Thursday, July 30, 2009

Calling all Pagans, Wiccans, and Shinto.

I have recently been trying to make myself believe in God. Partly as a thought experiment and also out of respect for my Christian friend Tracy who was honest and respectful enough to acknowledge that, at least for her, faith is a choice. In This discussion she says that yes she could choose to believe in another god or no god. I was very touched and moved by this and have been trying to believe in her deity very much. I have been reading the bible(sometething I often do anyway), Praying for the first time in my life, reasoning with god, trying, and failing to set aside all of my rational objections and just believe. I Have Failed.

I know at least one pagan reads this blog and I am going to contact her personally and invite her for discussion, but if there are members of other faiths who wish to discuss their religion with me you are welcome to do so. I would also like to hear you discuss it with some of the Christians who read here. I think if nothing else it could be a wonderful cultural exchange.

I am not saying I want any religion. Regarding Christianity, I would be very willing to believe if I could but that doesn't mean I would worship. As to others I don't know, I am familiar with many religions but not intimately so with all of them. Perhaps there is one that could inspire belief or even worship. Of course as my pagan reader pointed out, maybe it is simply my destiny to be an atheist.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Choosing to Believe

I have been discussing belief lately with an internet acquaintance who gave me some interesting things to think about. It is her position that I could choose to believe in a god. That my desire for evidence is simply an obstacle and that I need to simply set that aside and choose to believe. I had thought to counter this by suggesting that she would be unable to do the same with a god other than her own. I expected the usual silence in response but, instead was impressed and delighted to recieve an honest answer. She replied:

"Yes, I am saying that I could abandon my faith in Christ and CHOOSE to beleive that allah is the true god. Or any other god for that matter. I could CHOOSE to agree with you and decide that God doesn't exist and rule off my "relationship with Jesus" as a delsuion."

I was amazed, and very respectful of her and so I complied with her request and made a sincere effort to believe in a god, first the Christian one and then expanded it to include any deity or pantheon. I failed, but not for lack of trying, I opened myself to believe in any revelation or invitation and when that failed I sought to convince myself by discarding my objections both philosophical and scientific and simply saying "OK your real come to me" that also failed, I tried formal prayer the Jesus come into my heart and be my savior, forgive my sins etc that I learned in my brief exposure to Sunday school some decades ago. I got nothing, so I meditated and focused and just told myself to believe that there must be a god. I couldn't even get to the point of Deism.

What I did discover is that my objection is neither scientific nor philosophical, both science and philosophy absolutely support the lack of gods but they are not the cause of my unbelief. My unbelief is deeper than that, it is an inability to do as my associate does and set aside doubt and objection, an incapacity to compel belief in myself. This lack could be the true distinction between theist and atheist.

I reccomend reading the discussion on her blog it is interesting but if you don't, here is the question I posed to her in my last reply, and I would open it up for discussion to anyone who may be interested. Of course as rarely as I have been updating lately there may be no one interested ;).

Here it is.
"If you are choosing your belief and deliberately putting aside any doubts and uncertainties. How do you know the difference between truth and belief? Since as you said you could choose to believe in Zeus or Allah and you are capable of setting aside doubts, wouldn't such belief be as real and compelling as belief in Christ if that is what you chose? So how would you, in the absence of evidence know that Christ was
more true? It can not be because creation is evidence because many mythos have creation stories. Some don't have clearly false claims like the Christian mythos does, so wouldn't it make more sense to choose to believe in one of those?

It can also not be because of a personal knowledge of Christ because as you said such things are a choice and it seems if you chose belief in Vishnu or Isis you would expeience the same personal relationship. I personally know a Shinto who feels the presence of Kami, and several Native Americans who feel the power of ancestors or spirits during drumming and dancing ceremonies.

In the end even if you choose to believe you need some criteria by which you choose what you will choose to believe. What is that criteria? If I were going to force myself to believe I would find something that doesn't offend my moral sensibilities such as Deism or an animistic pantheism such as Shinto, Druidism, or Native American religion, all of which I find have more value and are more compatible with reality than Christianity.

