Meaningful Sadness

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged, and I’ve missed the interactions.

After my mother died last summer, I spent some time remembering and grieving as well as making sure my aging father was well taken care of.  Then, completely unexpected, my wife’s father passed away.  This was even tougher for all of us because he was very healthy and none of us saw it coming.  We all thought he’d be around for at least another 25 years. My wife went through several intense phases of grief and things have slowly gotten back to normal this year.

Somewhere in there, Nate Owens sucked me into an addictive game called Destiny (which has been a lot of fun), and that took up a lot of my time, and then in the middle of January my boss at work moved me into a position where the customers always seem to want things yesterday, so that has been quite a time suck as well.

We’ve been sad about not having my mother and father-in-law around.  Our parents were very meaningful to our lives as well as the lives of our children.  Their care, love, and good advice will be remembered for the rest of our lives.  This is why I don’t agree that there is no meaning if you don’t believe in gods.  There is always temporal meaning because the whole idea of gods imparting meaning is gotten from the idea that thinking minds can create meaning – and we are thinking minds.  Yes, our human meaning may not be perfect, may not be eternal, and may not be cosmic or objective, but it can still be strikingly beautiful and inspiring.  The lives of my mother and my father-in-law were beautiful and inspiring to me and my family.

Which reminds me of a video I saw on Brenda’s blog – When we gift people flowers we don’t give them plastic flowers.  We give them real flowers even though real flowers are temporal.

So I have a few questions for my readers:

If you believe that gods exist and you are grateful that they have given you a life that you cherish and enjoy so much, would you stop cherishing and enjoying life if you suddenly found out that gods do not exist?  If you used to believe but no longer do, did your value of your life and your loved ones change?

And if you believe that it is good and right to treat others in a loving way, would you stop treating others in a loving way if you suddenly found out that gods do not exist?

I can see that there may be some who would be more lax about treating others kindly if they stopped believing, but do you think one’s entire value system would break down?  Mine did not.

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Extreme Divine Command Theory

This post is related to my previous one on morality.  The following is a comment by a theist on another blog that I saw a while back (here’s the link to the comment):

THE God, who in the beginning created the heavens and the earth, is Himself the standard by which ALL things are measured. That means when he commands Joshua to kill every man, women, child and beast in Canaan that that is PERFECTLY holy, righteous, just and good. It means that when he causes Israel to eat their own children as reported in Jeremiah 19 that that is PERFECTLY holy righteous, just and good. It means that if He has decreed all of the horrific human misery, suffering and death in all of history that that is PERFECTLY holy righteous, just and good. It means that if He has decreed the existence of billions of human beings for the expressed purpose of casting them into the lake of fire in judgement for sin that He also decreed that that is PERFECTLY holy, righteous, just and good. It means that if He has purposed that everything we consider to be pointless evil, immorally unjust and unthinkably unfair shall be so ordered by divine mechanisms known only to Himself, to His own glory for reasons sufficient unto Himself that that is PERFECTLY holy, righteous, just and good.

 

It also means that His not caring one bit how you (or I) feel about that is most assuredly PERFECTLY holy, righteous, just and good. I sleep like a baby knowing that every time I hear about some gut wrenching blood curdling act of barbaric depravity that my Father God has from eternity seen fit to assign purpose to it that is PERFECTLY holy, righteous, just and good. IF IT WERE MY OWN FAMILY? You ask? Most ESPECIALLY then would I fall to my knees and worship Him knowing that evil has NOT triumphed, but that a PERFECTLY holy, righteous, just, good AND LOVING God who calls me brother, bride and son though I myself belong in that lake of fire will receive honor and glory by my praising His name while the world loses it’s collective mind. EveryTHING and everyONE belongs to HIM. His exaltation and glory IS the purpose for all that is. No more PERFECTLY purpose could ever exist.

I don’t think any of my theist readers hold this viewpoint, but obviously there are people out there who do.  How many I’m not sure, but I wonder if it is higher than we would expect in some parts of the world.

