Category Archives: Random Thoughts

Three Years In – Some Thoughts

Last month marked the three year anniversary of this blog.  What started as a platform for “coming out” as a progressive Christian to my largely Evangelical friends and acquaintances, soon became the logbook of my journey out of religion.  It was never my intention to lose my religion, in fact I actively fought against it, but the desire to have my beliefs line up with reality eventually won out in the end.

It’s interesting to look back at my early posts and see the gradual transition from faith to reason.  I started off being an outspoken advocate for the teachings and life of Jesus, social justice, and progressive Christian values.  My frustrations with organized religion and self-reflection can be seen in my post where I lament, “It’s a long, messy road when you start picking through your faith, when you start dissecting everything you’ve been taught and believed.”  This frustration soon lead to my break from the Church.   Not long after, I came out publicly as a non-believer, denounced Christianity and its teachings.  I dabbled briefly in mysticism, but science and reason eventually prevailed.

Since that first year, my blog has focused mostly on science, critical thinking skills, counter-apologetics, and calling out bullshit when I see it.  As an atheist living in the Midwest, I feel a certain responsibility to speak out for other non-believers, letting them see that it’s OK to be an open and outspoken secularist.

One of the blogs that made an impact on me when I was de-converting was Neil Carter’s “Godless in Dixie“.  As a former pastor-turned-atheist living in the Bible Belt, he wrote from a place that I could relate to.  He was also kind enough to answer my emails and provide encouragement.  My hope is that Second Journeys can provide that for someone else.

Now in my third year of writing, I’ve been once again doing some self-reflection.  Perhaps it’s time to make some changes in the focus of my writing and my overall mindset in general?

The catalyst for this thinking came from reading James A. Lindsay’s Everybody is Wrong About God.  The book is a “call to action to address people’s psychological and social motives for a belief in God, rather than debate the existence of God.”  A good summary of the book would be, “The debate about God has long been settled, atheism has won out, so now what?”  Lindsay’s book challenged my thinking on a number of points and made me reconsider my approach to talking about religion.  I want to hash through some of these points here.

Lindsay argues that apologists have been unable to provide any evidence for the existence of God, therefore theism is dead.  As such, atheism should also go away, as it has no purpose of meaning anymore: “By dwelling on atheism, we dwell on the debate, and by dwelling on the debate, we perpetuate its counterpoint, theism, as something debate-worthy instead of something that already lost. […] It’s time to move on, and the path we should follow is to stop pretending that theism deserves serious consideration.”

When Bill Nye debated Ken Ham a couple of years ago, many atheists and scientists were upset at Nye for giving Ham a platform to promote his pseudoscience.  They felt that it only helped validate his position and did little in the way of changing opinions.  I think there’s a lot of truth to that, and to the idea of debating theists in general.  By engaging in debates over topics where there is no longer a debate to be had, are we really accomplishing anything other then giving credence to their views? 

Lindsay points out that debating can have the opposite effect of what is desired – people often becoming even more  entrenched in their views when faced with contradicting information.  Unfortunately, facts and evidence don’t carry the weight that they should with many people.  In religion, devout believers have mastered a myriad of tricks and techniques to avoid critical thinking and make their beliefs impossible to falsify.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the field of apologetics, the so-called  “defense of the Christian faith”.  I’ve talked about apologetics failures before, but Lindsay boils the typical apologetic arguments down to this simple observation, “All these people are saying is that they lack an explanation for these admittedly complex and mysterious phenomena and don’t like the resulting feeling of psychological discomfort enough to pretend they have one in a myth called ‘God'”.

Lindsay observes that at this point in history, apologetics has become a very redundant and foolish endeavor.  Using Sam Harris’s metaphor of religion providing comfort to people the same way that believing there is a diamond the size of a refrigerator buried in one’s back yard might provide comfort, “Taking this metaphor at face value, if religion is believing that there’s a diamond the size of a refrigerator buried in one’s yard, theology is arguing over the brand of the refrigerator.”

