Archive for January, 2009

It’s a mystery.

January 30, 2009

Do you ever get annoyed when, during a debate with a theist, they retreat into “God is mysterious; we just can’t understand him,” when they are confronted with something contradictory or un-answerable?

 

So then, you say, “But you’ve just told me all this stuff about God; how can he be unknowable?  Either you know him or you don’t.”

 

And then the reply is, “We can only understand what he has revealed to us,” and maybe, “Humans are incapable of fully understanding the mind of god.  We’ll get to learn everything in heaven.”

 

And that’s pretty much a conversation-stopper.

 

But…

 

Were you ever in conversation with a theist who tried to stump you on what banged the big bang?  “Maybe,” they say, “it was God?”

 

And you say, “No, look, just because we don’t know all the details about something doesn’t mean God did it.

 

And they respond, “But you should consider the possibility, if you are as open-minded as you say you are.”

 

So you say, “Of course I will consider it if we find evidence to support it, but we don’t have that.”  (Hopefully, during this discussion, you have already defined “evidence” and explained how a hypothesis needs to be testable, repeatable, and disprovable.)  “Besides, everything we know now about the way the world works was once a mystery that we solved because we found evidence.  So even if something is unknown now, it isn’t unknowable, and we will learn about it someday.”

 

And this may also be a conversation-stopper, though I don’t think it needs to be.  We can talk a lot more about science than we can about Heaven and where it is and how we get there and what we find when we get there.

 

But it occurred to me that these two arguments are very nearly the same; they both simply say, “We don’t know yet.”  If one is invalid, shouldn’t the other one be?

 

Plus, do we really want “conversation-stoppers”?  I’d rather end a discussion with something we agree on rather than one party slinking away wondering why they couldn’t explain the reason the other party’s logic was faulty, and then coming up with a really good reason at 3 AM that night.

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Bible study: the day after

January 30, 2009

It wasn’t actually a Bible Study, it was a Small Group.  With churches I’ve attended in the past, these have tended to be the same thing.  But I forgot that this church is pretty light on the Bible learnin’.  And, there’s a bit of a personality cult going on with the pastor, Mr Appeals To Emotion. 

So anyways, this Small Group was like a mini-church, where we had worship songs and a little tiny lesson on DVD prior to the discussion.  When humanism came up, we were supposed to define the humanist worldview, and someone immediately said, “I am god,” as in humanists believe that they are gods.  I was surprised (in retrospect, I shouldn’t have been) and I started to offer an accurate definition of a humanist worldview, and the group leader looked at his little guide and said no, it was a little more along the lines of what the first guy said.

I smiled.  “I am a humanist, and I can tell you, that’s not what it’s about.”  That got their attention.  They asked me to explain more and so I did.  I don’t think I did too great of a job, but I think they got the main point, that humanists believe that we can make the world a better place based on what we learn using the scientific method, and how it’s also a system of ethics based on human knowledge rather than divine revelation.

The best part was probably when the woman sitting next to me looked at the leader and said, regarding the “I am God” thing, “That’s probably just the spin the church is putting on it.”

Good for her!

Anyways, it never really came out that I’m an atheist, though the leader and his wife know.  I was going to mention it at an an appropriate time, but then my husband told his testimony, which is very powerful.  So it quickly became an inappropriate time to tell my un-testimony  🙂

One person did say, though, following my husband’s testimony, that she didn’t understand how anyone could hear that and not believe in God.  Oh, how I wanted to tell her.

It was a stressful night.  I really felt like I didn’t belong there.  I would like to be a sort of ambassador for humanism and atheism, but I couldn’t get over the awkwardness of trying to be considerate.  So, maybe next week.

