Sooo… traipsing through my Facebook timeline after work today, I found these two pictures next to each other:
I found this a very amusing contrast.
Well into my second year of non-faith, I find myself still navigating the waters of reason rather erratically. For instance, it’s been awhile since I’ve posted at this blog. I began this blog for the purpose of sorting out my own thoughts and feelings. Once I’d made the decision that Christianity was not the truth I thought it was, I still had (have) many things to sort out for myself.
I needed to figure out what I believe, if anything. My friend Zen commented once that I needed some sort of religion, amused as he was by my new and ongoing forays into Buddhism. He may be right. I tend to glom on to a position and entrench myself once I’m satisfied with my level of understanding, whether or not that level is really adequate. I’m very emotional and very sentimental. I’m easily driven about by hyperbole and platitude, and make as much use of them as they do of me.
I also needed to figure out what my altered worldview meant in terms of the real world around me. Realizing there is no god, that there is no magic rescue coming, no cracking of the Mount of Olives in the near future – realizing that this is all there is, that it’s up to us to take care of our world, to take care of each other – well, that’s a political shift as well as a spiritual one. And in the same way I tend to let my passion outstrip my purpose.
So after a time of considering all of these things, of dealing with the aftermath of my leaving the faith and having to deal with myself with no magic help, I thought about just leaving this blog behind, and the whole issue. I thought about just focusing on myself and my loved ones, of pursuing a philosophical brand of Buddhism and leaving behind the argument. Let others come to it in their own time, or not at all.
I’m probably not wired that way, really. For instance, I believe there is significant injustice in the world. I believe we shouldn’t be quiet about it. I believe there is too much violence in the world, and that we too quickly choose violence as a solution rather than recognize it as part of the problem. I believe I can be a positive, compassionate person, and I believe that doesn’t take place in a personal vacuum.
So I guess I’ll still be blogging, here and there anyway. And I guess platitudes will still fascinate me, despite my efforts to be more thoughtful. I’ll try to learn from the people who challenge me, and try to deal compassionately with those I think propagate the worst problems in our society.
At least that’s what I think today…
I contend that only a malicious god would make belief in the absurd the only means to escape eternal torment after making me with a brain incapable of doing so.
It’s been awhile since I’ve updated my blog. I have 8 posts currently in some level of development. It seems after running through some basic ideas, getting down to the details takes more research.
Hopefully there will be more for you to see soon.
I will say this, in the mean time: The deeper I look, the more I’m convinced it’s just us, here on this planet, with the silent, empty universe looking on. If there is other life, its not in heaven, and its not in the form of angels, demons, or an all-powerful god. Neither are they coming to earth to violate our livestock, but that’s a whole different conversation, and beyond the scope of this blog.
So please stay tuned. There’s more to come.
This blog is being added to The Atheist Blogroll this week. It is quite a large list with many quality blogs. I’m very happy to be included among their number and look forward to many varied conversations. Please take some time to look over the list and see who else is out there working through the many issues involved in being a non-believer.
I write this today to express a few things that have bothered me in the course of my deconversion. This will be an imperfect and incomplete expression of my thoughts. It’s the best I can do for now.
with a post of my own.
Not skillful, I admit, but here we are. So many of the issues raised and explored when one leaves Christianity can become endless conversations charged with emotion. Eternity can do that to a discussion. I confess that I have at times been less than skillful in my communication. I’m certain I’m not alone in that failing.
When I began this blog, not so long ago, it was never my intention to convince anyone so much as explain what led to my abandonment of Christianity, as well as to explore it myself in detail. The questions I had that led me to this decision are many and detailed. Obviously I think that the questions, and their answers (or lack thereof) are substantial enough to abandon Christianity as a viable worldview and belief system.
I feel the need to write this because, instead of addressing the very specific philosophical, historical, anthropological, scientific, and literary questions that led me to this point; my motivations, methodology, personal integrity, intelligence, and overall worthiness have been questioned, denigrated, and even attacked, sometimes in pointed detail, by some of you I consider, and would still hope to consider, friends.
There are a few key aspects of being an ex-believer which, if I am able to communicate clearly, might help us focus on the content and the philosophy, rather than the perceived conflict of motivation.
First – I did not leave Christianity: so I could sin/because I’m mad at God/because other Christians hurt me/because I wanted a change of scenery.
None of the above. Period.
It had next to nothing to do with any sort of personal behavioral preference. What little relation it may have had was just the opposite – during my exploration I wished to make a positive change I could not apparently achieve in my devotion to Christianity.