So to sum if belief is a choice that I can make, and I can manage it, by what criteria should I decide to believe Christianity over another belief system? Also by what evidence do you support this criteria, and is that evidence objective or simply something else you have chosen to believe in.

I hope this doesn't sound mocking, that is not my intent, these are the sort of questions most Christians tend to dance around and since you seem sincere in answering I am asking with equal sincerity."

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Making sense out of parables..

This is just about the best take on the fig tree parable yet.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Worshippers Box.

I have been talking a bit with Christians on various blogs and such and have noticed certain differences in the way they think and the way I do. I don't say this so much to insult them but more to point out that the atheist/theist divide may be as much about barriers to communication as it is about knowledge and education.

One thing I have noticed is the definition of evidence. To a worshiper, faith comes first. So from the perspective of faith, anything that might support their worship is evidence no matter how vague. That is why, many of them will with complete sincerity point to a few, short references to early Christians and their practices as proof that their man god was real. They also take a, clearly forged passage added to the works of the scholar Josephus as proof of the existence of Christ. To a believer this is sensible and they see non believers like myself as being stubborn fools for not recognizing it. To me however all of the references put together, including the gospels, at the very best prove that there was a man named Yeshua, who led a cult. He was executed for heresy, his followers founded a very successful religion and eventually wrote a bunch of stories about him that they may or may not have believed to be true. There are no historical witnesses who actually document miracles and resurrections. There were many scholars and commentators at the time who very likely would have commented on a man raising the dead, curing plague victims and the blind, performing powerful magic and rising from the dead himself. This video gives a list of such scholars that failed to notice these supposed miracles and also gives a case against the sources who do. It is not definitive but certainly useful and interesting.

The other trait I have seen that distinguishes the believers mindset from the non believer is that the believer sees the world as being about worship. I have seen many Christians have an incredibly difficult time believing that someone doesn't worship something. Even if you can convince them that you don't secretly believe in their god and just pretend not to because you love to sin, they will still act as though you worship someone. Charles Darwin is a favorite. Christians love to call us evolutionists and act as though we worship Darwin. They go to great lengths to impunge his character, calling him a fascist and anything else they want because they want to "destroy our faith." I read a very long multi thread discussion where this one, obviously fanatical, minister had claimed that Darwin was a social pariah and womanizer. After much biographical evidence refuted that he began claiming that the ships logs of the HMS Beagle had the captain recording that Darwin was a habitual hash smoker. Eventually a great deal of research, culminated in proving he was a liar and that there was no such reference, he then claimed Richard Dawkins had hidden away those portions of the log books. You get the idea. Anyway even though we had fun disputing him, chastising him for bearing false witness and generally showing him to be a loon and a liar, we didn't need to. If Darwin were all of those what? It wouldn't change his theory, it wouldn't change all of the work that had been done since, it wouldn't make his work less important. I have also been accused of worshiping professor Dawkins, and of course Satan. I think the confirmed Christian really believes such tactics will work. Not necessarily because he is stupid but because it is how he views the world working.

I think atheists often have the same problem. We in general, like evidence. I know I have a very difficult time understanding how I can present, iron clad conclusive proof of something, and have the Christian I am discussing counter with some absurd and barely comprehensible psuedo science, or even more likely a bible verse. Again I think this is not because they are necessarily less intelligent, but because evidence means different things to them. To them an insignificantly small possibility that science could be wrong about their belief, through the speed of light slowing down or radio carbon dating not working or whatever is proof that such must be the case, because it supports their religion, which they have faith is true. Likewise even the most flawless and solid case that contradicts their religion, must be false because they have faith that their stories are true so it must be the evidence that is wrong.

Evidence does get through to some believers, but I think only those who already have questions anyway. That is why I feel that the best way to truly reach out and show believers a better way is to lead by example. Live as an outspoken and public atheist. Show that you are moral and honest. Live a good life and show that faith is not necessary for virtue or happiness. I think this will create more doubts than a million pieces of evidence. If you want a person to abandon a lifestyle, it would be helpful to offer a better one.

