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Posts from the ‘Christianity’ Category

A Free Nation

liveandletlive

I’m beginning to suspect that a lot of us are confused about this whole separation-of-church-and-state thing.

In fact, a lot of us are acting like spoiled toddlers. When it comes to the government’s relationship with religion, we want to have our cake and eat it too.

We don’t want the government telling us what we can and can’t believe, what we can and can’t say/do, what we can and can’t practice. And we DEFINITELY don’t want them trying to impose upon us someone else’s religion, whether it be through education or health care or any other public service.

But on the other hand, we are perfectly happy, and in many cases even seem to EXPECT, to have the government promote and support our own religious views and activities, prescribing them for fellow Americans who do not necessarily share them.

As I said in a post on same-sex marriage a couple of months ago:

The beauty of America, the thing that has made it unique among nations, is the great degree of freedom we have here to live exactly as we see fit. It is true we must reach consensus on certain issues if we are to live peaceably, but beyond those essentials we must all – for the sake of our own interests – adopt the motto of “live and let live.”

For what if the tables were turned? What if you were in the minority?

You may feel your point of view on life, your chosen life-style, is the best and most right. And many may agree with you. But those who don’t, hold their own beliefs with equal conviction and earnestly. Why should another’s way be required of you if yours is not hurting him nor impeding his ability to live out his convictions? Why should yours be imposed on him?

If you value your own freedom to believe that homosexuality is not a good way to live, you must value the freedom of your neighbor to believe the opposite.

If you value your right to pursue life, liberty and happiness in whatever way you see fit (within the bounds of civil behavior, of course), you must value the right of your neighbor to do the same.

I don’t think I can really say it another way.

America was never intended to be a Christian nation, nor a Muslim or Buddhist or Atheist one. It was meant to be a free nation.

Christians and Pagans and Atheists and Einstein

There is a great song by Dar Williams called Christians and Pagans. If you’ve never heard it, have a listen:

Back in 2009, when I was reeling from the shock of loosing my life-long faith, scrambling to reconstruct some semblance of a worldview, and aching over the huge gash that had been torn in the safe, warm, loving fabric of my family relationships, this song was my catharsis.

And my hope.

I would sit and listen to it on repeat, fighting tears, aching inside for the all of the parents and children, brothers and sisters, cousins and grandparents and friends throughout human history who, for whatever reasons, have found themselves on opposite sides of a dividing line.

Having one’s heart strings stretched across the brick and mortar and barbed wire and chasms we’ve constructed between various ideological camps – it hurts.

When I lost my Christian faith, I didn’t stop loving my Christian family. And they didn’t stop loving me. And while I understand the reasoning and experiences that have led them to their conclusions, I have had other experiences that have led me to mine. Ones that can be explained in words, but not fully transmitted.

How can I expect my parents to follow the winding trail my mind and heart have travelled since I left home? And how can I begin to understand the lives they lived before I was born, and even after, inside their own minds and hearts, that have forged and strengthened their own convictions about life?

I can’t. We are all stuck inside our own heads, and there is only so much that can be shared through words.

And that leaves us in this awful tug ‘o’ war between love and pain.

I hope that someday it will be like it is in the song – that my family and I will be able to gather around the table, hold hands, celebrate the beauty of life, and choose to respect each other as equally intelligent, good, legitimate people, accepting each other’s differences and seeming crazy-ness in spite of our mutual inability to comprehend, understanding that we are all just trying to “[make] sense of history and [draw] warmth out of the cold.”

I guess we are pretty close to that already, maybe even farther along in some respects. And I am so thankful for that – for my parents’ determination to stay in my life and love and support me, to allow me to participate in theirs; for their growing willingness to engage me in conversation on philosophical topics, to ask what I really think, to clarify what they really think. I am thankful for my siblings’ continued support and communication and care.

I know at times it would probably be less painful for all of us to just go do our own things and check in occasionally to discuss the weather and other innocuous topics.

I’m so thankful that’s not my family.

The one thing I am wishing these days is that they could identify with this line from the song that I love so much, the one that goes, “And you find magic from your god and we find magic everywhere.”

There is magic in life. There is beauty and awesomeness and mystery. I experienced it as a Christian. And I experience it now as an naturalist, perhaps even more profoundly. And it is those who live in light of this magic, wherever they find it, that, I think, tend to be the kind of people that other people want to be around and who, little by little, are loving the world to a better place.

Albert Einstein probably said it best:

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.

I, of course, believe that the most accurate, whole, and satisfying perspective from which to experience this awe is a naturalistic/humanistic one.

But whether you consider yourself a Christian, a pagan, an atheist or anything else in between, I hope you are finding it – that magic, that sense of wonder, that keeps your inner spark alive, that makes life worth living.

If you are not, don’t waste another minute. Life is short. Go get it. And don’t be afraid of boxes and lines. Crossing them might be painful. It might stretch some cords. But love is amazingly elastic. And amazingly strong.

And the wonder is worth the pain.

Don’t Be A Fundie, Be A Kid

I used to be a Christian fundamentalist. I used to believe that The Bible was the inerrant word of God; that it was the clear, explicit, absolute, ultimate Truth, never to be questioned; that those who believed otherwise were either ignorant or intentionally turning a blind eye.

At least, I thought that’s what I believed.

When I had my “quarter-life crisis” and started really desperately searching for Meaning and Purpose and Answers, and started really studying the Bible in depth for the first time, I realized that I had been basing my life on one interpretation of the Bible that existed among thousands, one that was selected for me by the chances of birth and education.

That realization was partly what forced me to open my mind and consider that I could have it wrong; that somewhere out there among the billions of other people who believed billions of other things, there could be someone who had it more right.