So what does this mean for atheists and those like myself?  For one, it means being very selective about who we choose to have debates  (discussions) with regarding theism (or creationism, climate change, etc.).  While some people may be in a place where they are open to hearing new information and are genuinely curious, most have no intentions of changing their pre-determined stance.  This can be tricky to do, especially if you’re someone like me, who enjoys a good debate.  Lindsay points out that, “Because nonbelievers are branded with this unfortunate word (atheist), they are suddenly expected to defend a lack of belief, a burden that isn’t there’s and yet they routinely accept for themselves. […] Part of the nature of this trap is that it enables religious people to misunderstand atheism as a thing like a religion, which they reliably do.”  

This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t make efforts to correct false information and dispel myths when we encounter them.  It simply means not getting drawn into the futile debates, or “lose ourselves in the weeds” as Lindsay says.  Don’t give validity to empirically false ideas by engaging in debates with people unable to handle critique or process contradicting information; i.e. people who suffer from cognitive dissonance.  Be honest. Be direct. Be unapologetic.  State the facts, sight your sources, and move on.  If someone counters, demand evidence and be open and willing to listen if they provide any.  This is not an attempt to shut down discussions in any sort of forceful way, but rather to “facilitate productive conversations that move us forward.”

Equally important, however, is being able to also admit when you don’t have a solid answer.  There’s nothing wrong with saying “I don’t know” and it’s certainly preferable to false certainty.  As Lindsay states, “Honest doubt and frank ignorance are vastly superior to pretending to know or believing for the sake of believing, so far as intellectual virtues go”.

Finally, it is important to acknowledge and understand that peoples’ beliefs in God come from somewhere. “‘God’ means something when people say it, and that something is related to their attempts to meet psychological and social needs.  These needs manifest primarily in three ways: attributional, for a sense of control, and regarding sociality.  When people talk about their ‘God’, they are talking about how they make sense of ideas that allow them to meet or ignore these needs, and they are telling is that they do not really know how to meet them.”   People of faith are not stupid, delusional, or mentally ill – they simply have wrong information about the world we live in.  Wrong information can be corrected.  With this in mind, it is important to not simply tear down false ideas, but to also build up correct ones.

Above, Lindsay points out three main needs that religion provides for people, and we need to be prepared to help meet those needs post-theism.  If we are going to debunk supernatural claims about the world, we need to be providing natural explanations (attributional).  We need to help people understand that the world can be a scary place, but you are ultimately in charge of your life (control).  Alternatives when it comes to the social benefits that church once offered also need to be met (sociality).  There’s no denying that churches often do community really well.  Non-believers are lacking in this department and we need to be better at providing social interactions for people looking to get out of religion.

So what does all this mean for myself and for Second Journeys?  Honestly, I’m not quite sure!  Just as my personal journey out of faith (and this blog) evolved over time, I’m sure it will continue to evolve over time, just in a different direction.

It will likely mean spending less time on counter-apologetics, both on this blog, on social media, and in person.  Theists aren’t coming up with new arguments for the existence of God, just repackaging and rehashing the same old ones anyways.  I plan on continuing my “Mythbusters” series and calling out false information and stereotypes.  I will also continue to promote critical thinking skills and provide tools and resources.  A helpful addition may be giving people a glimpse of life on the other side of religion, providing resources, and maybe working on some sort of on-line community for people.  This will be as much for my benefit as anyone else.

I think Lindsay is right that it is time for us to move forward into a “post-theist” society, similar to what Scandinavian countries have done.  “The next rational step is to stop treating the idea of ‘theism’ seriously at all.  The war of ideas is over.  The goal is not to create an atheist society so much as to create one that has left the idea of ‘God’ behind in its superstitious past.”  It’s time to move past the atheism/theism debate and start constructing new, healthier, evidence-based world views and trying to solve real world problems.  This doesn’t mean shying away from using the term “atheist”, but simply acknowledging that you don’t believe in a god and moving on to more important matters.

Thanks for reading.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inspirations and Resolutions

I’m currently reading John Francis’s inspiring book Planetwalker.  It recounts the story of his 17 year vow of silence and his 22 year commitment to not riding in motorized vehicles.  During this time he manages to walk across America, from the Pacific to the Atlantic, hike across Cuba and Brazil, and visit both Alaska and Antarctica.  Oh, and he also earned college and graduate degrees as well as a Ph.D.

