philosophies that contend how all our awareness of reality is an illusion (which treat it from that point on as a delusion) with which I also disagree at many levels, for the fore-given reason, and that such philosophies suffer from conflation of reality’s layers so they talk about one while picturing another (equivocation).

The most important result of understanding existence in that manner is a growing of awareness that all kinds of events constitute reality, not all of which are “concrete”, but are just as real nevertheless in that we can recognize them as what they portend to be. They are real in much the same way that a brick house, built from particles of clay or gypsum, is real and dependably solid to our senses, even though it is an assemblage of particles that are, themselves, assemblages of particles. To call such an edifice “illusion” and treat it as “delusion” is meaningless to our lives and could result in actual harm.

What makes them real is that they are observable when understood in that fashion. Morality is nothing more than a name for a process that can be observed from awareness of actions and their consequences, and a natural animal desire for the consequences to be desirable rather than regrettable. It is about intentional conditions of behavior and conditions of the results of such. It is about maintaining a balanced existence.

Morality does involve intention. Nature sometimes gets accused of being immoral, but nature cannot be shown to act upon intentions. Accidents have to be shown to result from intention to be considered immoral or blamable (however regrettable their consequences may be). If you take a test and provide a wrong answer, that is not intentional however regrettable the result. To intentionally provide wrong answers is, however, if harmful, immoral in a way that results in accusations from our side against religion, that it is immoral because those people ought to know better; it results in their (intentional?) accusations against science as being immoral because they accuse it of providing misleading information in a “war against religion”; and our accusations against religious political propaganda as being immoral because it intentionally slanders third parties demonstrably innocent of the charges laid against them.

Now, let’s say a troll comes onto this BLOG with the intention of causing a disturbance, especially with religious convictions in his mind (trolls, they say, are almost always males) of preventing peaceable pursuit of atheistic and hedonistic topics. We view his presence as regrettable, and I believe we have every right to consider it to be immoral because of the nature of the events his presence harmfully perverts. On the other hand, if he turns out to be just another dumb boob who cannot grasp the nature of atheism and hedonism and has no ill intentions at all, he would produce the same results and, no matter what our feelings may be, we cannot justify that as immoral if we could learn the truth about him.

As you see, I hope, morality is observable. You just have to know and understand how to see it, the best way being (as in nature) to play pleasure against pain while seeking the best all-around balance, and predict the outcome of all the interactions between the parties involved, and also with innocent bystanders. Once you understand that, you can determine for yourself what is and is not moral. You do not need a church, a mosque, a synagogue, a bevy of nuns, angels, nor a horde of priests, preachers or rabbis to explain it to you. All you need is awareness of action and consequence, what to avoid (what is bad) and what to accept (what is good), whether gained from your own experience, from observing others, or from advice, or (best) from all of the above. If you hit your thumb with a hammer by accident, you know that is not immoral unless you have intentions for doing so (like getting off from work to go fishing or something) (but then, that makes it not an accident, and it would necessarily make you a liar for the story you would have to fabricate) that would result in loss or harm to others.

So, morality is a useful word for us, and a defensible word if we understand it according to a secular, hedonic way of perception. If another way of seeing it produces a different result while maintaining its own inherent integrity, I need that to be explained to me. If another way of seeing it produces a very similar result, that is verification and I would also welcome someone to constructively apprise me about that. To deny it any value at all is to dispose of valuable, useful tools.

Moral concepts will never be universal for so long as they remain moral precepts. Moral notions with no more force than religion gives them will vary with the number of religions that persist across the world. For so long as morality remains a religious contrivance, agreement will never occur and that is regrettable. For atheists to assign morality to religion, and for scientists to continue allowing that to occur, is also regrettable. The thought put into moral values, for so long as such is the case, requires defense of those values by the various players in the religious morality game, and that results in all the wars and pogroms now and as far back into history as we can go.

Rather than condemn the idea of morality to death, why should we not instead recognize the importance of it and find ways to use it to present our own ideas on the subject? I cannot justify that atheists talk about good and bad, right and wrong, harm and benefit while denying a role for a moral system inherent to secular thought. We cannot have things two opposing ways and claim sound, rational ability to reason.

If we want to have any influence at all upon the religious, especially those who might loosen their fearful grips on credos and then dare to acknowledge their doubts; if we especially want to bear upon those borderline politicians who, if they saw we have a defensible understanding of good and evil, good and bad, malice and justice (or whatever other pair of potential players you would want to name), would deign to offer secular people a place at the table, we have to play the game with the cards in our pile.