I consider that dawning to be one of the best things that has ever happened to me.

I was home for Easter a couple of weekends ago. I spent time with my parents and brother, sharing meals and goodnight hugs, talking in depth on topics that are too touchy for over-the-phone conversations, attending Sunday service with them at my old church.

And I had a horrible wake-up call: I realized I was in danger of becoming a fundamentalist all over again. Not as a Christian, this time, but as an atheist.

When I was young, the certainty with which I held my Christian beliefs was perpetuated by the homogeneity of my social circle. I was never forced into close contact with anyone who thought much differently than I. Everyone I knew and trusted supported me in my perspective. We all believed the same thing. We all talked in the same terms. Our beliefs were affirmed and reinforced daily as we continued to talk mostly with each other.

My world now is much less homogeneous. I live in the middle of a large and ethnically diverse city. I come in contact daily with people from many different backgrounds and persuasions. I have friends who are gay, friends who are Evangelical, Catholic, Muslim and Buddhist; friends who are older, younger, single, married.

You’d think this would keep me pretty open-minded.

But here is the problem. Deep down, I want to be affirmed. I want to be right. And so I gravitate toward those friends who make me feel that I am. They are the ones I am most honest with, most vulnerable with. They are the ones I spend the most time with, the ones I really let into my heart and mind.

And that is not good.

Because it isn’t until you really let someone in, really learn to love them, that you can really understand them. And without understanding, it is far too easy to let our tribal nature take over and turn the Different into Evil. We need understanding. We may not always agree with a person, but we do need to try to see where he/she is coming from.

Being at home with my family and old friends, I remembered again how the world looks from their perspective. And I remembered that, just as my beliefs are the product of the chance encounters and experiences life has brought my way completely apart from my own volition, so are theirs.

I have a good Christian friend who went away to grad school and fell in love with a “flaming liberal.” It totally took her by surprise. And it was really a shock for him too, to find himself in a relationship with her. We he left his hometown for the school (which happened to be in the South), his friends teased him about falling for a “fundie,” which is pretty much what she was at the time.

Oh Life, you are so ironic.

Though the relationship didn’t last, and involved the hurts and complications that many relationships do, I think it was good for both of them – to come face to face with “The Enemy” and realize that underneath the unfamiliar style and mannerisms and terminology, they really both wanted the same things: to be happy and healthy, for the world to be happy and healthy, to be forgiven for their shortcomings and loved unconditionally.

I wish every person could learn to love someone different; someone they might once have thought unlovable. I think it would make the world a much better place.

In closing this post, I need to say two things:

First, to Christians or theists reading this blog, I apologize if I have ever made you feel belittled or stereotyped. I may not agree with you about some things, but I understand why you hold the convictions you do, and that just like me you think what you think and you do what you because you believe earnestly that it the most best/right thing to think and do.

Second, to Christians and atheists and people of all creeds and colors, let’s not be “fundies.” Let’s not pridefully and unbendingly assume that we have it all figured out and the rest of the world are idiots. Let’s honestly and humbly engage in conversation and try to understand each other.

Let’s try to remember that we are all on the same team. We are all part of one tribe. If there is an enemy to be fought, it is the tragic need we have to protect our own egos and cling stubbornly to absolutes that bring us a false sense of security.

We’ve got to let go of that. We’ve got to be free.

In Matthew 18, Jesus urges his audience to “become as little children.” No matter what you believe about the Bible and it’s origins or the identity of Jesus Christ, that is good advice.

Because the thing about children is that they are free; free of shame, of fear of judgement, of the need to judge others; free of assumptions and certainties. They recognize the incompleteness of their own knowledge. They live with humility.

In their unassumingness, kids build bridges. Fundies build walls.

Let’s be kids.

Disney vs. OkCupid: The Paralysis and Power of Online Dating

I used to think there was a man out there in the world somewhere that God had picked out before the beginning of time to be my husband. I used to pray for him, even. I believed, in general, that God had a perfect plan for every aspect of who I was to be and what I was to do, and that if I was seeking His will for my life this pre-ordained and perfect plan, including the perfect man/marriage, would come to be…and I would live happily ever after.

As my Christianity became more reasoned and “flexible”, and even after it was gone completely, I still held onto a vague, lingering idea of “soul-mates” or “destiny”…

…which isn’t too surprising, considering that the largest percentage of our society does also…

…which, in turn, isn’t too surprising, considering most of us were raised with some flavor of theism and, perhaps even more significantly, on a steady diet of Disney movies and romantic comedies.

It just recently occurred to me as I was watching The Little Mermaid with the two-year-old I care for (and having all sorts of qualms about the messages it might be sending to her impressionable young mind), that one of its biggest and most blatant questionable messages, one I had never before stopped to consider, is this very idea of soul-mates.

In every Disney movie I have ever seen, there is only one man. There is only one prince. Only one possible outcome.

Ariel’s social world, for example, consisted entirely of her family and three friends who, though all male, were excluded outright from her list of potential lovers per the unforgiving reality of the species barrier (Sebastian = crab, Scuttle = seagull, Flounder = well…flounder).

So from the second she first laid eyes on Prince Eric (who was, seemingly, genetically related enough), Ariel knew. Though she might have been distracted by the other human males she observed on the ship had the playing field been equal, it was not. Prince Eric was clearly the most handsome, clearly the sweetest, clearly the most thoughtful, funniest, best-dressed. Clearly, The Prince.