Here I thought running a half-marathon was an accomplishment!

One particular part of the book really stood out to me.  After the first few months of silence, Francis makes this observation:

“From this new place lessons come, or perhaps realizations.  The first is that most of my adult life I have not been listening fully.  I only listened long enough to determine whether the speaker’s ideas matched my own.  If they did not, I would stop listening and my mind would race ahead to compose an argument against what I believed the speaker’s idea or position to be, which I would interject at the first opportunity.  Giving myself permission not to speak, not to attack some idea or position, also gives me permission to listen fully.  Giving myself this permission gives the speaker permission to speak fully their idea or position without fear of rebuttal in a way that I could not have imagined.”

I realize that I am totally guilty of this.  With my wife, with friends, even on social media.  As someone who is not afraid of conflict and has no problems speaking his mind, this tendency of  formulating an argument in my head before the other person is done speaking is all to common.  Even on social media and emails, I tend to only skim over a persons response to get the gist of what they’re saying and then immediately start writing a rebuttal.

I’m going to start paying more attention to this.  In the last several months as I’ve started “coming out” to people about my faith (or lack there of), there have been many times when I’ve been put on the defense and felt I had to explain myself.  There have been other times when I’ve seen a comment or article someone has posted and feel compelled to say something about it.  More often then not this cycle of speaking more then listening comes into play and little is accomplished in way of seeing the other’s point of view.

While we are in the mindset of making resolutions, I’ll be doing more writing this year.  When I started this blog I had the goal of doing one article a week.  That slipped to about one a month.  It’s not that I don’t have anything to say, it’s just that writing is a lot of work and I’m lazy.  In Planetwalker, Francis received an art kit and decided to paint one picture each day.  He notes that, “Some are unsatisfying except for the fact that at least I did a painting.  But each page represents a day, and I believe in the promise that the next day will be better.”  So, I resolve to write one post a week, even if it’s unsatisfying.

I also resolve to be even more honest with my writing.  One of the goals of this blog was to be open about my faith, the changes I’ve made in my thinking, and who I am because of it.  I’ve done that to an extent, but not fully.  I’ve held back, knowing that some of my ideas, while solely my own, will be challenging to some and they may even feel threatened.  It’s sometimes a little scary putting yourself out there when you know how others will react.  It’s not that I care what others think, it just gets old having people tell you how wrong/crazy/mislead/apostate you are.  2015 is the year of coming clean, of leaving behind the old and venturing towards the new.  Here’s to a new year.

Cake or Death?

The other day, my wife and I received a letter in the mail informing us that we had won two round-trip plain tickets to anywhere in the states and two nights hotel stay.  Sweet!  So, I call the number to claim our price and find out that we had to attend a 90 minute presentation on how we can save big money on future vacations!  Ah, yes, this old game.  Well, the wife and I did end up going and receiving our free gift without being duped into spending $9500 dollars on a travel club membership.  (BTW, if any of you end up going to one of these, we found out that all you have to do to get out of their sales pitch is say, “Dave Ramsey says I can’t afford this right now”.  They will loose. their. shit.) 

I’m a pretty stubborn person as it is and with the years I’ve spend working around prisons inmates, I’m use to having people try to trick, manipulate, or talk me into things and have developed a very acute bullshit detector.  So, going to this presentation didn’t really pose much of a challenge and it wasn’t a hard decisions to make on whether or not we should go.

Now imagine if when I had called the number, the person that answered told me that when we attended the presentation we would have two choices:  to either accept the membership that they were offering (for the low, low price of $9499.99!) and have a lifetime of exclusive deals on vacations, or we would both be drug into the next room and beaten within an inch of our lives.

Umm…  No, thanks.  I think I’ll pass.  You can keep the airline tickets.

What kind of sales pitch is that?  Who in their right mind would actually be interested in this?

It reminds me of another sales pitch I’ve been hearing for year from certain people:

“Accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior!  If you don’t, you will go to hell where you will suffer for all eternity.”

That doesn’t sound too enticing either, does it?  Yet, that’s exactly the message, whether directly or implied, that many churches are using to “evangelize” people.  I’m not going to get into the different theologies regarding hell, but I am going to say that people need to stop using it as tool to try and control, manipulate, or influence people.

