Talks with Pauline


Grandpa and Great Grandpa, Church of Christ preachers
I’ve been blessed of late to make a new friend, Pauline, the chaplain who is teaching my class entitled “Grief, Loss, and Peace.” I never anticipate becoming friends with clergy because they’re spread too thin socially, but Pauline has shown herself open, and I have responded in kind. In what you are about to read, I only quote from her last letter in order to introduce my own thoughts, and this makes it appear that she had little to say when, in fact, she had a great deal to say, but to quote it all would double the size of this post.

PAULINE: “I wondered how God could possibly exist. After living with that question for the better part of the year, I decided that it was impossible for God NOT to exist.

ME: Perhaps you’ll agree that God’s existence isn’t something that a person can give convincing proof for, which makes belief a matter of personal experience or the acceptance of authority. As for myself, the more I thought about the same question, the less likely God’s existence seemed. First, there was the absence of evidence, and second there were the contradictions between the universe being governed by a God of love and the misery which surrounds us. Father Brent says that he never experiences God, yet he’s both devout, and attentive to living a life of love and giving. Since the only way I could believe in God would be through personal experience, I can’t understand how someone like Brent carries on.

PAULINE: That year taught me that God is playful with a sense of humor!

ME: I’m astounded by your claim that God could laugh while so many are suffering, many of them due to God’s failures. After all, God could speak to us from the sky or within our hearts in such a way that we would all know what was expected of us, but God didn’t, so even as I write, there are people who are killing and torturing other people in order to please God! Surely, a good God would want to correct this situation, and wouldn’t find laughter appropriate in the face of suffering that he caused and could easily eliminate. Being God, God could make a world in which everyone enjoyed everything that was good without anyone ever experiencing anything bad.

PAULINE: I was in a Baptist college feeling rebellious about God, and, the dorm girls elected me to be their chaplain.

ME: I’ve been a chaplain in lodges, and since I grew up with good men who were ministers, I still have a slight regard for the ministry that I don’t believe is justified by the evidence. I have a similar respect for medical doctors, although I’ve seen enough of them to know that they’re like the people in every other trade or profession in that half of them are, by definition, below average. It’s people who warrant respect, not their job descriptions, and I no longer believe that most ministers are either good people or good ministers. Still, a good minister is a blessing that is to be cherished and supported even by me, an atheist.

PAULINE: Now, I see faith as that which allows the head to accept what the heart knows.

ME: I am honored that you share this, but please understand that our views are very different and are likely to remain so. In particular, this statement makes no sense to me since those who say it so often contradict one another. If God communicates through people’s “heart,” then surely the hearts of believers would be as one.

PAULINE: And since I was 7 years old, I did indeed "know in my heart" that Jesus, that God, loved me.  Even when my intellect doubted and put God on trial.”

ME: I never knew such a thing, although I wanted to know it. My earliest memories of God are of cowering under the bed to get away from him after a fire and brimstone sermon. On one occasion, Dad and I stayed home from church and were playing checkers while a hard rain fell outside, and I became convinced that God was going to drown us for skipping church. When I was twelve, I cursed God for not revealing himself to me, became convinced that I had committed the unpardonable sin, and lived in morbid fear throughout most of my teen years. My thoughts of God were a mixture of terror and hatred, and the less I believed he existed, the more the hatred could appear. My sister, Anne, still thinks that it’s not God in whom I don’t believe, but rather the cruel and depraved God of my childhood, but this is not true because the reality I see around me leaves no room for any just and compassionate deity.

PAULINE: Now -- I firmly hold that God is love.  Pure love.  And that when this life is over, we'll discover that he loves all people so much that no one will be exiled to that place called "hell".

ME: There is no way that a deity can make up for injustice on earth except to not allow that injustice to occur. In other words, if a child is subjected to war and starvation, lives a life of hopelessness and terror, and dies at age seven from malnutrition, sarin gas, or a barrel bomb, there’s no way to make that right because it never should have happened. Yet, this is not what the Bible teaches. God allowed Satan to take everything from Job, but since God gave Job more than he originally had, justice was supposedly done, but justice would have required that Job never would have suffered. God’s view is like that of our judicial system in which if someone kills your child, the court might award you a huge financial settlement, but this isn’t justice, it’s the replacing of something of supreme value with something of far lesser value. Perhaps, you believe that suffering comes with a lesson, but if God is indeed all-powerful, he could instill us with every lesson he wants us to know, but without causing us to suffer. It’s also true that suffering doesn’t always come with a lesson, and while it can strengthen a person, it can also break and destroy him, this through no fault of his own. Christians are fond of saying that God never gives us more that we can handle, yet people blow their brains out everyday because they can no longer bear their misery; and what lesson is learned by a toddler whose short life consists of sexual torture followed by death with a blowtorch (a man in Cottage Grove was recently arrested for burning a three-year old's genitals)? How can the concept of a truly good and all-powerful God be reconciled with injustices so enormous that a person is rendered speechless upon hearing of them?