There were never any questions of political leanings, life-style preferences, religious beliefs, geographical constraints, or medical conditions addressed. And there was no doubt about sustaining long-term chemistry or commitment. There were no other options, so it was a given that, once princess and prince had overcome the obstacles and been united in love, they would live, of course, happily ever after.

And it is the same in almost every romantic comedy and book and love story I can think of that are icons of our American (and perhaps Western hemisphere, first-world) experience. No real decisions ever have to be made. The relative merits of one potential life partner over another never, or rarely, come up.

This glaring inconsistency with reality was magnified by my recent excursion into the world of on-line dating.

In the past four weeks I have looked at probably a hundred profiles and interacted with numerous potential mates – all intelligent, attractive, fun, thoughtful, talented men – and while it has been an adventure getting to know so many new people and a great boost to my ego feeling wanted and admired, it is also rather overwhelming

I have only been out on actual dates with four different people, and already I feel I have too much to evaluate and decide between, and too much more still to learn about these individuals in order to make a good decision.

In real life, there are thousands of “princes” out there (or none, if you are a glass-half-empty kind of a person). None of them are perfect. None of them are going to be perfect for you, nor you for them. They, like you, are human and unique. You will not see eye-to-eye on everything with any one of them. There is no crown atop one man’s head blinking like a homing beacon to signal that he is “The One.”

It is really rather unfortunate. It makes this whole process of finding a long-term partner MUCH more complicated than you grow up expecting it to be.

All that to say, I don’t believe in soul-mates any longer, at least not in a pre-destined sense. I believe we choose a person – probably rather arbitrarily – and then MAKE them our soul-mate over time as we continue to choose them again and again, continue to change them and be changed by them, continue to learn who they are and understand more and more how they see the world.

But choosing is much easier said than done.

Living in the world today, we are faced with SO much more choice when it comes to almost everything – food and material goods of all kinds, education, occupation, geographical location, even physical appearance, and now dating – than our grandparents and great-grandparents ever could have imagined. We are forced daily to make hundreds of decisions, large and small, that they never had to consider once.

And psychologists, sociologists, economists and observant people in general are beginning to realize that all of this choice is not a good thing. It is paralyzing and breeds discontent.

And I’m beginning to understand this as it pertains to romantic relationships. When the whole world is your “sea” the perfect “fish” could still be out there. And that makes us – makes me – hesitant to commit.

But here’s the thing: I could spend the next five years, probably, meeting potential partners from Seattle alone, and really do very little to increase my chances of marital happiness…

…because another quite poignant observation people have been making is that we don’t actually know what we want. We don’t know what is really going to make us happy.

So basically love, like life, is a crapshoot, and you just have to do your best to eliminate possibilities that you are pretty sure will make you UNhappy, point your feet towards ones that you suspect might bring you some sort of intrinsic joy, and then MAKE THE MOST OF IT!

In other words, find someone you respect and admire, whose company and conversation you enjoy, whom you find physically attractive, whose values and life goals are compatible with your own; do your best to understand and acknowledge their weaknesses and be honest with them about yours; prepare yourself for the inevitable loss of “sparkle” with the passage of time and increased familiarity, and take steps to keep adding that sparkle back in; and then, finally, take their hand and say,

“We are both two crazy human beings who just happened to run into each other in this big, broiling mess of 7 billion, who don’t really know what we want or how those wants will change in the future, who don’t really know, completely, how to be happy. But we’ve decided we like each other enough to commit to navigating this giant experiment of life together, and we’re going to do our best to navigate it in a way that will allow us to keep liking each other and keep choosing each other, flaws and all, over all the other imperfect people out there who may or may not temporarily make us happy.”

Perhaps some will see this logical, realistic approach to relationships as cold and unromantic. Some might even make a rather cynical (but very good) joke of it.

But I view love and marriage now with as deep and wide a sense of beauty and magic as I ever did – not in spite of its randomness, but because of it.

You could have met any one of 7 billion people, but you met him. Your life circumstances and experiences could have caused you to take one path, but you took the one that led you here. Those same experiences could have predispositioned you to value and choose another, but you chose her.

That kind of love – one that basks with wonder in the miraculous occurrence of near-zero-probability events – and looks with gratefulness on the joys those events brought to life, in spite of the inevitable accompanying pain and grief…

…that kind of love is so much more alive, so much more real, so much MORE than any happily-ever-after Disney story I have ever heard.

And unlike a Disney love which requires a princess to sit around waiting for the stars to align or The Prince to get his castle and trusty stead in order, this kind of love can be actively sought, grown, and chosen by any two people willing to seek it.

For me, that is freeing. And empowering.

More On Truth: Pontius Pilate’s Age-Old Question

Every heard of Pontius Pilate?

If you’re a history buff, you likely have. If you were raised in any sect of Christianity or studied the religion even briefly, you DEFINITELY have.

For those of you who are neither, poor old P-dawg was the unlucky guy reportedly responsible for the authorization of Jesus’ crucifixion.

Talk about being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The book of John in the New Testament relates the conversation that took place between Jesus and Pilate, in which Jesus explains that he “came into the world to testify to truth,” and claims that “everyone on the side of truth listens to [him].”

These assertions prompt Pilate to shake his head resignedly (as I imagine it) and ask his famous question: “What is truth?”

As I suggested in my previous post, while I do think ultimate, objective truth exists, I do not think human beings are completely capable of detecting it. But it is a question we have been driven to ask since the beginning of recorded history. And a really weird question, when you really think about it.

Anyway, I wish Pilate would have had the chance to read Professor Eric Steinhart on this topic. I referenced his article at the end of my last post, before I’d had the chance to read it, and now that I have, I must recommend it again. He talks about Truth, and what it is, expertly and thoroughly, but in a way that is understandable even for a layperson like me.

