Friday, December 31, 2004

style changes

I'm trying to make this blog look just a bit more original. I hope you like it . . .I'll probably be tinkering a bit over the next few days. I don't quite have it where I want it yet . . .

new year's eve reflections

We are at the end of 2004 . . . so how is my life different now than it was at the end of 2003? Let's see, according to my journal entry for last New Year's Eve, at the time I was concerned about getting a co-op at Colgate, I wanted to quit my job at Walmart, and I'd been a bit worried that my programming skills were not good enough to get me a job anywhere. So, what has happened since then?

  • I did get the Colgate job, and worked there from January to July.

  • As a result, I quit Walmart.

  • I read The Age of Reason, by Thomas Paine. Actually I started it while sitting in the library waiting for my first day of classes to start.

  • I also read Atheism, The Case Against God by George Smith. I think that mainly what I learned from it was how philosophy and logical demonstration works. However, I was a bit shocked at how easy the philosophical arguments for God were refuted.

  • I started going to my folk's church again for a while.

  • My sister had a baby.

  • While my parents were out of town for 4 weeks to see her (she lives in Oregon), I decided to check out First Unitarian Church.

  • After a lot of worry about the issue on my part, I told Mom that I'm going to First Unitarian after they got back from their trip. Mom is not exactly approving, but she has not tried to stop me.

  • I voted democrat for the first time in the elections, but I'm not sure if I'm proud of that or not. I'm rather cynical about politics since the last election.

  • I've actually gotten more comfortable about going to a few church functions at my folk's church. What this really means is that I've gotten a lot more comfortable with being an atheist. I've also gotten to be a lot more open about my article beliefs with my folks, without any eruptions or ruptures occurring.

  • I discovered pantheism and the World Pantheist Movement in August.

  • I went steady with Jacob from August to December 11, and made a lot of memories with him in the process. And I still have him as a friend.

  • I've survived the junior level classes in the CIS program, with no major damage to my GPA.



I know I'm forgetting some things, but this list will get really long if I list everything . . .

So it is New Year's Eve again today. Where shall I go from here? I shy away from New Year's resolutions--those things are just made to be broken. I do have a few goals and hopes for the next year:

  • I'm working on exercising more and drinking more water.

  • I want to work on keeping a positive attitude when I'm stressed out. (It's not a problem when I'm not stressed.)

  • I intend to graduate at the end of 2005. This involved also finding a co-op for next year.

  • I'd like to be moved out on my own by the end of this year, or shortly after graduation.



Those are the main things anyway.
Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

a kinder, gentler god

As I've mentioned before, I'm spending a good deal of my free time over Christmas break reading Doubt, a history, by Jennifer Michael Hecht. I highly recommend it, as it's descriptions of the ideas of doubters (both believers and disbelievers) have been very gratifying to read and sometimes challenging to my own ideas.


Something I read today--actually just a few moments ago, triggered an idea in my head for a theory that has been brewing for some time now, every since I've read about the incitements of Christianity that were written in the last couple of centuries by the likes of Thomas Paine, Robert Ingersoll, and Anne Newport Royall. According to Hecht,


In [Royall's] The Black Book (1828), she scorned the missionaries swarming "like locusts" across America, stumping for cash, and getting it, often from the poorest and most sadly superstitious people. She warned that if the champions of a national religion managed to "get two-thirds of the states to alter the Constitution...then let the people get their throats ready . . ."


In Royall's own words:


Do they think we have forgotten how they [the Church] drenched England in blood, created a civil war, (what they are in a fair way to do here) and, when they could no longer retain the power of killing there, came over to this country, and began it afresh--dipping their hands in the blood of a harmless, unresisting people?..Do they think we have forgotten how they put innocent men, women, and children to death, in cool blood, under the pretense of witchcraft?...Children of ten years of age were put to death; young girls were stripped naked (by God's people, the ministers) and the marks of witchcraft searched for, on their bodies, with the most indecent curiosity.


This doesn't sound like the Christianity I grew up with. In my Church and home it was the love of God that was emphasized, and Hell was scarcely ever mentioned-though it was believed in. I was told that you cannot expect true conversions to happen though the use of coercion and fear. I suspect that this much is true. But how have we come to this point of a warm, all loving, daddy God after all the coercion and bloodshed of the past?


I have a theory that when scientific advances push back religious explanations of the world, when there is a lot of cultural and religious plurality, and when the Church (both Catholic and the various forms of Protestantism) does not have the power to force belief (or, at least, consent--if that is the right word for it), then God gets nicer. This, I think, is because under such circumstances a benevolent view of God is vital for the very survival of the Church.


I thought of this before I went looking through Thomas Paine's The Age of Reason for support, I found that he had some very similar thoughts (which may have actually triggered my own thinking on the subject about a year ago, but I'm not sure). Here is what he had to say:


Some Christians pretend that Christianity was not established by the sword; but of what period of time to they speak? It is impossible that twelve men would begin with the sword; they had not the power; but no sooner were the professors of Christianity sufficiently powerful to employ the sword than they did so, and the stake and fagot, too; and Mahomet could do it no sooner. By the same spirit that Peter cut off the ear of the high priest's servant (if the story be true), he would have cut off his head, and the head of his master, had he been able.


I think this is a good thing to keep in mind in a day when the religious right is doing all they can to knock down the wall between church and state. I couldn't help but think of the present situation in America when I read that quote from Royall about the religious right of her day changing the Constitution. That could have been written yesterday . . . even in the loving and somewhat tolerant Christian atmosphere in which I was raised, I shudder at the possibility of the Church taking over the state once again. Would God remain so kind and loving if the Church was, once again, all powerful?


I have heard the defense that the evils done in the name of Christianity were not really done by "Christians," but by bad people who were in control of the Church (usually meaning the Catholic church, though grisly persecutions were commited by the Reformers as well). However, this creates the problem of defining exactly what a "Christian" is--if you simply remove any "people who did bad things in the name of Christianity" from the definition, I guess the defense would be right. But redefining the terms to fit your belief is a cop-out.


