Saturday, November 2, 2013

One thousand pages of erased text.

There are times in life when one has to step back into the shadows, for everyone's sake.

When I write, I open up a gaping wound in me. I don't even know where it came from, when it started, or what made it get to this level. I just know that for most of my life I have been fighting, criticizing, thinking, and butting heads with people, an action I cannot currently sustain. Every action costs something, and the cost for writing on this blog, a blog specifically made for cognitive dissonance, is too high for me right now. I am exhausted on every level possible, and something has to give.

I cannot write honestly on this blog anymore, something I swore to myself I would do when I started it. If you've read faithfully, you've seen me journey from faith into faithlessness, from Christian to atheist and, I suspect, into something else entirely. I cannot even claim atheist anymore, as it implies way too much about me that is not true. I respect my Christian friends and family, I am bad at being part of tribal groups such as the popular atheist movement, and I sometimes suspect that there is a god, when I feel like it and when I can successfully dismiss the horribleness that's happened to me from my memory for a time. I am this complex, insane, contradictory, irrational individual, and I've been able to bring about dissonance because of that. However, labels are no longer sufficient for any of that, and I think that means I'm healing. It also means that I cannot be bothered to defend anything constructive or even have a theme for writing (formerly Christianity), and that is suicide for an endeavor like this. Christianity cannot be my theme anymore because it is, for me, writing about a period of abuse. At some point, you have to stop. You have to let your decisions stand alone, you have to criticize yourself privately and with people you trust, and you have to heal in order to be objective again. Even though I stand by what I have to say about making my decisions for objective reasons, that is meaningless in the grand scheme of things, and especially in writing on this level. There comes a point in life when you must make peace with the fact that you are screaming into a void, with trenches on either side filled with people with weapons pointed at each other.

I do not believe in myself anymore, I do not have the conviction that anyone should take what I have to say seriously, and I'm honestly sick of everyone pointing weapons at me. Until I can heal, it is time that I journey by myself for a while. I don't know what my next move is as a writer, but you can be assured that I am incapable of giving it up. If you enjoy reading what I have to say, watch for another update from me here at some point. Until then, from an absolute no one to all of you who have journeyed with me,


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Fury, in Retrospect

Sometimes one feels something so powerfully that they simply cannot even communicate it properly. The extremely fortunate among us will feel love in this way, or perhaps the extremely patient. Regardless of what the state of being is, love, anger, happiness, contentedness and so forth, when one really feels it it takes over their entire being, they become elemental and powerful in it and it's on display for all to see.

The religious propaganda that is often heard associated with this is that one should be a christian like they are a football fan. I've never related to this analogy very well, as I have apathy at best toward football and most sports in general, but I do understand. Someone who is genuinely passionate about something does not need to convince others of it, they radiate it and can't help but talk about it when the opportunity presents itself, because they want to share it.

I'm not completely certain if I was ever this type of christian, but I suspect so. I searched the philosophy, I found the truth in it, those things I still hold dear, though not exclusively christian components, such as the golden rule, generosity, passion, justice, and love. When someone's religion or philosophy or passion becomes so elemental, you can just tell. A friend once told the administration of my college, who weren't sure I was a christian at all due to questioning scripture's absolute inerrancy and primary source of truth, that I was what all christians should aspire to be. I never saw myself that way, but I do believe this means I had a true faith, one that was part of me. I never evangelized anyone, except for one regretful incident on my high school missions trip that I will never feel good about, I just believed, and I was what that belief made me.

I have problems even stating what I want to do with my life now because my career goals were defined solely in christian terms before about a year ago. I am fortunate I didn't go into ministry and establish myself before losing my religion, as the stories I've read of losing the core of one's being and the inspiration for one's career, and having to maintain appearances to support a family are horrifyingly close to home. The organizations I've found that support ex-pastors and ex-ministry leaders are some of the most beautiful organizations I've seen. The apostate need support, more than just monetarily, but not having to worry as much about taking care of their families when they're consumed by such a crisis is beautiful.

I grew up being taught to question the world, being taught apologetics and critical thought regarding all things secular, especially atheism. However, I was a defective student. I began to turn those questions on the beliefs I was told never to question, much to the horror of the teachers. Where had I gone wrong? I was going to lose my faith! I denied this, because my faith was ultimately important to me, and I absolutely believed it to be true. What is the harm in seeking the truth, I asked, if we really do believe the truth? How am I going to be mislead by the very skills I've learned? If christianity is true, it has nothing to worry about. If it is not true, then I will leave, regardless of the personal cost. This is not just an intellectual statement for me, it is a way of living. I was taught that Jesus IS the truth, and so to seek truth is to seek Jesus. All truth is god's truth.

In retrospect, I understand why the conservatives that looked at me with so much skepticism and even condemnation felt how they did. When you go out into "the world," your faith is challenged. When you leave "the bubble," you begin to have to deal with things you were never taught to deal with before. I was prepared for this, or so I thought.

You see, when I detached myself from my faith and truly used my critical thinking skills to look at it, I realized that the evidence is insufficient, and faith is absolutely required. You must assert on bad evidence, because that's the only type of evidence you are going to get. "Hold onto those experiences with god, hold onto this book and how you've been taught to interpret it, or you will lose your faith!" I saw that as propaganda, and I still see it as propaganda that is successfully taught to people. I feel fortunate that a friend threw my beliefs into chaos 10 years ago, as it was that process that really made me test what I'd grown up being taught.

When I lost my faith, when I truly stopped believing, I was consumed with anger. I was dating a very angry individual at the time as well, but she's not the reason I was as angry as I was, and claiming atheism did not make me angry. You see, I was taught growing up that evolution, at best, was to be treated with extreme skepticism. I was taught that science is the most horribly limited tool ever, because our minds are depraved and broken. I was taught not to trust myself, and the typical social drama of my youth reinforced that when I got a huge culture shock in high school and decided hating myself was the best course of action, because pretty much everyone in my social group, with a few exceptions, thought that I was an idiot, and not worth their time. Women asked me out as a joke, so I must have the horrible sexual motives I was taught growing up, and I should punish myself for ever thinking anyone is attractive. I was taught that the Bible is a defensible book if any book is, when that is not how history works. I was barely taught proper history by a group of people so consumed with nationalistic conservative faith that it's a wonder I ever escaped from the view at all. I was taught that, above all, I must seek out god's will for my life, his perfect plan, his perfect mate that would fix me, his perfect calling that would be the work that I would give my life to. I was taught to coast through life, and that god would do everything for me. As long as I was righteous but humble but faithful but joyous but uncompromising but didn't complain but loving but a thousand other things, god could use me, and it was my sole confidence.

Imagine my surprise when I had a hell of a time of it, when I found that I couldn't just be lazy. You may read this and say "but Christianity doesn't teach this Dan, it teaches us to work hard and seek god!" What does that mean? How does one seek god? Read their bible? Pray? Do evangelism or missions work, convert others to the same views? How does that have anything to do with a faith that is real, that flows through you like your own blood? Must one train themselves to truly believe?

You see, I tried both. I tried the ritual, I tried the conservative christianity, the lack of questioning, the uncompromising stance that is unafraid of criticism. Something in me broke doing that, and it made me immeasurably sad. It doesn't make sense that god would kill so much of the race he created on a regular basis, it doesn't make sense that he would allow guilt to be imputed on all of us for wanting knowledge. It does not make sense that god would be a genocidal (but justified by racial purity. clearly.) maniac in 2/3rd of this book I'm supposed to accept on faith, and then I have to use the other 1/3rd to cherry pick it because jesus. Jesus isn't even original anyway, which is the only reason he resonates so much with people. The Christ figure is iconic, a part of our culture, but that does not make him god.

I tried to really feel my faith, I tried to love god with my heart, soul, strength and mind. I tried speaking in tongues and prophesying, I clawed for something to really make it mine, and I succeeded. I was the unique and special snowflake that would be a legendary christian thinker, respected as a defender of true christianity, a system of my own reckoning, because I was full of faith and love and righteousness and people agreed with me, dammit!

I really believed. I had answers for all of these questions, theories about how god was progressing along with humanity, how jesus was the latest iteration of cultural norms so god could reach the most people in the fullness of time, about how the bible was not really a historical record or scientific book, but only relevant in what it teaches us about god, and about how the trinity is like a person's three components, mere aspects that god had more truly because he's so incomprehensibly huge. Anyone that took me seriously back in the day can tell you, I could discuss this stuff for hours, and if they really knew me, they knew I did it because it was so insanely important to me, because it was me, in a very real sense. I was elementally christian.

In the end, it all turned up empty when I put my ideals to the test. The truth won out when I put it up against the sum total of my faith, the church history, the exploration of all of its' branches, the sum total of my experiences, all of my justifications and philosophy and reasoning and reading and learning, the sum total of all of it. I didn't even leave christianity when it put me through years of systemic emotional abuse, because I believed it was true.

There is a phrase I once heard, that I cannot remember the exact phrasing of. It goes something like this:

If Christianity is not true, then we are miserable above all others, but if it is true, we are happy above all others.