I’d like to hear what my readers think of the above quoted comment.  Please offer your thoughts no matter what your worldview is.

Could I Ever Return To Christianity?

I’m sure I’d get a very warm welcome back into the fold if I returned, and I don’t mind answering the question of the subject line.

Well, I’m certainly no fortune-teller and given my past performance at predictions I’d say I’m not so good at predicting my future beliefs, but I can at least give some more detail to my answer, as well as some background.

At 18 years of age I told my friend there was no way I’d ever become a Christian.  A year or so later and that was corrected.

Then at 20 years of age, when my father asked me if I could ever leave the Christian fold, I told him that there was absolutely no way that could happen.  I was so sure of myself (even more sure I had thought than when I was 18.)  I had dotted my i’s and crossed my t’s when doing my research.  I had researched Isaiah 53 and Daniel 9 to the point that I knew for sure that it proved there was a God and that Jesus was that God.  That prediction took almost 5 years to be corrected.

Ah, but I was so young then, right?  The age where we are all so cocksure of our beliefs.  I’m 43 and more mature now, right?  Well age hasn’t given me more confidence in the answers to ultimate questions – quite the opposite has happened.  The last thing I want is to feel like I’ve “arrived” or reached a place of firm conclusions. I value greatly the humility of accepting that I’m human and capable of mistakes – in fact this lack of humility was a big problem I had with the evangelical groups that I hung with.  Being open to change is important to me because I believe that being open to possibilities is an important part of forward progress.  I consider all worldviews as possibilities if at some point they could be shown to be true.  So the answer to the subject line really is a yes, but it is a yes for all worldviews and not all yeses carry the same weight. And while I leave the doors cracked open to all ideas, they are not open in a way that means they all haunt me and can suck me in without reason and evidence.

We’d go insane if we didn’t make our best guess at what worldviews are more worth our effort in pursuing.  My priorities in my own pursuit is in worldviews which are similar to naturalism (although I certainly have not settled on naturalism) because right now I believe those are more worth my time and effort.  This post is not intended to explain why as the rest of my blog has made some attempt at that.  As far as effort goes I’d also rank eastern religions higher in my scale of interest than Christianity.

I no longer see mainline Judaism, Christianity and Islam as worth the concerted effort. But this doesn’t mean I’ve got my hands over my ears.  I’m more than willing to listen to any suggestions that believers in these camps have and I will still listen, read and consider material pointed to by them. I truly believe I can learn from people of all different worldviews. Just because I disagree with them on their overall conclusions doesn’t mean that some of the details wouldn’t be beneficial for me.

So while the answer is a possible yes, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting.

Maybe There Are Gods

godsWrapping The Series Up

In this post I ended with this:

In my future posts I plan to give a few more reasons why I don’t believe in gods, will try to explain why proofs for gods aren’t very convincing to me, and will end with my personal opinion on the best approach theists should use to convince others of the existence of gods.

and this post is the final in the series where I’ll share my opinion on the best approach for theists to convince others.  I also mentioned several times along the way that I would share why I still wonder whether gods might exist, what would change my mind, and even share my own views of which formulations of that would make more sense to me if I were to change my mind.

The philosophical arguments for God’s existence are basically interesting questions or conundrums about existence that we really just don’t have the kind of information we need to form any conclusions about, so they didn’t help me before, during, and still after I was a Christian.  I can understand that others might find them helpful, but as I’ve explained they just aren’t convincing to me.

SerendipitySerendipity, Miracles, and Coincidence

Maybe you just happened to be thinking about religion that night just at the very same time that you turned on the telly and they were amazingly talking about Jainism.  Or perhaps you experienced a healing after being prayed for.  Everyone has these stories that seem to go beyond coincidence.  A lot of them aren’t too impressive, but every once in a while you’ll come across some that do seem surprising.  These are the things that make me wonder if there is any meaning or agency involved behind the scenes.