I did learn something very useful, however, about worldviews.  Well, actually, I think “philosophy of life” would be a more accurate term than worldview, since a philosophy determines what you do, why you do it, what you expect to result from it, and how to function in the world and interact with others.  I learned that my philosophy has been a sort of going along with whatever happens.  Of course I would have said I had a Christian philosophy, but as far as my personal behavior (as opposed to my belief system), I was definitely a go-alonger.  This came under some pretty serious pressure two years ago, and I realized that it’s not a good philosophy at all.  It failed me at the most stressful period in my life, and a good worldview would get me through that unscarred and improved (or at least improved).

So last night reminded me to get back to work assembling a worldview and a value system that I can hold to– something that can get me through stressful periods.  I was working on defining my values this morning.  As for humanism, I need to examine it more closely and learn what I agree with and be able to describe it to the random people who will ask me what I believe.  (Like the random people who ask me about Pascal’s Wager.  Agh!)

So the Small Group was surprisingly useful.

Bible study. Again.

January 29, 2009

I’m going to a young couples Bible study tonight (I deleted the scare quotes), and I’m still not sure why. I mean I’ve been married for nine years and I’m almost 30, so I’m barely even a young couple, much less a student of the Bible. To top it off, I already know the Bible better than my husband.

But I did get a sneak peek at the study guide, and we start off by defining worldviews, including humanism. I think hedonism was on there, too. So this should be fun all around.

Calm down and be rational.

January 26, 2009

Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get in back, when brown can stick around … when yellow will be mellow … when the red man can get ahead, man; and when white will embrace what is right. That all those who do justice and love mercy say Amen.

This little song that I’m singin’ about,
People you know it’s true
If you’re black and gotta work for a living,
This is what they will say to you,
They says, “if you was white, should be all right,
If you was brown, stick around,
But as you’s black, hmm brother, get back, get back, get back”

Lowery’s benediction was almost completely awesome.  It was lovely and heartfelt and poetic.  And then he had to go and say something that, even assuming he had the best of intentions, was a stupid thing to say.  Whoever approved his speech should have ex’d that.  It might not have been racist; I’m going to guess he was trying to say that the days when that old rhyme was written are coming to an end, or maybe he was mocking those stereotypes.

It was offensive.  It’s generally not a good idea to abbreviate a person to their skin color.  And Lowery of all people knows this.  But something that another person will mock you for can be something that you take pride in.  Gay Pride, Black Pride, Girl Power. 

So even while it was offensive, I didn’t take offense.  Lowery doesn’t know me, so he can’t insult me.  He doesn’t know who I am and he wasn’t talking to me.  What’s the saying; nobody can insult you without your permission?  That’s not right…  But you get the idea.

The fact is that there is still discrimination.  There is still racism.  There are still whites who think they are better than their neighbor with darker skin (my parents-in-law are among this group of whites); there are still places where all the events in his poem are still a problem (except I admit I don’t know what the mellow yellow thing was all about). 

But speaking as a white person, I do not feel guilt or shame by association simply because another white person might be racist.  Their issues are their own.  I do my best to do what is right every day, and if someone wants to put me into a group and check off a box labeled “non-Hispanic White”, I don’t really care.  It’s nothing to do with my identity.

So to anyone who wants to express their indignation and outrage at how offensive Lowery was, I say, shut up and grow up.  Stop being so thin-skinned.  You’re only showing your fear of being considered racist; you’ve never been racist and how dare he when you never owned a slave and he hurt your feelings.  Get over it.  You might be right about Lowery being offensive and even racist, but that doesn’t mean you should take it personally.  He doesn’t know you and you don’t know him.  So calm down and be rational.

To anyone who wants to say that this is an example of Black entitlement playing the victim, demanding reparations, taking handouts and living on the public dollar; to those who assume that a poor black man is lazy while a successful one only has it because of affirmative action and doesn’t deserve it; to people who complain about how hard they have to work and how many jobs they’ve been qualified for but were given to a minority candidate… well, that last one is interesting.  But these people are racist.  They may have good points about the unfairness of affirmative action, and I’m sure some people on welfare are lazy.  But they all aren’t; and all black people certainly aren’t on welfare simply because they’re lazy.  And then these people turn around and say Lowery’s over-generalization about White people is racist.  They would know, wouldn’t they?  At any rate, these people can’t be reasoned with.  They don’t care if the unfair treatment they face is no less or greater than other people’s.  They just know it is their unfair treatment and therefore it is inexcusable.  And to start showing your racism with this kind of talk just because an old Black man dared to suggest that White people are ever wrong… Calm down.  Be rational.