One might recognize this as a reframing or inversion of the infamous Pascal's wager, pointing out the consequences of leaving christianity if it is, in fact, true.

It is a miserable thing to devote one's life to something and then, upon investigating and truly searching, find that you have devoted so much time, so much emotional and mental energy, to absolutely nothing. It is infuriating to think of the possibilities your life may have taken on had you not simply been taught to accept something that placed drastic limitations on your potential by teaching you to look down on science and history and scholarship and philosophy. It is infuriating to realize that you really were in the process of losing your faith by embracing those ideals you truly felt in embracing your faith, to realize you were self defeating your own faith for years, and didn't even realize it. It is ultimately frustrating to have to start over just because you will not make an ultimate decision purely based on consequences or what you want to be true or fear.

Every emotion is immediately converted into an icy, ultimate rage. You live in the frigid torrents of emotion hammered into a singular purpose, your lifeblood solidified in your veins, and you make sure everyone feels your rage just to prove you exist. Your former hope turns to poison in your soul, and you spit it all over everything. You throw around facts and figures and anger and satisfying quotes or images, and you are ready to defend any of it.

Well, what do you think happens? People give you a wide berth, because they don't want to be touched by the toxic bile you're spewing everywhere. You feel ignored, and that makes you even more angry!

Or maybe that's just me.

In retrospect, this type of rage, this brutally powerful anger, is only another method of harming oneself, and all too natural for someone who grew up to hate one's most fundamental urges as a human being, such as curiosity, sexuality, and compassion for its' own sake. It is useless to continue being a vessel of such rage, as it will destroy your health and any chance you have for happiness. It's okay to be angry when someone aggravates you by asserting that this puritanical and toxic morality must be propagated to even more people to stunt their growth and create more converts, but let it go before it chokes your soul and distances you from everyone, before you become a paranoid and delusional individual, and you see demons where none are there. You will end up being the image of what you cannot stand, because you're still tied to it by your own angry soul.

Becoming elementally enraged is ultimately an exercise in fighting oneself. When you run out of enemies to fight, you start beating on yourself, or looking for more outlets to keep it going, so you don't have to face the difficult and messy business of dealing with life.

I don't regret my fury, it was a necessary part of my life for a time. After a season of fury, however, must come acceptance, harmony, and progress, for the sake of one's health and happiness. If you feel like I do, know that you do not have to be remain damaged. You can heal, because you're spectacular, and asking for help does not make you weak. Move forward, accept the losses, even if they still feel unacceptable, and you will be able to become singular and powerful in who you are.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Faithless, Redux

I'd like to explore some things differently than I usually do. Someone once told me that I am very good at "taking the head with the heart," a tendency I've always valued, and I think one I have gotten away from of late. The reasons for that are varied and are unimportant at the moment, but I may get to them at some point.

For some time, I've been wondering what step is next for me. I've gone through many labels in my life, and regular readers or people that have known me through some of them will know that very well. I change my mind frequently, depending on data and depending on another factor. That factor is what I want to talk about today.

Firstly, a disclaimer. I speak of labels a lot, using ones like theist, atheist, christian, calvinist, agnostic, etc. I do this only for the sake of clarity, and only so I can avoid explaining in 4-5 sentences what one word will suffice for. I will define something further if I feel there is a need to beyond what would normally be implied by the word, as some labels are not at all clear. Moving on.

I am 28 years old. To some, that means that I am very young, that I haven't even begun to really live or really come to good views about life. To some, that means I've been through some things that they have not yet, and that I might have a little wisdom. Both are wrong. My wisdom has always turned out to be pretty empty in the grand scheme of things, and I pretty much am never going to stop changing my views, until I just run out of steam. Regardless, I've found a lot of adversity in life so far because of my tendency to ask questions and to never shy away from showing my innocence or experience with things. Some might call that transparency, but those that really know me know that I'm very much not a transparent person about most of who I really am. It's an odd way to live, I admit.

What seems like a long time ago, I was a fundamentalist christian. What this means is that I grew up being taught the "Essentials" of the christian faith, and how not to associate with those who were labeled as "liberals." I moved from that into a strict calvinism, which is kind of an extension of determinism. Basically, the only thing with true freedom in a strict calvinism is god, and humans are puppets. So if a baby dies and goes to hell, then that's according to god's good pleasure. I poured myself into everything I could find, everything that seemed true according to my data set, and eventually, when my knowledge expanded to begin to ask questions about the book I grew up being taught to revere and idolize, I was eclipsed by vast cognitive dissonance. The type of people that used to be my allies became my enemies, a skill I had been developing and am still very good at, unfortunately. From there, I moved into liberal christianity, and eventually out of religion altogether.

Regular readers can breathe a sigh of relief at this point. Don't worry, I am not redescribing ad nauseum my deconversion or the scientific and historical reasons for it. I don't mind doing so again, but I don't think a lot of people I've spoken with care.

Let me clarify. When I speak to a lot of people that have known me a while about god, they have a dissonance of their own to deal with. They must deal with the fact that I poured myself entirely into christianity, and that it is no longer relevant to my life. They're not thinking about the history of the church, the scientific reasoning for leaving a theistic worldview, or even logical inconsistencies that one must get around to affirm something like the inspiration of the Bible. I know this because I've been there. A few years ago, I would've been the same.

This brings me, finally, to the other factor with which I make decisions like this, one that has bugged me for a long time. I can only describe it as an intuitive grasp of the psychology behind a philosophy. To clarify that needlessly confusing description, I invite you to try out a thought experiment.

A man believes in god, and sees god in the order of the universe. He investigates scientific theory through his bias and sees god in fine-tuning things so we can live, so we can exist, and so we can bear his image to others. He sees god as the ultimate control, the mechanism for the universe working how it does, and the ultimate determining factor of the eternal fate of all things. If this god wants to create a hell for those who do not know him from the obvious fingerprints of him in the universe, then it is his creations' fault for not acknowledging it, even if he made them thusly destined for destruction. As the ultimate cause and control, god's ways are higher than our ways, and he never had to make us at all. We should glory in whatever he brings our way, for it's all for him.

Another man is revolted and disgusted by this image of god. He also has faith in god, even claims the same religion as the other man, but he sees god in our ultimate freedom. He also believes that man is the special image-bearer of god, but he sees the universe as constantly changing, humanity adapting by the power given by god, and the ultimate love pouring through the universe from his power and his grace. This man does not see god as the one ultimately in control, even though he must believe he has the power to do so, but as someone who gives up his power to give his creations the free will. Man must freely choose god, or love is meaningless. We are, therefore, ultimately free, beautiful, special, and so forth, necessarily distinguished from other forms of life on our planet. Except for cats, because we were made to serve them. Clearly.

What of these two men then? Do they worship the same god? Are they even of the same religion? Some say yes, some says absolutely not, and some say it's irrelevant.

The first man's god is one of security and control, necessarily so. Perhaps if god exists, this is an "aspect" of god, just like the second man's perception of a loving and freely gracious god is an "aspect" in an eternal "paradox."

The thing is, paradox is unnecessary. For both of these men are not telling you about god when they describe him, they are telling you who they are. Perhaps they debate each other one day, proof-texting like crazy, citing church tradition or instances in their personal life or verse after verse or grudgingly agree to disagree or come to blows and burn with anger. What's really happening here? Are they debating something academic? Not at all, they are debating philosophies born out of who they are. They are literally gods clashing, at odds with each other.

This is the other factor that I use to decide what I believe is true. You see, my "god" is one of allegiance to the truth, regardless of what that is. Throughout my life, I've allowed social ostracization, ridicule, massive consequences, and ultimately my current state of loneliness because of this alone. I don't give a damn what this group or that group says or how long they've been saying it, I care if they can show me, factually, that what they say has evidence and is defensible. Sure, humans are subjective creatures, prone to whimsy and folly and shenanigans and emotional displays of ridiculousness, but we have the potential to cut through that, to suspend our views at any time for the sake of considering the evidence. This is all I ask of myself, and when I say I've paid a price for it, I am not understating what has come about because of it. But that's irrelevant, because I recognize this tendency in myself for what it is. It's who I am intellectually, it's integrity, and I value it above almost anything.

I can relate to the martyrs of my former faith for not sacrificing what one truly believes, one's truest self, just to satisfy the sickening whims of those in power. No doubt, many have been persecuted when a discussion might have done better. It is not my job to blame persecution on christians, muslims, atheists, or whatever other label. This is a misuse of labels to me, because it brings about needless drama instead of clarification. It doesn't matter what I am, what matters is whether I'm still thinking, challenging myself, and pestering other people to be better.

I would not, for a second, trade this tendency for anything. Perhaps that makes it my "faith," though I really have no idea what to call it, and it is certainly not something I believe in or think is important for no reason. "Faith" is a bad word for it, but it may suffice to convey my point. It's not christianity, it's not atheism, it's not agnosticism or nihilism or anything else I've ever heard of, except, perhaps, for critical thinking. I don't really care what the truth is, as long as I can keep looking for it. Give me more data, more information, more experiences. Challenge my perceptions, and don't for a second think I have so much ego that I won't throw it all aside if you're making a good argument.

