Everyone says that talking to yourself isn't a problem, but answering yourself is. What do they know?


So, what’s it like being an atheist in a country that prides itself on its Christian religiosity?

Some people don’t take me seriously, and they say things like, “You’re too nice to be a REAL atheist.” They mean it as a compliment, like when a racist tells a black person that he’s too smart to be all black. When people do take me seriously, that’s not usually so good either because they look at me as if my hobby was strangling puppies. A majority of Americans say that, if one presidential candidate was eminently qualified but was an atheist, whereas the other was appallingly unqualified but was a Christian, they would vote for the Christian.

If another pollster were to ask people who they hated more: atheists, child molesters, or serial killers; I’m not sure I would fare better than the other two. Ironically, atheists are typically (note that I'm emphasizing this word) better educated and have higher IQs than theists. They are also more likely to oppose war and torture, support universal healthcare, favor stem cell research, and work to defend civil liberties. The same holds true for religious liberals compared to religious conservatives. I surmise from this that the prejudice against atheists comes partly from America’s hatred of intellectuals. A country that elevates the common man is just naturally suspicious of uncommon people. Sarah Palin isn’t popular because she’s brilliant and learned.

What do you think made you an atheist?

When I was a boy in the South, I went to church three to four times a week and listened to preachers bash atheists, Communists, liberals, secular humanists, and godless professors, all to congregations in which most people left school after the eighth grade to work on the family farm. Such denouncements left me exceedingly intrigued by the ungodly, the moreso since I had never laid eyes on one or even knew where to look—preachers said they mostly lived up North. Preachers also opposed sending kids to “godless universities” (state run schools) because they might be converted to atheism. “Better to remain ignorant and save your soul than to become learned and be sent to the lake of fire that burns forever and ever.”

I thought that such statements contradicted the concept of a wise and loving God, but what really set me on the sliding board to hell occurred when I was eleven. Women weren’t allowed to teach Sunday school, and none of the men wanted to because they considered it unmanly, so the preacher taught Saturday school instead. On this particular Saturday, we were reading a section of the Old Testament in which God ordered the Jews to take away another people’s land. He told them to kill every man, woman, child, and animal who lived on that land, except for the virgins whom they could keep for themselves. I was devastated, and I asked the preacher how God could do such a thing. He seemed perturbed by my question, and suggested that I ask God when I got to heaven.

I thought this was an unconscionable copout, and I spent most of the following two decades trying desperately to find answers to an ever-growing list of questions that first led me to doubt God’s goodness and then his very existence. Sometimes, I would go into the woods and absolutely rail against God for ignoring my search for answers. Other times, I would try to make it easy for him by opening my Bible and pointing to a verse with my eyes closed in the hope that he would guide me that way. When the verse was so far off that there was no possibility of it being a message (something like, “Samson smote them hip and thigh with a great slaughter…”), I would try again. Even after becoming an atheist, I still wanted desperately to believe because I had been told from my earliest childhood that the life of a man who didn’t believe in God is miserable and pointless. It’s hard to get beyond that kind of indoctrination.

Did you ever?

I still feel a great deal of what you might call existential angst. I mean, life is scary. It comes, and, after a few short decades, it goes. I have trouble accepting the fact that all I am and all I love will soon perish. I want there to be more. Compared to the fundamentalist Christianity of my childhood, atheism is bleak. Yet, I simply can’t believe, and even if I could, the God of the Bible would still seem every bit as evil to me as Satan himself. I don’t think anyone really loves that God. What they do is to pick out verses that make him look far better than the Bible as a whole makes him look, and they cling to those verses and ignore the rest. Either that or they simply pretend to love him because they’re afraid of hell. As a small child, I would literally come home from church and hide under the bed for fear of the “righteous wrath of God.” One Sunday, my father and I stayed home and played checkers during a rainstorm, and I was scared out of my mind that God was going to drown us because we missed church.

Could it be then that it’s not really God you don’t believe in, but the fundamentalist version of God?

After age eleven, I just wanted to believe in God, period. At age fifteen, I started studying other religions with the hope they had information that would justify a belief in a benevolent deity. I literally visited every Christian denomination and every non-Christian worship service I could find, whether near home or sixty miles away in Jackson.

How does Peggy feel about you being an atheist?

Peggy doesn’t care what I am short of becoming a Moslem and trying to make her wear a burka. She grew up in a devout Southern Baptist household, but the day she left home at age 18 was the day she left church (she literally flunked chapel at the Baptist college her parents sent her too because she failed to show up once a week). Whereas I have been obsessed with religion in one way or another for my entire life, I can’t even get Peggy to talk about it. If I do bring it up, her eyes glaze over. I just know she doesn’t believe in the supernatural, yet she doesn’t consider herself an atheist. I think she might qualify as a pantheist, but she refuses to be labeled.

I don’t understand people like Peggy, but I’ll tell you something that might surprise you if you think nonbelievers are unethical. Peggy might very well be the most ethical person I’ve ever known. For example, after years of being shorted on her paycheck almost every single pay period, she was overpaid $1,400. I would have pocketed that money in a heartbeat to make up for the hours I had spent fighting for what was rightfully mine, but she returned it.

Have you ever felt personally persecuted for your atheism?

I lost the friendship of everyone I went to church with for my first eighteen years, and the way I was treated by religious people in general was a major reason that I left a home in Mississippi that I built and loved and moved to Oregon. I was also dismissed from jury duty once, but I can’t say whether it was because I told the judge I was unwilling to say, “So help me God,” when I took the juror’s oath, or because I told him I was unwilling to follow his instructions in reaching a verdict if they violated my conscience. Another time when I had jury duty, the woman behind me struck me on the back of the head because I refused to stand while the district attorney led the jury in prayer.

What did you do when the woman hit you?

I stayed in my seat until the same woman said, “You had BETTER stand up!” I stood up. I still lived in rural Mississippi at the time, and fear and paranoia had become such a big part of my life that I didn’t have the guts to remain true to my convictions. I would now. The more hostility I’ve experienced over the years, the more courage I’ve gained.

When someone wrote in response to my last post that’s it’s important to act in a godly manner even though I don’t believe in god, I remembered the woman who struck me. The person who wrote no doubt equates godly behavior with ethical behavior, whereas I think of godly people as arrogant, intolerant, hypocritical, and often downright mean.

That’s a bit harsh, don’t you think?

I speak the truth as I see it based upon how I have been treated as a nonbeliever. If you are a person of faith, your experience will be very different—as was mine. It’s like the difference between how blacks were treated by whites in the South of my boyhood versus how whites were treated by whites. When I see a religious person being loving, generous, compassionate, and so forth, I assume it’s despite their religion rather than because of it. Religious people are mostly clueless about how they appear to other people because they’re accustomed to thinking of themselves as the good guys and everyone else as the bad guys. If dividing people into sheep and goats—the way Christ did—isn’t the whole point of religion, it’s certainly a major point.

I mean, think about it. For most of its 2,000-year history Christians—Catholics and Protestants—tortured and murdered everyone they could get their hands on who disagreed with them. The pope didn’t decide that torturing people was wrong until the 1800’s, and even in the 1900’s at least one pope sent gifts to those who murdered his enemies. Of course, Christians today don’t seem the least bit bothered by all that. They’re like Moslems who see no irony in calling Islam “The Religion of Peace” despite the fact that people are murdered in the name of Allah everyday of the week. What religious people say they believe is often the exact opposite of how they behave.

How did your life change when you decided you really were an atheist?