To those who would say Lowery should be held accountable, you are right.  Obviously.  An apology would be nice– not simply because he hurt people’s feelings, but because he should show that he understands he said something wrong and divisive, and because he caused the only real bad note at an otherwise wonderful inaugural celebration.

To say that Obama should be held accountable because he dared to laugh at an old Civil Rights War veteran’s joke… Calm down.  Be rational.  Haven’t you ever laughed at race humor?  We laugh to take the sting off; we laugh because they are sometimes true.  On the other hand, I can’t laugh at sexist jokes although I understand that they are witty.  So I get that some white people aren’t amused by Lowery.  But it’s okay.  Just say you aren’t amused.  Calm down and be rational.

So let’s say an old black man is racist.  So were all my grandparents.  They didn’t have it right.  And the day when everyone– white or not– does embrace what is right has not yet come, and Lowery’s prayer is valid.

Even if Lowery’s words were divisive, you can choose unity. Don’t let him tell you what to do.  Just roll your eyes at another racist old man and get over it.

Privacy revisited

January 26, 2009

Yesterday at church, I had to check in on the computer before I could enter a building.  I was tricky and got in anyways.  So then as I was leaving, I went up to the computer kiosk people and asked them a few questions.

“Hello, I’m concerned about the privacy of my data.  What is it being gathered for and how long will it be stored?”

*blank looks*

*I wait*

“Uhm, it’s being gathered for church security and for records, it will be kept as long as we have the database, and we won’t be selling the information or giving it away, so don’t worry.”

“Oh, I’m not worried about that.  Thank you.”

Then I walked away, giggling at the notion that they might be wondering, “Then what is she worried about??”

The right wing

January 22, 2009

Did you ever find yourself on a conservative news site, reading the comments on an article?  Did you not feel a sort of horror that people could be so… different (to put it politely) and rude (also an understatement)?

Then did you ever comment to express your disagreement?

And how many bad names were you called?

Is it worth it?  Or is this Intarweb culture just too supportive of the people who aren’t interested in civil debate?

Alternatively, where can I find those people who are interested in civil debate?

The illusion of privacy

January 21, 2009

My husband and I went to our church marriage class last week. We had quit for awhile because they were having a series on step-families. So now they are doing a video series. And on the first day of this, we notice something new: a little computer kiosk on wheels outside the classroom.

We didn’t think anything of it. But then we noticed that, instead of the usual “Hello my name is” stickers, everyone in the class was wearing printed-out stickers. It turns out that the church has started checking in people who attend the classes. I guess it’s for security, and also probably for statistics. But once I heard this, I had a bad reaction. And I told my husband,

It’s bad enough that there are computers somewhere that store my spending habits, credit rating, TV and internet habits, books I buy and check out from the library, how much gas I buy, where I work, my salary and saving plan and investment strategy, and all kinds of things I’m sure I’m not aware of, which may or may not include who I call and what we talk about. And now they want to make a database of how often I go to church? — Worse, how long I attended a religious-based marriage class?

Now, I’m not generally a paranoid person, but the church database really pushed my buttons. The PATRIOT ACT is bad enough. I actually called into a radio station once when they were talking about how library records could be searched without a warrant and without being officially suspected of a crime. I understand that it sounds silly and paranoid to worry about my library records. “Jeez, she checked out Kushiel’s Dart again, that perv.” It’s not that I’m worried about what they’ll find. It’s that libraries and reading and learning are so critical to our nation’s principles of democracy and freedom– freedom of thought and expression, not just speech and religion and owning a gun. For a government to impede or even intimidate citizens with the threat of “we know what you’re reading” is to violate the principles that make us America, and make us civilized.