Since I am flipping through The Age of Reason to find quotes and refresh my memory, I thought I'd end this post with another quote from Tom Paine on the topic of understanding Christianity and the Bible:


It has happened that all the answers which I have seen to the former part of "The Age of Reason" have been written by priests; and these pious men, like their predecessors, contend and wrangle, and understand the Bible; each understands it differently, but each understands it best; and they have agreed in nothing but in telling their readers that Thomas Paine understands it not.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

In response to "seeking is in"

Mikel,

I read your blog posts (you've been busy) and was
going to respond, but then it wanted me to fill stuff
out and I'm just not that patient tonight. So you get
an email.

Two things struck me in your posts:

1. "I find seeking much more productive now that I'm
not bound to predetermined conclusions."

I should think so. This is probably true of any
endevour that involves more work from above the neck
than below. In fact, I think that "seeking"
pre-determined conclusions is really justifying what
you already believe in. (Or at least what you think
you're supposed to believe in.) "Seeking," as I
understand modern hip Christians to mean the term, at
least involves, and may be defined by, an open-ended
test of your faith. If you really believe that what
you believe in is the Truth, then setting out without
a map should eventually lead you there anyway, perhaps
with a good deal of enlightment along the way. I'm
not sure how well it works, but it certainly sounds
more spiritually adventurous than chewing on
centuries-old theological doctrine.

Truth be told, I'm somewhat partial to the idea of
seeking for two reasons; 1) it abandons doctrinal
thought in favor experiential learning, and doctrine
leads to institutionalization, and I HATE
institutions, even the ones I'm in. (This could be
the subject of a much longer rant. Suffice to say
that since I discovered the falibilty of authority
around about sixth grade, I've been on a downhill
slide of challenging Those In Charge ever since. Now
I do it professionally.) 2) Seeking seems to fit my
lifestyle. I've never really had a plan, I just sort
of ended up here by doing whatever intereting thing
popped up next. I'm not sure if sought or just
sumbled upon things. This leads me to the next
logical question or two (which I can pose but not
answer):

When does one go from "seeking" to "drifting"? And is
"drifting" a bad thing?

We'll take that one up at a later date. Now what was
that other thing that you wrote that caught my eye?
Oh, yeah:

2. "I've heard arguments that this particular God is
hopelessly contradicatory and absurd, and I'm trying
to figure out if there is any possible way to
reconcile these beliefs with reason."

Woo! There's a doozy! You need a bigger blog. My
initial response is: What's so great about reason?
Yes, perhaps I just made your head spin a bit, you who
are so taken with the scientific method. I have one
(big) answer. Reason allows us to understand how
things interact in the natural world, and from that
understanding we can, at least for a little ways out,
Predict The Future. That's nothing to sneeze at;
22,000 people in Asia could have used a little more
predictive power recently. If there is one thing that
is even more certain than death or taxes, it is that
time only flows one way for us. Being able to
predict how things will play out along that arrow is a
definite improvement for us. But it's not everything.


There are things, important things, to which reason
and logic simply do not apply themselves. My
anti-trust professor once asked our class to give him
an example of one thing in society that could not be
properly governed by the laws of free-market
economics. The older non-traditional student in the
back took the wind right out of his sails by shouting
out "the love between a mother and her child." Love,
altruism, and fairness are all examples off the top of
my head that are orthogonal to reason. Fittingly (it
seems to me), they also play prominant roles in most
religions. Perhaps the Truth that the religious
amoung us seek lies on a different axis than that of
rational or scientific truth.

Which brings me to what might be the theme of my
thoughts tonight. From what little I've read about
you so far, it seems that your crisis in faith came
about when you couldn't make your religion jive with
what science taught you about the natural world. I
can't fix that, but I might encourage you to consider
whether your the inconsistencies you found involved
the details of your doctrine or more fundamental
princinciples of your faith. Church, after all, is an
institution (there's that word again, tellingly) that
is run by people, and we're bound to screw it up
somehow. After all, if you're really an atheist, why
worry about seeking and faith at all? Isn't that just
a bunch of mythology that distracts us from a purely
logical explanation of the universe? True
unadulterated atheism just seems so cold. You still
seem very concerned with compassion for others, and
that is the basic value that many wonderful, devout
people that I have known had for themselves. Of
course, I can say that for secular humanists, too.

So, I don't know. Some things to think about. Good
night.

Jason

P.S. If you haven't read it yet, I would highly
recommend "timequake" by Kurt Vonnegut. It's short,
funny, and describes what being a secular humanist
means for him.

My Response:

Thanks for the response. I was hoping I would get a
few of these kind of responses from the blog.

Seeking and drifting? I guess "seeking" implies a
bit more of an end goal, while "drifting" does not.
Maybe they are the same in a lot of cases. Beats me
. I think the institutional thing gets me as well. I
can't believe that something is true just because
someone in power somewhere has declared it so.

I understand reason is not all powerful. But I think
I'm giving it a broader scope than you think--in my
thinking it would even help us understand the
evolution of such things as love and altruism. It
may seem crazy, but think about if human nature was
just all "me, me, me." There is safety and comfort
in numbers. A person without friends and family is a
miserable person. And a person who steps all over
everyone they know for the sake of getting ahead is
a person who will end up with no friends. Even
people who selflessly give themselves to charity
work or such things get some personal satisfaction
from it. I don't think this is at "right-angles" to
reason at all--it's all a matter of what people
value.

The older non-traditional student in the
back took the wind right out of his sails by
shouting out "the love between a mother and her child."


I think that that student made a really good point.
From when I took economics, I remember how they
would make arguments using charts, etc, to decide
what is the correct course of action to take for an
organization. Naturally, all the numbers did not
account for things like, say, the welfare of the
employees and their families or the mores of the
culture in which the organization was located. Nope,
the numbers give a really narrow view. But I don't
think that accounting for the human factors is
contrary to reason--it just means that the situation
is much too complex and messy to be quantified. The
laws of free-market economics don't account for the
human factors either. I don't think that having a
bit of socialism mixed in the system is a bad thing
. . . but that is a topic for another time.