A good argument is free of personal attacks, free of needless verbosity in the name of "holistic thinking," and free of summarizations that throw aside nuance and detail. A good argument is not reactionary, it is not based in tradition or appeals to authority, and it is not petty. A good argument is based in good information, consistent interpretation that can be done by anyone, and is falsifiable. It does not appeal to risk or consequence, and it does not needlessly assume things. It is baseline, and deductive from there. A good argument shows the integrity of the person making it, and their ability to adapt to new information, regardless of their disdain for the opposition.

This is my meaning, and I'm proud of it. Those who hold their meaning in equal pride and can be respectful and honorable doing it have my respect as well. Questioning of motives does not become anyone, and that is the main reason I wanted to write this. Not to puff myself up or talk about how awesome I am (okay, maybe a little bit), but to clarify the most pervasive misunderstanding I've seen to date of those who try to talk to me. It is frustrating, because I come off so wrong so often, and I can't stand it. People think I'm apathetic when they present me with petty and trivial reactionary nonsense instead of what they really think. People think I'm arrogant when I deconstruct and disagree with their most deeply held views, and they get infuriated when they can't do the same to me, because my views are self deconstructing by their very nature. Most of all, I think people mistake my approach to things for coldness or lack of caring, when nothing could be further from the truth.

I am bad at small talk, have suffered from social anxiety all of my life, and I often do not know what to say, so I either say stupid things, ask about things that apparently everyone is supposed to know about, or just say nothing and appear to think I'm better than everyone. I'm nothing special, but I think my unique blend of growing up how I did, psychological tendencies, and philosophical orientations have lead me to this point, and I'm pretty happy it did. I love discussion, but I sadly have almost no positive views to throw out into discussion, because I tear them all apart the instant I have them. Perhaps this is what it means to be truly faithless.

I'm sure I'll have more on this later on, but that's enough for now.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Making Trouble

I feel that I am caught between two worlds, and most of all, that it shouldn't be that way.

I really miss my life of being a theist/christian. I had so much more confidence, I could explain so many more things, and the people I became friends with over the past several years knew me. Now that I'm a nonbeliever, I don't have those luxuries anymore. I have become a student of reality all over again, relearning a lot of things I thought I knew. A lot of my old friends no longer speak to me, and I have to believe that it's simply because they're uncomfortable. Some people still talk to me like it's normal all the time, and retain the ability to have normal conversations about disagreements, and if I've made one thing consistently clear, it's that disagreement does not bother me in the least. I don't mind being told I'm wrong, and I don't mind debating issues if people want to. I change my views if it is warranted by evidence and good arguments, and I think that bothers some people.

I must conclude that some people don't want to discuss issues. Maybe they're scared, maybe they're confused, maybe they're trying to justify themselves, maybe they just don't care. Either way, it really sucks that to some people, I am apparently a set of beliefs instead of a person, and they cannot get past their disagreements enough to still speak to me. It's unfortunate that this sometimes comes out in rather petty ways, and it's sad that people can't take 10 minutes out of their day to thoughtfully speak to me when they think I'm incorrect or out of line. It's sad that a lot of people disregard my continued idealism as anger.

Then again, it's nothing new. I'm just on the wrong side of the fence now.

I totally get why some atheists act religious about atheism. Humans are social, and they need social groups. Tribal groups provide that, and they provide a cause, a way of uniting against a common enemy. It seems like a lot of people choose this, and my understanding is because that's how people evolved to act. That doesn't upset me, though it used to. It certainly doesn't make sense to act this way about being an atheist, of all things, but it's apparently the majority. If there's one thing that's always been true about me, it's that the majority is the first thing I question, and if they don't measure up to ideal definitions, then we have a disagreement. Some people simplify that with the term "making trouble."

I have to accept this part of me, because it's not going away. Though it has made a lot of people go away, that is their decision, not mine. I can't be upset about it anymore, because it's killing me. I'd rather be happy about the people that still want to talk to me and hang out with me and discuss issues and disagree if necessary without it being the end of the world, because that's much more enjoyable.

I think there's an unfortunate tendency for people to need a tribal group lead by authority figures, and I think that the sooner people can overcome this, the sooner we can have peace. Wars don't surprise me, yet another group of people that trod on the rights of others doesn't surprise me, political manipulation and religious abuse don't surprise me. What surprises and amazes me is when people rise above all of it and care about what's true and choose to act in a way that is transparent and beneficial. Those are the people I enjoy and admire, and there should be more of them. What's funny is, these people are also troublemakers. The people with agendas and axes to grind can't stand them, because they change their mind when it should be changed, they question things when they should be questioned, and they don't swear blood allegiance to a group of any kind.

I aspire to make as much trouble as these people. I wish to be dispassionate and at once enthusiastic in pursuing truth, and I wish to never settle for what a majority of people tell me to just "have faith" or "come to conclusions" about. Making trouble is a good goal, I think.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Death of the Philosopher

A little dramatic, right?

Disclaimer: What follows is personal, probably overly so. You have been warned. Run away if you don't care to read about my personal life, I won't be offended. Also, I'm aware that I tend to bitch and moan at times, and I've taken an active effort to keep that out of this post. Some things, however, have to come out, and I feel that this should be somewhere where people can see it.

I've changed a lot lately. I don't know that I can point to a single event that has caused this, and I really wish I could. However, anytime I try to tag it onto anything that's happened to me, such as my time in Ohio or at college or certain events with regard to career, personal life, family, friends, or anything else, I come up short for explanation. The truth is, I think this is just me, and there's no stopping it.

The first thing one must understand about me as a person is that my arch-enemy shares my body with me. No, I don't have a split personality, I just abuse myself constantly. Psychologically, emotionally, socially, health-wise, and anything that is not overt self-harm. What's really strange is that I didn't realize this for a very long time, and when I did, I became extremely interested in why I would do things like this to myself.

I developed severe social anxiety when I was much younger. As a result, though I tend to be eloquent with the written word, I am pretty much a blundering mess in any social setting where I'm not completely at ease, and my facial expressions often become weird and my body language exaggerated when I feel I have excess nervous energy to burn off. It offends me, unnecessarily so, when this is pointed out, simply because I can't help it. I'm not good at laughing at myself when I'm under pressure. I have tried to adopt the mentality of not speaking to remove all doubt that I'm a complete idiot as a policy, but I just can't seem to do it. Because try as I might, when I have something to say, I just have to say it. It's important to me.

If you were paying attention, I just did it again. I called myself an idiot. I'm not gonna keep count of this, but I just caught that reading over this, and I'm not correcting it.

What can cause a person to hate themselves so much, and why persist in such behavior when that person is rational and understands exactly what they're doing? What is the point? Why not be normal and roll with the punches, make mistakes, get yelled at, and move on without turning every slight error into an internal cycle of self-hatred? Even though I'm the one doing this to myself, it's taken me a very long time to even process sufficiently to figure it out.

I didn't realize the full extent of what I was doing to myself until around the same time I left my religion. Now this is not an anti-religious tirade. I truly don't care how one rationalizes their religion, or what someone thinks the essence of it is. That is personal. However, this also means that my religion is personal to me. My religion, the one I learned growing up, was overt and extremely damaging self-hatred, wrapped in religious dogma. It would be very easy to point to authoritarian figures teaching fundamentalist faith, and it would be very easy to talk about religious extremism and try to make connections to more moderate religion here, but I don't care about that right now. You see, for me, there were some extremely influential things that happened to me, resulting in repressed memories. I wish I was making that up.

Firstly, I experienced bullying and being the bully, in reverse order. Quite simply, when I was very young, I was an ass to everyone around me and very popular. This then reversed as I grew up, and I became what seemed like universally ostracized. One might call that justice, and one might be correct to do so. However, because of how this happened, I became acutely aware of what it is like to be disregarded, what it is like to be alone and hated for no apparent reason. The ultimate expression of this happened in high school, when going to school was like stepping into a portal to hell. Socially, I was the weird kid that was constantly criticized while minding my own business, I was the guy that didn't know all of the popular things, and for the most part, people enjoyed ridiculing me about it instead of telling me what I was missing. I learned to stop asking. I learned to mind my own business, aware of the fact that I suck and will be alone, and standing up for myself results in people just walking off and leaving me alone with my thoughts. There were no fistfights, only silence and quiet rejection. The Christian classmates I had at my Christian school, who were all recognized for knowing their Bible, knowing the right answers, and being great, didn't care about me because I was a little different, and any explanation I had to give fell on deaf ears. I learned my lesson well, and it's taken a very long time to unlearn it as much as I have so I can have friends. I was poisoned with what I thought was the knowledge that no one gave a damn about my existence, outside of my immediate family, and if they did, they were there to criticize me and attack me, kick me until I conformed.