I started looking around for like-minded people, and this led me to join American Atheists in 1982. I was thrilled to learn that there was both a North Mississippi Chapter and a South Mississippi Chapter until I discovered that Madalyn Murray O’Hair had padded the books somewhat, and that each of these chapters only contained one person. Paul Tirmenstein was a fit looking man in his eighties, and John Marthaler was obese and in his fifties (see photo). They were forever writing letters to their local newspapers slamming Christians about one thing or the other, and they both had pro-atheist bumper stickers all over the backs of their cars. People occasionally vandalized their cars—and John was even assaulted on a few occasions—but that just inspired them to add more stickers. It also inspired John to carry a cane with a brass handle.

I soon started writing my own letters to the newspaper, and was often amused by the responses. For example, I had people tell me that they supported my stand on school prayer. This surprised the hell out of me since I was totally opposed to it. I finally realized that they had completely misinterpreted my letter because they just naturally assumed I was in favor of school prayer like everyone else they knew.

I attended a couple of atheist conventions with John and Paul. The first one was held in Lexington, Kentucky, and we drove up in John’s old Toyota that leaned toward the driver’s side from the strain of carrying him around for 200,000 miles. I was sick with a cold during the trip, so I spent most of the drive trying to sleep in the back seat. I say trying because people were forever leaning out their windows and screaming profanities at us. This scared me pretty good, but it just made John and Paul laugh.

Kentucky was also a part of the Bible Belt, so we were stared at and cursed even inside the hotel where the convention was held. I couldn’t even enjoy my food because I didn’t trust the staff to not put filth in it. I still had a great time though because there were atheists there from all over the country, and this enabled me to regain a little of the fellowship that I lost when I stopped going to church.

I was warmly received by Madalyn O’Hair (see photo) because she was fond of something I had written for her magazine (I was later made a non-resident editor). In fact, she asked me to call her Grandma, and I got a real kick out of that, what with her being the “Most Hated Woman in America.” I was very sad when Madalyn, her son, Jon, and her granddaughter, Robin, were murdered. I had asked Robin at one point how she was able to handle being hated and even threatened by thousands of people, and she said she tried to not take it personally.

Paul and I drove to the next convention—in Austin, Texas—without John because John had gone early for some reason. It was after that convention that Paul killed himself. He had told me he was going to do it because (a) he was nearing the point that he could no longer live independently, and (b) he wanted his money to go to American Atheists instead of being spent on healthcare. He ended up using carbon monoxide because he didn’t have anything else. He had asked me to get pills for him, and I could have, but he had asked for them over the telephone, and I worried that my line was tapped. I later realized that this was unlikely, but it’s easy to become paranoid when you’re convinced that everyone hates you. Never one to waste anything, Paul donated his body to a medical school.

I came to have the deepest respect for the “evil atheists” that I had been warned against all my life. It’s easy to be true to your Christian beliefs when everyone around you validates them, but it takes real courage to uphold your values when you’re a reviled and isolated atheist who doesn’t imagine himself to be under divine protection or have heaven as his reward. When Christ said “wide is the gate and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction,” he sure wasn’t talking about atheists. In fact, the only people whom Christ consistently reviled were religious people, and the only people he consistently befriended were sinners. Of course, most of the religious people I know don’t appear to read too much into that.

67 comments:

Kimby said...

In paragraph four you state, "He seemed perturbed by my question, and suggested that I ask God when I got to heaven."

So, what is the question that you asked the preacher in paragraph four? ;-)

The Blog Fodder said...

Ironically, atheists are typically better educated and have higher IQs than theists. They are also more likely to oppose war and torture, support universal healthcare, favor stem cell research, and work to defend civil liberties. The same holds true for religious liberals compared to religious conservatives.

When the "Christian" right take over America, all of the above will end up in death camps and consigned to the ovens in the name of a righteous God.

Snowbrush said...

Kimby said: "...what is the question that you asked the preacher in paragraph four? ;-)"

Kimby, thank you SO MUCH for pointing out the omission. I worked on this post for days before I made it into a Blogger draft after which I worked on it for another couple of days. During all this cutting, pasting, rearranging, and deleting, , a sentence somehow got left out. Here it is: "I was devastated, and I asked the preacher how God could do such a thing."

The Blog Fodder said: "When the "Christian" right take over America, all of the above will end up in death camps and consigned to the ovens in the name of a righteous God."

There is a rapidly growing fascist movement in the U.S. known as the "Tea Party Movement" after an incident in 18th century American history. It mixes conservatism, patriotism, and Protestant Christianity like never before. One can but hope it will die out, but there has been such outrage over the Obama presidency and his healthcare program in particular that there's the feeling that anything might happen.

The Blog Fodder said...

Suggested Reading:
American Fascists, the Christian Right and the War on America by Chris Hedges. It was written in 2006 and you can follow the progress to today. They will make The Cross more reviled on earth than the Swastika or the Hammer and Sickle. God save us all.

The Blog Fodder said...

I still don't understand the outrage over Obama's health care program. USA is still light years behind the rest of the world in looking after its people.

Snowbrush said...

The Blog Fodder said: "American Fascists, the Christian Right and the War on America by Chris Hedges."

Gee, I just read his book "I Don't Believe in Atheists." He is a passionate writer, and he presented me with some interpretations that I hadn't thought of.

The Blog Fodder: "I still don't understand the outrage over Obama's health care program."

Values related to social responsibility are largely alien to American culture where everyone is expected to stand on his own two feet come hell or high water. A large part of the population supports somewhat of an Ayn Randian version of government. Or at least they say they do. The truth is that while they scream about the evils of socialism, we have had a great many social programs in operation for decades, and few people would elect to do without them. For example, it wouldn't go over at all to tell our senior citizens that the government was going to take away their health and retirement benefits.

kylie said...

snow,
i havent yet read this whole post but i love the last paragraph.
as a Christian who seems not to fit the expectations of the church, i'm uncomfortable about that but not prepared to become what seems to be expected but here it's ok, even good, to be a religious person who doesnt fit the box

xox

rhymeswithplague said...

Snow, I love reading what you write (because you are good at it) and would defend to the death your right to say/write it. That doesn't mean that I agree with you, of course.

But what I would really like to know is just how many non-Christian worship services did you find within a sixty-mile radius of Jackson, Mississippi?

Snowbrush said...

Kylie said: "i havent yet read this whole post"

You're an honest woman. I know that this was a long post. Would I have done better to split it into halves?

Kylie saiid: "as a Christian who seems not to fit the expectations of the church,"

I've been there too, of course. For instance, the church really doesn't care for chronic doubters. A transitory "crisis of faith" is okay, but a long one is too much of a bummer. Basically, you accept their explanations or you don't. There is really no point in thinking you will find deeper truths if you keep looking.

Rhymes said: "how many non-Christian worship services did you find within a sixty-mile radius of Jackson, Mississippi?"

That radius would be around Brookhaven (60 miles south of Jackson) with Jackson being at one end. I remember Temple Beth Israel, a reformed synagogue in Jackson that was firebombed two or three times during the Civil Rights movement; and there was also a Hare Krishna community near Picayune at which I stayed a few days. That's all I remember, but then we're talking 40+ years ago. I visited over 50 Christian denominations, but there were no Quaker groups in the whole state, so I had to wait to pick them up. I also had to wait to visit Bahá'ís, Sufis, Buddhists, Yoganandas, and others. Eugene has groups that I haven't visited, but now I have no interest in them.

rhymeswithplague said...

Two is about what I expected you would say. The state produced back-to-back Miss Americas (Mary Ann Mobley and Linda Lee Mead, sorority sisters at Old Miss) around that time too, after all...also Ross Barnett.

Snowbrush said...

"The state produced back-to-back Miss Americas...also Ross Barnett."

I'm astounded that you remember the Miss Americas. The state adopted "Home of the Miss Americas" as it's unofficial slogan. Maybe it was even on car tags, but I'm not positive.

I met Ross on an elevator once. He stuck out his hand, and told me who he was (as if I didn't know), and asked where I was from and who my parents were. A lot of charismatic people are more impressive in person than on TV, which is how I found him. He was something to behold.