Sunday, July 5, 2009


My family has a tradition regarding Independence day. Ever since my oldest was born, we have made a trip, just the three of us(four after my son was born) to the city of Newport, which is a fishing and tourist town on the northern Oregon coast. Sometimes others will join us, friends, parents, in laws, whoever but the trip is ours.

We set out early it is a hundred mile drive and we want a whole day. On the drive, like almost all our drives, we talk constantly. I find out all of the little details of my kids lives and friendships and interests, I tell stories, in this case all about why we celebrate on the fourth of July. We admire the view and talk about the sites. The trip over the coast range to Newport is very much worth admiring. I have said before that Oregon is the most beautiful place on earth and this is one of those drives that demonstrate that.

When we arrive it is activity time. The fireworks show over the bay is the premise for going and we don't miss that but the rest of the day is about adventures. Some new some old.
First we went to the Marine science center. Newport has a great commercial aquarium and we visit sometimes but the science center is just as fun, only asks donations and is somewhat educational. I also like that the "exhibits" all relate to work that the scientists are actually involved in. Much of this is about invasive species which is a very big deal in Oregon. We watched videos, played games watched storm patterns on a big interactive fiber optic globe. We looked at beautiful fish and other marine life. My kids drove a diving craft simulator. We touched urchins, starfish, oysters and anenomese. My son petted and eel. We looked at fossils of whale bones and teeth and learned about whale eating habits. The kids didn't want to leave and we went through more than once.

Then We visited the Yaquina Bay lighthouse, it is a restored structure that only operated as a lighthouse for a few years back in the 1870's. It is (other than electricity and such) a pretty faithful restoration. Each room has period furniture and appliances showing how the people of the time lived and cooked and worked. There is also a ghost story associated with the lighthouse. It is said that in the days when the lighthouse was abandoned and locked up a group of children somehow got the key and entered the house on a dare. They explored the house and left except for a young boy and girl who stayed behind the others. The girl told the boy she had lost her handkerchief and he should go out the front and lock up and she would come out through the kitchen. A few minutes after the boy left he heard screaming and went back in but found nothing but a bloody handkerchief. Since then people claim that they have seen the girls ghost haunting the lighthouse. I have no belief in ghosts, nor do my kids but we love ghost stories and playing pretend so we scoured that house searching for the ghost but no luck.

Next we went to play on the beach. Now for those who haven't been there the beaches of Northern Oregon are not like the beaches of Hawaii or Southern California or the Gulf. Our ocean is cold, not a little cold but painfully cold. My daughter and I couldn't care less. We were out crashing in the waves within five minutes. It wasn't a nice day either, cold wind, and mist were our companions out in the surf. It was glorious. One thing we do is walk out as far as we can and still have her chest out of the water, so that a it looks like the whole world is nothing but waves and sky, we wait for a wave to come in that would bury us and then try to run from it, usually failing completely. When she was very little we played this with her on my shoulders, now we play it hand in hand. I almost dread the day she is big enough to face the ocean without me.

My son on the other hand is no fan of cold water, he prefers exploring the rocks and combing the beach with my wife. They hunt agates, shells and fossils on the beach. After a while my daughter an I joined them in the search. We found some beauties. Several nice agates and two excellent fossils. I found a sand polished rock containing a fossilized mussel or other shellfish and my wife found one that had a fossil of some spiral shelled snail like thing in it. Over the next week or so my wife will be busily trying to identify them. Then followed some sand castle building and rock climing and seaweed fights and just general beach mayhem. The beach was mostly deserted. There was one family barbecuing near the rocks and a couple in the distance flying kites but otherwise just us.