We have to understand exactly what all of them are getting at, and then learn how to present our better, more verifiably accurate view of that aim and how to accomplish it. We can only do that with science, and that would result only from asking the right questions about it, questions focused on that aim, and finding out how to test our answers to those questions. Otherwise, we doom our own selves by our preconceptions and our hardheaded preference to remain ignorant about important principles.

_____________________________________

From a second correspondent:

>- OK, I’ll limit myself to a single

>- test case: “Abortion is immoral.”

>-

>- Correct moral rule or not?

>-

>- Cite me the tests you have run to

>- support your conclusion.

>-

>- Remember, my assertion, which

>- you promised to falsify, is that ALL

>- moral rules are a matter of opinion.

>- You, conversely, are looking for

>- appeals to testable facts (NOT

>- opinions) to find a counterexample.

_____________________________________

I must inquire: What are facts, if they are not testable opinions?

Beyond what I have already written, there is more here than meets the eye with just one reading. I did NOT promise to falsify anything; that is your interpretation of what I wrote, which informs me about your personal understanding of how science works. To falsify something in one leap of logic, or one pass at the bat, is akin to the creationists’ demand that we produce evidence of how evolution works by reproducing 60,000,000 years of development in one laboratory experiment. To falsify something occurs as a part of a scientific procedure, after hypotheses (drawn from inferences about observations) get generated about something being investigated and predictions made about them. Those predictions lead to new experimentation, the results of which will support or else falsify a hypothesis.

Now: It is possible that I, a bonafide member of the illiterati, do not have a correct understanding of that process, but I would expect a serious correspondent to direct me toward that rather than simply shoot down my efforts by criticizing them as “opinions” while tendering not much more than unverified opinions of his own. Moral rules are all opinions, of course; science is also opinions, but we tend to want to overlook that, or note what differences there may be. What we are after is how opinions can be verified as functionally true, or relegated to the worthless and baseless category. My opinion is that moral statements can be regarded to be testable opinions; your opinion is that they cannot. Let me restate my opinion to render it complete: “Valid moral statements must be testable, or regarded as baseless and disregarded for so long as they are not.” That statement takes into account the scientific method.

If I do understand the process, then it still remains to show how it would be applied to a moral statement against abortion. The simple axiom, “Abortion is immoral,” offers nothing testable. It needs to be restated into “Abortion is immoral because…” and then testable reasons given.

Let us first acknowledge the source of such a statement, and the basis from which they derived it. The source being Xianity, the basis being scriptural injunctions and apologia developed by the various Xian sects within the two main Xian cults, Catholicism and Protestantism. It being a religious injunction, I would surmise the only acceptable proofs that would render falsification effective would come from religion itself. I seem to recall that having already been accomplished by the astute members of one of the sects, who proclaimed it to be in disagreement with biblical descriptions about the beginning of human life. The result, as I recall it, was that the moral statement proved an erroneous product of apologia and not an original biblical edict. It goes to show that saying “…because God said it” fails a scientific approach not because science cannot investigate religious edicts, but because Xians cannot produce the god named God so it can be queried. They have the onus, not science. They failed their onus, not science.

It gets tiresome to keep hearing about what science cannot do. There is no reason but for the sake of a power play to demand of science something that is not its job. You or I, however, don’t much care about convincing the religious. We want a secular version of such evidence, in case a secular version of such a statement might someday be made. We would first want to determine exactly what we want to know about it, and that would have to be exactly what we would mean by the terms ‘moral’ and ‘immoral’ as used within that kind of statement. It being a secular interest, it would then necessarily have to be considered without the layering on of any religious inputs. In other words, in Nature (the overall process), does the statement, “abortion is immoral”, have any applicable meaning? As written, as shown, no, as said.

One thing those who engage in such discussions overlook is that science is not the simplistic, black/white enterprise we see in religion. To apply a scientific process and hope for a cogent scientific result, a lot more needs to be known about a topic before engaging in any hard pursuit of answers. Answers require questions, and questions require investigators to first determine what it is they really want to know. All kinds of parameters must first be made known before the investigation would ever begin, if trustworthy results would be hoped for. Just because that is the case, I still submit, does not mean is it an impossible task nor an unworthy endeavor. (We will likely never see applied social science for the purpose of determining legislation undertaken in our lifetimes because no grant money will ever be forthcoming to support it. It would not be done just to satisfy two contrarians and find them some common ground to share).