CreekHiker / HollysFolly said...

I always find you a fascinating read, Snow. And while I do believe in God, I'm amazed at how often I agree with you. I myself realized as a child that it was religion I distrusted. You know, what man does with the power in the name of God that aggravates the hell out of me.

Growing up in Mississippi too, Oy - it's just instilled in you from the beginning. I think there comes a time when you have to step back and examine all that's been shoved down your throat since such a young age. For me, that came at 10 and again at 15. Since then, I've been fine with God... I just dislike religion.

Realliveman said...

The thing about this particular existence is we can believe in what we wish.
Once you get beyond belief and you get to "knowing" what is real to you, you don't have to explain yourself in this manner.

Whatever your beliefs are, it's the knowings that complete us. A knowing doesn't have to be explained. It just is.

The real goal is to know what is real to you and not have to explain it to anyone, whatever that may be.

Whatever you "know" is real. Belief is doubting yourself. If you know all this is true, then it's real. That's all that really matters in the end.

RNSANE said...

You always write so well. I don't necessarily agree with everything you say but I applaud your right to say it. I am not convinced, myself, that there is a God though I wouldn't say I'm an atheist, either. I have to believe there is something of a higher power beyond mortal man.

I am not a church goer but I do believe in treating my fellow man with respect and dignity. Sadly, that doesn't always go both ways. Some of those who profoundly profess to be Christians act in the most ungodlike manner.


My poetry book - Life's Journey by Carmen Henesy - is out on Amazon
( Poems about the things that have been important to me in my journey through life, some humorous, some sad, some that may have meaning to you as well )
http://www.amazon.com/Lifes-Journey-1-Carmen-Henesy/dp/1451547366/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1274652997&sr=1-1

Snowbrush said...

Creekhiker said: "while I do believe in God, I'm amazed at how often I agree with you."

I am moved that you would say that.

Realiveman said: "Once you get beyond belief and you get to "knowing" what is real to you, you don't have to explain yourself in this manner."

Well, there are different kinds of explanations and there are different motives for offering them, and it could be that where you imagine a weakness (or at least an incompleteness), I see a strength.

There was an Old West character known as Death Valley Scotty. On his tombstone are the words: "A man doesn't complain. A man doesn't explain. A man doesn't apologize." People (men in particular) who are unable or unwilling to share themselves in any depth often couch their inhibitions in terms that--they hope--will make them appear virtuous. Having been enculturated as a male myself, I can understand why they would do this, but it's not how I choose to live. In fact, it has no part in my value system.

rhymeswithplague said...

I'll see that Ross Barnett and raise you a Lester Maddox, who once poured more iced tea into my glass.

JOE TODD said...

I think life is a "Canterbury Tale" and I always liked the Friar LOL.. Snow you are always a good read and I appreciate the time you take in posting

Leah said...

I discovered you through Kylie, and am reading backwards--very interesting and layered arguments here.

I'm a reform Jew from Brooklyn, so I am an outsider in the discussion in some ways--reform Jews embrace the questioners and the questions, and we don't proselytize. We don't fit into the commonly held perception of religious Americans, even though many of us (myself included) believe in god and practice our religion. It's a weird feeling to be on the outside, to the extent that we're not usually mentioned even when religiousity is being criticized!

I must also add that I know many people who believe in god and practice their religion (Christianity and Judaism) who hardly fit any stereotype of dopey, ill-educated, party-line thinkers--is that a function of my living in NYC? Maybe, but of course that's another stereotype entirely...

anyway, very nice to make your acquaintance!

Vagabonde said...

I enjoyed your long post. I do think that you are very courageous to say that you are an atheist in the US where most everyone thinks that it is evil. I find this country so bizarre – they feel so self-righteous because of their faith, but at the same time they despise people who have different faith or no faith. I also think that most Christians do not know their own religion well. They listen to what is said in their churches, to the good pages of the Bible (don’t want to acknowledge the bad passages) and think that it is enough. Many too I think go to church because they want to be part of the group – it is very difficult, as you know, to have a different viewpoint in this country. I watched an Australian clip where the reporters had come to the US and one of them insulted the other in front of church members. I don’t recall what the insult was but they then quoted a passage of the Bible where it said they should be stoned. So they asked the US church members to stone them. The members refused saying that it was not done nowadays; it was not a current quote of the Bible. So the Australians asked why then did the church members approve of the part about homosexuals, and the members said that this passage in the Bible was current. It proved the Australians’ point that people were using religion to justify their prejudices.
I am not an atheist but I respect your views. I do not belong to organize religion – I have been following the Buddhist philosophy for decades. What I don’t understand here is that Christians demand that you respect their faith, but they will not respect others’ or rarely. My cousin from France, who is a Catholic like they are in France – which is she never goes to church but for weddings and funerals – came here for 6 months to improve her English and maybe stay. She was invited to various American homes for dinner and every time they said Grace without even asking her if that was OK. In France (and other European countries where I lived) when you are a guest at dinner people do not say grace unless they know you are a practicing Christian. They may say their Grace inside their head, but they would never insult their guest by saying it aloud. So my cousin was very insulted that no one asked her. She finally decided she could not live in a country that was so narrow-minded. I have been at US friends’ who would say before the meal “excuse me for a minute, I am going to say a silent grace.” And that is OK, but I totally resent that people take it for granted that if they say grace, it is OK with people they do not know – then they should only invite people from their church. I, myself feel insulted every time, even though I have been here many years. It is very insensitive. I had Germans and Swedish friends who, when they had to listen to grace at dinner where they were the guests, just got up saying they did not feel well and left. I feel that the non-Christians here are too tolerant of the rigid Christians, and those latter take advantage of it. That is too long, you can shorten my comment if you wish.

Marion said...

Personally, I don't care if you're an atheist or a catholic. To me a person's religion (or no religion) is a private, personal matter, just like their sex life. I just like you and enjoy your writing and your sense of humor.

My favorite people came from Mississippi: my Mama and all of her sisters and you. Blessings! xoxo

kylie said...

snow,
do i think you should have split the post in half?
i think that if that post formed itself in your mind that way, thats how you should post it and i'll eventually read it as it was intended
however, i cant resist a line my father uses "there was enough material in that for six sermons"

"Basically, you accept their explanations or you don't. There is really no point in thinking you will find deeper truths if you keep looking"
i have come to the conclusion that the church, per se, probably will never offer me more than it does now but my history means that church attendance and church music are intrinsic to my spiritual life.
i'm struggling to articulate here because it doesnt all make sense to me yet but i think i am now forging my own version of Christianity, a version that is hopefully informed by direct experience of God but supported by the church

and i havent even commented on your actual post yet!

rhymeswithplague said...

Snow, you are probably the only person who posts photos of Madalyn Murray O'Hair on your blog, and definitely the only one who says she asked you to call her Grandma!

Rita said...

I remember reading snippets about Madalyn O’Hair, back in the day, when I was under the influence of the church. I don't believe I ever saw her painted in anything other then a very bad light, even by the main stream media. I'm sure many religious people thought her "bad end" was some kind of divine Retribution.
But, she was the brave forerunner that gave other people the courage to stand up for themselves in a hostile climate.
Fortunately, things have changed for the better for us atheists & humanists.
To think, now days she would hardly make a splash...

dana said...

When I see a car loaded with jesus fish, "God is my co-pilot" signs, the required cross hanging from the rear-view mirror and a bible inside the back window, I am reminded of the phrase "He who protests too much is only fooling himself".

Some of us swallow what we are forced to chew while others regurgitate it. It took me 60 years for the gag reflex to kick in where biblical force-feedings were concerned.

The angry and always pissed off god was not one I cared to love and fear at the same time.