Is there a greater food for thought than the question of truth!?!?

I get goose-bumps just thinking about it…

Truth Is Not My God

I just read a great interview with Dr. Daniel Fincke, Doctor of Philosophy at Fordham University in New York State, over at the blog Anything But Theist. Both interviewer and interviewee consider themselves atheist, but, as is always the case with any two individuals, each holds his own unique combination of perspectives when it comes to the details.

The question they were addressing in the interview was the value of truth. As Dr. Fincke asked it, “Just how much should we prioritize truth over other goods?”

I have to admit this question stopped me in my tracks.

Even as a Christian I valued truth above all else. As a child and young adult I equated God and my particular perspective on him with Truth. My God was the most valuable thing. My God WAS truth. Truth was by far above and beyond the most valuable.

When I came to the realization that my religion did not have a corner on truth, in fact diametrically opposed so much of what was objectively and verifiably true about reality, I stripped Truth of its Christian paraphernalia and kept it alone – naked, purer, bigger, grander than any religion – as my God.

It wasn’t until reading the interview just now that I questioned that unconscious choice of value (though in reality, I haven’t practiced it).

While much of the atheist/agnostic literature I have read over the past couple of years has urged free-thinkers to proclaim objective truth to the masses of believers, I have never felt comfortable with that. Ironically, I have experienced the same sort of guilt over my failure as an atheist “evangelist” that I did over my failure as a Christian one.

In my experience, the people of faith that I know and love are living very good, productive, happy lives…in certain ways more so than my agnostic friends. And while I don’t believe that they are living from the most accurate understanding of reality, I have rarely felt the need to challenge their perspectives (except on certain topics related to sexual ethics).

And I guess that is because I am a pragmatist at heart. I ask myself, “What works?” and then I go with that. What actually, in practice, helps create the best possible world? It takes some trial and error, but I think this is the most functional M.O.

Theories about the way things should be and how they should work are great, but if, when you apply them, they don’t, then what is the point?

My friends and family are intelligent people. They have thought about what they believe. And they still believe those things. Just as I can only believe what my life experience has lead me to believe, so it is with them. And their lives have not yet led them to a place in which they can look objectively at Christianity. And there is nothing I can do about it.

And if I am going to promote peace and love between us (which I believe promotes peace and love and health and happiness on a global scale, ultimately), it is not going to be by trying to shove my rationalism down their throats.

So yeah. I guess I’m going to have to remove truth from slot number one on my list of values, and slide it into second place underneath human health and happiness (which is really the way it has been in practice all along).

I’m also going to be done feeling guilty about it.

And I’m also going to thank Dr. Fincke for freeing me up to not feel guilty.

It is very rare and very refreshing to hear an atheist acknowledge that atheism can become a dogmatic system of thought just as much as any religion. As he and Nietzsche, whom he frequently references, point out, no human being, regardless of philosophy or commitment to objectivity, can be completely objective. We are subjective, feeling creatures. We are swayed by our emotions and personal experiences.

As my very wise dad often reminded us kids growing up, “The mind justifies what the heart chooses,” and that works both ways, in every direction.

None of us are free from bias. Ever.

And if that is the case, maybe there IS no such thing as ultimate, objective truth, since we – the only conscious beings in existence able to consider the concept – will never be able, completely, to detect it.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t try. But maybe we just shouldn’t get too hung up on it either.

And I think that’s what Dr. Fincke, a man infinitely more educated in these matters than I, was saying also. (My apologies if I’m wrong about that, Dr.)

Just FYI – Dr. Fincke blogs regularly over at Cammels With Hammers. I highly recommend you check it out. He has some really great things to say.

In fact, I’m planning on next reading a short guest post there by Eric Steiner entitled, “Do Atheists Worship Truth?”  and I think you should too. From my quick perusal earlier, it promises to be  meaty.

Why I Am Not A Christian (Part IV)

7.) NO ANSWER IS BETTER THAN A BAD ANSWER.

It is true that there is SO much we don’t yet (and may never) know about how the world works, how life got started, who Jesus actually was and how the events surrounding his life (assuming he was a real person) actually played out (and for that matter, what actually went down in most of human history). There is so much that we just can’t explain based on what we currently know, especially when it comes to events (whether biological or sociological) that happened in the very distant past.

And that doesn’t sit well with us.

We humans have this beautiful and obsessive need to understand things. (Perhaps engrained in us by evolution, that we may better predict and prepare for future events and thereby promote our survival…?)

And this need has driven us historically, in the absence of clear, observable explanations, to make up explanations. Weather patterns, reproduction, disease, and so many more natural phenomena we observe have been attributed to the intervention of a god or gods. But as time has marched on and human understanding has increased (in large part due to the development and application of the scientific process) more and more of these phenomena have been moved from the supernatural “shelf” to the natural one.

Today we know that the movement of the stars across the sky is the result of planetary orbit and has nothing to do with any sort of drama being played out by divine beings. We know that earthquakes happen because of shifts in tectonic plates caused by temperature differences between the earth’s core and crust and the resultant convection of molten rock, and not because any god is angry with us. We know that babies are made when a sperm fertilizes an egg, and that children often inherit the diseases of their parents as the result of the random sorting of DNA during meiosis and the uniting of randomly selected gametes, and not because of a family curse.

At one time, these phenomena were completely mysterious and the causes anyone’s guess. Today they are not.

Today, there are other questions that stump us. How could the first protein have been made if it takes a protein to make a protein? How could multi-part molecular systems that work so intricately and elegantly have happened accidentally? How come a few rare people recover miraculously and unexpectedly from terminal illnesses? Why do certain equally rare people have visions and insights and skills that are far above and beyond what most of us ever experience?