As far as serendipitous stories go, the most amazing one I’ve heard was from my wife’s grandfather.  He believes in a Taiwanese tribal god, and he was in the midst of bombings in World War II when he saw a shiny object on the ground.  He decided to walk over to get it and right as he went to pick it up a bomb exploded in the place that he had just moved from.  The shiny object ended up being a trinket with the symbol of the tribal god of his family on it.  He has other stories about why he believes in that Taiwanese god but that one in particular has always stuck with me.  While this causes me to wonder, it doesn’t cause me to believe that his god exists as I’m sure many people reading this wouldn’t be convinced either.  But if you are willing to toss away these miraculous stories from other religions why are you so quick at judging others for doubting your own?

So instead perhaps all these miracle stories could be studied by probability theorists, and perhaps a good case could be made for causation.  Doesn’t sound like an easy task but it would be certainly something I would be very interested in following up on.  My suggestion to anyone who does this however is to stay in the bounds of science, because people are starting to become more educated about pseudo-science, and while there will always be those that are convinced by that, I believe if current trends continue we will see credulity like that become less prevalent.

There are several issues with serendipity – first, these strange events also seem to happen even for the most mundane of things.  For example, several months ago I was teaching the playing card game “war” to my son and trying to teach him the concept of less than or greater than.  We went through maybe 6 or 7 rounds before I decided to tell him the rules that happen when the numbers match, and wouldn’t you know it the very next cards that showed up matched.  I tried to remember that example just for this post, and there are many other extremely mundane “coincidences” like that which I don’t even make a point to remember, some even stranger than that.  Should we really be making some conclusions based on these kind of events?  Is “coincidence” a valid / justified explanation for these events?

And some do believe that these rare events that some would call miracles are actually to be expected given natural probabilities.  I’ll likely write more about this in the future, but here’s a primer.

It’s also very clear that these events happen across all religions and across all cultures.  Given that, if I was to believe in a traditional monotheistic God then I can’t see picking the God of just one religion.  While I have a hard time seeing the traditional personal omni-god (POG) concept as probable, if I did return to that belief it would be a more universalist type of belief in a God who for some strange reason doesn’t seem to be a very good communicator yet is somehow trying to communicate with humans through all different religions.

Certainty

Another thing that should be avoided is this insistence on certainty.  When someone like Ray Comfort says that he knows that God exists as much as he knows that his wife exists, I believe a whole lot of people see through that, and are also pushed away by things like that.  It’s just way too oversold, and gives the appearance of a sneaky used car salesman.  Belief in the existence of gods should fall along the continuum of certainty levels just like any other belief we would take in life.  For example, while I usually take a multi-vitamin in the morning I’m not terribly convinced of its efficacy.  I’ve read different things regarding vitamins, and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of consensus.  So I don’t always take them, and I certainly wouldn’t go around pushing them on others or judging them for believing differently.  This is the normal way that we believe things in life, and frankly a belief in gods shouldn’t be different.  This is why I have great respect for some of my theist friends who have said things like “Christianity works for me, but by all means I realize that I could be wrong about it being true and I don’t judge anyone for doubting.”

Just a Very Small Smorgasbord of Different Possibilities

So to me there is certainly no reason for me to take a hard stance on any worldview as a result of these kind of strange events, and given the law of truly large numbers I even see reason to doubt there is meaning behind any of them, but nevertheless my human mind still wonders, and I think about different possibilities involving ultimate questions.  Here’s just a few:

pantheism– Spinoza’s or Einstein’s God, which is very much like pantheism – a popular option that some paradoxically call the “God of the atheists”.  Here’s an interesting talk about Spinoza’s God.  If gods were just described as “entities higher than us” or if a God is described as a “being of infinite attributes” then the universe or whatever else there is that exists seems to fit this.  But as I’ve said before that definition of gods doesn’t seem to fit the traditional understanding of gods as personal thinking agents, so perhaps it just causes confusion in communication.  Just like Einstein, Stephen Hawking, Paul Davies and a lot of other atheist scientists use the word “God” in their popular books and while I’m sure it helps them sell more books, it gets misinterpreted by many.  Either way some of this is just semantics.