Listen to me, sounding all patriotic. It’s Obama Fever. (And the only prescription is more cowbell!!)

My point is, before an investigation, there needs to be evidence of wrongdoing, they need to get a subpoena, and they need to defend it before a judge. It’s about accountability, not just my privacy.

So when someone wants to keep track of where I go to church, it’s disturbing. Hopefully, though, I’ll be dead by the time American turns into the kind of country where non-Christians like myself have to go into hiding.

Which makes me wonder what I’d be willing to confess to in order to keep on living… but that’s another article.

I want

January 21, 2009

If the secret to happiness is wanting the things you already have (rather than wanting things you do not have), what do I do with all my dreams of the future? How much should I think and plan? And how do I balance my plans with making sure I am satisfied with what I currently have?

Did Judaism naturally flow into Christianity?

January 16, 2009
How about a little more history of my de-conversion?  I gotta get this stuff written down.

Summer of 2007, I started studying Judaism on the weekends. I was still a Christian at this point, and I wasn’t struggling with my faith or intending to convert. But what I learned about Judaism really opened my eyes.  Here’s the highlights.

Jews have absolutely no need of a savior in the Christian sense.  When the Messiah comes, the idea is that he will set up God’s kingdom on earth, bring peace to the earth, and reinstate Temple sacrifice.  So there’s nothing about a messiah dying for them.  When Jews are talking about salvation, they are usually talking about salvation from Christians! — or at any rate, salvation in this world, not from an afterlife of eternal torment. 

So the idea that the Messiah is supposed to die doesn’t really work; he’s got a job to do, and it doesn’t involve getting himself executed, much less dying for the atonement of sins (which is impossible anyways; more on that below).  Plus, the abhorrence of human sacrifice is a really big deal (and a big no-no) in Judaism.  And another big problem with Christianity, to a Jew, is this idea that God can be conceived, born, and die. It’s blasphemy. And the idea that God is somehow three separate persons is also blasphemy: “YHWH your God is one.”

Furthermore, this whole idea that God requires blood sacrifice is ridiculous to a Jew.  It was a component of proper worship, but only in ancient times, when there was actually a temple to perform the sacrifices in.  But besides blood sacrifice, prayer and good deeds have always been a critical part of a Jew’s relationship with God.  During the time of the Judges, when the Temple had been destroyed, the people asked the current judge what they were supposed to do to please God.  They concluded that prayer and good deeds would take the place of sacrifices (since presumably, if God allowed his temple to be destroyed, he wasn’t going to require sacrifices on it.)  The Jews are not, as a pastor put it to me, “in big trouble” because they have been unable to perform sacrifices.  If God wanted them to have a Temple, he is fully capable of getting that done.  Also, it’s like saying that men are required to keep the laws regarding menstruation: it’s impossible; men haven’t got a uterus.  Likewise, the Jews haven’t got a Temple; therefore, no Temple sacrifice is required.

It is also ridiculous that one person can pay the penalty for another person’s sin.  That is not Jewish.

The most powerful religious idea that I discovered, though, was this: The Jewish law was given only to Jews.

Well, duh, right?  But no.

The Christian idea is that this Jewish law was given to the whole world, and that all the conditions must be met in order to obtain righteousness– and get into Heaven. Christians believe that unless all the laws are met, a person goes to hell.  Conversely, if you fail to keep even one law, you go to Hell.  Hence the need for Jesus to meet all the conditions on our behalf and then die as the necessary sacrifice for our failure to follow the rules. It probably sounds a little wacky, but there it is. And it does make a sort of sense. But it hinges on the following premises:

1. All humans, Jew or non-Jew, must obey the teachings given to Moses;

2. It is impossible that all these teachings be obeyed;

3. Therefore, everyone is kinda screwed. Until Jesus comes and fixes everything.

But Judaism teaches that

1. only Jews are required to obey the law since they are the ones God made a covenant with (after saving them from Egyptian slavery);

2. that these laws are possible to keep (the passages in the Christian New Testament that refer to people who are righteous supports this);

3. and that no Jew (or anyone else) will be eternally punished for failure to follow the rules.