Jesus came along and supposedly un-did the un-doable which led me to wonder why an all powerful god would need such a route by which to put a re-spin on his "bad-ass" reputation.

What doesn't make sense is explained with the proverbial "we'll know all when we die" and questions are considered lack of faith.

Faith is considered blind acceptance, which is, in turn, looked upon as a GOOD THING.

Our minister made the blatant statement that you have to "turn off your intelligence and become innocent (stupid) as a child in order to "have faith and be saved".

If I turned off my intelligence, I'd walk in front of a speeding bus (like a chile) and, therefore, meet my "maker" and learn all the answers we aren't allowed to know while alive and thinking.

So we are given leaders of great knowledge (what happened to needing to be innocent and unintelligent?) to show us the way, and boy, do they show us! With loud voices, proclamations and jesus bumper stickers.

Which leads me to this point:

"Leaders of knowledge" are what gives religion a sour taste, but by the same token, "leaders" like Paul Tirmenstein and John Marthaler, with their anti-jesus fish stickers and adverse proselytizing also leave a foul taste.

When you KNOW what you KNOW,and believe that what you FEEL is CORRECT, there is no need to raise your voice, put on bumper stickers and pronounce everyone else as wrong.

Snowbrush said...

Carmen, thank you so much for letting me know about your poetry book. Christine (All The Quiet Voices) also has a new book out.

Joe said: "Snow you are always a good read..."

Thank you, Joe.

Leah said: "reform Jews embrace the questioners and the questions"

Much of what little I know little of Judaism came from Isaac Singer. I learned from him that Jews (the ones he wrote about anyway) are much more comfortable with hard questions than any of the Christians I've known. To the latter, doubt is sin. I also know that there are practicing Jews who are atheists. The only Christian groups that would accept atheists into membership are the Unitarians and Quakers, and the first, at least, is Christian by origin rather than by present ties.

"It's a weird feeling to be on the outside..."

Yes, I can understand how you too would feel on the outside. As for some Christians being erudite, I totally agree. However, I still maintain that most Christians either don't know their Bible terribly well, or they ignore the troubling passages. Yet, it's the ones who embrace the troubling passages that scare me most. I heard a man say that all those children and animals the Jews killed when they took over "The Holy Land" obviously deserved to die, or else God wouldn't have ordered them killed! I'm sure many Moslem terrorists feel that way about their victims too. Then there are the troubling songs like "Washed in the Blood."

Vagabonde said: "I feel that the non-Christians here are too tolerant of the rigid Christians..."

The minority is under a lot of pressure to show tolerance for the majority, and the majority, for it's part, is often unaware of how oppressive it is. I would use smoking as an analogy. At one time, people smoked whenever and wherever they pleased with very few exceptions, and non-smokers put up with it because that's how they were enculturated. Now, nonsmokers in many areas have finally found their voice, and I don't doubt but what their objections to smoke have caused the number of smokers to decline. So it will be with religion someday, I hope. It won't take a majority of nonreligious people, only a significant minority.

Snowbrush said...

Rhymes said: "now, you are probably the only person who posts photos of Madalyn Murray O'Hair on your blog"

There is actually a network of atheist bloggers, but they require that your blog to devoted exclusively to atheism.

Marion said: "To me a person's religion (or no religion) is a private, personal matter, just like their sex life."

Here, we disagree--strongly. Religious people quite commonly attempt to force their beliefs and practices on other people. I can't imagine that you are unaware of this, truly I can't.

Kylie said: "my history means that church attendance and church music are intrinsic to my spiritual life."

I don't envy you your position since it sounds like you see yourself on the outside even while you're on the inside. I have been there, and, for me, the strain grew unbearable.

Rita said: "I'm sure many religious people thought her "bad end" was some kind of divine Retribution."

No doubt. When an earthquake struck Boston after Franklin's lightning rod became popular, many preachers blamed the earthquake on people's efforts to subvert the righteous wrath of God" who, they believed, only used lightning to kill egregious sinners.

Dana said: ""leaders" like Paul Tirmenstein and John Marthaler, with their anti-jesus fish stickers and adverse proselytizing also leave a foul taste."

Few people respect the shrill, angry voice of the village atheist, and I personally think that plastering your car with bumper stickers is tacky, and that bumper sticker wisdom is shallow. Yet, I loved these men. Whatever their faults, they were courageous in their defense of their values, and they showed the rare willingness to think for themselves. I suppose that people who resort to bumper stickers are people who simply don't feel heard by society.

Bernie said...

Snow, I remember Madalyn O'Hair being on Phil Donahue many years ago, I didn't hate her but I did feel sorry for her, I didn't know she and her family had been murdered. Did they ever find who was responsible?
I don't force my Faith or beliefs on anyone, being Catholic is right for me and I am so thankful for being so accepting, content and at peace with my choice.....there are many mysteries with Faith I agree and I am okay with it.....there are many mysteries with all parts of our lives, heck knowing where your kids are or what they may be doing can be a mystery. I really don't care for people who are bitter and angry not because they are not Christains just because I would have nothing in common with these kind of personalities. I pray for everyone and I honestly do not know how to hate. Also I don't believe in blame or shame over one's beliefs, in the end it all comes down to one thing, ones personal relationship with God, we all have choices to make in our lives, my choice has been to believe.
Hope your health continues to improve my friend.....:-) Hugs

Snowbrush said...

Bernie said: "I didn't hate her but I did feel sorry for her."

Madalyn had a full life composed of work she was devoted to, so I doubt that your pity of her was well-placed. I found her a very sweet and soft-spoken woman in private, but one who could assume a loud, profane, and strident demeanor in public. I doubt that people come any braver. She and her son, William, were assaulted several times, and threatened hundreds if not thousands of times. Her pets were poisoned, her property was repeatedly vandalized, and she was literally run out of her home in Baltimore where the police left her at the mercy of angry mobs, manufactured charges against her, etc. These crimes were initially inspired by her opposition to organized prayer in public schools, and they set her on a lifelong crusade against religion.

Her murderers were caught. One died in prison earlier this year; Despite having read two biographies of her, I can't say what became of the other two. I really wasn't terribly interested.

Rob-bear said...

I'm intrigued by your life story. It's quite different from mine, insofar as many of my earlier years were lived with little or no connection to a Church. When I got involved in a church, it was out of conviction, not out of custom.

I'm also intrigued by your statement, "When I see a religious person being loving, generous, compassionate, and so forth, I assume it’s despite their religion rather than because of it." For me, it is the other way around; compassion springs from my faith, which I describe on my facebook page as "thoughtful, reflective, and Christian." But then, for Jesus, his "religion" was about what he believed AND what his beliefs led him to do. I reckon that's a good enough process for me.

nollyposh said...

But Snow, Just what IS an atheist?

Snowbrush said...

Rob-bear said "compassion springs from my faith"

I've no doubt but what religion has the potential of being used in a constructive way--as opposed to nothing more than a personally comforting way--yet those eras and areas that were notable for an abundance of faith were also notable for an abundance of cruelty. I will offer my own area of origin, the American South, as an example.

"Just what IS an atheist?"

At least my job in defining the term atheist will be easier than yours in defining God. An atheist is someone who considers a belief in a supernatural deity or deities to lack any logical or evidentiary foundation. You have said that you believe because you have experienced God personally. Applying Occam's Razor, it would seem more likely to me that your experience was the result of natural factors. In any event, your experience of God does not constitute proof of God's existence, except to yourself. As thinkers from Hume on have pointed out: "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence," and you have not provided that.