Interesting statement about atheism--on it's own it
just means "no belief in a god." As for why someone
who does not believe in a god would care about faith
and such and seeking? Why not? It was my seeking and
experiences that lead me to atheism in the first
place. I'm convinced that there is a whole lot out
there about the universe that we do not know, and we
may not even have the capacity to know. Like how the
universe began and will end, and what is beyond the
universe, and what came before it. Nature is so
grand that it just blows my mind. This is why I also
call myself a pantheist--because Nature is the
closest thing to divinity that I believe exists. So
now I've gotten out of the purely logical and right
into the emotional. I only care that the things I
believe do not contradict reason, not that they can
be flawlessly explained by it. (Same with God, BTW.
If he were real, I wouldn't expect people to be able
to reason him out. It's when the various attributes
given to God are self-contradictory and contrary to
the world as I know it that I have problems.)

I'm very interesting in learning about various
religious traditions because I think that there is a
lot of good stuff there. It's just that I think that
it all came, ultimately, from human sources.

BTW, do you mind if I post this conversation?
(He has since responded that I may.)

Monday, December 27, 2004

Merry Christmas Posted by Hello

Free Association

This starts with a word, and the first thing that came to my mind when I read it:

  1. holiday::Christmas
  2. fault::earthquake
  3. beep::computer booting
  4. bubble::echo chamber (people talking to only people who agree)
  5. needle::sewing
  6. fare::bus price
  7. treat::doggie snack
  8. express::mail
  9. webcam::Jacob
  10. capital::HARD TO READ

This list came from Unconscious Mutterings.

about my last post . . .

I did remember after I posted that what a lot of Evangelicals mean by seeking God is actually seeking the will of God. I have the basic idea what this means: to try to figure out what a personal god who cares what you do wants you to do. Naturally, it assumes the existance of a personal God who has a will . . . and therefore fits right back into the discussion in the area of what kind of god we are talking about.

This really is a tricky topic. The idea of seeking God's will has always thrown me off. Anyone have any thoughts on this?

And for those who are wondering why I care, as an atheist and a former Christian: I'm trying to understand how Evangelical Christians construct their view of God. (You would think I would know since I was raised to be one of them! But it's all endlessly confusing.) I've heard arguments that this particular God is hopelessly contradicatory and absurd, and I'm trying to figure out if there is any possible way to reconcile these beliefs with reason. I don't think it will work out, but I'm open to surprises.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

seeking is in

Seeking . . . that is a major thing that is encouraged in Evangelical Christianity. That is, seeking God. But what is this God? I was having a conversation with my folks today about the nature of God (I'm trying to get a coherent view of what they believe, which shouldn't be too hard because I was raised in their belief system, should it?)

From the conversation I had with them it would appear that they believe in a God that:

  • Needs companionship, and is in a sense dependent on us while we are dependent on him. (But can a perfect being have needs?)

  • Reveals himself in "human" terms (emotions, characteristics) so that we can relate to him. (I asked if this means that none of ways we characterise God are literally true and they gave me no answer.)

  • Did not really understand the human condition until he took human form as Jesus (But this would mean that God is not really all knowing, wouldn't it?)



This doesn't sound like the typical Evangelical beliefs about God. I was taught about a God that was all knowing, all powerful, present everywhere at once, and who loved everybody. But when I press questions about God's nature, I seem to get a picture of a God that is really incomprehensible and an idea that the only way to know him is to just accept that the Bible is the truth. The Nazarene interpretation of the Bible. Of course.

Why do I get the impression that there is really a different God for each believer? It seems that when believers are pressed with inconsistencies in the traditional view of God and their beliefs, they just redefine "God" to fit their beliefs. Gee whiz . . . if you just wanted to define "God" as the incomprehensible mystery behind the universe, then you wouldn't consider me an atheist. If I'm going to have a conversation with you about God, we'd better make sure that we are thinking of the same God, or we are not going to get anywhere.

But that was not the original idea for this post. I was just thinking earlier today about the believer's call to seek. But what does seeking God mean? If someone is convinced that they already have the truth, what are they going to seek? I guess that they are seeking further conviction that they have the truth? How can a person seek truth when they already know what their conclusion will be?

The point of this whole rambling post is this: I find seeking much more productive now that I'm not bound to predetermined conclusions. And when I'm not limited to seeking only in certain places (such as the Bible and Christian sources). It makes me wonder if Evangelicals even know what it is to really seek truth.

Mulling this over and putting it into words for the whole world to see is part of the seeking process for me. Inviting anyone to agree with me or try to set me straight is also part of the process ;)

Merry Christmas to all

Though it is a day late. :-P


I've had a good one myself. This Christmas season I've been to four parties, and a Solstice circle. The circle was a definate first--I'd never seen anything like it before. I may do that again next year. :) And the Christmas Eve party at Grandma's was especially good this year. Lots of people came, including my five little second-cousins. (Until they came along, I was the youngest. But that's off on a tangent.
:-P)

As for what I got for Christmas, here is the list:

  1. House slippers

  2. A set of very soft and warm pajamas

  3. A dart board

  4. Some long underwear, (this and those above from Mom and Dad)

  5. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azcaban DVD (thanks to my brother and his wife)

  6. another set of pajamas (can you ever have too many?) and the traditional socks and underwear (Thanks Grandma and Grampa)

  7. Sun and Moon style votif candle holders and some scented oil and tealight oil heater. These are really cool! (Thanks to my sis)

  8. A pink sweater (my aunt)



I think that's it. I hope I'm not forgetting anyone! I think I did pretty well this year.

Friday, December 17, 2004

school's out!

The semester is finally over, and I'm not experiencing that strange feeling of now not having to study. LOL It's rather nice actually. Now I can sleep in, work on making candles and other stuff for Christmas, and catch up on some books that I actually want to read.
Right now I'm working on Doubt, A History by Jennifer Michael Hecht. I'm greatly enjoying it. So far I have worked though Hellenistic Greece, Judaism, Buddhism, and Rome. And I'm just now getting into the first few centuries of Christianity, which is fascinating, especially since I can compare it to what I've read in the Bible. It turns out that there was a lot going on that you don't get in Church--though I did get a taste of it in my religious history classes at TNU.