Such questions would necessarily arise from determining what should be the proper aims for such an investigation. That might best be discovered by looking at the precedents humanity has established in their various systems of laws, and especially what laws persist in the simplest forms of government, and then be verified or falsified by comparing the results of that with other forms that human groupings develop. Since morality is about intentional human behavior, the results of such investigations will arrive in the form of statements, those (in turn) most likely in two forms: there will be ‘don’t’ statements and ‘do’ statements. There may be thousands of them that, after those that are about ethics, that deal in a formal fashion with contractual matters and business concerns (such as how to convert stock options into cash and calculate the taxes owed) have been sifted out, only a few will be applicable to the areas of human activities that are covered by the term, ‘morality’.

Assessments made of those remaining will likely look for their commonality, possible questions being, “What concerns do they share? What are secular people so universally concerned about that they will want to impose certain rules on their own activities. What among that do they share as concerns with religious groups?” We can predict that, most likely among other things, the common ground among all of them boils down to instructions about how to behave without doing harm or causing losses, or at worst causing minimal damage, to other human beings, once gods and priests have been removed from the picture.

The result would be a secular equivalent of moral sense, and probably the truest form of morality that humanity has ever devised. We likely already practice it, for the most part, as a natural consequence of our ingrained sociability, our sense of self and others, our traditional upbringing, and input from our peers concerning how we offend them and what they do or say that offends ourselves. It would be far less than is required of us in our present circumstances, vary according to circumstance, but is not by any means nonexistent, it is just that all the kowtowing to gods, preachers, and all the other self-appointed representatives of the supernatural will have been removed so it will no longer be hidden.

Will it still be called morality after all of that. I doubt it, it will more likely be called ‘good etiquette’.

_____________________________________

From a second correspondent, who wants to still make it a human invention by tying it to “what people want or like”:

_____________________________________

>- A killer gets incarcerated and sometimes executed

>- because he does something that we don’t like. It’s

>- that simple. We dislike it so much that we tell people

>- in the strongest terms that they are not to behave in

>- such ways. In short, we do not have a taste for it.

>-

>- Rape is against the law simply because women don’t

>- DESIRE to be raped. We make laws against rape

>- because women want it that way. But in the case of

>- rape, men also want such laws. Men don’t want their

>- wives, sisters, mothers and daughters getting raped.

>- They don’t WANT it. It’s motivated by pure desire.

>- There is nothing moral or immoral about it. All

>- human behavior is reducible to desire and/or taste.

>- Morality and/or immorality is extraneous data.

______________________________________

It leaves one to wonder, does this writer have someplace in mind to go with this, or a philosophy that derives from it?

Of course (most) women don’t desire to be raped, and (most) men do not want *their* women raped, but what does that mean? Does it automatically make men not want to rape other men’s women? No, but even though that is so, men agree that rape is immoral. It is a form of explanation that consolidates all the available pertinent information into a mental picture of why some actions are acceptable and others are not. It is a way of first understanding the meaning of a word, and then applying that understanding to the gamut of potential action/consequence situations there are, without making it necessary to re-express, time and again, what makes it so.

It is not at all about desire, but it is about an agreement that people should not victimize other people by raping, robbing, pillaging, molesting, punching, beating, murdering, damaging, injuring, lying and the rest of the gamut of legitimate and illegitimate actions to fall under that heading. It is agreement based on common interest in the avoidance of mental or physical pain and an unheralded recognition of painful imbalance as a cost for pleasure, and that gain made at an innocent victim’s expense is wrong and should suffer a penalty. It is wrong not only because we don’t like it, it is wrong because it injures our inherent sense of justice. (Moreover, why should not something be wrong if only because it is common to not like it? Why should we not have a word at the ready by which to identify that? Is this person saying it is wrong for humanity to do that, and only because he does not like it?– that it is immoral while we are rendered unable to say so by this idea? That is mainly what I gain from his message).

As far as that goes, women often complain of men’s tendency to view them as property. That is, they *desire* us to not do that. Does that make anyone declare it immoral to do so? No. I love chocolate, but cannot eat it because of what gets added to it. If I eat it and get the shits as a result, were my actions immoral or just plain stupid? Many people do not eat salads, fresh vegetables and the like, because they desire to be spared from some aspect of those foods. If they refrain and eat donuts, pie and ice cream instead, is that immoral? Even if they lose their health as a result, is there an opinion that says they are immoral people for that reason? No.

Stupid, yes. Immoral, no. Morality includes intentional actions regarding others. It does not include our personal behavior unless or until we can be shown how others will be ill affected by it.