Secondly, I learned about hell before anything else related to religion. It is literally one of the first things I remember, and remembering it is like remembering pure terror. This touches on religious dogma that I reject, but one must understand this above all: to a seven year old, sitting in a church service where someone is screaming about the decay and depravity of humanity, screaming about how we all deserve hell (complete with vivid description) and we'll get it if we die tonight, unless we accept the Lord Jesus Christ as our personal savior, does something very dark. I would go so far as to call it psychological abuse. I never received it from my family, but I did receive it from the church. So what did I do? I prayed for salvation, and I didn't stop. I laid in bed so many nights being terrified of going to hell, being scared that I didn't really mean it, that I wasn't repentant for how terrible I was enough, that I hadn't criticized and destroyed myself enough in the sight of the the Lord to be good enough. I really don't give a damn about grace-based dogma vs performance doctrine, which is the standard response to this. I do not care because I wasn't thinking about that, I was thinking about who I was being told I really am. I was thinking about whether I'd actually repented, because I had been told my heart is deceitful, evil, horrible, two faced, you name it. I believed the core of my being was dark and horrible, and I got saved publicly at least 3 times before the age of 18, and probably hundreds of times in private, with just me and God.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, I discovered that I was being lied to about a book you probably all know called the Bible. This hit me hard because the one thing that kept me sane in high school was getting into Apologetics. If you know standard Christian defenses of the faith, you know they center around classical philosophical arguments for the existence of god and hinge on the Bible being true, inspired, and inerrant. Along with this, I began to believe the things I was being told about being unique, about being a superhero that can save Christianity. I then discovered criticisms about the Bible for the first time, and when I lost my belief in inerrancy, my religious nature was given a killing blow. Then I went to college, was written about as "sub-Christian" in the school paper for debating the inerrancy of the new testament autographs (and winning, by the way). Given what you've already read here, you'll understand when I say I was not surprised when I read those articles, but I was disappointed. That's alright though, I thought! I will be a superhero, I will save Christianity and redeem it from this dead religious dogma and worship of a broken book into true Christianity, true communion with God! All one needs is one's intuition. Of course, as a lot of you can probably guess, this met with serious, serious opposition. Being excluded and alone was nothing new for me, but I wasn't totally excluded. I had good friends at school. It was a golden age for me, and I can't write about it enough to do it justice. Then, well, we all graduated and drifted apart, they to their lives, and me to well...whatever I'm doing. I keep in contact with some of them still, and that's pretty cool. What you have to understand, though, is that the entirety of the controversy around inerrancy was a pivotal period for me, where the apologetics I'd learned imploded and I began clawing for something, anything to save my faith, which I didn't know had been struck with a killing blow. Liberalism, Emergent Christianity, Eastern Orthodoxy, whatever it took, I was going to find that one piece of the church that had anything to do with truth. I was going to prove that I was not "sub-Christian," but the more I met people that had already heard about me, the more I realized that these people were mostly the same as the ones I knew in high school. The more I studied the authorities, the more I realized that "authority" is a word that should barely ever be used, because most of the time it means the person that is the best in a group at fooling everyone into believing we have a clue what's going on.

I could write an entire paragraph about my experiences dating here, but I can't do that in good conscience. Let's just say if there is a fourth influence, that is it. I do have one thing to say about it that does not apply to anyone in particular: Somehow, I gained a belief that someone was going to fix me, make all of this rejection and despair worth it, be my strong other half to hold me up and point me the right way. This belief was so strong and so poisonous to me that I've not only just figured out I have had it, but how very very wrong it is. You see, no one can do that for you. You have to, and you're the only one that can heal those emotional scars, you're the only one that can bring about fulfillment and wholeness in your life. I, of course, learned the hard way.

It doesn't take a genius to figure out that at this point, I have brought rejection and despair with me, I had been causing it with  my own actions, and the seeds of this tendency were in my past. My religious intuitions began to vary wildly, and when I came into contact with others like me with totally different views, I retreated into the only practice I've felt good about myself for: critical thinking. I began to analyze every bit of data I could find about religion, about the church, about science, about philosophy, about anything claiming knowledge of ultimate reality, or just reality in general. I'm nowhere near complete on this, because there is so much data. However, two things have become obvious to me from this investigation:

1. Though religions spring out of personal enlightenment, not a single one contains the ultimate truth. I'm inclined to say that there is not one, and that if there is an ultimate truth, a god of sorts, it is extremely well hidden behind layers of our reality, and none of us have the faintest clue about the true nature of reality.

2. People have an inexhaustible propensity for egocentrism, and to prove they exist, to make their world exist to others, they must compete and be the best at something. Whether it is enlightenment, religious expertise, being spiritual, being mediocre, being revolutionary or intuitive or intellectual or achieving immortality or being the best at one particular thing or being above it all, people seem to have this propensity for going straight for it. It makes great evolutionary sense, and I think if we want to understand religion, we must understand just how psychological it really is, how much it plays into egocentrism and narcissism and vanity.

I became an atheist for a while, and now I'm at the point where that word doesn't have a meaning for me anymore. I disagree that atheism is a religion or anything like a religious movement, but the movement itself has already corrupted the correct definition of the word (totally apart from recognized experts, by the way), making conversation about it impossible without a fucking sociology study. I will not fight another one of these damned uphill battles just trying to make a simple statement, and the truth is that labels are just too comfortable to hide behind.

You see, when I became a non-believer, I let the horrible raging fury in me pour out, and it was nowhere near the anger that I've learned to constantly direct at myself over the years. I was so mad that I'd been lied to, so angry that all of this torment I'd put myself through for so many years was all for nothing, all to bring me to this singular moment of loneliness, this death of my god at the simultaneous realization of his name.

I've just figured out what the title of this post means. You see, my god was called the Philosopher, and he was that idealized version of me that I wanted to be. I'd even have conversations with him and he'd tell me the nature of the universe. Maybe I do have multiple personality disorder. Intuition leads to understanding indeed.

The truth is, my fury is unimpressive, unimportant, and small. I am one person, and my opinion means less than nothing. All I managed to do is alienate some of my friends, piss people off, and convince even more people that I'm an angry person. I am not an angry person, I am a defeated person. I was given dreams, given all of these grandiose delusions about being unique and special and beautiful and how all of this stupidity I've had to deal with for years would be worth it, and the truth is that it's all for nothing.

It's in the faces of the people I see, in the words insisting that others should just be quiet, stop ranting, stop railing, just stop, just be quiet. Go get help, go see a therapist, stop being so angry, come back to Christianity for more abuse, just calm down and be cool. Just be silent. Go to your slaughter silently. Buck up and take it in silence like a man, stop complaining.

Maybe that's why I'm writing this post. This post is as emphatic of a no as I can muster toward every downcast face, every exhortation to shut my mouth, every trite solution and stupid tautology that people use to try to fix me. I have become spite in the face of an unfair and ridiculous society, and I will not cooperate, nor will I participate in the sickening nauseating mob mentality that we're all supposed to just go along with. As much as I enjoy being a mysterious quirky guy that no one understands, this needs to be said. My opinion does matter, my experiences do matter, and so do everyone else's. They don't matter because of some cosmic plan or because of some beautiful spiritual essence they have, they matter because our race is an emergent product, coming out of the sum of its' parts. If that's spiritual, then I'm spiritual. We can be better, but we need to leave this absurdity behind, we need to stop one-upping each other and seeing who has bigger swords/guns/nuclear missiles/insert phallic references here and figure out the power of thought.

It really doesn't matter that I dealt with some hard stuff in my life. What really disturbs me is that I am unbelievably and unfairly far from being the worst case scenario, and I am nowhere close to the only one. If you want to know why I criticize everything, that is why. Because it's not fair, and people should not have to deal with a world that kicks them over and then keeps kicking until they submit. They should not be poisoned by hope and fear from a young age, they should be taught to rise above their egocentrism, and they should be taught that the universe is scary and beautiful and wonderful and terrifying and we change it with our very thoughts, so we should make them good ones. Maybe I'll be able to take my own advice one day.

Here's what I really mean to say: the Philosopher is dead. How can I continue to worship a god that does not exist and is such offensive vanity? Who taught me to deify and to destroy myself? Who taught me to be a sheep, silent to the slaughter, simultaneously a god and the ultimate reject, the one that is being killed and takes it all on willingly?

Yeah, haunting, isn't it?

If you care at all, if any of this bugs you at all, then do me a favor. Don't pity me, don't apologize to me, don't feel sorry for me. I don't care, it's done. It's painfully clear to me at this point that arguing does nothing and that being a revolutionary will just create more of these delusions. If you care at all, do one thing: question everything about yourself, and don't let this systematic abuse keep happening. Sure, I'm full of shit. That doesn't mean everything I say is wrong. Take what you know to be true from this and really think. Kick over your preconceptions, realize your limitations, and think. Don't hate yourself, but do violence to your ego just for a little while and really come to conclusions because you believe in them, not because of fear or hope or what you want to be true. That is the best gift you can give me.

The Philosopher is dead, and his eulogy has been read. Time to move on.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013


Everyone has a past. Things happen, and before we know it, we're not the same person we have been, and we have no idea when it happened. We are expected to be consistent and unyielding and well spoken at all times, and some people just aren't that way, nor should they be.