Out of the chapter on Roman doubt, I picked up a quote that I think is just wonderful. I wrote it on a sticky note and put in on my computer moniter.

If there is a God, all is well; and if chance rules, do not thou be governed by it. -Marcus Aurelius


I'm also working a bit on The Sacred Depths of Nature, by Ursula Goodenough, Freedom Evolves, by Daniel C. Denett, and Crypto, by Steven Levey. I doubt I will be able to work though all of them before school starts back up again though. So many books, so little time!

Thursday, December 16, 2004

the party

I went to that young adult party that I mentioned in my last post. It was cool--there was a gift exchange and food and a short game of monopoly. Besides the fact that it was held in a church building there was no mention of christian stuff at all. And no one tried to "witness" to me. Just like I remember the youth group parties at the church.

I just hope Mom doesn't think that this means that I will be making myself a regular fixture at college age church activities.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

an update and a cool poem

Here is an update on how things are going with me:
About Jacob and I breaking up, I am still a bit sad but I am getting over it. I have no regrets about our relationship and I'm really glad for the memories that we made together. I would do it all again.

On a totally different note, tommorrow is my last final for the semester! I still have a bunch of material to cover, but I'm making fine progress. It's the sort of discipline I only show right before a test. LOL

On another totally different note, I went to a Christmas party at my former Pastor's house this past Friday. Had a lot of fun too--if there was no question of belief I could get sucked back into that church really easily. But then, I also had the new college age pastor calling on the phone to invite me to a Christmas party that for that age group tomorrow night. I'm rather ambivalant about going--I don't want to get pressured into coming to services. And what if I outed myself as a atheist at a Nazarene church function? Things could get interesting . . .



As a final note, I've had bits of this poem by e. e. cummings in my head for the last few days and I just had to look it up. Come to think of it, it's a good one for Solstice.

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday;this is the birth
day of life and love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any-lifted from the no
of all nothing-human merely being
doubt unimaginably You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

Saturday, December 11, 2004

single again . . .

Jacob and I just broke up. He sent me an e-mail with the news and I just called him back. I've always known that something like this could happen, but it still hurts. And I seldom cry about anything.

But it was worth it.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

an atheist and Christmas

I've always loved Christmas. Usually just after Thanksgiving is over (earlier than that is just too soon!) I break out the Christmas music and start looking for presents and decorating. When I was a child I was fascinated with the thought that people all over the world were, for at least a few weeks, stopping to praise and acknowledge the Light of the World.

However, as I grew I began to get a bit disillusioned with all the commercialism, and the ways in which the stores try to start Christmas ridiculously early--before Halloween!--in order to get people in the mood for shopping. My family has never made a big deal out of present giving--and I think this is a big part of the reason I've never gotten caught up in the commercialism. However, I have gotten some wonderful things as presents. Favorite presents that I've gotten were a tiny 76mm reflector telescope though which I glimpsed my first view of the moon's craters (other than though pictures or television) as soon as it was dark. The telescope was terribly awkward to aim--I couldn't even get the moon in the view without help from Dad--but it is one of my favorite presents I've ever gotten. I still have it.

Most of my favorite and most memorable presents were science related. Once I got a kit about light--it contained a small glow in the dark patch and an explanation of why things can glow in the dark, a couple of lenses that could be put together to form a small telescope (as well as a mount that allowed them to be pushed closer or farther apart), and a prism which I still have sitting in my window.

Christmas is full of memories for me--Christmas Eve parties at my Grandparent's home for as far back as I remember, the drives we've taken for no reason other than to enjoy the Christmas lights on all the houses down the street, and the special services at Church for each Sunday in December leading up to the special day.

Yes, the religious aspect of Christmas has always been dear to me. And yes, since I've ceased believing in the stories of Christianity, Christmas has not been quite the same. I still enjoy Christmas music (I'm listened to some right now--Hark the Herald Angels Sing)--in fact, the traditional Christmas story is a very nice myth and it is easy for me to appreciate it without trying to force literal reality on it. I've also included stuff from other traditions into my season as well, such as the Winter Solstice. After all the Sun is the Reason for the Season--since loooong before Jesus was said to be born. To me, Christmas is a time to relive memories, participate in family traditions, to reflect on the past year and to plan for the coming year.

Merry Christmas and Happy Solstice

BTW, in case you are unfamiliar with Solstice, here are a couple sites with more information.

http://www.equinox-and-solstice.com/html/winter_solstice.html
http://www.candlegrove.com/



Monday, December 06, 2004

the meaning of life

This is a fascinating site, if you have a bit of time on your hands:

FAQ About the Meaning of Life

the end is near

The end of the semester, that is. This is the last week of class, and then finals next week, and then Xmas break. Yippee!

Just one more year to go until graduation, and then I can get a real job and get moved out of my folk's house.

Maybe I misnamed this post. It should be 'the beginning is near'.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

fun at my aunt's house

It's now almost 1 in the morning. I'm not usually up this late (or this early?). But tonight was unusual.

Most of of my family members that live in the Louisville area are more-or-less evengelical/fundamentalist in religion and conservative in politics. That makes my aunt (who moved here just a year or two ago) stand out a bit. She is a Christian, but of a more open-minded and liberal variety compared to most Christians I know. She knows about my atheism, and we have had a few good discussions about religion/politics/philosophy when we are away from the rest of the family.

Anyway, I was at her house until shortly after midnight tonight. I had gone there earlier today to help set up a new TV and sound system along with Mom and Dad. Luckily I came in a seperate car, so that when Mom and Dad left I could hang around for a while with my aunt and some friends that she had over. And we had quite a time. The highlight of the night was the "talking stick." That is where the whole group gets in a circle and there is a decorated stick (Native American theme in this case). The stick is passed around the group and only the person holding the stick can talk (though that's not always how it worked LOL).