Now, in a society wherein sex plays a heavy role in the condemnation of many relatively innocent activities, desire may play some small part in it. It has to be a perverted part, but it is a part. That might contribute to a view that desire plays a role, especially if you have set through many sermons about lascivious lust and the salaciousness of godless human beings. You know, those sermons where atheists get condemned for perpetuating immorality because of our supposed amorality. What those amount to is lies spawned from ignorance. Anyone who has suffered through them and realized that, and had only a narrow view of humanity that such promotes as a result, will attribute to that all of his or her new conceptions to oppose it.

But, look at our own society and see the contradictions inherent to that: Desire is lust and so immoral if acted upon; yet, our very aggressive capitalistic commerciality depends upon desire to function, and thousands of advertising agencies make a good living at learning how to access that. Sex–even married sex–is regarded as religiously immoral, and skin exposure is linked to that, yet that very same ingredient is present throughout the gamut of promotion for other products, and sex products is a part of that gamut. Smoking the weed is by most regarded to be immoral, even for medical reasons, but what does that have to do with desire? We aren’t born with an inherent lust for Mary Jane. Nobody promoted it. The religious complaint is that it interferes with your desire for God, but that presents it as interfering with a desire they *want* you to have. If that’s the case, and you are correct, then the religious are immoral for acting in defense of that God-desire.

Hmmm, now that I have thought about it…!

______________________________________

>-

>- I merely tried to say that morality (like God) is

>- imaginary. It is not something that actually exists,

>- except in our speech. It has a sort of linguistic

>- meaning.

______________________________________

I heartily disagree, and that is the same argument you must have failed to read at the beginning. People do not agree about God. God cannot be observed. God does not ever get described in a way people agree about. People do make agreements about morality and you can see that at work. Morality, therefore, is observable within the events and processes wherein it is involved. The absence of it is also observable within events and processes wherein morality is not present. The inapplicability of it is observable where it has no bearing. The results of morality are predictable, whereas God is not (God is more akin to the absence of morality than its presence), nor is there any agreement among the thousands of religions about exactly what it is that people are calling ‘God’.

______________________________________

>-

>- Yes, “men agree that rape is immoral”. But their

>- agreement is irrelevant. It is only an agreement

>- about a purely abstract concept that they invented.

>- Their desires and primal urges are not imaginary,

>- not at all something they invented or made up.

______________________________________

Do you guys never give up the circle you keep going around? I heartily disagree with that. Men did not invent morality, the same as they did not invent sociability; it is a natural process that is part and parcel of fungible social existence as a condition of our interactions with each other, necessary for our survival as an animal subject to evolution’s process. It is not abstract, but about the predictable consequences of various kinds of social events. Morality can be, and often is, described according to many standards. What is important about the standards is whether or not they work, not who created them.

Morality is a part and parcel of social living. If I do something foolish to myself, that is not a part of social living, unless somebody gets some on them. Even then, that would be accidental, not intentional, and therefore not immoral.

A strawman gets introduced:

______________________________________

>- There’s no such thing as perversion, except

>- (again) in a purely linguistic sense.

______________________________________

I heartily disagree. Perversion is generally associated with morality, especially sexual deviance, but its general meaning is that something has been twisted away from a norm, made misshapen, and the like, whether about actions or artifacts. The Xians are very good at perverting the intentions of atheists and scientists to make them seem devious, if you need an example. To pervert something is an act of perversion. Acts are not “things”, but that does not make them irrelevant, as they are events in processes. Actions are still part and parcel of events and processes, and as fully so as “concrete things”, they are as real and tangible as are objects.

I will, however, admit to having chosen the wrong word. Rather than ‘perverted’ I should have written ‘perverse’. I predict that would not have affected your response.

______________________________________

>- Dude, you can’t get away from it. ALL human

>- behavior is ultimately reducible to desire and/or

>- taste, to nothing but a variation of primal urge.

>- Anything added is just that, something ADDED.

>- It is only (socially contrived) embellishment, and

>- nothing more.

______________________________________

One more time, I would love to see some basis for that incredibly perverse set of statements. That cannot be made true by merely repeating it, it has to show that it is true and not just a matter of a certain attitude or choice of words. Once again, “desire” is the claim, and “not desire” is the usual example.

Human behavior is as easily understood as observable events, processes and systems as is anything else, and as subject to variable conditions that can be (have often been) recognized and given data values. Desire, taste, and any other sensory or emotion-based perception is as much a part of that as any other kind of stimulus. It is the results and the intentions that make something moral, immoral, accidental or inconsequential. Rather than remaking contradictory statements, can you not show why that one is wrong? If not, why not accept it, draw some inferences from it, and then find some way to show them true or false? Why do like a dog chasing a rabbit around and around a tree?