PAULINE: Even in my teen years, I felt set apart by God, for God.

ME: I just felt mad, yet I tried desperately to believe because I so wanted to replace my hatred of God with love. I prayed fervently for something, anything, that would allow me to believe. With my eyes closed, I would open my Bible and point to a verse that I hoped would constitute a message, but I so rarely hit upon a verse that  applied to me that I couldn’t trust it when one did, and so I only became more cynical. I often walked to a graveyard near my house and prayed to a large concrete statue of Jesus, but I never felt God’s presence. No matter what I did, he wasn’t there for me. Still, I preached sermonettes, and I even improvised a pulpit in my backyard, decorated it with wisteria, and preached to the neighborhood kids. I accompanied preachers on revivals to distant states; studied my Bible thoroughly; and built my social life around the church. When I got to college, I took classes in Bible and theology; visited over 50 denominations and one synagogue in my search for one that I could believe in; and went door-to-door with some Jehovah’s Witnesses who were trying to start the area’s first Kingdom Hall (my Church of Christ preacher put an end to that). Yet, after age eleven (when I read that God commanded the Israelite army to commit murder and rape), my faith was at best hovering over the toilet, and much of the time, it was desperately struggling to climb out of the toilet.

ME: On one occasion, I optimistically tried to liberate the Church of Christ by writing essays for its newsletter, but my essays weren’t printed, and when I stopped attending church at age nineteen, no one asked why I left, and people who had been my lifelong friends would glare at me without speaking when we chanced to meet. Yet, what had I done but to give up trying to believe that God gave a rip as to whether the Church of Christ used a piano, or baptized by immersion, or had weekly communion, or forbade women to speak in church? I likewise gave up the belief that God would send all of us to an eternal fiery hell if we got even the tiniest commandment wrong, there being nothing trivial to the Church of Christ. Any deviation from its teachings was said to come from the sin of willful rebellion, the very sin that Satan committed and had caused a war in heaven. As the Church of Christ saw it, there were but two ways: its way (which was God’s way) and the road to eternal hell, with nearly everyone on earth choosing the latter because they were in league with Satan and therefore in rebellion against the commandments of the “Most High,” commandments so simple that “even a child could understand them.”

ME: Your belief that God has a sense of humor is appalling to me in light of the way his people have treated me. I was once struck on the head when I wouldn’t stand when the district attorney led the Grand Jury that I was on in prayer, and I’ve also been cursed and had people flip me the bird because I didn’t worship their God of love. I also know of people who have been run out of their homes because they were atheists, yet the worst that we suffer in America is nothing compared to atheist bloggers in the Middle East being beheaded, hacked to death with machetes, or imprisoned for decades, this for writing things that were less critical of religion than what I have written for years. I never have much confidence that the day won’t come when I too might be in danger, and that day draws nearer every time a Republican is elected to office because Republicans would take their version of sharia law and impose it on us all.

ME: In a sense, the entire human race is in Auschwitz. Sure, most of us—in this country anyway—have enough to eat, yet we are surrounded by misery and death, in the presence of which Christians would hold that the love and guidance of their Supreme Being is available to anyone who asks for it, but for how many decades is a person expected to ask when he gets absolutely no answer regardless of how desperate he becomes? If God is such a great lover that he personally died for us (that’s a hard one to get my mind around!), why doesn’t he love and guide me, and why doesn’t he tell those millions of fanatical Moslems that he really doesn’t approve of honor killings, genital mutilation, car bombs, gas attacks, the rape of “spoils of war,” and knife beheadings on YouTube? Do those who do these things not also think they’re under the guidance of God?