And the list goes on.

And just as human beings have done in the past when life is mysterious and unexplainable, many of us are tempted to say, “This is evidence of God. There is no way this could happen without the intervention of a supernatural force.”

It’s the whole “God of the gaps” idea. And the problem with it is that the gaps keep shrinking, even disappearing, or at least moving to a more theoretical, distant level.

Educated, thinking Christians (and theists in general) may say that in all of our explaining, we’ve really explained nothing. Genetics may be the mechanism of transmission of traits and disease, gravity and inertia may underlie movements of the stars and planets, etc, but God is behind all of that. He created genetics and the laws of physics and set it all in motion. He may not be individually manipulating in real time the sorting and recombination of chromosomes that create each individual person, but he put the materials and systems in place that would eventually lead to the genetic combinations that would make you and me.

At this point in time, with the now overwhelming body of evidence in support of evolution and an old earth, many Christians have had to apply this same reasoning to the development of life, positing that while evolution may be the mechanism God used, he was the ultimate cause and mastermind – the one who laid the groundwork and wound the clock and knew from the beginning of time how and when bacteria and cuttlefish and giraffes and humans would come to be.

And for the sake of this argument, I can concede that. There could be that kind of God behind it all.

Of course, if that is the kind of God you’re going to believe in, there are significant chunks of the Bible you can’t accept as literal. And other parts you can’t accept at all.

At the end of the day, a “god of the gaps” is pretty much useless. For me, the current absence of scientific answers is not reason enough to believe in a god that brings with him so much baggage and cognitive dissonance. It is possible there may be something “supernatural” (i.e. forces we cannot see or detect) at work in the world, but I’m certain (for reasons addressed in earlier posts) that it’s not the Christian God.

From my point of view, it’s much better to leave the question blank and keep searching for a good answer, than to accept a bad one for the sake of immediate gratification.

And this idea of having no answer brings me to my last point…

8.) GOD AS A “FIRST CAUSE” IS NOT NECESSARY.

If you are a Christian, this idea might be one of the most difficult to wrap your mind around. It was for me.

I’d lived all of my conscious life with the assumption that SOMETHING was behind all of this crazy amazing-ness we call reality. Even if we could figure out how it all happened, no amount of time or scientific observation could ever help us figure out why, and in my mind there HAD to be a why, or, as philosophers and theoretical physicists call it, a “first cause.”

And this assumption is held by Christians and theists of all kinds, and probably most people who have lived. Everything we experience in life has a cause behind it, so we conclude that the universe must also. It makes sense to us on a gut level.

We just feel that there must be a reason for the existence of the universe, especially a universe that is so vast and intricate and amazing and incomprehensible. And for Christians, that reason is God.

But here’s the thing. If God is the reason behind the universe, he must be even more vast and intricate and amazing and incomprehensible. So, if we stick with our thinking, there must be a reason or cause behind him, too, ad infinitum.

At some point, you must accept that something just IS. That he/she/it exists without cause.

And I realized that it makes much more sense to accept the universe as the self-existent Thing than it does to push the problem back one layer onto a concept (God) for which we have no objective evidence and which conflicts with observed reality on so many levels.

Now that I see things this way, I can hardly remember what it was like to think otherwise, kinda like looking at a Rubin vase sort of picture. But I tell you, it was a huge leap for me to make at the time…

…perhaps the hugest of them all. (I will have to dedicate a post in the near future to address this, I think.)

But for now, I need to wrap things up.

CONCLUSION

While I continue to value many of the teachings of Jesus, I am not a Christian in the traditional sense. And never will be one again, most likely.

And I promise you it’s not because I don’t want to be.

Life is freaking hard and painful and unfair and overwhelming. And it was comforting beyond words to believe that all the pain and grief of life was somehow going to be made right one day, was somehow going to be worth it.

To be certain that good would inevitably triumph over evil…

To know that when Mom died, when Dad died, when my sisters and brother died, that they would not be gone…that I would be reunited with them forever in a place of perfect peace and joy…

To trust that abused and starving children would be greeted with love and nurturing and warmth and home when they passed on…

To believe that one day I would have a perfect body that would never get sick, never be in pain, never get old or wear out…

To always have someone to talk to when I was feeling alone and confused…

It made life more tolerable, and less overwhelming, and easier to keep living on certain levels, and it was a loss, I can assure you, to have this life-long foundation dissolve underneath me, along with the free, open, honest and vulnerable relationships I’d always been able to share with my parents up until this point.

There is still a lot of love between us all, but now there is pain, too. Now there is awkwardness. Now there are walls.

I would give anything to have family be the way it was when I was still a Christian. Family was my thing. It was my happy thought; my reason to get up in the morning. It was what I most valued. It still is. And I hope that someday everything will be okay somehow, but I don’t know that it will.

The point is, my life would be a lot easier and a lot happier in a lot of ways if I could believe again.

But the funny thing about belief is that you can’t fake it.

People always talk about Pascal’s wager as if it’s really an option. But I don’t get that at all. If you are just believing perfunctorily, God’s gonna know it. Saying you believe does not make you a believer.

Either you believe or you don’t. And you can’t control whether or not you do.

You can control the information you take into your mind, to a certain degree. And that is what happened to me. I quit controlling what I let in. In my search for truth (which I was initially convinced would lead me back to God and a deeper understanding of him) I opened the doors of my mind wide.

And a flood of new information rushed in.

And unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you see things), learning is irreversible. I can’t un-know things that I now know (unless I suffer a traumatic brain injury or we invent the neuralizer Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones had so much fun with in Men in Black.)