After that we explored the historic bayfront a lot of this is just tourist stuff(which we like as much as any other tourists) but there are a number of wonderful old buildings mixed in with the docks and fisheries. Finally it was time for the fireworks. Sometimes we go out on the bay in a fishing boat to watch but this time we were on the dock. It took forever to get started, an hour later than usual and we considered leaving a few times but we stuck it out and it was worth it. Best show in years. If you have seen a fireworks show and I am sure everyone has you know how at the end they launch a lot of them in rapid series to give a big finally and get the oohs and ahhs. They did that three times. Of course my daughter who freaks out over anything that booms was behaving as if it were the end of the world, but even she peaked out to watch the spectacle. There was a fog out on the bay and the fireworks reflecting between that and the clouds made it look as if the sky were on fire.

Then we tucked our sleepy offspring into the car and had a quiet drive home, gently talking about our day until the kids went to sleep, then talking to each other in the easy way that married people talk when they already know what the other is going to say.

It was a great day, but at always there is a bit of sadness mixed in with the joy and pride as I see my children grow another year, becoming more independent and opinionated, I know the day will come when they are off at college and then married with their own family and traditions and I won't have a little boy to chase ghosts with or a little mermaid princess to dance in the waves with her daddy. My philosophy is all about reveling in the present, but sometimes the future sticks its ugly nose in. However every year brings new pleasures from parenting as well, new games, new conversations, new adventures, and come what may we are storing up memories that we can never lose.

Friday, July 3, 2009

A poem for my little girl, who grows less little each day.

Upon sun dappled lawn in spring
light distilled in green gives birth
of majestic treasure as to a king
Ivory and gold of noble worth

Broided chains grace slim neck
and bracelets slender arms do clad
golden tresses richly decked
as a silver laugh make a father glad

My commandments to me.

Having been lately discussing sin and conscience with a nice Christian lady and also morality with a commenter on another thread I took it upon myself to spell out what exactly my conscience was. It took the form of Ten commandments. Unlike a certain other group of Ten commandments I only require that they be followed by myself, although I recommend them to everyone. This is what I have come to consider the secret of happiness. It is a combination of philosophy and morality that requires no religion but is superior to any that exist.

First. Be happy with what you have, remember that what you have now is what you only once dreamed of. A happy life needs few possessions and true happiness comes from security, friendship and simple pleasures.

Second. do not fear death, while you exist death has not come and when death comes you will no longer exist so what is to fear? Since the eternity prior to your existing is not terrible or menacing why fear the eternity after you exist no longer?

Third. pride is the highest virtue, pride motivates us to be honorable and to avoid bringing shame upon ourselves, pride rewards effort and accomplishment even when those accomplishments offer no tangible payment, pride informs self worth and strengthens us to resist oppression and degradation. Pride condemns us for weakness and encourages our strength.

Fourth. No person has greater intrinsic worth than any other, an assault that deprives another of liberty and security is the same as if it were directed at me. No one is entitled to special favor or accommodation nor is anyone deserving of special harm or disdain. Each must distinguish ones self and defines ones character through actions and example, not circumstance of birth

Fifth. dishonesty is an act of weakness. The strong have no need of it. In the face of oppression it could be needful to deceive in order to preserve life and liberty, but it is still weakness that made the deception necessary. We should strive to live in strength and security so that deception is no part of our lives. Deception also leads to distrust which hampers friendship, and friendship is essential to happiness.

Sixth. Violence, outside of competition and sport is never acceptable unless it is required to preserve life or liberty and then only the minimum necessary to the task must be employed. Killing is not acceptable unless there are no other means which are effective.

Seventh. No person may be denied any personal liberty, save where such liberty would take away from the health, security or liberty of another.

Eighth. No one is entitled to any material thing that they have not been freely given, or earned in payment for goods or services, or built through honest labor.

Ninth. Friendship is essential to happiness and security, to be a good friend is the greatest of skills and to have a good friend the greatest of accomplishments.

Tenth. Life exists now, the past is prologue the future not yet written. While thought for the future is essential for security, Joy can only happen in the present. Take simple pleasures, eat so that you are satisfied, drink so that you are merry, appreciate beauty, love well and often, cherish each moment, savor each sensation, and fear neither death nor gods.