So, we would get started on some question that would get a conversation going. The first one was "Are we humans having a spiritual experience or spirits having a human experience." Basically it was a "who are we and why are we here" question. And in the small group of people who were there, there were answers ranging from belief in karma and reincarnation, to the idea that we are all gods who create our own reality, to my own naturalistic pantheist views. I once commented, when I had the stick of course, that I was thankful for the stick because it reminded me to keep my mouth shut when listening to views I diagree with. And actually it was interesting hearing what they had to say. It was especially interesting hearing a rather long debate on the ethics of karma between my aunt and one of the guys.

I don't think anyone changed their point of view as a result of all this conversation. I didn't anyway. But it was a great experience to be able to say what you want, and question what the others were saying--even openly disagree. And I did openly disagree, often, particularly with the guy who was saying we create our own reality. It's amazing to me how people can talk like that without degrading into an argument, and without me feeling as if I must convince them that I'm right or bad things will happen. I won't go to sleep tonight afraid for the soul of the ones that don't agree with me. (Ok, I don't believe in souls. But I used to. And when I did, the things that I heard tonight would have terrified me. As a Christian anyway. Well, if you've ever been there you know what I mean.) And it paid off--at least I think I understand the whole idea of karma better now then I ever have before.

And now that it is past 1:30am, I think I'll go to bed before I doze off at my keyboard.




Wednesday, November 24, 2004

quote of the day

Skeptical scrutiny is the means, in both science and religion, by which deep insights can be winnowed from deep nonsense.

-Carl Sagan

who i am in the universe

I've been in one of my funny moods today. I think it started yesterday when I was running around with my folks. Mom had the contemporary christian station playing in the car, and though she usually changes it when I'm with her she didn't this time. I didn't mind--it actually brings back a lot of memories since I listened to nothing but christian music--mostly CCM--until I was about 17 years old. It reminded me of what it felt like really to believe in all that, and, to be perfectly honest, it was painful. Of course I've realized for a long time that it would take a whole lot more than an emotional experience for me to ever believe again. Though I miss the feelings that I can have influence over events miles away by praying. I would say I miss the feeling I got in worship, but I do get those feeling when contemplating nature and in the services at First Unitarian. It seems I have an irrepressible religious impulse whether I like it or not. Or perhaps emotional impulse is a better word for it.

Anyway, all this put me in the mood for a writing project so I decided to try something that I've seen a fellow extian do. This is a short list--compiled in about 10 minutes--of "who i am in the universe."


  1. I am a natural part of the universe.

  2. I am a self-conscious part of the universe.

  3. I am responsible for my own actions, for better or worse.

  4. I am a doubter, because that's how I seperate the truth from lies.

  5. I am a computer geek. (LOL)

  6. I am an amateur astronomer.

  7. I am able to think for myself--no one else can tell me what I believe.

  8. I am a pantheist.

  9. I am an atheist.

  10. I am not the center of the universe.

  11. I am very important to a lot of people.

  12. I am a self-educator.

  13. I am a lover of new experiences.

  14. I am a seeker of truth.



Thanks to Heather Ann Kaldeway for the original idea. Click here to see her list.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

gotta love sundays

This has been an interesting morning. Mom invited me to come to the Thanksgiving service at her church today. What I ended up doing was going to the service at First Unitarian and going to eat at First Nazarene. And I'm still adjusting to the culture shock . . . At least I got through it without any shakeups over me being an atheist (or a Unitarian Universalist, for that matter.) Sometimes I just wish someone would ask me about my "walk with God" or what church I've been attending, just so I have an excuse to set the record straight. But until someone asks, I'll just let 'em think whatever they want.

Well, my boyfriend lost a younger brother last week and the funeral is today. If I really got what I wanted I'd be with him. But of course you can't always get what you want, can you? At least I'll get to see him Friday, if all goes well.

I've got to get back to my homework now.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004


My best Acquaintances are those
With Whom I spoke no Word—
The Stars that stated come to Town
Esteemed Me never rude
Although to their Celestial Call
I failed to make reply—
My constant—reverential Face
Sufficient Courtesy.

Oh Matchless
Earth, We
underrate the
chance to
dwell in thee.

-Emily Dickinson

Sunday, November 14, 2004

on being an atheist in a christian family

I was raised in a evangelical Christian home. But when I finally decided that the disconnect between religious truth and scientific truth was intolerable, what could I do? Why, in the relatively liberal tradition in which I was raised (I'll just say liberal Evangelical--which just means very lenient as Evangelicals go, though not "nominal" by any definition), are they willing to give ground to any scientific theory as long as they can somehow leave open the slightest possibility that God has something to do with it? And how is it that religion always gives ground to science, and never the other way around? I'm thinking here of the idea of theistic evolution--the idea that God used evolution to create life. If I believed in god I would think that was blasphamous. (see my post entitled "the devil's chaplain") Even as a Christian, before I knew anything about evolution, I thought the idea was fishy.

But the point of this post is not to explain why I'm an atheist. If you want to know, go to http://www.louisville.edu/~michil02/exian.html.

Anyway, in a liberal Evangelical tradition, what are the options? If they totally reject the findings of science in favor of religious dogma, they run the risk of being labled backwards ignorant and prescientific--though it would greatly simplify their faith. Where science contradicts scripture, they could just say it's a trick of the devil and ignore it.
On the other hand, if they were to truely accept whatever science finds they would run a serious risk of atheism--unless they are very good at truely believing two mutually exclusive propositions at the same time (a skill Orwell called "doublethink"). If you want to take me on about what I mean about this, leave a comment. Now to get back to the subject of this post.

How do you have a discussion about atheism with a person who basically agrees with all your arguments but can't stomach your conclusion? You can't. Of all the times I've talked to my mother about it, the only thing she has to offer is "you should believe it because it's true."
Excuse my language, but WTF?
Actually this has had the effect of making my life a lot easier. Since she knows she has no arguments that will persuade me, and she doesn't believe in threatening hellfire (back the the liberal Evangelical thing), she has fallen back on the tactic of letting me know that the doors are open when I decide to come back. And beside the occasional invite to church functions, she mainly leaves me alone about it. And Dad has never brought it up in the first place.