– Several gods messing with us – Every once in a while I wonder whether there may be spiritual entities out there somewhere messing with our minds and laughing it up at the scene down here on earth.  Monotheists obviously aren’t very fond of polytheism, but interestingly enough it only takes 2 gods to completely wipe away the problem of suffering or evil.

Transcend– Entirely transcendent gods – perhaps the answer is way above and beyond what our human minds are capable of understanding.  Or perhaps we are byproducts of a universe whose purpose was actually meant for some things or some beings (aliens) way more advanced than ourselves.  Much like we view amoeba or other animals as not being as important a part of the purpose of existence as the conscious, thinking agents that we are, maybe there are other beings out in the universe (or other universes) who would think the same of us if they were ever to meet us.  Perhaps they would think that our inability to obtain certainty in knowledge, our ability to be wrong, and our inability to fit the concept of infinity into our finite brains are surprisingly primitive.  Or perhaps they do something even beyond what we understand as “thinking”.  Something entirely transcendent.  I’ve seen a lot of traditional theists describe the God they believe in as a transcendent concept – something that we humans are not capable of defining or understanding, but yet at the same time they feel comfortable assigning certain attributes to their God.  To me if one or more exists then I’d lean more toward thinking they were entirely transcendent.

– Just to encourage people to think more outside of the box, here’s a link to some videos that Closer to Truth has of philosophers discussing alternative concepts of gods.

Maybe try to come up with your own conceptions and think them through.  Any way to confirm or falsify those ideas?  Any way for them to be empirically tested?  Perhaps one of the biggest drawbacks of all of these ideas is that they are unlikely to be able to be tested.  Much like Max Tegmark’s (MIT professor) multiverse.  Well, more on that another time.

The more I experience life and the more I read studies done relating to human nature, our minds and religion the more I lean toward thinking we live in a godless reality.  But for me I don’t have good reasons to be close-minded about it.

1 In 4 Americans Thinks The Sun Goes Around The Earth

I was surprised to read this article:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/02/14/277058739/1-in-4-americans-think-the-sun-goes-around-the-earth-survey-says

I definitely did not expect as much as 25% to get that question wrong.  For a second I actually had to think about whether or not it was April 1st (I’ve been fooled by NPR before).

Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised.  Any thoughts?

One Year Anniversary and Blogging Styles

1year

Two days ago was the one year anniversary of my blog and it got me thinking about my whole experience as a blogger.  I was a lurker on religious blogs since the early days of blogging and a year ago I decided to jump in and start my own and also contribute comments to other blogs.  While there are times that I am so busy that I have no time for it, I feel there is no going back now after I’ve had such a good experience in blogging.

spock

The funny thing is that when I started blogging I thought I was going to be like Spock and simply state things plainly without any emotion and always simply stick to the point objectively.  Boy was I way wrong!  What I realized very quickly was that the whole endeavor of blogging was an entirely human thing for me and that separating my humanity from it was simply not going to happen.

I enjoy a good quip here and there and don’t mind people throwing a few jabs at me every once in a while if it’s all in good fun.  But on the internet it’s sometimes hard to tell when something is truly just meant in jest or if the jab is really meant with some bitterness.  And I wouldn’t doubt there are some bloggers who simply love the whole game of it, but that’s just not my thing.  I’ve always had a “to each his own” kind of mentality so I’m totally cool with the fact that people have their own blogging styles and I’m still trying to find the right balance for my own.  My biggest values when it comes to blogging are that I am sincerely polite, completely honest, and get involved in genuine dialogue.  Disagreeing never bothers me as long as people are willing to simply agree to disagree and move on.  Like I said I don’t mind the banter at all, but it’s not what drives me.  What drives me is sharing my viewpoints and hoping that I learn things from others (and while I admit I am quite a bit opinionated and stubborn there are times when I do learn things that modify my perspective in small ways).