Even if I were to personally experience the supernatural, I wouldn't accept my own experience as evidence, for the same reason that I don't accept yours. Am I saying then that no proof would ever be adequate? Not at all. I would just like something that could be verified. If you were to repeatedly tell me that God told you that such and such SPECIFIC events were going to happen at a SPECIFIC time in the future, and I could consistently see the fulfillment of these claims, I would be greatly influenced to believe in the existence of something more to the universe than I had previously considered possible even though I might not know exactly what that "something more" was. Or, you could do the same thing going backwards. For example, tell me what I was doing at 4:00 yesterday, and then do the same thing everyday for a week. Healings would greatly impress me also if they were healings that couldn't be accounted for in natural terms. For example, I would like to see a dead person raised, or a person with missing limbs grow them back. Or how about curing a cancer that had already killed someone. If God is omnipotent (and I don't know whether you even think she is), surely backward miracles would be no more difficult than present miracles.

The Tusk said...

I believe in Nolly Posh, and thus follow her wisdom whence she goes.
And... So I thought I knew of her beliefs and she believes in you as a relief in her day to day.

In Her most direct question to you. I thought at first which was sarcasm in its most direct way, as your post was portend to answer - what you as an atheist was about. Was it possibly in truth, an honest question or one of a quizzical nature that she brings forth her question. Its so hard to tell sometimes Parody from Sarcasm in a post as well as sincerity to a curt brevity.

Then in your surmise you answered again begging, the question, maybe not begging but simply stating the boundaries of proof you would be willing to accept, as proof for there to be a GOD. Or more simply put without putting a label on anything specific as a deity, what would be acceptable as a Supernatural happenstance.

I so many times find myself bewildered, as to speak as if I were to write, and to write as if I were to speak, and yet when I reread what I've written I'm confused and dismayed as to that in which it is, that I know of what it is I've said.

What I've said is what I've meant, but upon reread it may no longer ring as clear as when the passion was first-there to what it is I've written.

Having now just read the crime report and trail of evidence on the Murder of Madalyn Murray O'Hair, I've almost lost my train of thought. What I first would like to say is have you heard of Phil Ochs Small Circle Of Friends. Next have you read Summa Theologica St Thomas Aquinas's good book. He died early but yet he felt he had done what the Lord had asked of him. Third and last I believe, because I've found it to be fun to believe that I can ask for Supernatural events to happen and I foresee them happening only after I've agreed and fulfilled and preordained arrangement and met those demands from the one harmonic in life.

Ask for the wind, that most will fear and ye receive laughter, Ask for the place you'll find your fears and you find your beliefs. Ask for your beliefs to be justified by laughter and you'll find that the supernatural is the Irony of life, that you can find your soul and heart and mind in one place and in that place its meaning was meant for someone who thought it was meant for someone else. This is the paradox of the supernatural, if it can be explained it is natural, if it can be believed but unexplained, it is supernatural.

Find an Irony, believe in that Irony until it makes you laugh, most Irony in life will. When you do tell it to me. Then I'll point you, if I can to the Supernatural.

This is Life on the Surface.

Natalie said...

O.k. I have just finished reading a book by Dr. Melvin Morse called 'Closer to the Light'.
He states: "God is in each and every one of us, and the ability to perceive God is located in the right temporal lobe, within the Sylvian Fissure."
Studies have shown that electronic stimulation of the Sylvian fissure, can produce 'mystical and spiritual experiences like seeing a tunnel, loving beings etc Of a NDE, but science can not account for 'The Light'.
Morse claims that from all his research, it appears that the light is EXTERNAL to the experiencer of the mystical/ spiritual event.
There is as yet, no way to quantify the Light of God, Snow, because God /The Light is omnipotent, and therefore unquantifiable. What you are asking for is an impossibility.

Snowbrush said...

The Tusk said: "I believe in Nolly Posh, and thus follow her wisdom whence she goes."

Oh, my god, unless I sorely misunderstand (you are free to correct me, of course) it sure looks like you are saying that you are Nolly Posh's disciple, and that whatever she says is good enough for you in determining what is true! I actually didn't know she had any disciples--or even wanted any. I just know that if I had disciples, I would definitely require them to tithe.

The Tusk said: "you answered again begging, the question, maybe not begging but simply stating the boundaries of proof you would be willing to accept"

What possible relationship do you see between begging the question and trying to determine rational boundaries by which a hypothesis might be tested?

No I haven't heard of Phil Ochs, and I haven't read Thomas Aquinas, although I made a valiant effort at Thomas Merton only to feel like an idiot because I actually completed "The Seven Storey Mountain" (I only did so because it was a gift). I also read some of C.S. Lewis and a little of St. Augustine's "The City of God." These writers and a few essays by Kierkegaard and Alan Watts pretty much mark the limit of my theological reading, at least since college, which was actually so long ago that I have little memory of what I might have read then.

Rob-bear said...

Back to your response to my comment, "compassion springs from my faith."

You and I both realize that your knowledge base is pretty limited (something you even acknowledged in your response to the Tusk). I'm not surprised by that, given the American inclination to support ignorance instead of knowledge. You're a product of the context in which you were raised. There's a big wide world out there, about which most Americans have little of no knowledge.

People need to open their minds and say "Ahhhhh!" to the world of wisdom around them. Either that or be trapped in small little thoughts that often do not serve them well.

Rob-bear said...

One other thought. "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." Which brings us directly to the resurrection of Jesus, which was certainly an extraordinary event.

The problem is that science, because it is based in patterns and recurring events, cannot deal with unique events. Yet there were multiple eye-witnesses to the resurrection and subsequent actions. And, strangely, that's what the court system depends upon, largely; eye-witness evidence.

The other problem, of course, is that if people don't like the conclusion, they deny the evidence. Which is what I anticipate you'll do.

Snowbrush said...

Rob-bear said: "You and I both realize that your knowledge base is pretty limited"

I think it seems moreso to you since you continue to make a point of referring to it. You have also said that I am naive, that my arguments are too shallow and simplistic to deserve a response; and that my attempts to express my ideas are too inadequate for you to make sense of. You have likewise criticized me in other ways, but these are what come to mind at the moment.

Rob-bear said: "There's a big wide world out there, about which most Americans have little of no knowledge."

If I understand you correctly, you're saying that my limited "knowledge base" (presumably as it relates to my atheism since this post is about atheism) is due to the fact that I live in a country that "supports ignorance." I am under the impression that few nations on earth contain as many theists as America, so I don't quite get the connection.

Rob-bear, I have reached the point that I am unwilling to publish any more posts from you if I perceive them to be personally insulting. I am too aware of my own shortcomings to be overly fastidious about such things, and so I have--to the extent of my limited ability--made a great effort to give you every benefit of the doubt that you don't have it in your heart to insult me. I can but say that I am no longer able to continue doing so.

Rob-bear said...

I apologize in advance for the length of this comment. It appears that when I write shorter notes, they don't come across as well.

First and foremost, I don't dislike you, and I'm not attacking you personally. I am aware of the weakness of your answers, and at least part of why those answers are weak. But I'm startled by for your comments, that I "have also said that I am naive, that my arguments are too shallow and simplistic to deserve a response; and that my attempts to express my ideas are too inadequate for you to make sense of." I don't accept what you're putting forward about me. I'm prepared to take all kinds of time, and deal with whatever issues you raise, one by one. All I'm asking is that we be clear about the issue which we are debating.

To summarize your position as I understand it, you think:
1. That because religion was "done badly" in your experience, that religion is bad. Well, I've seen religion "done badly" — and it is terrible. I have also seen it done very well — and it is beautiful. And my experience is that it is done well far more often than it is done badly.
2. There is no God because there is no scientific proof of God's existence. That, I contend, is a failure of science, which does not have adequate tests for God. Science is one form of reality; history is another form of reality; likewise philosophy; likewise medicine.
Frankly, you're using a Greek model of interpreting life. I tend to use a more Jewish model. (Jesus, who is personally the core of Christianity, was born, lived and died a Jew — meaning it would be useful to use Jewish thought forms if we want to understand Jesus and his activity.) Which means we are debating from two different starting points. I believe we can reconcile those starting points, but it will take a while.