Now not all atheists in Christian families face the same easy situation as I do, unfortunately. Just a lookover of a few of the posts at http://exchristian.net/ make it abundantly clear. Though it looks like I'll get my chance to deal with the less-than-tolerant, hellfire threatening, fundamentalist type of Christians sooner or later. That's the type of family situation my boyfriend has found himself in--and yes, he is also an atheist. This could get interesting . . . Just thinking about meeting his folks brings back all the fear I once had about my folks finding out that I was an atheist.





Friday, November 12, 2004

flashback

It's hard to believe I ever believed in Christianity. And then I flip though my old journals and find a little gem like this:


01/22/1997 8:35am

Dear Jesus,
Thank you for this new morning you’ve given me. You have kept me alive to see it. I know that you are the one who holds the universe, the world, and me together; never let me forget that.
Please help Grandma [W] come to know you. Help her to see past all those lies of Mormonism to the truth of your Word.
Bless Mom and Dad and G and C and our youth group.
Thank you for the opportunity to home school and to get a Christian education. Thank you for loving me. I love you. Amen.


Just so you know, Grandma W. died without ever converting from Mormonism--which isn't such a big deal to me now. And I now rather regret having homeschooled the way I did (the "Christian education" I was talking about.) In some subjects I did very well, basically teaching myself from the books. But it really set me behind in Math, and the Economics book was worthless. And of course there was all the crap they fed me about America's supposedly Christian heritage. And the bull-shit straw-man caracature of the Theory of Evolution they sold me.

So glad I saw though that, eventually. And thank you Carl Sagan and Richard Dawkins for showing me the wonders of Evolution! And Carl Zimmerman! And Steven Hawking! And Michael Shermer! And a big thanks to Robert Ingersoll for being the 'Infidel Preacher' and calling religion's bluff. How I wish I could have heard you speak! And Thomas Paine, I can't forget him! And there are so many others that I'm not mentioning right now, who have helped me fill in the gaps in my education.

How far I have come.
"I'll take the awe of understanding over the awe of ignorance any day."
--Douglas Adams

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

recap of the day

I'm feeling a lot better now. The presentation was the best we've done so far, and I found out I got a 95% on the last test.

I am still greatly looking forward to Thanksgiving. ;)

passing the time

Right now I'm sitting and waiting for a class to start at 9:30. Management 301. I wouldn't even bother going except that the prof wants us to write a two page paper whenever we miss a day. That's the only reason to go to class since the prof just tells stories in class and everything for the test is straight out of the book.

Well, anyway . . . I can hardly do anything useful for any of my other classes in 30 minutes so I might as well write.

I'm facing that usual condition that hits me right about 2/3 of the way though a semester--lack of motivation. Actually I think I'm starting to get over it, but I tell you I really did not want to get up this morning. It feels like the only things keeping me going are the pressure not to fall behind (at least in my CIS classes), and the prospect of going to see Jacob at Thanksgiving. Ah, it sucks living hours away from your boyfriend.

Today I have a group presentation in CIS320--Systems Analysis and Design. I'm on a team designing a system for the Fund for the Arts in Louisville and we have to turn in milestones and make presentations and all that. This will be the fourth presentation. I'm finally starting to get used to it, I think, but I'm looking forward to being done with this class. Then next semester in CIS420 we get to implement the system. At least 3 out of 4 members of my group will be in the same class next semester. Sometimes I wonder why I even took a business major . . .

On a more positive note, there was an absolutely gorgeous sunrise this morning. There are just some things you can't beat about getting up early :)
And on the way to school I saw sundogs. If you don't know what I'm talking about, try this link about sundogs. I wonder how many other people driving to work or school noticed?

Sunday, November 07, 2004

my busy life

It's been nearly a month since I last wrote . . . and it's been a really busy month at that. It seems I've been living in the CIS lab doing database homework. Well, I'm not complaining much. ;) It's interesting stuff.

I have so many things on my mind it's hard to settle on one thing to write about. There is school, Jacob (my boyfriend), the election and my worries about the direction this country is taking, my need to find employment soon those are the major ones. It's hard to know where to start.

Now that I've finally got a little time to write my mind is blank. LOL

Here is an update on my church situation:

I'm now regularly attending First Unitarian Church with my parents full knowledge. If I don't have their blessing, at least I have their consent. I don't have to go back to their church--where I was feeling very awkward and out-of-place. I must be getting bolder--I just told Mom that I didn't like going to her church and she didn't argue with me about it.

And Jacob, if you are reading this, qez em sirum. :-*




Wednesday, October 13, 2004

a devil's chaplain

I ordered a book called "The Devil's Chaplain" by Richard Dawkins from Amazon.com about a week ago, and it arrived today. And I've noticed to my delight that the chapters are broken up into small chunks that only take about 10-15 minutes to read--perfect for just a bit of inspiration and quiet reflection. True, I've been inspired by most of what I've read by Dawkins: "River out of Eden," "The Blind Watchmaker," and "Unweaving the Rainbow" but the chapters in those are a bit long to read in single sittings.

I've just finished the first section, titled, like the book, "A Devil's Chaplain." I have to say it was a bit hard for me to read--it causes me to think about things that I'd really rather forget. First of all, he points out how the phrase "devil's chaplain" was coined by Darwin in response to all the cruelty and waste that he found in nature, things that made it impossible for him to believe in an intelligent and benevolent creator God. Things such as the Ichneumonidea larvae which feed inside the living bodies of catapillars--keeping the poor creature alive simply as a source of fresh as a source of fresh live meat. Natural selection in itself is neither kind nor cruel--but it is incredibly indifferent. Especially this is hard for me as a Pantheist, with my tendency to want to idealize nature.

This realization has caused many to reject evolutionary theory out-of-hand, as if reality would conform itself to our preferences. If you don't like reality, should you just stick your fingers in your ears and say "Na, na, na, I can't hear you!!" At the other extreme, some have said that if this is the way nature operates, then it is how human society should operate. This is the infamous theory of social Darwinism, which commits in this case what is known as the naturalist fallacy: that natural=good. But there is still hope.