And these things I have learned in my recent history, that I didn’t know before, are many. While I have given a brief overview of basic, foundational reasons I no longer believe in the Christian God, there are many, many more details and facts logged away in my mind that have lead me to this conclusion…

And it is those same facts that have helped me form the framework of the wonderful and beautiful new things I DO believe.

Someday soon I will share them.

Why I Am Not A Christian (Part III)

6.) TIMELY INCIDENTS AND “MIRACULOUS” OCCURRANCES HAPPEN RANDOMLY.

I was talking to a Christian friend lately who, while explaining her faith, mentioned particular incidents in her life that she holds onto as touchstones of her belief in God. There have been multiple instances in which she has found herself in dire financial circumstances, wondering how she was going to keep living, when, for example, a check would arrive in the mail unexpectedly.

One time it was from a friend who had gotten wind of a possible need. Another time it came from an old employer finally balancing the books. Sometimes the amount of unexpected money would closely match the need or just barely cover the upcoming bill. Of course my friend turned to God in those times of desperation, and saw those met needs as answers to prayer, divine interventions.

I have another friend who is a pastor. He is an amazing man who lives with deep conviction and passion, and I respect him deeply. In our talks about life and faith, he has shared similar stories of answered prayer in his personal life. When his wife gave birth to their third child there were serious complications and a major nerve in the baby boy’s arm was damaged. The doctors were not sure he would ever be able to move/use his arm again, which as you can imagine was devastating news for his parents to receive.

My friend remembers standing outside the neonatal intensive care unit window, watching his baby boy lying in one of those, cold, clear, plastic hospital bassinettes, praying and praying and praying for him to move his arm. And he remembers the moment when he did, and the overwhelming sense of joy and faith and sacredness he experienced. And the deep knowing with which he knew that the Lord was there watching over him. And that conviction has stayed with him, and been reinforced by other such experiences. And it has held him through many, many other trials and tribulations that have not ended up as he would have wished.

And in a way this faith that my friends hold, faith that those good things are direct and personal gifts from a personal God, is a beautiful thing. It helps them acknowledge that they are gifts…that things could have turned out differently…that they are things to be vastly grateful for. It testifies to the humility that each of these friends possesses – a humility that admits our limitedness and the inevitable suffering involved in living, and chooses to accept whatever comes as the will of God.

At the same time, however, there is a dark side to this faith.

What do you say to people whose prayers are not answered, whose needs are not met?

I’m sure that as my pastor friend stood in the NIC unit, praying for his son’s arm, thousands of people around the world were standing over their children praying for their children’s limbs, and even their lives, whose prayers were not answered. Why would God choose to heal one man’s son, but not spare the life of another man’s, who prayed equally as humbly and fervently?

And then there is the fact that other friends with no faith, or an entirely different faith, have had almost identical experiences with financial provision and unexpected healing.

A dear friend of mine and her significant other, who I would describe as spiritual but not religious, lost almost everything they had in a business-venture-turned-swindle. There was one month when they weren’t sure they were going to be able to make rent and, lo and behold, some money came in, just in the nick of time, from some old side business account, that just covered it.

The reality is that coincidences happen all the time.

Sometimes I will randomly start singing a song that I haven’t heard in ages, and get in the car and flip on the radio and the same song is playing. Sometimes I will learn a new word or fact in the morning, and then it will come up in conversation in a completely unrelated setting later in the day. Multiple times I have been in airports on the other side of the globe and run into an acquaintances from my tiny little hometown in rural Washington.

We live in a world in which trillions of events are happening at every instant. Sometimes, by pure random chance, those events line up in a way that seems to us, from our minute individual points of view, to show a sort of cause and effect pattern. But that doesn’t mean there actually IS one.

If we could see the grand scheme of things, I’m pretty sure we’d find that most of what happens to us is entirely random, or the product of detectable forces. And the reason I think so is that, the broader and bigger my range of view has become, the more and more random everything is appearing to be.

I have done a lot of reading and a lot of web surfing in my pursuit of truth over the past couple of years, and I have been privy to stories of miraculous healings and spiritual transformations from Buddhist yogis and Muslim imams and Christians of all ilks and eras.

It is true that I haven’t come across too many from atheists or agnostics, and that could be for a couple of different reasons (Either they don’t acknowledge events as supernatural and therefore don’t go out of their way to share them as testimonies of a higher power at work, OR there is actually a higher frequency of these events occurring among spiritualists as a result of the positive physical side effects of meditation, faith, etc. as documented by science on numerous occasions.) but whatever they are, it is clear that they do not happen at higher rates among one group (not to mention the fact that they have never been reproduced under controlled, experimental, verifiable conditions).

Christians will say that that doesn’t mean anything, because God has a plan and purpose for each of us that does not necessarily involve everything being peaches and cream all the time. They say he allows suffering in our lives in order to teach and guide us and accomplish his good and perfect will in our lives. And (though that assertion raises countless other questions and problems related to God’s character) it may very well be the case.

But if it is the case, then you can’t use any supposed act of God in your life as evidence for him. Because as far as we can see from where we are, it is all random. There is no method to the madness if God’s intervention in our lives has nothing to do with our behavior toward him.

You can’t say you know God is real because one time this good thing happened in your life and another time a bad thing happened and another time a good thing happened. Because the atheist down the road could say exactly the opposite for the same reason.

If God is there and wants us to see and know him through his action in our lives as the Bible suggests and most Christians believe, there would have to be some sort of pattern. We would need to see all those people surrendering in earnest prayer and asking for healing, healed. We would need to see all needs submitted to him met. And as it is, we do not see that.