In addition, I'm eager to see your response to my last comment about the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

I am deeply sorry if my comments have offended you, because no offence was intended.

The Tusk said...

Theology is always so deeply and passionate debate. I've got to look up that word Tithe. I do recommend Phil Ochs Small Circle of Friends albums, Phil died in the 70's, but as some do, his music lives on. He was an Activist in the 60's fighting the war effort. Maybe that has nothing to do with Atheism, maybe it does. What I found intriguing about Madalyn Murray O'Hair, is where are the other 1499 Gold Coins? They only found one, come on. This is 1997 we are talking here.

I looked up Tithe, which indicates I should pay a tenth of my income to Nolly Posh as a tax which would be roughly 9,600 American a year. being that she lives in Australia, and I don't know the currency there, you are going to have to help me with exchange rate, what am I exchanging it to?

Still, answer me this, do you believe in the wind? I'm going to help you with a a test of the Supernatural. Do you own a pair of Cowboy boots, and is there a nearby forested are near you?

Snowbrush said...

Rob-bear said: "I am aware of the weakness of your answers"

Yes, you have said this a few times by now, but without ever giving a reason. I am actually no longer interested.

The Tusk said: "do you believe in the wind?"

The term "believe in" strikes me as what someone might say about God or even about a trusted person or product; so, no, I don't believe in the wind. Perhaps, you could clarify what it is that you're asking.

The Tusk said: "I'm going to help you with a a test of the Supernatural. Do you own a pair of Cowboy boots, and is there a nearby forested are near you?"

I'm unaware that I need help, and I don't see the relevancy of your questions.

The Tusk said...

Snowbrush,
I would hate to lose your your interest and then lose your conversation. So please pardon my regress, and allow me to rephrase.

This is not a trick question. The wind blows air around or air is moved by the wind or High and Low Pressure patterns create wind. Or maybe I'm completely wrong meteorologically. Do you believe you can feel and hear the results of the winds movements? That is one question.

The second and Third question go like this. Do you own a pair of cowboy boots? Yes or No. Easy straightforward question. The relevance of these two questions pertain to my third question in query to me learning something basic about you, that is all.

The Third question I originally misspelled a word making it clumsy to understand, becausing I left an extra being word in the phraseing, so in rephraseing, my third question is this. Do you live near a wooded area?

Now the chase to the point. I think if you were willing to have GOD answer a question for you, you might listen to the wind in the woods with one boot off.

Now that worked for me, and I'm not a betting person so I'm not going to say it. If you find yourself in the woods and you take one boot off, you might hear something you didn't expect. What you'll hear is the movement of the wind through the trees creating a sound you would understand to be laughter or music from natural causes.

Its when you accept the source to be supernatural is when you except God for what it is!

Teresa said...

Hi Snow,

Thanks for your comments on my blog, and yes, I am doing well and I am still upbeat. Things are going well.

After reading about some of your experiences with organized religion , I can understand you much better. In some ways, I am glad I did not 'grow up' in church. I had an 'atheist' dad, who would not allow us to go to church, however, my mom, used to send us with a neighbor once in awhile.

I confess I did not understand a lot of what was being said then, but I liked the idea of goodness, and loved the stories and getting together with other kids my age.

It was all great until one of my Sunday School teachers got all emotional, and started telling us about her 16 year old sister who had recently died in a car accident. ( I think I was about 9)She was crying and carrying on and asking us to 'give our lives to Jesus' and I totally panicked, thinking I was about to die.

Me and my friend, high tailed it out of there and I never darkened the door of a church again until I was married.

I was a naturally good kid, and rarely got into trouble, and I had a strong sense of right and wrong. Not sure how that happened since my brothers were in and out of Juvi Hall, and my dad was an alcoholic and a known thief.

My goodness carried on into my adult life, and I continued to think I was good, and I did not need God. I taught my children manners, and moral values, and they all seemed to be naturally good too.

Then, after some tragic events in our life and a move to California, my family and I started going to church. For the first time since I was a kid of 9, I actually heard and understood what was being said, and realized my goodness was not going to save me. I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Saviour, and then, all hell broke loose in my life!

For the first time in my life I realized, I was NOT GOOD, and was faced with a Temptation, that totally drew me in. I wanted what I wanted, and even went as far as asking God to take his hands off of my life.

The next few years, were hell on earth for me, and when it was over, I was on my knees. I realized one thing that always stays with me. "GIVEN THE RIGHT CIRCUMSTANCES, ANYONE IS CAPABLE OF ANYTHING!"
I believe that no one is good, and so I try very hard not to judge others. BUT BY THE GRACE OF GOD GO I...

T

Snowbrush said...

Your spelling wasn't a problem. I was instead objecting to a conversation in which only one of us had a clue what we were talking about.

The Tusk said: "What you'll hear is the movement of the wind through the trees creating a sound you would understand to be laughter or music from natural causes."

I think you're saying that you don't believe in a supernatural deity, yet you appear to anthropomorphize natural forces. Why is this?

I am also puzzled by your willingness (or, perhaps, your need) to say that you experience God through these forces rather than simply saying that you experience something that you personally find touching, meaningful, or beautiful. Maybe you could respond to this.

Snowbrush said...

Teresa, as often happens, your response arrived while I was writing to Tusk.

What you wrote reminded me of testimonies I used to hear at the Methodist College I attended (my childhood church, the Church of Christ, was definitely not into testimonies).

I would assume that your belief that you are "not good" arose from holding yourself up against a perfect standard, and thinking that anything below that standard was abject failure. I was baptized when I was twelve, and maintained a feeling of spotlessness until the next afternoon when I caught myself having some thought--I don't remember what--that I identified as impure. At that point, I pretty much gave up on even trying to be a "good" person" because I realized that the rest of my life would be spent sinning over and over all day long, and consequently begging God to forgive me by the merit of his son who died on my behalf. Part of the hook (for lack of a better word at the moment) that keeps people in a perpetual state of fear and repentance is the belief that they are vile and fallen creatures. I consider this very sad.

rhymeswithplague said...

Snow, I don't have to look up the word "tithe" and I think your statement was downright hilarious!

I for one am more than willing to have GOD (or God or G-d, whatever) answer a question for me but I have never ever considered listening to the wind in the woods with one boot off. If I may say so, Snow, this post seems to have attracted a whole new level of commenter.

I commend you for your patience.

Teresa said...

I don't feel vile, I feel human, normal, no better than anyone else, however, I do believe I am forgiven. I don't beg God to forgive me, I am...because I believe Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice for sin. That is the Good News, Amazing Grace...it saved a wretch like me.

Snowbrush said...

Rhymes said: " I think your statement was downright hilarious...I commend you for your patience."

Thank you very much, Rhymes.

Teresa said: "I don't feel vile, I feel human, normal, no better than anyone else, however, I do believe I am forgiven."

If you regard yourself as no better and no worse than what God himself made you to be, then why do you need God's forgiveness, and why would an innocent person have to die in order to pay for that forgiveness?

Teresa said...

Well Snow, that was God's plan. Because of sin, His creation was flawed. Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice for that.

I have an inkling that God is far more interested in our souls than in our physical bodies...(we are so much more than the physical) I think there are other forces that are interested in our souls too...

Now, I have probably opened a 'huge can of worms'. : )

Zuzana said...

How lucky you are to have reached such a strong conviction of faith (or lack of it) at such an early stage in your life. Some of us struggle with finding the answer until the day we die.
I was born in an atheist country, but as I grew older and moved around, my perceptions changed. I consider myself being a spiritual being today, but am still searching for the (my?) truth.;)
Have a great week,
xo

rhymeswithplague said...

