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"


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

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


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

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.

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.

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'.