To quote Dawkins,

There is no inconsistency in favoring Darwinism as an academic scientist while opposing it as a human being; any more than there is an inconsistancy in explaining cancer as an academic doctor while fighting it as a practicing one. For good Darwinian reasons, evolution gave us a brain whose size increased to the point where it became capable of understanding its own provenance, of deploring the moral implications and of fighting against them.


Just because a wasteful and indifferent process lead to our existence doesn't mean we should be wasteful and indifferent. Ironically it was this same process that lead to our ability to speak, and to make art, and to make sense of the world around us. It even lead to our ability to empathise with the plights of others, the ability which is so lacking in natural selection. Science is really strange sometimes.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

How I know I'm a Pantheist

  1. I take both pride and humility knowing that I'm made of the same stuff as the rest of the universe.
  2. And that this stuff was make in the stars. As Carl Sagan would say, we are starstuff contemplating starstuff.
  3. Attempts to anthropomorphize the universe, or suggest an anthropomorphic source behind it all, are incredibly irritating to me.
  4. The suggestion that events like eclipses happen for our benefit alone also irritate me. They happened long before we were here and will continue even if someday there are not humans to see them. Though I am very pleased and honored to have seen a few for myself.
  5. I have two favorite places on the UofL campus: in the administrative building next to the Foucault Pendulum, and the Planetarium. These feel more sacred to me than any church building.
  6. I can't help thinking of stargazing as a form of worship.
  7. The universe is sacred to me. And humanity is no less sacred. We are all, after all, part of the universe. (I'm also a humanist, this is part of the reason why.)
  8. I feel humbled and awed when I look at the Andromeda Galaxy and think about how the light we see from its far edge is older than humanity.
  9. I do not see human Evolution as degrading to humanity, as so many people I know see it. I think that if you say it is insulting to humanity to say we are animals, and that we are made of matter, then you have seriously underestimated the wonder in both animals and matter. The human evolutionary tree is only further acknowlegement that we are a natural part of the universe.

If anyone thinks that I must be an atheist and I'm just hiding behind pantheism, you are wrong. At least you are wrong if you think I'm hiding. As far as all the religions that believe in a literal supernatural god that has human qualities (mind, love, anger, self-awareness, etc), I am most definitely an atheist. I believe in no god higher than the natural world. Pantheism to me is the simple acknowledgment of positive attitudes about the natural world that compliment my atheistic viewpoint. I think this is what it means to be a Scientific/Naturalistic Pantheist.




Title change

I've decided to shorten my title to "bits of starstuff." Not to worry though, I'm still a pantheist and a freethinker. ;) I just like this better as a title.

Friday, October 08, 2004

I'm an Aunt :)

My sister just had a baby! Mom called me a few minutes ago to tell me that Alexa had been born, about 8 pounds too! Unfortunately they live in Oregon and I can't be there, but I'll be expecting pictures soon.
BTW, my sis is a freethinking Buddhist/Pagan so I expect Alexa will have a good upbringing ;)

Here are the stats:
ALEXA ROSE
19 INCHES LONG
8 LBS 2 OZ
HOME BIRTH

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Life after death?

Where do people get the idea that life is meaningless if there is no afterlife? We don’t exist before we are born, then we are born and live out our lives, and then we die and go back to nonexistence. Life has a beginning and life has an end. Just like everything else.

Ok, I’m still mulling over what I heard someone say at SMART last Sunday. I don’t remember the exact quote but the idea was like this: “If we just die and go to nothing, why would people bother risking their lives for other people? In the end it wouldn’t matter, would it?”

I think it was intended as a rhetorical question, but I couldn’t resist replying. I said that people are willing to risk their lives for people and things because they matter to them now, not because they are permanent.

I think of it this way: If you plant a tree, people may sit in its shade 500 years from now. Or fifty years from now it might be cut down so a shopping center could be built where it stood. So, if the future generation prefers shopping over sitting in the shade, was it a total waste of your time and effort to plant the tree in the first place? I’d say not!
But even if the tree lasts a thousand years, someday it will die, and so will all the people who sat in its shade, and soon no one will remember that it was ever there.

Does this mean that you shouldn’t plant the tree, just because you know that it won’t last forever? I don’t think so. Who cares if your contribution will matter in 500 or a thousand years? It matters in the here and now!

More thought about life and death come from one of my favorite freethinkers, Carl Sagan.

Ann Druyann, the wife of Carl Sagan:
"Contrary to the fantasies of the fundamentalists, there was no deathbed conversion, no last minute refuge taken in a comforting vision of a heaven or an afterlife. For Carl, what mattered most was what was true, not merely what would make us feel better. Even at this moment when anyone would be forgiven for turning away from the reality of our situation, Carl was unflinching. As we looked deeply into each other's eyes, it was with a shared conviction that our wondrous life together was ending forever." (Barker 1998)

This is directly in line with what Carl Sagan said himself in his book, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark:
"If some good evidence for life after death were announced, I'd be eager to examine it; but it would have to be real scientific data, not mere anecdote. As with the face on Mars and alien abductions, better the hard truth, I say, than the comforting fantasy. And in the final tolling it often turns out that the facts are more comforting than the fantasy." (Sagan 1996)

Amen.


Barker, Dan. "Life After Death." Freethought Today April 1998 <http://ffrf.org/fttoday/1998/april98/barker.html> Accessed Oct 6, 2004

Sagan, Carl. The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. Ballantine Books, 1996

Monday, October 04, 2004

Rough days, and how to deal with them

This had been a rough day.

To start out, this morning I was putting in my contact lenses as I usually do. The right one went in fine, but when I put in the left contact my eye burned like there was onion juice in it. I splashed water in it and the burning went away, but I never found the contact lens. I was concerned that it might have got stuck under my eyelid, but I decided it wasn’t bothering me enough to skip classes to go to the eye doctor. So I just wore my glasses.

My first two classes, Management and Database, went fine as usual. Though I used the Management class to study for a test I had later in the day.