As it is, God always gets the benefit of the doubt. If the healing happens we say, “Praise the Lord, God healed him.” If it doesn’t we say, “Praise the Lord, God is using this trial in his life to teach and mold him and draw him into closer relationship.”

That is not reasonable. That is assuming a conclusion (God is there and intervenes in our lives) and then interpreting the evidence to fit it, no matter what.

Let me be clear here. I am not denying the occurrence of fortuitous events in our lives that can have profound meaning for us and even change the course of things. I am not ruling out the possibility that there are unseen forces at work that can influence what happens in our physical, mental, and social reality. Unexpected and even “miraculous” events do seem to happen, especially in dire circumstances. The world, in spite of science and human exploration, is still full of mystery, and there could be a whole world underlying this one that is presently invisible to us.

All I’m saying is that, based on the lack of any clear patterns in frequency and distribution of these events, it seems most likely that there is not a loving, intervening, omnipotent, intelligent Good Will behind them. It seems most likely that life happenings appear random because they actually are random.

Why I Am Not A Christian (Part II)

5.) THE WAY NATURE WORKS DOES NOT SUGGEST THAT A GOOD, PERFECT, LOVING CREATOR IS BEHIND IT ALL.

One fact that many Christians will offer in support of their beliefs (one that I relied on myself, for many years) is the beauty, majesty, intricacy, and phenomenal complexity of the natural world, and biological life in particular. There is a verse in the book of Romans that is often quoted in conjunction with this idea. It says that God’s, “invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made” (Rom. 1:20 English Standard Version).

Now, I will concede the first statement. The world IS beautiful, majestic, intricate and MIND-BOGGLINGLY complex. However, it is also cold, harsh, bloody, unfeeling. In the biological world, it is rarely love and kindness and generosity that are rewarded, but rather brute strength and selfishness.

There is so much waste and brutality, and not just incidentally, but intrinsically. So much of what we consider beautiful and inspiring and precious in nature – birth, growth, development, nurturing – would never exist without predation, parasitism, pain, death.

People may suggest that the harshness of nature is a result of the fall, that it wasn’t always the way it is now and someday God will restore it to the way it was meant to be. But if that is the case, the world before the fall must have been an entirely separate reality from this one. If the lion were to “lay down with the lamb” as the Bible says will happen when all is set right again, the lion would starve. Lions are carnivores. Their teeth, their musculo-skeletal systems, their digestive tracts, their biochemistry require them to eat a diet of meat. And that requires the death of other beautiful, sentient beings.

What exists now must be fairly close to what God (if he did indeed create it) intended it to be, as there is no way to extract the death and pain and still have the same beautiful reality. And if it is a revelation of the character of God as the Bible posits, it paints a pretty grim picture.

Why I Am Not A Christian (Part I)

Watch out. it’s gonna be a long one…

As you might know if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, I used to be a Christian. A real, true, Bible-believing one. And in very many ways it was very good. In very many ways, Christianity was a beautiful thing in my life.

The central idea of the Christian faith, according to most Christians of my acquaintance, is that the world is broken – we are broken – and God in the form of Jesus Christ came to fix (save) us through his love.

I still believe that in a way. Clearly, the world has problems – big ones – that seem to stem mostly from humanity’s many psychoses. Clearly we need fixing. And I do think that the fixing will depend, ultimately, on love.

But I can’t call myself a Christian any more.

How I ended up here is a long story, involving the discovery and study of a lot of new information. In my search for truth I have gleaned information from numerous academic fields – biology, geology, physics, sociology, archeology, history, psychology, and more – and this information has all played a part in landing me where I am now. But at the end of the day, it is a few simple realizations about The-Way-Things-Are that keep me from believing as I used to.

1.) REASON AND VERIFIABLE FACT, RATHER THAN FAITH, MUST BE THE FOUNDATION FROM WHICH ANY PERSON BEGINS THE SEARCH FOR TRUTH.

 

The world is full of many religions, many philosophies, many ideas that conflict with each other. Even within Christianity there are diverse and contradictory points of view. They can’t all be true.

There are people in every one of these religions who testify earnestly and whole-heartedly of the truth and power of their beliefs. I know. I have read their testimonies and heard them speak. They share stories of emotional and physical healing, supernatural experiences, profound moments of insight and divine intervention. And they all concede that, when push comes to shove, their particular set of truths must be taken on faith.

And that is a problem. If faith is our basis for rejecting or accepting a philosophy, our likelihood of accepting the one true faith over a false one depends almost entirely on our location in the world and the relative prevalence of the various philosophies.

It is a fact that almost 100% of people die professing the same faith they were born into. And that is understandable.

Growing up as a Christian, I easily discarded the tenets and stories of other religions as mythology, based on their implausibility and departure from my own experience of reality. The main reason I believed the story of Christianity with all of its own implausibilities was that it was asserted to be true by those I loved and trusted. If I had been born into a good and loving Muslim family, all my experiences of goodness and love would be through a Muslim lens. I would love and trust my Muslim parents, just as I did my Christian parents. And I would believe that the truth they proclaim and live by must be true. I would want to be a good Muslim just as I wanted to be a good Christian, and I would have no reason to accept Christianity on faith over Islam.

If faith is the only identifier of truth, then all “truths” are essentially indistinguishable.

If one Truth exists, then, it must be recognizable by any person, from any race or religious background. In other words, we must have a universal “measuring stick” for gauging which philosophy is the most true – i.e. which is the most correct, good, and consistent with the physical reality that we can all see and feel and touch and agree on.