ME: My first college was run by Independent Methodists, and most of the Methodist students planned to go into the ministry, but they weren’t necessarily religious, so I got along with everyone. We had compulsory chapel, and there would often be an invitational given, so I would regularly go down to the altar to renew my “dedication to Christ.” Dr. Howard, my theology professor would always meet me there, and look disappointed because he could see in my eyes that I didn’t believe. No matter how much I wanted to believe, I couldn’t, yet Dr. Howard blamed me for my unbelief, but what was behind his disappointment? Was it that I couldn’t get God’s “plan for salvation” right, or because I didn’t want to believe badly enough, or because I committed the “unpardonable sin” at age twelve and was eternally damned? Clearly, he—like my former blogger friend, Joseph—felt that I was to blame for not believing because that’s what he had to do in order to maintain his own beliefs. Joseph could only hurt me because no matter how hard I tried to communicate the truth about myself, he, like Dr. Howard, didn’t believe me because he couldn’t allow himself to believe me without throwing his own beliefs into doubt. Like Dr. Howard, he said I was too proud and too arrogant to open my heart to God, and he continued to maintain this no matter how desperately and for how long I told him that I wanted to believe. His position was tantamount to calling me a liar, and when he said that he thought that people like myself shouldn’t be allowed to spread “atheist lies,” I pictured him holding a machete, death being the only sure way to silence people like myself. The faith that you obtained so easily, I have spent decades trying to achieve, and I simply can’t do it. This raises, in my mind, the question of how you can.

ME: I can but assume that, for whatever the reason, there is something different about the brains of believers versus those of nonbelievers because how else can people believe so strongly in that for which they cannot offer a smidgen of evidence, and which seems utterly absurd to people like myself. Rationally speaking, I cannot see the difference in believing in Jesus and believing in leprechauns. Sure, a lot more people believe in the former than in the latter, but this suggests nothing to me regarding the reality of the former.

PAULINE: Those were the years (1969-early 70's) when culture was fascinated with transcendentalism and the metaphysical, and the simplicity of "hippy" life.”

ME: I read Alan Watts and Richard Alpert/Ram Dass, in the hope that, even if I couldn’t be a Christian, I could at least be something, but it all rang so hollow to me that I was eventually forced to admit that I was only pretending to believe any of it.

PAULINE: I resented for many years the judgmentalism of the Baptist tradition in which I was raised.

ME: What kind of Baptist were you? In my area, nearly everyone was Southern Baptist with most people who weren’t Southern Baptists being Church of Christ (my church) with the role-call of churches going downhill from there. The C of C was more conservative than the Southern Baptist, and even taught that the Baptists (along with everyone else on earth who didn’t belong to the Church of Christ) were going to hell because “they followed the ways of men instead of the clear commandments of the eternal God.” Since it was Baptists who controlled the elections in Mississippi, it was Baptists who didn’t repeal prohibition until I was finishing high school (I never actually graduated), and it was Baptists who, at the same time they voted for prohibition, allowed bootleggers to sell their wares openly right there in town. The advantage—or so it seemed when I was a teenager—of bootleggers was that they didn’t care who they sold to, so every weekend, my young friends and I would go to some bootlegger’s house, tell him how many fifths we wanted (the bootleggers in my area didn’t make moonshine; they imported brand name liquor from Louisiana), and then drive around, drunk out of our minds. The next day, I wouldn’t remember who I had been with; I would just observe that my car was filled with empty bottles and puke. I don’t know how many young men—and one young woman—died in car wrecks while I was in high school in that “sleepy Southern town” town of 12,000 people. Many of these kids died drunk, yet no effort was ever make to clean the town of white bootleggers—the black ones didn’t fare so well. Such were the values of Baptists.

PAULINE: My folks were not so rigid, fortunately.

ME: Mine weren’t either. My mother feared God so much that she wanted to think of herself as religious, but she only attended church sporadically and took no interest in anything related to religion. My father flip-flopped between being religious and being an atheist. He dropped out of school in the eighth grade because he wouldn’t let a teacher spank him for fighting, so his reading skills were poor, but I can picture him sitting up in bed at night, running his finger along the page and mouthing the words as he struggled to make sense of his King James Bible. Dad was morbidly shy, a transexual and a trans-dresser before it was cool, had a personality disorder, had severe anger issues, and possessed few social skills, all of which left him socially isolated despite his pathetic efforts to make friends. My father’s life alone is reason enough to reject the concept of a compassionate God, because Dad surely never received compassion from God or from Christians, but was instead met with scorn, rejection, and loneliness. He finally became so weird around religion that he would tell Peggy and me over breakfast (he came to live with us when he could no longer live alone) what God had told him during the night. He then started giving cards to strangers that contained his name and address, and identified him as a “Prophet of God.” He told everyone to whom he witnessed that they were to come to our house if they needed anything (we immediately told him that we weren’t okay with that, so he stopped doing it).