I had signed up for an informational meeting with UPS to find out details about CIS co-op positions that they want to fill in the spring. That whole meeting went alright, though I may not be eligible if my brother works for UPS (I think he does but I’m not sure.) The person who led the meeting said I wouldn’t be eligible if a close family member worked for UPS anywhere in the world. So that meeting might have been a waste of my time. Oh well.

The roughest part of the day was the test. Though I’ve been doing pretty well on my tests this semester, on this one I know I did terrible. There was a whole chapter I’d forgotten was on the test. On a long computational part that made up 25% of the grade, I kept messing up and having to do parts over. I didn’t get finished in time, and I’ll feel lucky if I got a C. I could have cried. At least I talked to a few of my classmates afterward about it, and at least I have the consolation that I wasn’t the only one in the class who had trouble with this test.

After I got home, I went to the eye doctor. Turns out that I’d irritated my eye, but there was no contact lens stuck under my eyelid. So he just wrote me a prescription for some eye drops to take care of the irritation and make sure there is no infection. So that was good for my piece of mind, at least.

In case you were wondering, I didn’t write this blog just to gripe. I also want to write about how I’ve learned to deal with days like this. First, a little perspective:

A irritating as certain events have been to me today, there was nothing earth-shattering. The episode with the contact lens just cost me an irritated eye, a trip to the eye doctor, and some money for the exam and a prescription.

And even if I totally flunked the test, it’s not the end of the world—not even of my CIS major. It only means I need to work harder to prepare for the next test, and it may mean that that highest grade I can hope for in the class is a B. Big deal.

If I don’t get a co-op at UPS, there are other job opportunities I can shoot for.

The irritating things that happened today will not haunt me or anyone else for the rest of my life. I still have my health and my sight, and there will be other tests, other job opportunities. I can be thankful for my boyfriend, for the stars, and for the fact that I have the chance to try and reach my potential. Life goes on.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

First Unitarian Church

I just got back from church. This is the second Sunday I’ve gone to First Unitarian Church in Louisville, and so far I absolutely love it. This is the first church where I’ve been able to honestly express my beliefs in religious matters and not worry about fitting into some kind of creed or dogma. Not that everyone agrees with what I have to say.

This morning in SMART (Sunday Morning Adult Round Table, the adult “Sunday School”) we were discussing the issue of what Unitarian Universalists believe about life after death. There were a variety of views, though quite a lot of them expressed a belief of some kind of reincarnation. There was a lady who had had a “near death experience” when she was 12 (she is over 70 now). Her husband is a skeptic however. About NDE’s and telepathy and all that, he says “It’s all bunk!” There were also a handful of scientifically minded people, like myself.

Most everyone in the room wrote down their thought on life after death and read them to the group. As I was the first one to express a naturalistic view, it was a bit of an intimidating experience, but I welcomed it. Here is what I wrote:

“I do not believe that an individual’s personality exists any longer after they die. I have a naturalistic point-of-view that is very skeptical of any claims about the supernatural. About the claims of clairvoyance and telepathy and such, I have yet to hear of one that could stand up under the skeptic’s test. I would be happy to change my position if new good evidence could be found.

“Since I don’t believe that out personalities exist after we die, it means that our moments of life are limited [in number] and extremely precious. They must not be wasted.”

It was an interesting experience for me to discuss such a religious and emotionally-charged issue in such a diverse group. It really made me think about what it is that I really believe, though it did not cause me to change my mind. What was really great was how everyone was supportive and respectful, even about the disagreements. We are all just trying to find our way, and that is understood.

I don’t know what I’m going to do yet when my parents come back from their trip—whether I will continue going to the UU church or if I will go back to theirs. Actually, I really think I would prefer staying with the UU’s, but I will have to decide how to break the news to Mom.

The Goddess of Love and The Little King

Venus and Regulus (Latin for "little king") made a lovely couple this morning. I saw them shortly after I woke at 7am, when the sky is already starting to glow with sunrise. I'd forgotten that I gotten and e-mail alert saying that Venus and Regulus would be together in the morning sky, and at first I thought I was seeing a reflection in the glass. Then I took a look outside and still saw that Venus had a companion. No other stars were visible in the area.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Explanation of my Title

i might as well explain the meaning of my title.

starstuff: we are all starstuff. We are actually made of elements that were forged inside the cores of ancient stars, and expelled into the universe in great novas and supernovas. Cool, no? I have a great deal of interest in astronomy, and many a clear dark night you will see me outside. Sometime with my telescope--a Meade ATX-90--and sometimes with only my reclining lawnchair. I love the stars, and I've always loved being out at night.

pantheism: more of the above. I've gone though a few religious phases in my life. Christianity--of the evangelical, semi-fundamentalist type), the religion in which I was raised. Then questions and agnosticism, atheism, and most recently I've been exploring pantheism. Naturalistic pantheism, that is. It's not like I've converted away from atheism, just that I've come to realize that my beliefs about nature--especially the night sky--make pantheism very compelling to me. The Universe is Divine.

freethought: As my mother put it, "no bondage to thought." (Although she does not quite understand what freethought means, I think.) A freethinker is a person who forms opinions on the basis of reason, not religious (or other) dogma. In fact, freethinkers are suspicious of the idea that faith should even be considered a way to knowledge. By faith I mean unquestioning belief in the absence of, or in spite of, proof. When I say "faith" I don't mean "hope," or "trust," or anything like that that I've heard Christians call faith. None of this nonsense about faith being equated with a belief in a chair--that it will hold you up when you sit in it. Like what I was taught in Sunday School.

Anyway, if you want to know more about me, I also have a website at http://www.louisville.edu/~michil02/. Of course, I will have to find some other place to keep my website after I graduate . . . but I'll deal with that later.

A new thing . . .

This is my first attempt at writting a web blog.
Why am I doing this? Sometimes I get these thoughts floating around in my head--most recently thoughts about pantheism, the coming presidential election, my boyfriend, the war in Iraq--all kinds of things that I get the urge to write and talk about. I think that a blog will help me to express and refine my thoughts. Even if my thought draw criticism, that will only help me to hone and refine my views.
So here is my first attemp at a blog. I hope you like it.