We work all of our lives to get jobs we don't enjoy to make money just to survive, and we forget to do stupid things and make mistakes and be bloody idiots on the quest to figure out how to be happy. We die inside every day as people demand more of us, chip away at us, expect more than we have to give, kill us slowly just so they can feel a little better. We give more than we are able to, more than our emotions can handle, because we're literally fighting for our lives. So we think, anyway. We're really fighting for the lives we're supposed to want, to fulfill expectations to move forward. Make your career path at this company, pick us before you pick our competition, like these things so you are cool at parties, be generic enough so you can find that perfect someone to settle down with, believe this so you can be accepted. Don't think, just hope.

Hope, like so many things, can be so poisonous when we put it in things absurd.

Don't get me wrong. There is no grand conspiracy, no powerful entity or group trying to keep us down that we need to rise up and overcome. The only way to get anywhere is to overcome ourselves. We must laugh when we feel like screaming in frustration, because we're expected to do such absurd things to justify ourselves, to sell ourselves for money or acceptance or power. It's comical, the absurdity of it. We are blinded from the fact that we are free. We can do what we want, and that scares the hell out of us.

As Sartre once said, "Man is condemned to be free."

We live in a society that is poisoned by sophism, where everyone peddles their own revolution for acceptance, so they can be the beautiful flower with the ultimate brand of wisdom that everyone recognizes. What is the point, then, of critical thinking? If we cannot think correctly, if we ultimately kick our own feet out from under us trying to critique and redefine everything, should we not stop and laugh at the absurdity of what we're doing? Who do we have to prove ourselves to? If not to ourselves, then why are we tripping all over our own feet trying to do it? How many people must we sell our soul to to be happy? How many people must we overcome to finally feel ourselves wise, and how deluded must we be to not see the pure hubris of our efforts?

How can we make universal claims when we are so small and so stupid? We don't even know ourselves, let alone the universe. Who had the idea that we can trace the ontological path back to the source of all truth? How many revolutionaries must we deify before we figure out that no one's coming to save us or enlighten us or beautify us, the universe is vastly indifferent to our existence, and to think otherwise is the most radical arrogance?

Our one saving grace is that we're idiots. We are indomitable, ingenious, beautiful, ridiculous, innovative, creative idiots, with unbelievable potential. There is so much to learn, so much to explore, so much to do, and so much to live. We're more than we ever have been in cosmic history because we keep going. Stupid, needless shit happens to us all the time, and we plow through it and move on. We laugh and cry and smile and rage and fuck and explore and fight and live, because we choose to. Why sit around accumulating power and wealth and stature when you can UNDERSTAND things? Why allow your ego to rule you when your inquisitive nature can make you better than you ever have been every single day? Why confine your thinking to categories you're told are acceptable when you can learn from every person you come across? Why accept authority figures on such faith when no one has a clue what's going on?

Can you not see it's absurd? Live, dammit!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

A Person

What is a person?

Some define themselves by labels, and that's helpful. A male or a female or a transexual. A psychologist, a physicist, a medical doctor, a trashman, a chemist, a helpdesk analyst, a philosopher, or any number of other professions/careers. A Christian, Muslim, Agnostic, Atheist, Jew, Scientologist, Hindu, or any number of other religions. Some identify by the popular Myers-Briggs personality test scale or any number of other psychological diagnoses. Bipolar, Schizophrenic, Depressed, Borderline, Sociopath, etc are also labels that people can be identified by.

With the amount of information flying through the air all around us at all times, labels can be very helpful. We can also miss who a person is when using them.

Because sometimes when someone tells you they're a Christian, you may think they're angry about the Atheist monument and oppose abortion and are a pro-war Republican, and then when talking to them you realize you're not right at all. Because Christian doesn't mean any of those things, it is simply someone who tries to follow the teachings of Christ, as they understand them. To assume more without implicit or explicit information is unwarranted and can lead to misunderstanding. This is fine if you don't care who the person is and want to talk about a movement, but at some point you have stopped talking about the reality that is the person right in front of you. You have stretched the definition so far that it no longer has a meaning.

Likewise, if you take a word to only mean its' definition when it first appeared, you will once again not be talking about reality. A philosopher thousands of years ago is nothing like a philosopher today. Aristotle, if he lived today, would have probably fallen under some type of scientific field, because of how fragmented and specialized of a culture we have and how much more we know about the universe (though we see but a pinprick of a tunnel of light for a fraction of a second compared to the vastness of cosmic time). In that sense, we must understand, contextually, what something means in the context of culture, and to avoid pitfall #1, we have to understand that every person and/or mob coming forward with a slightly differing definition cannot have their way, unless we want to give up on discussing anything at all because words have lost their meaning.

Most importantly, in discussing all of this, it's very easy to make an obvious mistake. When someone says something like "I'm a muslim" or "I'm an INTP" or "I'm a conservative" or "I'm an atheist," we can jump to a thousand conclusions about what they think and who they are, and we can grind our ax and feel good about ourselves for knowing more than that person or feeling more than that person or struggling more and coming to the truth in a better way, but we still have no idea what we are talking about unless we actually ask someone the right questions. This is the essence of the Straw Man fallacy. We set up a "scarecrow" that looks like the person we think we're talking to, we make it say what we think it should say, then we cut it down with our own knock down arguments, comfortable in our smug superiority. Because we're read a bunch of books, we know factoid after factoid, we've had a single conversation with that person or they've made a single statement that makes us think we know them and what they're about, and so we then assert our dominance, our superiority, and get back to being comfortable and happy, in blissful idiocy.

If you want to know why cynicism and disconnection and apathy are so prevalent, this is it right here. We've forgotten how to listen, and have become peddlers of information and definitions. Sophism at its' finest. We've lost our empathy for others, which is very easy to do when you interact with thousands of people over the internet or deal with global crises through the news. At our core, we simply don't care that thousands are starving in some other part of the world, because they're not right in front of us. Sure, we can choose to care and choose to help for whatever reason, and that's great, but our heart is not in it when we first choose to do so, and it would be a lie to say that it is.

Our minds have outrun our hearts, and our information has preempted decency. The question is who is us, and who is them? What will it take to get us to snap out of it? Who knows, but I do know this is why people use strong language and seem to be very aggressive or word things strongly and are excessively specific and verbose in explaining their contentions. There is simply no way to make a point otherwise anymore, because anything one says is subject to fifty thousand know-it-alls with definitional quibbles or reasons why that person doesn't know what they're talking about, most of which are irrelevant to the point someone is trying to make. Humanity is not a conversation, it is a group of people all trying to scream over each other, and hopefully our race will grow out of it before our screaming turns into blowing each other up. Again.

What is a person? The fact that there is no definitive answer to this question yet should tell us something, I think.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013


I have to admit, those associated with my former faith were correct about one thing. Leaving religion leaves a unique restlessness and loneliness, or what I suppose is being spoken about with the "god shaped hole" paradigm.

I've grown up talking about god with, in my opinion, nearly unequaled passion. In my view, I was given a mind by god to seek out and understand reality, and all things, including philosophy, science, literature, history, and all branches thereof, done with excellence and seeking the truth, would lead any reasonable individual to god.

I've spoken about leaving christianity before, and I don't intend to do so at length again right now. Suffice it to say, my studies lead me to conclude that the existence of a god is improbable, and that the authority of the christian church was insufficient to justify faith in the christian god. With my decision and my persistent inability to keep my mouth shut about things of importance came many consequences. I believe I have lost a lot of respect in the eyes of some, and probably gained a lot in the eyes of others, among other things. As always, I am who I am, and I try to balance confidence with persistent introspection and self-criticism.

The biggest question I've come to, and possibly the biggest one I will for a long time to come, has been rather simple. Outside of the specific context of christianity, what does spirituality even mean? There are thousands of religions exploring one simple question: what more is there beyond what it is to be human?

We see a fraction of the spectrum of color, live for an infinitesimal period of time compared with the age of our universe, don't even possess all of the data regarding the way our brains work, and have theories regarding the universe that are constantly being revised with the discovery of new data. If there is other sentient life in the universe that is not on this planet, we have yet to discover it because we are stuck in one tiny corner of it. We are discovering mind blowing and revolutionary things every day about this universe that has existed for billions of years, a timespan that I can't even comprehend because of its' length and the tiny length of time I've lived.

I am put in awe just thinking of everything I've said. I feel spiritual wonder and awe about it, just as I do when I read some of the greatest minds our race has to offer in recent years. From Lewis to Nietzsche, Bell to Descartes, even just a cursory exploration of the casual to the complex of western philosophy is enough to leave one with more questions than answers, and amaze one about the differences people can hold while still perceiving that there is something more. That is to say nothing of the east, and of philosophy not influenced by christianity, platonism, the enlightenment, and so on.

There is much to explore without even leaving one's home, and yet every person is another world to explore, for they are full of ideas all their own, their own synthesis of experience, reason, knowledge, and emotion. The communication of all of this, much like how I'm writing now (and why I love it so much), creates ripples, dissonance, and some of the most interesting synthesis of ideology and collaborative thought at times. To think that one religion has a monopoly on what is true with regards to all of this seems, to me, to be fatally narrow, especially considering how little of a monopoly that the entire human race has on knowledge and truth.