Something usually initiates a sequence of interactive events, and those events usually lead to a consequence. That is only a natural set of facts to which we may or may not be oblivious to a meaning. If we (purposefully or not) remain oblivious to something, that does not render it nonexistent. If we wish to not recognize that some of our actions lead to predictably harmful consequences, and announce that wish, does that not raise doubts about such a person? By the same token, if we would wish to condemn something innocuous by declaring it immoral without showing cause, should that not also raise similar doubts?

If we, humanity as a whole, choose (for whatever reasons) a meaning and label for a sequence of events, that is our own choice and not for somebody else to discredit. The consequences will accredit or discredit our choices and we should gain moral lessons from that. That does not make them irrelevant or meaningless or whatever other putdown term might get chosen. It simply means that we should recognize the nature of events humans initiate as good, innocuous or bad (to use the simplest terms). If one of us should accost the other in a painful manner and do harm, we recognize that as intentionally bad and call it an immoral act.

We learn or we don’t learn. We share information or we don’t. We acknowledge or we don’t. We appreciate or we don’t and we take to heart or we don’t. Those are some of our ongoing array of choices, all of which present consequences as the events and processes play out. What more do you need to know? Some of it has been given a name, and some of it has not, but that has nothing to do with anything other than we give recognition to intentional harm done to others and seek to remove incentives for doing that.

Morality is a problem to understand because it is so poorly defined, and whatever definition one will accept depends directly upon whatever worldview one supports. A religious person will demand belief in a supernatural, or the religious creed as a requirement. A secular person will want to understand it according to natural causes and conditions. An atheist, apparently, will want to deny it with no attempt to grasp it as a concept and not as a thing. Is there something about atheism that requires a concept, or a condition, to become a “thing” before recognition can be granted? If so, then I need to make a change of my irreligion.

We can assess moral statements, and learn they come from at least three diverse sources, which may put them in conflict at the outset. We can name those sources religious, nature (political), and humane. The one element all of them have in common is the element by which we learn to recognize a statement as having a moral intent; that element is the aim for social cohesion. What is adjudged “right” tends toward unity in the religious or political group; wrong becomes that which disrupts. Since, at the social level, disruption leads to loss and cohesion portends gain, moral assessments are enabled in accordance with that. Applied to religions, disruptive religions may be rightly deemed immoral, whereas those which promote harmony among diverse groups may be rightly deemed moral.

A humane version of morality does recognize that, but further values that which enhances artistic and imaginative freedom, and promotes justice. Although it seems contrary, dissent becomes something to encourage in a system such as that; newness and futurism become ideals; human enterprise something to promote and abet; progress is seen as a worthy goal; the best solution to a compromise results in win/win results where all parties advance; hedonism is seen not as a lewd voyage into abandonment and gluttony, but as a viable philosophy to advance mankind toward higher levels of freedom, wealth and ability through eudemonia, for not only the maximum number of individuals but for the social structure that spawns and supports it.

What, in such a place (if it could exist in a pure form) would then become regarded as evil? For an answer, one needs only to surmise what would work against accomplishment of such heady aspirations: lethargy; sloth (mental and physical emanations of laziness); purposeful ignorance, whether to promote such or to adopt it as a practice or philosophy; manipulation of others for one’s own gain; to allow oneself to be so manipulated; any action taken against the nurtured advancement of one’s fellow humans, which would include such acts as theft and murder, lying, or other manipulation of factual information; stealing resources, whether from other groups, nations, or individuals; suppression of individual expression, whether political, artistic, inventive, or other, for so long as it cannot be demonstrated to pose a threat to the greater freedom within the social structure.

We have cards in our pile, and they are good ones but we need to recognize them and take them to heart. I believe them to be the best ones in the deck, and that it is wrong for us to throw our cards away, agree that we are “amoral”, that science cannot have anything to say about morality, that morality is not a testable idea that can attain to objective results.

That is bovine feces. We know about statistics that show atheists to be the least per capita occupants of prisons, the least per capita of welfare recipients, of suicides, divorces and the whole shebang; and we know of recent studies showing how religion plays a role in the declining health of societies across the world, so we know we have something going for us. We ought to figure out how to explain it and put that in our case and realize that (whatever it is) constitutes our own sense of morality, our own statement of common values. Rather than condemn it, we should learn to explain it. What do we have to lose by doing so, but our own religious indignation?

Let me end with this: Are we better off if we refuse to consider information for emotional reasons if we are religious, or if we are not? I think it’s obvious we harm ourselves either way.

— :8^/ The Mad Poet, Lloyd—

3 Responses to “Hedonic Morality”

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