Speaking of tithing, when the lottery was passed in Georgia, the fundamentalists all just knew it was the Devil's work. One Sunday our pastor said, "If you play the lottery, that's between you and the Lord. If you win, you're definitely supposed to tithe."

Everybody fell down laughing (figuratively), but I don't think he was really joking.

Snowbrush said...

I found with my last post about religion that it became increasingly harder for me to know what to say to believers as their responses continued to come in, and, Teresa, you highlighted the main reason for that.

Teresa said: " I have probably opened a 'huge can of worms'. : )"

I think you are saying that you consider my questions threatening. I've thought a good bit about why this might be the case, and here is what I came up with. I assume you go to church where you take classes and hear sermons about your faith. Yet, I suspect that the only people who conduct these classes and sermons are themselves believers whose beliefs are seldom if ever challenged, and that all the other people whom you see in church are also believers. If I am right, this COULD mean that it is exceedingly rare and uncomfortable for you to converse with someone who is not a believer because such a person is just naturally going to ask more challenging questions than are those who accept the teachings of the church at face value. The latter group is going to accept assumptions that I don't make, and since, in all the churches I've ever been to, asking hard questions would threaten a person's sense of belonging, people aren't going to ask them even when they think of them.

Zuzana said: "How lucky you are to have reached such a strong conviction of faith (or lack of it) at such an early stage in your life."

Since Teresa is a person of faith, I'm puzzled by "the lack of it" part of what you wrote. It could be that you would just like to reach a place where you are no longer searching, one way or the other. In any event, a question come to mind that you might consider entertaining. I think it was Tolstoy who wrote about a simple peasant woman who was a happy believer and her priest who was unhappy because he had lost his faith. The priest confided in a friend about his unbelief, and the friend asked if he had rather, if he were able, will himself to believe a happy fable, or had he rather know the truth even if it would threaten his happiness. After reading your response to Teresa, I wondered how you would answer this.

Rhymes, you no doubt remember Herbert W. Armstrong, the old radio preacher ("his show was "The World Tomorrow") who started the Worldwide Church of God. He decided that one tithe simply wasn't enough to support the work of the church--and his unabashedly affluent lifestyle--so he demanded second, third, and even fourth tithes, of his more affluent members.

Natalie said: "Morse claims that from all his research, it appears that the light is EXTERNAL to the experiencer..."

On what basis did he conclude such a thing, and, if God is an objective reality, why would rational reasons for belief be "impossible."

Natalie said...

Belief surely wouldn't be impossible, just scientifically measuring infinity would be.

C Woods said...

Snowbrush ---I enjoyed this post so much. Almost every atheist in the country must have experienced some of the same things, especially if s/he left a religious denomination.

Some random thoughts realated to your post:

Highly-religious Christians, Muslims, Jews, and Hindus (for example) all think they are in possession of the whole truth, even though their individual truths are different from each other. At least three of them has to be wrong, but none can admit it may be him/her. If one has no doubts, one is closed to new ideas or new information. One cannot learn or change one's mind.

Most of the atheists I know would be very willing to change their minds if new and convincing evidence were presented. But most who try to change my mind give the same old, tired arguments, mostly having to do with what it says in the Bible. But what about fundamentalist followers of other faiths who believe every word in their own holy books? I think I would be safe in betting a large fortune that the average Jew, Mormon or Muslim is far more familiar with the Torah, Book of Mormon or the Koran than the average Christian is of the Bible, yet Christians pull out a few familiar verses to justify whatever idea they are proclaiming this week.

I find it is strange that followers of Jesus are so right-wing. Rabble-rousing Jesus was a social liberal. Christians should be giving away all their money to the poor instead of opposing welfare. They should be hanging out with "sinners" instead of vilifying them.

I attended one American Atheist conference in D.C. (1982) I also joined the Freedom From Religion Foundation and became a member of a local Secular Humanist group. I like those groups because I always learn so much from other members and I feel "at home" with them.

I live north of the Mason-Dixon line, yet I am in a Bible belt. I not only feel like an outcast, I fear some of the "good" Christians here (you know the ones with Confederate flags and gun racks on their pick-ups) might want to send me to a "higher power."

Someone commented on Madalyn being on the Phil Donahue show in the 1970s, (I think.) It was taped in Pittsburgh. Most of the "good" Christians in the audience who joined in the conversation were bitter, nasty, threatening, and ruthless toward her. Finally one brave woman got up and said something like, "Today I am embarrassed to be from Pittsburgh and I'm embarrassed to be a Christian if this is the kind of reception someone gives someone for expressing her own opinion, no matter how much one disagrees."

Occasionally the Freedom From Religions Foundation publishes their crank mail. Many religious people wish horrible diseases and death on FFRF members. They use foul language, wish members to be injured in accidents and make death threats. Almost all of the writers are Christians ---you know the faith that teaches one to love thy neighbor.

As Mark Twain said: "If the man doesn't believe as we do, we say he is a crank, and that settles it. I mean, it does nowadays, because now we can't burn him." (Following the Equator)

Snowbrush said...

First, Natalie, has the scientist(?) you quoted done research in the field he is writing about; has he published papers in peer-reviewed journals; and does he represent a consensus opinion of scientists in the field? You can find scientists (so-called) who take all kinds of positions that 99% of their peers completely disagree with, so it is important to ask such questions before deciding that a self-proclaimed expert is trustworthy. Now...

Natalie said: "There is as yet, no way to quantify the Light of God, Snow, because God /The Light is omnipotent, and therefore unquantifiable. What you are asking for is an impossibility."

Oh, hell, Natalie, forget quantifying "the Light of God"; I'll be happy just to settle for some proof of its (or his) existence. I don't need to know the exact measurements of the ocean that separates you and me to know that it exists. How much water the Pacific contains might be interesting, but it's hardly necessary for my purposes.

You're saying that the light which some--not all--people see during "near death experiences," lab experiments, etc. can't be accounted for by science, comes from outside the person's head, is omnipotent, and is not God but rather "the light of God." As for my request for evidence of all this, you say none is possible because "God /The Light is omnipotent, and therefore unquantifiable."

To begin with, I see no reason to think that the appearance of light inside a person's head--whatever precipitates it--requires an external source. I have seen lights before I had a migraine; I have seen lights after hitting my head; I have seen lights when I stood up too fast after bending over; and I have seen lights after looking at the sun and then closing my eyes. Pilots see lights under high G-forces before they black out. Lights are just what the brain sees when it's circuitry is fried, and its billions of neurons are firing like crazy across all those billions of synapses.

Surely, the idea that God appears unbidden to people whose brains have sustained a sudden interruption of normal functioning (through fevers, drugs, cardiac arrests, lab experiments, etc.) only to disappear as soon as they recover is suspect in itself. It comes awfully close to saying that people can best see God when they are not in their right minds, and that if they want to maintain the experience, they would do well to not return to their right minds.

Since the author you quote says the light is external, this would imply that it has an objective existence, and objectively existing light could surely be seen by others, and would surely be perceived as coming from a given direction. You might argue that it's not that kind of light. Very well, what kind of light is it, and how do you know its source is God? Couldn't it just as easily be caused by space aliens or else be the result of an experiment by the military to blind the enemy?

Snowbrush said...

C Woods, I have often envied people who didn't grow up in a church, especially a fundamentalist church. I literally consider it child abuse. I know that's a term that most people apply to cults rather than to established churches, but what is the church of today but the cult of yesteryear?

C Woods said: "Freedom From Religion Foundation"

I re-read Dan Barker's "Losing Faith in Faith" from time to time, and take heart following my own (usually) poorly rewarded attempts to dialogue with believers on a purely rational level by his failures to do the same despite his greater knowledge and abilities. When people's primary motive for belief is that they like how it makes them feel (safe, loved, protected, eternal, allied with power, etc.), any evidence that would deprive them of those feelings is unlikely to be seriously considered, yet I still enjoy such conversations as I am able to stimulate, and I am touched that I manage to alienate so few people.