ME: Dad’s second biggest problem regarding religion (I’m coming to the first) was that he decided that God favored the King James version of the Bible and would send anyone to hell who didn’t use it. To convey this important message, Dad would interrupt services in the various Churches of Christ he visited, and tell them that God wanted them to throw away their other Bibles. This made him instantly unwelcome since these churches had no compassion for the mentally ill, at least for the ones who couldn’t keep their mouths shut. What he did that brought Peggy and me the most pain was to enter sweepstakes, and be informed by God that he had won. When he didn’t win, he would explain that God had postponed him getting the money because he had failed to persuade the Church of Christ to use the King James Bible.

PAULINE: Having friends who are "open-minded theologians" who believe God will gather everyone into his kingdom…

ME: I know that there are Christians whose hearts are open to atheists, but my experience has been that those who are open to religious views other than their own nearly always maintain that atheists are undeserving of anything more than a brief and awkward show of politeness. This has created in me a suspicion of religious people because I don’t always see their bigotry until I’ve known them for awhile. For instance, it’s not uncommon for atheists to hear such things as, “You’re not like other atheists,” or “You’re too sensitive to be a real atheist,” this from people whom the atheist had considered a friend. To understand how such things feel to atheists, substitute the word black for the word atheist: “You’re not like other black people,” or “You’re too sensitive (or intelligent) to be all black.” Such statements are also why I so value those few religious people with whom I’ve been friends for a long time. I can accept a certain amount of suspicion on their part, but I also need to trust that, if I hang in there, they will eventually see me as a person and not a hated category. Sometimes, as with my blog friend, Joseph, I end up feeling like a moron because I gave someone my trust. I tell myself that I should have seen it coming, and that I should be more careful next time; basically that I made a mistake that requires me to hold religious people at arms’ length until I’ve known them for a very long time. Such feelings are like poison, but they’re impossible to dismiss because no one likes to be kicked in the teeth because he opened his heart to someone who claims to worship a God of Love, but is not himself loving except to those who agree with him.

PAULINE: I often find that even the most "dogmatic" often have holes in their armor, vulnerabilities, doubts, and woundedness that they try to hide.

ME: I wonder which religious people are more solid in their faith, the hardcore dogmatists or the liberals. It’s often true that those who profess the most rabid hatred for gay people score highest on tests of homoeroticism. In the case of religious dogmatists, could it not be that their rigidity is likewise built upon a fear of finding within themselves the very thing they most hate; and that in persecuting those who disagree, they’re really trying to destroy their own doubts? I suspected as much of Joseph, because no matter how hard I tried to reach him, he never came a hair’s width closer to understanding anything about me. I reflected that, since he had said that his primary reason for belief is that he couldn’t face life without it, he had strong grounds for closing himself off from me, although doing so implied weakness rather than strength, this from a man who described himself on one occasion as a wall and on another as a rock.

26 comments:

Sparkling Red said...

With regards to your opening paragraph; when I started attending a Baptist church, which I did for 4 years, one of the pastors and his wife met with my Jewish parents to reassure them in whatever ways they could. Believe it or not, many years after I stopped attending that church and fell out of touch with everyone associated with it, my mother and the pastor's wife (Marilyn) are still friends!

Marilyn is a super-sweet lady, who really walks her talk of love and acceptance. My mother, who has all the same objections to theism that you do, is always amazed by Marilyn's thoughtfulness and generosity. It just bowls her over. I recall teasing her one time "It's no wonder that you can't bring yourself to believe in Jesus. You can barely believe in Marilyn, even when she's standing right in front of you!" ;-)

Elephant's Child said...

Thank you for this post.
As you know I grew up largely without religion. My father, a German Jew, said it cost too much. Interestingly when he was planning his funeral he rang a Rabbi.
I am certainly an agnostic and more probably an atheist, but will freely admit I don't KNOW.
And unlike you, don't feel the need to believe either.
I so admire you for your honesty, your openness and your vulnerability. All of which add up to integrity.

Renae said...