It is possible that one day we will meet people that live on other worlds that have entirely different conceptions of religion, morality, science, and what it means to exist than we do. Our philosophy as a race could be rocked to the core because an entirely different kind of life exists, and we may even find it offensive until we escape our narrowness as a species. In the end, there is always more to explore and more to learn, no matter where you are or who you are.

I don't know if I've answered the question of what spirituality is, but at least to me, I think this all makes it very interesting to think about. I listen to music when I write, and if I stop to think, I realize I am just another type of artist. Writing is very much like music, with its' colors and moods and tones and counterpoints and melodies. Sometimes I write the equivalent of a symphony, whereas at other times I write metal or rock or ballads or pop or country or grindcore. I probably never write rap because I can't rhyme to save my life, but you get the idea.

If I really think about it, I think this is what I think of spirituality. I've been stuck in one genre for such a long time, that I don't even know how to appreciate another without understanding what it's all about, but I do know I enjoy the general exploration of it all. Maybe this music is what I long for, and to find out the music of others and see what kind of dissonance or harmony we can make. It's certainly interesting, to say the least.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

"What We Talk About When We Talk About God," A (backwards) Review

This is an emotional review for me. Please indulge me, as I'm sure I'll tell a few stories.

My review of Rob Bell's previous book, "Love Wins," got a staggering (for me) amount of reads, presumably because this man is crazily popular and "Love Wins" was a firestorm within Christianity, igniting huge amounts of controversy for its' "radical" rethinking of the doctrine of Hell, mainly garnering the accusation of universalism from the more "traditional" in Christianity.

As my readers know, this will come from a different place as my previous one, as I no longer identify as a Christian.

For those of you who don't know, Rob Bell is the founding pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Michigan, and best-selling author of Velvet Elvis, Love Wins, among other works. He is also the sole Christian leader I have had continual respect for, for his unerring compassion and ability to engage in dialog about anything, seemingly without almost any agenda besides compassionate understanding. I've met him, and I have a signed copy of Velvet Elvis, a book that single-handedly saved my faith when I was all but finished with it many years ago.

Obviously, that was not something that lasted, for many reasons, but they are now actual reasons instead of emotions like anger and bitterness and frustration, which I would not consider to be good reasons to walk away from faith.

Though my respect for Bell remains as a person, this book was the moment that I knew would inevitably arrive. It is the moment when I pick up one of his books and, for once, put it down frustrated. I read "Velvet Elvis" within a week and it changed my life. I read "Love Wins" in two days. It took me nearly a month to get through "What We Talk About When We Talk About God," henceforth referred to as "the book" to avoid me typing it over and over.

Bell's Christianity is historic and time-honored, though not always mainstream. For this, he's been controversial and prominent. When he sticks to talking about historic Christianity and things of that nature, he is rock solid (though perhaps necessarily in possession of rose-tinted glasses at points). However, this book has an entire section devoted to science, and it's meant to be a book about everything.

Some of you already understand my frustration.

There are a few quotes that I think speak for themselves here. Let me first start with one from the very end. Spoiler alert!

"One morning recently I was surfing just after sunrise, and there was only one other surfer out. In between sets he and I started talking. He told me about his work and his family, and then, after about an hour in the water together, he told me how he'd been an alcoholic and a drug addict and an atheist and then he'd gotten clean and sober and found god in the process. As he sat there floating on his board next to me, a hundred or so yards from shore, with not a cloud in the sky and the surface of the water like glass, he looked around and said, "and now I see god everywhere."

Now that's what's I'm talking about."

Rob Bell has a consistent pattern of summing up his entire book at the very end, and this is no exception. If you grew up in Christianity like I did, you will immediately recognize the cliche of the atheist drug addict that found Jesus and now life is beautiful, a la finding a higher power in something like a twelve step program. You want to say something about their theology or their logic or something is just bugging you about the whole thing, but you can't because then you're an insensitive ass and you're not allowing the experience of hearing about this wonderful testimony to change you or some-such thing. You are being strong-armed by an emotional argument from an experience into agreeing with everything that person says, or you're a monster.

That is the feeling I had when reading this entire book, and that's why it took forever for me to finish it. Bell makes an impassioned argument for who God is and why it is reasonable to believe in him, but not for the existence of God. Like most contemporary theologians not stuck in Christianity's past, he admits that proving God scientifically or philosophically is likely impossible, and asserts that God must be intuitively understood. In other words, he would be in agreement with C.S. Lewis, who said: "I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else."

It's really his second chapter, "Open," that I have a big problem with, but it is foundational to the rest of the book. The entirety of the rest of the book is him speaking of a way of understanding god that leads to some very good things, like compassion and peace and caring for the poor and conversation and harmony. The problem is that these things have been irrevocably tied to god beforehand, which I find to be misleading at best. In other words, one can affirm all of what Bell speaks of here, but substitute the Christian god for something like an argument for the consequences of one's actions or another god or any number of other things. In other words, Bell speaks about things we all understand, but he asserts that god is part of it. Obviously, if someone disagrees, then they just have not seen god in it yet, or something of that nature, and around and around we go until we come back to whether there is a reason to believe in god at all.

The reason why it is asserted in the book that it is reasonable to believe in god is because scientists have discovered that everything is weird.

I wish I was kidding on this one.

Here are some quotes:

"We live in a very, very weird universe. One that is roughly 96 percent unknown."

"I'm talking about the kind of intellectually honest faith that is open-minded enough to admit that some phenomena have no rational explanation."

"Science shines when dealing with parts and piece, but it doesn't do all that well with soul."

"Which leads us to a crucial truth: there are other ways of knowing than only those of the intellect."

"But to believe that there's more going on here, that there may be reality beyond what we can comprehend--that's something else. That's being open."

Bell, unfortunately, seems to be speaking of a lot of classical science, along with some interesting newer twists. He speaks frequently of dark matter and of quantum theory, though curiously I found this extremely telling quote at the beginning of his chapter on science:

"Or more precisely, the universe?"

This is in the context of speaking of the expansion of our universe. I spent a good ten minutes reading and looking back to see if this was intentional or not, but I could not figure it out. So there are two possibilities: Bell does not know about multiverse theory, or he is specifically stating that it is false here. Given the implications of the multiverse theory and the amount of reading he's done prior to writing this book, I would not be surprised if the latter is true, as that casts some serious questions on his use of the "finely tuned dials" argument that point to a creator.

If our universe is the only one, then the fact that life exists at all can be more easily used to argue that a creator probably created it. However, if there are an infinite number of quantum universes (which there are, according to some of the latest research in dark matter/energy), then our universe just happens to be the one with life in it, among many that either don't support life or support a very different kind of life.

Of course, none of this is actually evidence for or against a creator, it is merely pointing at some things that could or could not be chance and saying "look, someone did that." If you want to know more on this, look up the Anthropic principle. Please.

Here is the problem. Bell's argument that science does not do very well when dealing with certain things is not relevant, and the rest of his argument falls into the classic "God of the gaps" paradigm.

No sane person would dispute that science does not have a very keen grasp on the entirety of existence. Science is more about questions than answers, and when it comes to things like love and our emotions and intuitions, we're still discovering things about how the human brain works. Does that mean there is a soul in the classical sense, something that we can never see or understand because it's immaterial? No, it does not. Maybe we'll come to think of the neural energy that inhabits our brain as a "soul" at some point, but this is leaps and bounds away from the "some phenomena have no rational explanation" that we're expected to go with here.

Now, understand one thing. I'm not attempting to say that Bell's intentionally misrepresenting science or has some kind of malicious purpose here. If anything, he appears to have read extensively on the topic, which is an excellent thing to do before writing about it. Indeed, he references evolutionary theory, the emergence of consciousness, the formation of life, and many other things that indicate that he has a functional understanding of current scientific theory.

The real hangup I have here is that he runs up against the questions which do not yet have answers, and immediately inserts his faith to fill in the gaps. In other words, because subatomic particles do things like disappear and reappear without traveling the distance in between and reality is just so weird and breaks some classical models of science, god. This is not only an exercise in begging the question, it has been done before and will continue to be done by those with religious faith.

All of this I can almost forgive, in light of what comes next.

You see, this is a book about faith, and why it's reasonable. Hence, all of this builds to an overriding point that everyone is a person of faith. To "believe" in the scientific method is the same as to "believe" in god. I won't bother rehashing my last post about faith here, but suffice it to say that this is a blurring of definition at very best. Go read my previous post about faith if you want the full rant. Atheists are not people of faith. For god sake.

Moving on.

This book is an overriding attack on skepticism, defining intellectually honest faith as the ability to say "you can't explain that" and calling it open-minded. Indeed, Bell uses this sort of reasoning later in the book when speaking of practices of slavery and misogyny in the Bible, citing it as being "unbelievably progressive" for its' time. The thing is, when Bell gets into the ancient Hebrew culture and the ancient near-east, he moves back to being spot on with his facts. He's correct that to marry a woman you essentially kidnapped from a culture you are at war with and give her full rights under your culture is progressive for the time. Of course, it's still barbaric, but God is about progressing humanity from barbarism to love and respect and peace.