One tough thing on the internet is the lack of facial expressions, body language and voice intonations.  Without that it is very easy to be misunderstood and so in order to compensate for that there are times that I pour the politeness on a bit too much that it begins to look disingenuous.

[Removed a topic that got way too drawn out and boring]

It’s been a great year and I want to thank everyone that I’ve had the time to interact with!  Looking forward to much more.

Welcome to Truth Is Elusive

So I figured I’d give blogging a try with the topic that is always on my mind – the big questions of life.  Things like “what is morality?”, “can naturalism really describe everything?”, “what is consciousness?”, “is there a supernatural realm to reality that exists?”, “do gods exist?”, “is there any consciousness after death?”, “is there any meaning to all of this?”, “does Elvis still live?”, yada yada yada (ok, yeah I really don’t give too much thought to the Elvis question).  And perhaps a bigger question that would help in answering all of those is “what rules or ‘methods’ are best used to help us gain confidence in our solutions to these kind of questions?” – this last question goes under the category of epistemology – a big word for the boring philosophical field of talking about and describing how we humans can truly know anything at all.

But wait a second, I am getting way ahead of myself.  Here’s a quick summary of the “big-question” arena of my life: I was raised in a Jewish family and believed at a very young age that there was a God and he wanted people to follow the laws of Moses.  As I grew older my beliefs took on much more of an agnostic flavor (I’ll post in the future with clearer definitions of words like agnostic/atheist).  During high school I was introduced to Christianity and in September of 1990 became pretty convinced that it described reality so I prayed the Lord’s prayer.  In the first few months I still had some doubts of its veracity but in that first year as I read and listened to as much apologetics as I could get ahold of I became thoroughly convinced that the Christian message and the bible were true.  I attended churches which were labelled “non-denominational”, and also attended Messianic Jewish congregations, and all of these had very similar doctrine to American Baptists.  After that first year however, my belief took a slow downhill path as I came across more and more difficulties within the bible, and also continued to experience the hiddenness of the God which I had previously believed was there.  Late in 1995 I no longer felt that I was being honest with people by saying that I believed that the Christian message and the bible were true, so I informed my pastor and stopped attending church.  Since then I have never abandoned reading about and thinking about the bigger questions of life.  My pastor at the time (and still a very good friend) was kind enough to read books on the subject with me for about 3 years and met for lunch once a week to discuss them.  There are very few people who would do something like that, and I’ll never forget it.

Labels never tell the whole story because words mean different things to different people, but I think agnostic is probably the closest thing to label me given what I believe has become the colloquial use of that term.  I recently came across the term possibilian which is probably much closer to a good description of what I believe and how I think about the big questions of life.  Again, more on definitions later.

So why blog about this in the first place?  Here are my reasons:

  1. It will help me organize the millions of thoughts that go on inside my head, and will give me a place to come back to for reference.
  2. To learn something from others.
  3. Back at one of those lunches I mentioned before I joked with my friend “everyone’s got their theories”, and his response was that I should write mine down.  I thought he was just returning a joke, but he was serious and I always thought about doing just that.  But I’ve always put it off because I am such a perfectionist and was hoping to thoroughly understand all the issues before penning my thoughts all down.  If I wait for that day though, the ink will never be dropped (virtual ink that is).
  4. Help others who might have similar questions or thoughts.
  5. Spread as many facts as I can and clear up falsehoods that I see as well.  I hope to do this no matter what “camp” is being corrected, even if my own conclusions might line up more with that group.  Here is one small example – I’ve seen several atheists online state that Nazareth didn’t exist in the first century, but from what I have read there seems to be enough evidence to conclude that it did. – There are falsehoods spread on every side of every argument and I like to dig to try and find where reality lies and spread just that (assuming I have enough time of course).