People will believe what they want to believe. The more convinced they are that they are right the less likely they'll be able to comprehend any argument that would dispute that belief. The weakest argument I have ever heard is that you simply have to have faith. Like you I tried desperately to believe. I wonder why some people seem to accept it so easily and yet I see religion as totally nonsensical.Someone once told me that it was the devil putting a block on me and that was why I couldn't accept the existence of god. Jeeez!

lotta joy said...

WOW. I told Joe "You've got to read Snow - but on YOUR computer, not mine." I'm going to read this many more times. (And he's reading right now) I tried for 50 years to swallow what everyone told me was true. I yearned for their "peace that passes all understanding", and merely worked myself to death in the process.

If I told people there was someone in our guestroom, and the door was locked, they'd have no reason to doubt me. It's an acceptable story. But if I told them I had a fire breathing unicorn in the guestroom, granting my every wish, no one would believe me and a few would demand proof.

Extreme pronouncements call for extreme proof, and there is no proof that any one of over 13 gods ever existed. Few, if any, remain to worship Thor. But he was a powerful god of his time.

If a child is not indoctrinated with bible stories that equate to fairy tales that children are prone to believe, then that child will not see proof or benefit of worshiping a "maybe" god when there is no justification he exists.

Some people fall in line, follow, never question, and tell themselves there is a leader. In actuality they could be marching in a circle.

I no longer fear - or must love - a cruel, heartless, misogynistic, genocidal, creation of the stone age. If there was ever a powerful god, he would not depend on PARCHMENT AND POPES to get his word out. He'd be ever vigilant, ever loving, and ever present. What scares me is the number of people who insist he is.

Stephen Hayes said...

I think many of us have a need to believe God exists but intellectually are unable to do so. Wasn't it Voltaire who said,"if God didn't exist it would be necessary to invent Him." nothing that I've been told or read about God makes sense yet I have a great need to feel connected to something greater than myself. But I know I can't find what I need in organized religion.

BBC said...

Well, I have no respect for religions and make believe gods, and there are thousands of them. But I believe in your spirit and I’m not willing to give any make believe god credit for the good things you do. But I’ll damn sure thank your spirit.

Snowbrush said...

I hadn't meant to put this online yet because I hadn't run it by Pauline for permission, but having inadvertently put in online, if I take it off, I will lose the eight comments that have been made. Therefore, I'm going to leave it up until I hear from Pauline.

Renae said...

I hope Pauline doesn't mind. This is a thoughtful and wonderfully written essay.

BBC said...

" I have a great need to feel connected to something greater than myself."

That would of course be nature, but don't expect me to explain all that to you, we may not figure that out for another three hundred years even though it is pretty obvious but religions with brainwashing and collection plates keep side tracking everyone.

BBC said...

"I hadn't meant to put this online yet because I hadn't run it by Pauline for permission,"

That is a very interesting statement being as I have never felt I needed someone else's permission to post what I post.

BBC said...

Lotta of joy and I have never gotten along for the most part but I damn sure agree with her comment here.

Snowbrush said...

"I have never felt I needed someone else's permission to post what I post."

The rub is that what she wrote consisted of words that might have been written in confidence, although I seriously doubt it. Look at it this way, if what I share with a clergyperson is privileged information, if if I want honesty from such a person, why shouldn't I promise them the same confidentiality? I sure screwed it up on this occasion,but since I really don't think Pauline shared anything confidential, I going to go with it rather than lose all your comments, which would be what would happen if I pulled the post. If this is problem for her I'm just have to lie on my belly and make a blood oath to never do it again.

lotta joy said...

You could copy the comments (Since they show phenomenal intellect, don't lose them!). Show your post to Pauline, then reprint the comments if she's okay with it. If she's not, you can make an intellectual post with our comments! LOL

kylie said...

It's probably irrelevant now but you can save a post as a draft and it keeps the comments, then you can just re-post whenever you are ready (or keep it as a draft as a way of archiving)

Snowbrush said...

“you can save a post as a draft and it keeps the comments”

When I’ve done this, I’ve lost the comments. Maybe things have changed, but I’m afraid to risk it. I’ll try though because I can easily see why Pauline would be offended by this post.

Snowbrush said...

I got Pauline’s permission to print her words, so I’m putting this post up again with a few alterations. I’m pleased that those who said that I could revert it to a draft and not lose the comments were correct. This wasn’t always true.