Here’s the deal, if you really want people to have a relationship with Jesus, quit using fear as a motivator.  Who wants to be in any kind of relationship where fear is a dominant factor?

Quit twisting Jesus’s message of love, peace, and acceptance and turn it into a cattle prod to corral people into your social club.  Jesus’s primary focus was on this life, not on the afterlife.  When he spoke of the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven, he was referring to establishing a kingdom of peace and fulfillment here on earth.  While Jesus would often refer to Hell, it was always in the context of saying, “You won’t be a part of my kingdom here on earth if you choose to continue on the path you’re going.”  It’s also important to remember that he saved his harsh critiques for the religious leaders who thought they knew who was “saved” and who wasn’t and who tried to use their religion to control people.

Quit talking about this “God of Love” and then make him out to be some psychotic, angry lunatic who’s hell-bent (no pun intended) on punishing people for all eternity who don’t believe the right things about Him.

Because guess what; it isn’t working!

4000 churches close their doors every year.  More and more people, especially young people, are leaving the church and no one is coming in to fill their spots.  The “turn or burn” message is falling on deaf ears.  Maybe it’s because people can see the glaring contradictions.  Maybe they can see the hypocrisy of it all.  Or, maybe some people are just tired of being told they’ll be punished forever for not living up to some person’s or religion’s expectations.

If your god is loving one second and cruel the next, if your God will punish people for all eternity for sins committed in a few short years, not amount of clever marketing or compelling language or good music or great coffee will be able to disguise that one, true, glaring, untenable, unacceptable, awful reality. – Rob Bell

I’ve heard it said that we need to tell people about hell and tell people about the consequences of their actions.

No, we don’t.

We need to respect people and the decisions they make and be ready to give them some help along the way if they need it.  There are consequences to sin, certainly.  But those consequences are already felt by all of us, every day, as we live in this broken world.

I find it interesting that people where so drawn to a lowly, Jewish peasant that they were willing to give up everything to follow him. When he spoke to those around him, he gave a message of hope a better life here and now, not after we die.  The message of Jesus looses all it’s power if it’s reduced to nothing more then a question of who get’s into heaven and who doesn’t.

Following Jesus: You’re Doing it Right

My wife said to me the other day that it’s good to have a balance in the subject matter of one’s writings.  I asked her what she meant, to which she replied: “Don’t always be so negative.  People like to read positive things too!”  My reaction was much like The Dude’s in The Big Lebowski when The Stranger confronts him about swearing:

But, after realizing that my wife is in many most ways, much wiser then myself, I decided to take her advise.  So this post will (hopefully) have a different tone then my other ones.

I spend a lot of time on this blog bemoaning the shortcoming and failures of conservative Christians/Evangelicals and I’m certainly not the only one on the internet doing so.  But, I think it’s worth while to show the other side of the coin, the side that doesn’t enough attention. The side of humanity, whether Christian or not, that is quietly loving those around them in their own small way.

I came across this video recently and it really touched me.  I have a heart for the homeless, and seeing everyday, common people taking an active role to bettering their lives puts a big smile on my face:

This is what it’s all about!  This is what caring for “the least of the these” looks like!  When I see the gentleman’s reaction at 2:11, I can’t help but think of Jesus bringing good news to the poor and how they must have reacted to his random acts of kindness.

What I really like is how deliberate and selfless this act is.  Whether it’s dropping money in a cup on the street or into a collection plate in church, neither requires a personal investment.  This kid obviously did his research and found out the things that homeless people most need and then took the time (and money) to put the backpacks together.  But, best of all is the act of getting personal  with the people he meets.  He asks them their names, asks about their life, sits down with them, talks with them, let’s them share a song.  Taking a moment of your time to sit and talk with someone can often be just as meaningful as a material gifts.  This kid gives both.

Stories like this give me hope.  They make me realize that there are people out there doing it right and making a positive impact on their community and on the world.  People like this inspire me to keep seeking the greater good, to not get stuck in a pit of my own negativity and loathing, but to take that energy and do something good with it.  What a different world we would live in if everyone would follow his example.