I wasn’t mad at god. I’ve never been mad at god. When I believed in god, I was always mystified how anyone could be mad at god. I mean, if he’s god, he’s – well – god.
No Christian ever hurt me very deeply until after I gave up my belief. The hardest part of leaving Christianity was leaving behind friends who, for the most part, have always been very good to me.
I didn’t want a change of scenery. I will say, however, that a change of scenery motivated me to take a very hard look at the faith I’d followed unquestioningly for 26 years.
This is not the first time I have clarified these points. Yet I have been accused of all of these, occasionally with some offensive specificity. You know who you are.
Second - I did not decide to leave god, then try to justify my position.
When I realized where my questions were leading me, I clung to god. I explored every question from both sides, hoping I could find a way to resolve what I saw (and still see) as unsolvable problems with Christianity without having to lie to myself about what I found. In the end I could not. After exploring thoroughly, I abandoned my belief. But to be clear, I did not “leave” god. That would imply that there is a god there I have actively abandoned. That is not the case. I looked behind the curtain and found there was nobody there.
Third - I do not think I’m smarter than you.
It is not a matter of intellect. It may be that I have been more willing to explore the issues intellectually than some of you are. That is not a value judgment. That is not one being better than the other. I have begged several of you to directly address the specific issues that led me to abandon my faith. On this very blog and in offline conversations I have laid out many of my reasons in clear detail and offered ample opportunity to have them questioned, explored, and even refuted. Why would I do that? Because I’m certain that all of you are reasonably intelligent, as I’m certain I am reasonably intelligent, and I think we can dialogue on facts. Yet I am met mostly with obfuscation, insults, questions of my character, speculation of my motivation, and simple refusal to engage with the material at hand.
Fourth – My non-belief is not an open invitation to judge or disparage my character.
I suppose this is related to my first point, but I’ll say it anyway. This has become a terrible habit among some of my Christian friends when engaging with my personal expression about what I believe and do not believe. You accuse me of being bitter, angry, egocentric, an attention whore, and more, all the while ignoring the content of my expression. The Easter posting is a perfect example. It had a very particular message about the nature of sacrifice. Of the long comment thread accusing me of being bitter and expressing anger that I should sully their special day with my own personal expression, only two comment touched briefly on the actual point made; one saying they’d never thought of it that way, the other finding it humorous. I don’t know if you’re afraid of the conversation or if you disrespect me so much you’d rather just insult me than engage. Honestly, unless you are able to intellectually engage with the questions I ask about the faith, I’m not really willing to engage with a dissection of my personal motives or morality.
Fifth – My thoughts about my Christian experience are not attacks directed at you personally.
They are simply my thoughts about my Christian experience. That’s all. As I examine my life as a Christian I see turning points and decisions that I would have made differently. I see ways in which my biblical mindset influenced me in ways that I now deem negative. I also see the opposite. I see ways in which my Christian past influenced me in ways that are positive no matter what mindset one would have. These are my thoughts about my life. If you disagree with my assessment of these decisions, you’re free to say so, but taking personal offense at the way I assess my life decisions is overstepping boundaries.
Sixth – Skepticism is not a belief system.
No matter how some of you wish to argue it, an attitude of skepticism of any claim is simply a requirement that a claim be proven to a reasonable extent before being accepted. Whether your claim is about Jesus, Allah, Vishnu, Mithra, Horus, the universe, the afterlife, human origins, evolution, what color your car is, or the spirituality of eating a peanut butter sandwich, I only expect that such a claim be supported with evidence that any reasonable person can verify independently.
That is not a “belief” system. It is actually a method of examining belief systems to determine if they are worth believing. It is not a position that makes any positive claim except that truth should be evident. It is a refusal to invest in any set of claims for which there is no reasonable evidence. It is a starting point only. I don’t know how many other ways to say it, but I do know at least one of you will insist otherwise and use repetition in place of evidence.
I’ll say it again – I will accept your claim if you present it with reasonable, verifiable evidence.
Seventh – I do not want to deconvert you.
I really don’t. I’m more than happy to have Christian friends. You who are my friends through church I would still consider my friends outside of it. Perhaps you don’t feel the same way. Perhaps you perceive that my deconversion is a threat to your continued belief. I can’t help that. All I seek is for you to respect my viewpoint and lack of belief with the same respect you demand for your beliefs and your expression of them. This is severely lacking on the part of many of you. This is also much in evidence on the part of others of you. At the same time as some have gone on the attack, others have messaged me to apologize for you who have attacked, and we had the chance to express mutual respect for our individual journeys.