C Woods said: "Someone commented on Madalyn being on the Phil Donahue show in the 1970s"

That would be Bernie, my Catholic friend from Ontario, Canada. I was glad to read your account of the program. As you doubtless know, her home when she brought the school prayer suit was in Baltimore.

C Woods said: "Most of the atheists I know would be very willing to change their minds if new and convincing evidence were presented."

YES! Compared to which most believers say that they wouldn't change their minds regardless. When a person holds belief without evidence to be a virtue, I suppose it naturally follows that belief in the face of opposing evidence would be an even greater virtue. And before we give atheists too much credit, let's nor forget that there ARE those among us who list their astrological signs on their blog profiles!

Natalie said...

I didn't mention that it had been seen by others, as it was only anecdotal evidence and i didn't think that would suffice. As far as i am aware, there have been many scientific papers written about NDE'S. Drs Morse ,Perry, Long to name a few have written papers. Maybe you could have a read and get back to me? ♥

Teresa said...

Hello Snow,
This weekend I was at the lake with a bunch of my family and friends who drink tequilla shots and use a rosary with a crystal on the end of it to ask it 'important questions in life'. If you hold it over your palm it goes up and down for no, and around and around for yes. I tried it and it stood still. They said it was because I was negative. Perhaps. That same group of people get all angry when I even mention Jesus.

During this same weekend my beloved sister brought out three different decks of Tarot cards, as she is learning to be a Psycic, and I even allowed her to read my cards.

On top of all this, I attend church once in awhile with my friend who is a Science of the Mind Church member, who, has a fit every time I mention the name of Jesus. It amazes me the power this name has.

I have several Catholic Friends, and I have attended several different churches. I do YOGA, and I MEDITATE, and I am the only one in my whole family (besides two of my children) who believes in Jesus and I am not afraid of the hard questions, nor am I afraid to talk about my love for Him.

I find most religious people stuffy and legalistic. However, I love them all. I just choose not to hang out with them. I have watched as demons have been caste from people, and I have done spiritual warfare...I have not tread upon snakes.

No, I do not attend a church and have not for at least 5 years, and I still love JESUS!

(((HUGS))) T

Snowbrush said...

Natalie said: "...there have been many scientific papers written about NDE'S"

Yes, of course. NDEs are a legitimate field of scientific inquiry.

Natalie, I spent a lot of time responding to what you wrote, and I don't think you read it closely. Unfortunately, people tend to breeze by things they disagree with. I too do this, and I try to counter it as best I can simply by reminding myself to pay attention.

In this instance, I was asking about the credentials of the specific writer you referred to. You portrayed him as saying that the light comes from God and is external to the person perceiving it. He apparently concluded this because he couldn't find any internal origin.

This is a logical fallacy that's called the "argument from ignorance," and it's often used to "prove" the existence of God. It's a very simple argument, and it goes like this: "Science can't explain _____; therefore God did it." It's most commonly used by creationists. If it's not apparent to them how the human eye (for example) could have evolved, they say that science can't account for its evolution; therefore evolution is discredited, and God created it.

Teresa, you have some strange friends. I know that there are Christians who don't attend church, yet the early church was nothing if not a society that existed for mutual support (physical and spiritual) and for the spreading of the gospel, so I wonder if you don't feel the absence of such a community.

Snowbrush said...

Rob-bear said: "Yet there were multiple eye-witnesses to the resurrection and subsequent actions.....I'm eager to see your response to my last comment about the resurrection of Jesus from the dead."

In 1917, 70,000 people witnessed the sun rotate, change colors, and zigzag through the sky at Fatima. Do you then believe that this event actually transpired?

The gospels were written by unknown people generations after Jesus died (assuming he ever really lived), so the fact that an unknown person at at unknown time wrote that X-number of unnamed witness saw Jesus ascend into heaven means nothing to me. I am much more impressed that no one (outside of the Biblical authors) who were co-existent with Jesus mentioned him AT ALL, and that no one outside of the Biblical authors thought it worth mentioning that the sky went dark, the earth trembled, the cemeteries emptied, and dead people walked around Jerusalem when he died.

Natalie said...

In regard to creationist theory being a cop out: yep, could be.
If i skim, it is because i am always pressed for time, not because i am disagreeing with you.
I'll go away, and try and find something else of note to bring to the table. ♥

Snowbrush said...

Natalie said: "If i skim, it is because i am always pressed for time..."

Yes, I know, and I often do the same thing. That said, I will add that I probably spend a great deal more time posting and answering responses than do most bloggers. I say this because a great many people use their blogs as diaries in which they record minutiae that I wouldn't dream of recording. This is right for them, and I don't mean to criticize their choice. What I do mean to say is that I try awfully hard to only post things that mean a great deal to me in the big picture as opposed to the day to day picture, and/or which I have reason to think will stimulate thought moreso than would a simple check-in about how my day, or week, or vacation went. And when people respond to my posts, I will sometimes answer as soon as I receive their responses, but there are many times that I go away and ponder my answer. I take great pleasure in this, but I also maintain the often vain hope that my readers will take my thoughts as seriously as I take theirs. Still, I know that you are even more busy than most people, and that you perceive the world on the basis of your feelings and intuition moreso than your intellect. This often makes it hard for me to feel that you really hear me, and the same is probably true for you.

nollyposh said...

Dear Snow i commented on my blog as i got too long winded to leave my words here (and you would've had to slap me!) X:-P

Teresa said...

Yeah! I miss church, but I am having a bit of a hard time finding fellowship with true followers of Jesus...mostly people want to play church, not get down to the real nitty gritty. I am actually tired of playing church and I am ready for the 'real miracles to begin'!!!! Bring em on Jesus!

Just_because_today said...

I pray to God (!) that if asked people would prefer an atheist over a child molester or serial killer

dana said...

Time for another article, Snow. This one has been beaten to death.

I don't know how you could present your theories more sincerely, succinctly and in greater detail, but the redundancy of the comments coming back at you are nothing more than retreaded addages learned at vacation bible school. If one banal platitude can't miraculously "fix" you, then it gets repeated ad nauseum as if the sheer weight of repetitious verbiage will make you see things "correctly".

Much like a band-aid on a gunshot wound; you still bleed to death but everyone gets to say "Well, we did all we could to 'save' him".

Lille Diane said...

How else can we learn if we don't ask the tough questions about life, God or faith? I have not attended church (in a building) in years. I see a clearer picture of God watching the birds in my back yard or walking in the woods... wind or no wind. Mind you this is coming from "the gospel singer gone bad" because I no longer attend church or do concerts singing about God's love. When I needed support from my church to get help in a marriage that was abusive and violent, I was told "I" needed to pray more and read my bible more. That was the answer I was given. I left the state with my son, for his protection and mine, and have never looked back. MY God told me to run like hell so I did. It's the people in my former church who've judged me for not doing God's will but never once have I woken up feeling God loves me any less. I have a smile in my heart and more peace than I've had in years and years. I don't believe in heaven or hell as an outcome. But I do believe a spirit lives on and on learning and teaching depending on what is needed. My God, Spirit, the Universe is real to me. I don't think any less of you for questioning, or believing or not believing as you do, Snow.

I appreciate you for being you.

Misha Sim said...

I thought you might find some use for this article. It has never failed to shock me the way in which Americans (on the whole) are so defensive of religion an so dismissive of anyone who thinks differently. Here in Australia its very different and while we have a large Christian community, people are less attached to notions of religion and more accepting of different points of view concerning faith and the lack thereof. http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2010/07/20/2947368.htm