You can’t just accept on faith that the Christian perspective is the correct one, adopt the Christian definition of truth and goodness as your own own, and then turn around and use it as the measuring stick to measure itself.

All you’d be discovering is that Christianity is the most Christian.

To say that Christianity is the most true and the most good, you must appeal to a standard of truth and goodness that is outside of and apart from Christianity, one that is universal among humans. And we DO have such a standard (or close to it), written into the human heart/soul/psyche/mind/whatever-you-want-to-call-it.Whether we realize it or not, the things we human beings nearly unanimously define as “good” and “right” are those that promote and protect life, health, and happiness. Regardless of whether this understanding was imprinted on us by evolution or a god, it is real, and it is the only tool we have.

And since we have this tool, it is not only permissible but IMPERATIVE that we use it. We must hold all philosophies up, side by side, and ask, without prior commitment, which is the most true? Which is the most right and good by a universal definition of right and good?

If there is a god out there who is the ultimate truth, the search for truth and goodness will inevitably lead to him.

While Christianity may be more true/right/good on a number of levels than many other philosophies, it has not turned out, in my investigation, to be the most right.

2.) CHRISTIANITY DOES NOT HAVE A CORNER ON GOODNESS.

There are loving, selfless, generous, upstanding people in every religion, and selfish, violent, abusive people in every religion. And the proportions, if considered across history, don’t show much variability when other factors (i.e. education level, access to information, economics, etc.) are taken into consideration.

At this point in my life, I have friends who are Christian, Atheist, Agnostic, Buddhist, Muslim, Universalist and “spiritual” and I have not found any higher rates of integrity, generosity, love, or wisdom among any one group. Those friends who do exhibit higher rates of these traits tend to take their beliefs, whatever they be, more seriously. In other words, they spend more time thinking about life and how it should be lived, and they clearly come to similar conclusions, just not within the same religious framework.

If one group of people was in possession of the ultimate truth, we would be able to see a clearly defined difference in their lives, don’t you think?

3.) THE BIBLE AS THE INSPIRED WORD OF GOD SEEMS VERY, VERY UNLIKELY.

When I began reading the Bible objectively (in other words, not assuming it was ultimate truth but asking if it could be), I ran into a LOT of problems.

For one, it is not understandable by the average human being. I am decently educated, and there are many parts of it that are confusing and meaningless to me, that were clearly written to one certain group of people in one time and place. Why would God include all of that in his book of ultimate truth, addressed to all of humanity, knowing that it would cause confusion and division?

Even theologians who have dedicated their lives to studying Greek and Hebrew and understanding this book, and who are seeking God earnestly, come down on every side of every practical issue.  So, as a guide for living life, it is basically unusable.

I suspect that many human beings I know personally, even in their relatively limited, finite states, could write a better, clearer, more concise, direct, and less “abusable” explanation of God and what-it-all-means than what we have in the Bible.

In addition to its prolific incoherency, it is full of horror. While some parts of it promote love and grace and forgiveness, other parts of it have God condoning and commanding murder and rape, and glorying in the punishment and destruction of human beings (not to mention animals). Why would violence ever need to be God’s method of operation? He is God. The number of other possible solutions available to him are infinite.

Even the parts that are more focused on love and grace are laced with the idea of Hell. Jesus himself mentions Hell numerous times. There is no question in my mind that to be a Christian (i.e. follower of Christ) is to accept the idea that billions of people will be suffering pain and torment for eternity. There is just no reasonable way around it, based on what is written in the Bible (I know there are denominations of Christianity that do not believe in Hell or believe that it is only temporary, but to get there you have to do a lot of creative “interpreting”.)

And there are some major things wrong with the idea of Hell.

While I do believe there is a place for justice in a healthy world, Hell is not justice. How is it just that failing to figure out the right answer during this one brief, crazy, messed-up moment in time deserves an eternity of torture? And for God to create a feeling, thinking, sentient being in the first place, knowing he/she would end up in Hell – that would be an evil act. And God is supposed to the the antithesis of evil. He is supposed to be Good.

Or if, perhaps, God somehow did not know the future (which, really, would make him not God at all), why would he create the system he created? He could have created ANY system he chose! Why would he not just blink people out of existence rather than allowing them to suffer forever? He didn’t need them before. He doesn’t need them after. If he keeps them around to suffer as a testament to his justice and power and glory, he is not good and he is not God. He is an evil, selfish, masochistic narcissist.

And why must it be a death (the death of someone supposedly sinless, no less) that somehow puts all to rights? That is completely arbitrary and makes no logical sense. I, in my limited finite humanity, can come up with a number of other ideas/scenarios/solutions for dealing with humans and their imperfections that are far more just and loving than The Cross. If there was a god out there, he would be infinitely smarter and more loving than I.

4.) IF GOD WAS THERE AND WANTED ME TO KNOW HIM, HE WOULD TELL ME.

God could easily show up in my bedroom right now and sit down beside me and introduce himself. There is nothing stopping him from doing that for every person. If he is God he has all the time in the world and can be everywhere at once.

Christians will say it would violate my free will, but that is not true. Having all the information does not violate a person’s free will – it simply leaves her more capable of making a better decision.

And according to most Christian doctrine, that is what God wants – what he MUST want if he is good. He wants ALL of us to make the right decision. He wants all of us to know him, all of us to be saved. If God came and showed himself to me in a real, tangible way, I would still be free to choose my self over him, just as Lucifer and a third of the angels did according to scripture.

In fact, it would be unfair and unjust for a god to provide us with only very vague, conflicting, incomplete, second-hand information and then hold us accountable (with Hell as a possible consequence) for coming to the correct conclusion.

To Be Continued…