It's not the facts I have a problem with, or even the observation that religion has sometimes been at the heart of progress. It's the logic. You see, when you continually cite specific examples in a verbose manner and then say "that's god," you're not talking about the historic Christian god anymore. This is why traditional Christians are going to absolutely lose their minds over this book, like all of Bell's other books. His definition of god is so unspecific and open to interpretation and intuitive that it simply lacks a definition other than the most basic philosophical definition of the greatest possible being and the platonic existence of good.

If you want to define god as something that is intuitively understood from the "hum of reverence" within us or our morality or the awe one feels when they look at the universe and how amazing it is, then why not substitute Allah or the Flying Spaghetti Monster instead of Jesus?

Of course, Bell consistently references in his other works the "historic, orthodox christian faith" and how he is part of that "wide stream" of thought. He is correct in referencing this, and in saying that there has consistently been a group of people within christianity that are for progress and science and the truth wherever it lies. The world isn't divided in the way the christian religion would overridingly have us believe, into believers and non-believers. There are people who think, and there are people who are stuck on being told what to believe. Some who think are religious (christian, muslim, jewish, hindu, etc.), and they're good people, oftentimes in spite of what they have been taught by their religious upbringing, or with an understanding like Bell's. Christianity can be defined as peace in the same way many other religions can.

The problem is, once again, a problem of definition. If religion has consistently had to be corrected while claiming authority or correctness for thousands of years, and I am supposed to take my intuitive experiences and simply say there must be a god, then what exactly am I even talking about, and why does he have to exist or be the Christian god? It is simply impossible to define god intuitively and still be a Christian, because Jesus being god is not an intuitive claim, it is a historical and mythological claim, as well as being an irrational leap of faith and, for Bell, metaphysical.

The problem with Bell's reasoning isn't that he has too many of his facts wrong. The problem is that he is trying to have his cake and eat it too. He asserts that he is part of the wide stream of the historic, orthodox Christian faith, but then god must be intuitively understood. He asserts that the Christian god is progressive as a way of getting around the moral implications of his religion's very real and very bloody historic activity and that Yahweh was a god of war that commanded the death of women and children and then cites other examples. You simply cannot have it both ways. Either you trust in the authority of historic Christianity interpreted through one or a few of its' sects (protestant or lutheran in Bell's case), or you are talking about a god that is incoherent and defined from multiple, cherry-picked, sources. This is why conservatives/traditionalists are angry about Bell. They are purists, and Bell jumps off from the Bible into many other things and then plays semantical games until it is all god, a process that they term as "watering down" Christianity, but that Bell explains as seeing god in everything.

Not only is this book a case of a "god of the gaps" concept being brought forward in the context  of science, it is a case of a "god of the emotional gaps." Because I have an experience and I don't know why or I can't explain it or I feel awe or the presence of something mysterious, I am then inserting god as the explanation for it if I'm going by Bell's logic here.

All of that said, I echo what Bell says in the very beginning of his book in the exact opposite way he means it:

"Much of what I've written here comes directly out of my own doubt, skepticism and dark nights of the soul when I found myself questioning--to be honest--everything."

This entire book hurt me to read because I know exactly where Bell is coming from. I, too, have questioned everything, ever since I learned how to critically think. For that, I have lost friends, been told to "just have faith" in a way hauntingly similar to Bell's contention that all are people of faith, and lost a lot of sleep over what is true and what isn't and whether I would accidentally go to hell or suffer in some other way for asking questions. I still question absolutely everything, because it's how I live, and that nature outlasted my faith, unlike Bell. I've come to no longer trust in historic, orthodox Christianity, as well as the more liberal brand that he is at the center of. However, when I read this book, I see nothing short of desperation, and that he has also paid a very heavy price for being who he is. This is why I have not lost respect for this man. I do not believe this is a book full of good reasoning, but what it is full of is compassion and honesty and the heart of a very real struggle that I understand all too well.

I'd really like it if Bell's god existed. It would give the world a very unique type of hope, and it is very appealing. However, this book really frustrates me because it ignores or misinterprets evidence, equates skepticism with faith through some arguably blurry definitions, brings forward a god so incoherent and semantically flexible that he literally lacks a definition, and then promotes a hope that I would arguably term poisonous. Something can be good and beautiful and make you feel all sorts of good things, but the question is--is it true? If it is not true, that hope is poisonous to you. Think about it.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Atheist Approach: On Faith

I wish to resume my discussion on atheism and just what it is and why I am here even writing this with you. To do so, I believe it is necessary to start over. I will thus be rehashing a lot of old ground here, hopefully in a way that makes more sense. Let's start with faith.

Faith has two definitions, one general and one more specific.

In general, faith is the complete trust of a thing. For instance, I trust that the chair I am sitting in will hold my body from falling onto the ground, I trust that our star will continue emitting solar radiation to keep us alive, and I trust that the computer I am typing on will transmit my message onto a location on the internet for others to read from their internet connection. I trust that certain things are true, even if I do not fully understand them, and even if those things could change, sometimes with drastic consequences. The reason I trust this is because there is a consistent response when I perform an action. I type into this website and it creates posts and I sometimes receive responses from others regarding them. I wake up in the morning or afternoon and I am still alive and not a solid block of ice from our star ceasing to provide warmth. I sit in my chair and I do not end up on the ground.

If I sit down and 10% of the time my chair decides to fall apart or I go through the chair or it is actually a raptor that attacks me, then the remaining 90% of the time when it functions normally and I am able to sit here and work or write or read or play video games are not enough for me to continue to trust the process. I will perform tests like touching it with my hand before placing my full weight on it. It's the same with people...if they let you down or are abusive to you or flake out, you rely on them less and less. It's the same with institutions. If they constantly say one thing and act completely differently, then you stop relying on that institution. This is a loss of trust. One can choose to trust regardless of the pattern because there is more to take into account, such as  screws needing to be tightened on my chair or it not existing beyond a formless projection or my definition of a chair needing to be adjusted to exclude extinct dinosaurs that are in my room for some reason, but in general, blindness is not a part of this trust. This is an active process, one that involves my reason, my senses, and my ability to understand. If I continually or sometimes fall through the chair, or even if I fall through it once or twice and it functions correctly 99% of the time, then I am going to investigate why this has sometimes happened and correct it. Perhaps I am unknowingly using holographic technology that was not adjusted to hold me up properly those few times, or perhaps I am in the Matrix and there was a glitch that caused problems that I will never be aware of, no matter how much I investigate. However, there is an explanation. To assume there is an explanation is part of the process of trust. It would be idiotic to say that the chair is a mystery that will never be understood because answers are not forthcoming. This is not because there might not be an answer, but because it is simply irrelevant. I don't care if it's a mystery why that chair doesn't work sometimes, I want an answer so I don't fall on my ass. In this case, I have lost faith in the chair and I am asking questions. This is not traumatic (unless I fell on a lego or something), it is part of how we interact with things. We find things that give us the results we want and we do them. To choose to "just have faith" in the chair when it has failed me may become a necessity if I cannot figure out why it has failed me (or I'll just buy a new chair), but it is not an acceptable answer when I am theoretically capable of assessing the situation, figuring out what the problem is, and fixing it.

To reiterate: general faith is one's trust in a thing, to "act in good faith" is to move toward answers using patterns and evidence, and when that trust is broken, one no longer has general faith in that thing until it can be re-established using a process that a person accepts as correcting the problem. When a problem becomes irrevocable with a thing one has put their trust in, then one has lost faith in that thing, and they move on. This is what the general definition of faith means.

Faith's special definition is to trust in the existence of God or in doctrines of a religion, based on strong apprehension as opposed to proof. Despite being reassured repeatedly by those with this faith that I either did not have the faith I claimed to have or that everyone has faith, especially those that say they don't, I'd like to think I understand this sort of faith as well. This is the sort of trust that some may characterize as blind. The thoughtful of those with faith will say that they have faith in their god or their doctrines because they work, or because it makes their lives better, or because they intuitively understand it. God's existence is apparent from the nature of the universe around them, for instance. Some may also say that God has been proven through a religious text or through witnessed miracles (like a chair not existing in a tangible sense 10% of the time) that should not be investigated, but should be marveled at, because of the mystery and wonder. This is faith, the thing that puts people in awe.

In other words, faith's general definition is complete trust in something that involves understanding, and faith's specific religious definition is necessarily subjective, intuitive, and lacking in objective proof. However, the common ground we see here is one of trust. Somewhere, for example, a person of religious faith received a message that God exists. This may have been from the natural world and their interpretation thereof, from organized religion, from a proselytizing friend, or wherever. Eventually, they made the choice to trust that person. Or, in the case that there is a god, they interacted directly with that deity and chose to trust in his existence. Considering the turmoil and conflict over which god we could be talking about or if that god exists, this would fall into the category of subjective proof. The point here is that religious faith falls into the same category as general faith because they both involve trust, which is probably why the same word is used for both. However, there is a distinction between the two that I wish to make clear.