“when I started attending a Baptist church, which I did for 4 years, one of the pastors and his wife met with my Jewish parents to reassure them in whatever ways they could.”

There are liberal Baptist denominations, but the Southern Baptist denomination is the largest Baptist denomination, and it’s far from liberal. Still, people being people, not every Southern Baptist preacher would shut from their lives everyone who didn’t believe as they did.

“I so admire you for your honesty, your openness and your vulnerability. All of which add up to integrity.”

I would just say that the only people who can hurt me are the people who I get close to, and this is why I can share deeply personal things with complete strangers without caring how they react. In this regard, blogging has made me much more courageous because I can do the same thing face-to-face. It’s so easy for me to truly not care if people react negatively unless I have to see them frequently, or I allow myself to love them. Then, they can indeed hurt me, but not by disagreeing with me or even by being incensed by me, but only by abandoning me.

“The weakest argument I have ever heard is that you simply have to have faith.”

I know. It amounts to saying that, in order to believe that religion is true, you first have to believe that religion is true.

“The more convinced they are that they are right the less likely they'll be able to comprehend any argument that would dispute that belief.”

But is this only commonly true, or is it universally true, and is it more true of some groups than of other groups? Several studies have shown that people not only ignore refuting evidence they believe more strongly in what they believed before they received refuting evidence. I think this is particularly true in regard to religion because it regards unfounded belief (“faith”) as a virtue. Remember Tertullian: “Credo absurdum pst.” Here’s a link for you: http://skepdic.com/backfireeffect.html

Snowbrush said...

“Extreme pronouncements call for extreme proof”

I have no idea if this is true. I mean, how could you make a case for it? It seems to suggests that if something sounds obvious, little proof is necessary, but if something sounds fantastic, a lot of proof is necessary. This would be to take the common sense approach to truth, yet since common sense is so often wrong, how can a higher burden exist for some things than others? I’m not saying you’re wrong; I’m just saying that I don’t know if you’re right.

“If there was ever a powerful god, he would not depend on PARCHMENT AND POPES to get his word out.”

Or rely on blind faith in any form. Why would God speak to Pauline’s heart and not to mine? Is Pauline more sensitive to spiritual realities; does God prefer Pauline to me; is God still mad about the “unpardonable sin” thing; or is Pauline simply wired differently, not better, not worse, just differently? My bottomline for goodness has nothing to do with faith versus atheism, but how someone lives. I know atheists who could be hit by a truck for all I care, and I know theists who I love—and I know you do too.

“Wasn't it Voltaire who said,"if God didn't exist it would be necessary to invent Him.”

Yes, but he was an extremely vocal critic of religion and the religious mindset, so go figure. For example he wrote: “The truths of religion are never so well understood as by those who have lost the power of reasoning.” For more Voltaire quotes: (http://www.positiveatheism.org/hist/quotes/voltaire.htm)

“I have a great need to feel connected to something greater than myself. But I know I can't find what I need in organized religion.”

Same here. Did you know that the number of Americans who list themselves as not being unaffiliated with any religion now rank a couple of points higher than the number who are Catholic (the number of each being within a couple of points of 25%)? Thanks to Islamic fundamentalists, and to religious politicians, and to religion-based discrimination, religion is losing respect in America. Unfortunately, atheists aren’t much respected either.

“But I believe in your spirit and I’m not willing to give any make believe god credit for the good things you do.”

I have no idea what you mean by spirit or why the word is so important to you.

“I have never felt I needed someone else's permission to post what I post.”

When I’m quoting what someone else has shared with me in private, I feel the need to get their permission to quote if I have the least doubt that they would care.

“Lotta of joy and I have never gotten along for the most part but I damn sure agree with her comment here.”

I’m NOT saying this about her IN THE LEAST, but your words about agreeing with someone you don't usually agree with did bring to mind the quip about even a dead clock being right twice a day.

BBC said...

“But I believe in your spirit and I’m not willing to give any make believe god credit for the good things you do.”

I have no idea what you mean by spirit or why the word is so important to you.

You don't recognize the spirit in you? I guess you could use the word soul if you wish.
Spirit: The vital principle or animating force within living things.

PhilipH said...

I knew a girl called Pauline. She was very pretty.

Other than that, no comment.

Renae said...