Plus, I challenge anyone to find a Jewish point of law that is literally impossible to keep.  Jews do not say you’d have to want to or feel like doing it all the time, but it is not literally impossible.  Why?

First of all, because the Jewish God is not a jerk. He doesn’t require you to do something that he has made it impossible for you to do. That’s just mean.

Also, because there’s no original sin.  Judaism teaches that every human is born with good inclinations and bad inclinations; we are to nurture the good and reject the bad. 

Plus, the idea that Jesus was specifically a Passover sacrifice has problems, too.  One, because the Passover sacrifice is one of worship, not for sins (the Yom Kippur sacrifice would be the one of atonement).  Two, the sacrifice must be performed in the temple and the blood must be spilled on the altar, whereas Jesus was executed on a hillside.  Three, Jesus is not a lamb, and that is the required Passover sacrifice.  Four, the Passover lamb stays dead.

What kind of “sacrifice” doesn’t even stay dead?  What kind of sacrifice is that?

I had to LOL when I learned all this.  It wasn’t that it shook my faith so much as it obliterated it.  I stopped laughing, however, when I realized I had some bad news for my husband, though.

Don’t you have faith?

January 13, 2009

A (Mormon) friend of mine was stressed out this morning because of a talk she had with her husband last night.  He wants to have children soon, perhaps even before he gets a job (he is finishing school right now).  My friend wants to wait until they have health insurance and he is employed… “and we’ll need a reliable car,” she adds.  Her husband asked her, “Don’t you have faith?”

 

When she told me all this, I tried to remember how faith worked for me when I was a Christian.  I said to her, “It seems to me that faith is what you call the hope that everything you didn’t plan for goes alright.”  You still have to be responsible, especially when you’re bringing a child into the world.  My friend knows this.  But the faith thing threw her off.  So I told her this story.

 

My parents have had some rough times financially.  My dad doesn’t have good business sense and he’s bad with saving and using credit cards, while my mom has good financial habits.  And my mom was a full-time housekeeper with four kids.  When money was tight, my dad would still want to tithe (they were Evangelical Christians).  And mom would say no.  “Don’t you have faith?” my dad would ask, and my mom would get angry.  “Don’t try to guilt me into spending money we don’t have.  Look at the bank account; there either is or is not enough money.  It’s not about faith.”  To my mom, faith in this context was a tool to make her feel guilty.

 

I eased up on the guilt part when I told my friend this.  But it’s important for her to see that possibility, even if she doesn’t agree with it.  She gives her husband a lot of authority in their relationship.  But if she doesn’t feel ready to have children, she shouldn’t have to have them.  She at least wants health care.  I encouraged her not to give in on that one, and she said she wouldn’t.  She’s a very smart woman, and it is at least a little sad that she’s not going to finish law school.  Being a mom is great too… I’m just saying.

 

Furthermore, I can’t help wondering… where does a husband get off pressuring his wife to have children when she isn’t ready?  She will have to spend the time pregnant, get time off work, maybe quit her job, and probably be the primary caregiver.  Myself, I don’t want kids.  And my husband might in the future.  I guess I may change my mind as well.  But as it stands now, if my husband came to me and said he wants a baby, I don’t think that would be possible.  We should probably just move to Chicago so he could be near our goddaughter.  I think he would be happy with that.

 

I like kids quite a bit.  Other people’s kids.  I’m not interested in taking a lifelong lease out on one of them.

 

But if the topic comes up, at least faith won’t enter into it  🙂