What I seek is that you recognize that our individual expressions of belief will often conflict. If you wish to ignore these expressions, that’s fine. If you wish to engage about them, even better. But, as expressed above, I expect you to engage with mutual respect. I expect you to respect my intelligence, as you would expect me to respect yours. I expect you to engage about the topic rather than make unwarranted accusations about my motivation or disparage my moral character.
I do not want you to change your mind about being Christian. I do want to change your mind about something, though. I want you to accept that, while you may be sure of your beliefs, there are a good 5 billion people who think you’re wrong, many of whom are at least as certain of their position as you are. I want you to accept that maybe, just maybe, you could be wrong, if even you think you’re not. I want you to treat me as an intellectual equal, not as someone blinded and unable to think for himself. And just in case you think I exaggerate, that is pretty much a direct quote from more than one of you.
Of course, accepting that someone who doesn’t agree with you might have a point might be a deconversion of sorts in and of itself. Maybe that’s just a bridge too far. But it’s the only way we’ll be able to engage in constructive conversation. If instead you insist on battering me with bible verses, disrespecting me and my viewpoint, and pointedly refusing to engage in the actual question at hand, then I don’t know what to tell you. Maybe we’re not friends anymore.
I hope that’s not the case. I leave it in your hands.
Thanks for listening.
Last weekend during a football match in the UK between Tottenham Hotspurs and Bolton Wanderers, a young player, Fabrice Muamba, aged 23, collapsed to the ground, suffering a cardiac arrest. It looked very bad for the boy. To fans of English Football and the game worldwide, it brought back memories of other tragic losses, such as Marc Vivien-Foe. I expected the worst as medics worked on the lad. Cameras scanned the crowd, showing shocked, tearful faces.
As the boy fought for his life, people around the world were called on to pray.
Amongst my atheist and agnostic acquaintances, prayer is often considered with some derision, if not outright disgust. It’s seen as a way to do nothing while seeming to do something. It’s seen as empty. If there’s nobody there, who is everyone talking to? And if they’re talking to nobody, isn’t that worse than doing nothing?
In some respects I see it that way. Praying to do well on a test, to find one’s car keys, for the rash one contracted to heal, etc. The schism that must take place for someone to assume god would want to do those things and at the same time let millions starve to death every year can make a mockery of the concept of prayer.
But there is another side to it, and it’s to that side that I think we, as non-believers, should lean.
At times like that, when something terrible has happened in our view, we are often powerless to help or to do anything. We are half a world away, perhaps. Or we are in the crowd even, but we can do nothing. The medics have it under control, or at least under as much control as can be mustered. By intervening ourselves, we would only do harm.
Yet emotionally we are moved. We are social people. We often feel each others’ emotions. We are affected by the fortunes and misfortunes of others; not directly, to be sure, but we can identify with others and know to some extent what they are feeling.
That moment we each approach in whatever way we understand the world at that time. For me, it was just to think on Muamba’s struggle and hope that the medics and doctors would get the lad through, that his family would not lose him. For myself, I didn’t need to appeal to someone greater than myself. It was enough to have compassion in my heart, and to know that if the tables were turned, others would have compassion on me and my family.
It is not all that different for those of faith. They know that personally they can do nothing to aid the situation. But they too care. They too want to see the boy recover. So they participate in the only way they can. They pray. Whether they are really invoking any god is immaterial. They, as people, are focusing their thoughts and energy on this stricken young man. That is really only a positive thing in my book. Perhaps my friends and I can be too harsh sometimes on the practices we ourselves have left behind upon taking a more rational, limited view of the universe. Sure, I think we’re right. But that doesn’t change the fact that these people, otherwise powerless, are giving of their own thoughts and emotions in the hopes the young man will recover. They are giving the best of themselves, because there is literally no other thing that will help other than staying out of the way.
So perhaps their prayers aren’t as much for the stricken lad as they are for each of them. They want to show caring and solidarity. By expending their own energy and time on the issue, they do that. We should probably give them a little more room to do that without taking arrows.
Now, I suppose I still do take exception to the prevalence of “see, prayer works” as Fabrice recovers. “Thank god” dots the headlines over and over again, when it should be “thank doctors and hundreds of years of accumulated medical expertise.
We may wish to have that semantic discussion one of these days, but for now, we ought to give people a little more space and let them pray. If nothing else, it might be helping them to cope with an unexpected emotional trauma when they only wished to watch a simple game of football.