"I can but assume that, for whatever the reason, there is something different about the brains of believers versus those of nonbelievers because how else can people believe so strongly in that for which they cannot offer a smidgen of evidence, and which seems utterly absurd to people like myself. Rationally speaking, I cannot see the difference in believing in Jesus and believing in leprechauns. Sure, a lot more people believe in the former than in the latter, but this suggests nothing to me regarding the reality of the former".

I am glad you wrote this because I have often thought the same thing. During my early adult years (I'm 60) I wondered if I was somehow defective for being a non-believer. I assumed maybe I wasn't trying hard enough and if I kept an open mind that part of my brain would be activated and I would have a revelation. So I continued to study and prayed for guidance.It seemed ironic to me that my forefathers had such strongly held doctrines which included two Methodist ministers, one Mennonite minister and one of the earlier Presidents of the LDS church and yet I could find nothing rational in the notion of a supreme incorporeal being. Whatever the "it" factor is, I just don't have it.

Snowbrush said...

“Spirit: The vital principle or animating force within living things.”

BBC, your use of the word spirit is one of things that I love about you, and it hurts me that people like KJ (who is a counselor, no less) dismiss you without taking the time to see you as possessing the depth that I find in you, there being so much about you to admire—I just wish we were neighbors. Schopenhauer called spirit the “will,” which was an unfortunate choice because he didn’t mean mean conscious decision making (as in having a “strong will” or a “weak will”) but rather what I think you mean in your use of the word spirit. To me, to say that we all possess an “animating force” is simply to say that we’re alive, whereas to you, I think, it means that there is something beyond ourselves that resides in us and cannot die, and while you don’t use the word God, “spirit” appears to suggest to you a property from which our existence comes but that is more than our existence. I will admit that IT FEELS SO to me as well, but I assume that the feeling doesn’t suggest an empowering presence that is greater than my earthly life, but rather an emotional inability to accept the fact that the day will come when I will be no more—profoundly no more, a memory at most, and even that memory will only exist in the minds of people who will themselves soon be totally and forevermore dead. Still, I do feel, I think, what you feel when you use the word spirit, and the feeling seems natural and inescapable to me whereas a belief in an anthropomorphic deity seems forced and contrived.

“I knew a girl called Pauline. She was very pretty.”

My uncle’s wife was named Pauline, and she was a witch, and I don’t mean in a good way. I think that woman would have tortured puppies for money, and I smile every time I think of her and recall that she’s dead. I had to get beyond that association in my friendship with this Pauline. I did so partly by reflecting that the only person I currently know who has my name is a lowlife with whom I’m embarrassed to share MY name. Truly, names mean nothing, at least as to whether a person is a saint or a demon.

Snowbrush said...



“During my early adult years (I'm 60) I wondered if I was somehow defective for being a non-believer. I assumed maybe I wasn't trying hard enough and if I kept an open mind that part of my brain would be activated and I would have a revelation.”

Our histories mirror one another. I assumed that believers knew something that they weren’t telling me that would enable me to believe, but I didn’t want to confess my non-belief in order to ask them. As for what I wrote about leprechauns, many believers would say that the commonality of belief in God suggests that religion IS true, but I think it says a lot about the human brain, while saying nothing about God because if God were to communicate with us in such a way, surely he would share more than the mere fact of his existence while telling us nothing about the nature of that existence. I guess you’ve heard that atheists can be made to experience God in the laboratory, yet they don’t interpret the experience as proving that God exists, anymore that I interpret my very real experience of demons while on drugs as proving that demons exist.

The following is from the blog of an atheist who lives in Turkey. I simply share it because I know almost nothing about the atheist situation in Turkey, so I enjoyed reading it, and thought that all of you would too:

"When we say atheist, we mean mostly non-Islam, non-Judaism, non-Christianity."

"You could not say even atheist 10 years ago in Turkey. Atheists always were afraid of saying their atheism. It is still so. That is why I do not search for support from them.

"About 20-30.000 people know my atheism. I took death threats. No problem. I know my folk. I know when they will really kill me. Then I will go away of course.I have been writing about atheism in blogs for more than 5 years. I do not try make someone an atheist. Our law is fuzzy. I do not want to go to jail because of the crime of insulting Islam (yes, there is such a matter in our Penalty Law).

"I have never entered into a mosque or a church or a sinagogue. It will remain as the same till my death. In fact I think not to be in my death ceremony by exterminating my death body.

"So this a war between me and them. I like Sun Tzu. I use tactics and strategies of him. It works.