It is true that trust is common to all people. However, religious faith is not. Because I trust that math is consistent and representative of reality or that the chair you're tired of me bringing up will hold me up or that weird things happen in our reality will be explained eventually given enough explanation does not make me religious, and it does not mean I have religious faith. Remember, religious faith is specific to something one does not have complete objective proof of. In other words, religious faith is a choice to trust. Though this may become actualized into a person and integrate into their personality, it initially starts with a choice. Perhaps that choice was given to them at an early age before they understood it, perhaps it was made under extreme emotional duress and they do not see the connection between trusting a person, a historic institution, or an event and implying the existence of a god, but that connection does indeed exist.

What we are talking about at this point is two difference mindsets. One says that you have to trust in something, you have to believe in something, and here is why what I believe is the best way. The other says that you do not have to believe anything beyond what you can perceive, understand, and reason through, and I will try to convince you based on the evidence available to me of how reality is. One is open to mystery, and the other is open to evidence.

I would stop trusting in the scientific process being used to gain greater understanding of reality if it began to be unreliable. In that case, we'd need another process. We'd need other theories, other data, and other ways of thinking. This is common sense for most things to most people, because everyone puts their trust in something. However, when this process is applied to religious faith, all sorts of outrage occur if it is rejected. This is because it is commonly understood that religious faith is an exemption, a belief necessarily and rightly held without objective evidence, and there is a special category created for it to exist.

Historically, the religious type of faith has been the only one to exist for a long time. When the crops received no rain, there was a real threat to survival, hence the higher power in control of weather needed to be appealed to. Personally, I can understand this type of thinking today through something as simple as driving. When I drive somewhere and every single traffic light I come to is red, I do not know enough about the way traffic lights work to assume anything other than the "god of traffic lights," or perhaps "fate" is angry with me and wants me to wait, or "traffic engineers" have designed these lights to screw me over. When there is a pattern, people want to find the reason for it so they can get what they want or need out of it. Somewhere in my mind I am also aware that my anger at "fate" or "traffic engineers" is idiotic and that traffic lights work a certain way and I am not being singled out. This is because I understand that there are holes in my understanding of what's going on, and if I studied it, I would find a way around it or at the very least new things to be mad about when it comes to traffic lights and how they operate. This does not make me special, it makes me a logical thinker.

At some point when you are investigating reality, things stop making sense. Whether this is through gaps in your understanding or gaps in our race's ability to understand or our lack of sensory or cognitive ability to grasp it, we sometimes cannot make sense out of things we run into. Great and wonderful or terrible things happen and there is seemingly no reason for it. Miracles seem to happen, we become emotionally invested in things happening around us, we feel strongly about things, and we come to conclusions that make sense to us. To some, God lives in those gaps, fed by the initial trust in the conveyor of the message regarding this god. So God lives in those gaps of our understanding, he is the light by which we see all other things (à la C.S. Lewis) and he is present in the mystery in our lives. This is religious faith.

Then we learn more things, intentionally or unintentionally, about reality. We come to more understanding about our universe, and those gaps get filled. So god lives in other gaps of our understanding, or he was the primal cause of that bit of reality we discovered, or he lives in any mystery that is left, or we become angry at "science" for having some agenda against God and rail against it for disrupting our world. Whatever the case, God has to exist because of religious faith, because one chooses to trust in his existence from a religious book or from the messages they received or from the way they choose to interpret things or from their feelings regarding the mysterious nature of the universe or from the voices in their head or from any other reason that humanity has yet to come to any consensus on whatsoever. We cannot even agree that there is a god, let alone what his name is, which translation of which book talks about him correctly, if any, or if he's not simply a force holding the universe together which is slowly being eliminated from our understanding by scientific and philosophical progress.

Regardless, it is a person's choice to have religious faith. However, not everyone makes that choice. Not everyone chooses to trust in the existence of god or in the truth of religious doctrines. There may be reasons for this if they were previously religious, but regardless, this is not religious faith. Choosing to trust in scientific processes or in oneself or in certain people or in only what they can perceive with their senses and understand empirically and philosophically is NOT the same type of faith as religious faith. It is looking for something that works, and moving forward with it until it doesn't.

For a great many people, myself included, it has become too much to ask to continue to trust in the religion of their upbringing, too much to ask to trust in things with no objective proof being put forward by an institution (or institutions and fragments thereof) with credibility that has been stretched beyond relief by modern scholarship and science. It has become an artifact of their past, and they have moved beyond their shattered religious faith. They require something to put their trust in, because the thing they trusted for a long time is no longer there, and they're realizing it never was in the first place. They still act in a tribal manner, they say "I am an atheist and I am angry at religion and it should be destroyed!" because they're still trying to move out of that mindset, and they feel lied to, betrayed, and like they've wasted a lot of time with pointless guilt and religious fanaticism. So instead of Jesus being their Messiah, Neil DeGrasse Tyson becomes that and they post every photo with a quote of him (real or imagined) they can find because they are trying desperately to trust in SOMETHING and they're driving everyone crazy doing it.

For me, I trusted exactly one leader in Christianity for a very long time, and that trust has recently come to an end. I will be exploring that further than I already have very soon, once I am no longer blindingly angry that the last vestige of my past has pulled the "you just have to have faith, you can't explain that!" card.

However, one must not mistake what it is to be an atheist, at its' core definition. It is to lack belief in gods. I lack that belief because I lack the trust in any of the "facts" I have been presented "proving" it, the institutions telling me that they exist, and I do not see any objective proof for the existence of gods. Questions are not proof, they are questions. Gaps are not proof, they are opportunities for understanding. Religious texts are not proof, they are usually ancient collections of writings preserved by institutions, or, if they are in recent historical memory, imaginative writings that no one is sure of their lasting power or influence.

Being an atheist is not being angry, it is not being anti-religion or anti-religious faith, it is simply not sharing in those things. It is not worshiping Neil DeGrasse Tyson or Richard Dawkins or any other prominent figure associated with atheism (after all, they have almost as little of an idea of what's going on as we do, they just have more data and particular talents for organizing and conveying it). Being an atheist does not mean having every answer and the arrogant certainty that there is no god. I would be happy if someone could prove to me that a god exists, because I miss religious faith a whole hell of a lot. But then, that wouldn't be true religious faith, would it?

The worst part of writing all of this is that I know nothing I say will put any of this discussion to rest by itself. I've heard "I'm not an atheist because I don't have enough faith" or some absurd variation thereof so many times I want to bash my face into my desk until I lose consciousness whenever I read it or hear it just to make it go away, and it won't stop anytime soon. People are too invested, and my voice is too small. However, luckily, I know I am not the only person making this sort of distinction. Those independent of myself, while seeking truth, also come to similar places. They also lose faith for good reasons, and they move on from it.

The atheist lacks religious faith, and no person, religious or not, is correct when they say that atheists are people of religious faith in any sense of the word. The only faith we have is trust in what we see working, the adaptive ability of humanity to seek answers and truth and survival, the ability to trust based on evidence. That should not even be called faith based on society's understanding of what faith is, but if we were to go that route then atheism isn't even a label I should claim because I'm not an anti-theist or think that religion is the sole cause of all of society's problems. C'est la vie.

I was told throughout college to "just have faith" when I had questions about theology. I was told that I should convert to Christianity and "just believe" while holding to the most sincere faith I have ever known and continually asking questions and coming to conclusions in the process. My faith was alive, vital, and full of questions and dizzying moments of ecstatic worship, and 95% of those I came in contact with had written me off entirely because I have a problem with authority and ask questions and most were more concerned about professors telling them, half of the time in class, that I do no believe in the Trinity. My college faith was an exercise in missing the point to most people, and I've come to agree with them for entirely different reasons. Now that I am no longer a person of faith, now that I am an atheist, I'm being told that I have faith because I have to because everyone has faith in something and they're more reasonable so have less faith because obviously God exists, or have different faith and their faith makes their life better than mine so believe in their god. Which god? The one they grew up hearing about or had an emotional experience regarding, of course. One would think that people could make up their mind, and perhaps esteem their primary reasoning for the existence of their god a little higher than ascribing it to their opponents when they claim the opposite, or blindly ascribing it to everyone using blurry definitions and fuzzy thought processes. At the very least, have a little respect. I am angry because people claim to know how I think when they don't have a clue, and people largely seem to lack the basic ability to listen and engage what's being said, because constructing a straw man and attacking it instead is a lot more fun, as are recreating definitions of words like faith until one can make a point that is not true or even relevant.

At this point, I do not give a damn if a single person listens. I write because it comes bursting out of me and I put it here for people to read because I enjoy sharing. If you're still reading, then please continue to do so in the coming weeks as I explore this topic more fully. I appreciate those of you that read what I have to say and if you want to have a conversation with me about it, I'm open to that, as always.

To sum it up: I am an atheist because I do not see evidence for the existence of gods, and every institution that has claimed that god or gods exist has been a dismal failure at convincing me of it. I am not a person of religious faith because I do not choose to believe in things that lack evidence, and I do not trust that the institutions or people telling me to have religious faith are correct.