"I am still here and alive. It works.”

Here is the link to his blog, which he no longer maintains, although he still keeps another blog in his native language. Still if you want to offer encouragement, you can reach him through his old blog: http://turkeyandpolitics.blogspot.com/ , and maybe he will even honor you with an email.

E. Rosewater said...

I guess we're all products of our upbringing to a certain extent. While you had a father who sounds like an interesting guy to observe from a distance, he would have been a pretty poor ambassador for organized religion for anyone living with him.

On the other hand, my dad and his brother got a little drunk one day and decided to have me and my cousins baptized. My uncle was a guard at the prison so to save a few bucks, they took us to the prison and had us baptized by the prison chaplain. So I was baptized in prison! From what I've heard, my dad and his brother weren't the most popular guys with their wives for a few days but I'm quite happy with it.

I'd be wary of Pauline. She's a pro and does this for a living. Although she won't be able to recruit you to her coven but think in terms of Gladwell's Outliers. She's honing her skills and putting in her 10,000 hours of practice. These skills will be used to recruit less strong minded individuals who in turn may turn their children over to the mean man in the clouds.

uthman saheed said...

Honestly, I would not have expected anything different from all you wrote down sir. You seem to have been always expressive about your opinion when it comes to the issue of religion and God.

God presence is everywhere though you might have personally decided not to pay attention to it. I supposed you don't need to see or feel the presence of an artist. Once you see his wonderful painting, you will surely know an artist exist.

As to your claim on terrorism, religion differences and others. Those are not enough to deny the existence of God. Allah does not force anyone to submit to Him. He has layed out a clear path and then made it known to them the two ways (Heaven or Hell). Anybody is always free to make his or her own choice.

How are you doing sir?

Sue in Italia/In the Land Of Cancer said...

I do love reading these discussions. As a child, I fretted because everyone else seemed so secure in their knowledge of God. I just couldn't see it. And the Bible stories made absolutely no sense. When I was 12 or so, like Alice in Wonderland, I could clearly see that all was just a pack of cards. No more reason to worry. Like EC, I have no need to believe but plainly others do. Voltaire is right.

Snow, you are only 60? I swear you were older.

Snowbrush said...

“I'd be wary of Pauline. She's a pro and does this for a living.”

You wrote something similar about Father Brent. I think you’re putting me on, although it might suit a lot of clergy if they could have as much power as you ascribe to them. As it is, I think you could sit an atheist whose opinions are well-considered down for a solid week with 100 of the best preachers and theologians on earth, and that person would come away still an atheist. There simply aren’t that many arguments for God, and once you know them all, and have rejected them all, they have no power in your life.

“God presence is everywhere though you might have personally decided not to pay attention to it.”

Either you didn’t read this post very well, or I didn’t write it very well, because I know that, like my Indian reader, Joseph, your knowledge of English exceeds that of most Americans.

“Allah does not force anyone to submit to Him…Anybody is always free to make his or her own choice.”

Then why is it that nearly all people choose the religion that they grew up with?

“How are you doing sir?”

Well, sir, pain woke me up, or otherwise, I would still be in bed. Here, my Nigerian friend, it is seldom that anyone is referred to as sir. I come from the part of the U.S. known as the Deep South, and I’ve been away from there for 30 years, so things might have changed, but that has long been a part of the country where such words of respect have always been heard. I consider this admirable, but people from the South sometimes get mad fun of because of it. This is especially true of the children. Rather than sir or ma’am, I think a more appropriate word for those who ridicule people who are only trying to be polite would be asshole. Personally, I’m not fond of having some twenty year who doesn’t know me refer to me by my first name. I know that that no disrespect is intended, but having grown up differently, I’ll never hear it without feeling badly.

“When I was 12 or so, like Alice in Wonderland, I could clearly see that all was just a pack of cards. No more reason to worry.”

I find that this is a common attitude among atheists, and that what I experience sets me apart and makes me feel that I don’t belong in atheist groups (although much of my estate will go to the Freedom From Religion Foundation). All Consuming wrote that she was sorry that I had this “cross to bear,” and she was so right in that that is what it is. If there’s a hell, and a person has to have blind faith to avoid going there, I’m screwed, but if God does exist, and if, as many claim, he most especially exists in the search for him, then I’ll probably have a pretty decent in heaven, much to the chagrin of all those people in the cheaper seats.