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April 12, 2004

Things I believe
Posted by Teresa at 12:31 AM * 281 comments

I believe that if God is as advertised, God’s ways and means and purposes cannot always be comprehensible to us.

I believe in the God of the Burgess Shale*, Who not only made creation stranger than we know, but stranger than we could ever imagine.

I believe it’s a sin to throw out awkward data.

I believe that the God who made (among other things) light, and space, and number, and time, and the spiral curve of Fibonacci numbers, must be acknowledged to understand more than I do about why there’s pain in the world.

I believe God put that itchy spot on our backs, just exactly where we can’t reach it, to encourage us be to nice to each other.

I believe God doesn’t play mean practical jokes on His children; for instance, the ones He makes gay.

I believe that God created my friend Rob, who is all that Christians are enjoined to be, but is also a perfect natural atheist; and I believe that God rejoices in His creation.

I believe that any Christians whose religious practices aren’t centered around sacrificing and burning animals ought not spend all their time trying to enforce obscure passages in the Pentateuch.

I believe that God will not deprive any of His children of their free moral agency, which among other things includes their freedom to screw up.

I believe that most of the people who go on about the misogyny of western religion have failed to look closely at the Doctors of the Church.

I believe that I am a member of the Body of Christ, and that He acts in this world through our embodiment of him.

I believe that if Christ himself were here right now, his chief interest wouldn’t be in the church hierarchy.

I believe that the Holy Spirit gets around, and is not solely embodied in the formal structures of religion. I nevertheless also believe that so many earnest believers trying so hard to do right and know right for more than 2,000 years must have done more than accumulate errors all that time, since otherwise it calls into question the whole enterprise of religion.

I believe that a religion that exists only to tell you how good you are, and which never requires you to do anything you don’t want to do, or refrain from anything you do want to do, is a species of moral cotton candy.

I believe that of all the blessings we’re given, one of the greatest is that we can occasionally make each other happy.

I believe that the cure for disliking organized religion is prolonged exposure to the disorganized sort.

I believe that religion isn’t complex; it’s simple. It’s putting it into practice that gets complex.

I believe that anyone who interprets the Bible on a sentence-by-sentence basis, as though it were a user’s manual, is willfully making himself or herself stupider than necessary. A sentence in the Song of Songs does not compile meaning in the same way as a sentence from the Acts of the Apostles.

I believe the book of Jonah was meant to be funny.

I now believe the saints are sneakier than my early years of study led me to think.

I believe that when you start thinking of any one part of creation as being somehow more real than any other part, you’ve made a wrong turn in your philosophy and will come to an undesirable conclusion.

I believe we’re bound to occasionally confuse God with His creation. The part of creation I most frequently confuse with God is the English language.

I love language passionately, and yet I believe human language is inadequate to fully express God and his teachings. I believe Jesus was the Word made Flesh, and that his life was one heck of a sentence, with a surprise twist on the verb in the last clause.

I believe in one God, the Father, the almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen. I believe in one lord, Jesus Christ, the only son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, one in being with the Father. Through him all things were made. For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven; by the power of the Holy Spirit, he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate. He suffered, died, and was buried. On the third day he rose again in fulfillment of the scriptures. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified. He has spoken through the prophets. I believe in the one holy catholic and apostolic church. I acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

__________________
*Patrick’s phrase and formulation. I believe that God wants us to keep track of who makes what: thus copyright.

Comments on Things I believe:
#1 ::: Darkhawk ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 01:44 AM:

I believe I need to show this to a couple of friends.

#2 ::: Elizabeth Bear ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 01:46 AM:

I believe that God has bigger things to worry about than who worships Him, and how. Or, at least, I hope so.

I do not believe that God cares in Whose name we strive to be kind to each other, so long as we get off our asses and do it.

#3 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 01:48 AM:

I believe how I live is more important that what I believe or profess.

I believe I can always learn better how to live.

I believe I can't tell anyone else what to believe (and I don't think anyone here has yet tried to tell me what to believe).

#4 ::: ben ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 02:02 AM:

Many thanks for the last paragraph.

I can never recite that word for word outside of church, notwithstanding the fact that I've recited it hundreds of times in church.

#5 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 02:06 AM:

Could say a lot, some agreeing, some contrary, but will just comment:

I believe we’re bound to occasionally confuse God with His creation. The part of creation I most frequently confuse with God is the English language.

Except as Man is a creation of God, the English language is not created by God; it is created by Man.

#6 ::: Scott Lynch ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 02:18 AM:

See beyond the literal, mon frere. I believe the lady is suggesting that she is enchanted by the medium in which she works, or the tool with which that medium is brought to life, or perhaps both. When I was 12, I frequently confused God with model airplane parts.

#7 ::: Suzanne ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 02:49 AM:

Robert, I would agree with you but for the idea that God, by creating Man and giving us the power to invent language, has indirectly created the English language. I suppose how indirectly he did it is a question of how involved one believes him to be in everyday life. As an atheist with occasional bouts of mild neo-paganism, I don't feel qualified to answer that one.

On another note, I believe the Creed is very moving, even though I don't accept the statements as truth. I wonder if that's a result of my Catholic upbringing, or if it's just that beautiful.

#8 ::: Saheli ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 03:05 AM:

Nice post. An inadaquate appreciation, but I mean just that . . .Nice post. Hope everyone had a Happy Easter . . .from a cheerfully affectionate yet admiring nonChristian.

#9 ::: cyclopatra ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 04:09 AM:

I believe that any deity that would demand my worship is not worthy of it, because I cannot conceive of worshipping a being even less perfect than myself (and I am, of course, inconceivably flawed).

I believe that any deity that would be capable of Creation would be inadmissable of anthropomorphism, and beyond my ability to understand. For that reason I believe that we are on our own in this life, because I cannot conceive of a way in which we could possibly know what a Creative deity (or even a lesser, animistic one) would want of us, or how we can validate any claims of such knowledge by others.

I believe, nonetheless, that there is Something in the universe that loves me, and wants me to be happy in any way I can, so long as I am trying not to hurt anyone else.

Great Easter thread, even for us non-Christian types, I have to agree ;)

#10 ::: Daegaer ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 04:56 AM:

This is a marvellous post, thank you so much for writing it. I think I definitely need to get some people I know to read it!

#11 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 05:24 AM:

Well, in reply, I'm tempted to quote the literature of, I believe, the Tony Alamo Foundation, who say, "Don't blame God for your evil impulses!" or something to that effect. The English language is not an evil impulse, except possibly for certain Newspeak euphemisms, but it is created entirely by humans out of their thoughts. (Mind you, I'm basically an agnostic--i.e., I claim to know nothing--but I will grant that by pretty much any definition of God, be it hidebound and traditional or New Age or anything in between, the natural world is the creation of God. God made sunflowers, cockroaches, bald eagles, and athlete's foot fungus. By extension, we could say that things made by animals--an anthill or a bird's nest, say--are also made by God.

And we can also say that Man is made by God. But when we come to the creations of man, we are on thornier ground. If one believes in free will rather than predestination (and I'm not so sure I do, but that's to be discussed some other time), then one must distinguish between the creations of Man and the creations of God. Even some beautiful object--the Sistine Chapel ceiling, say--might be inspired by God, but it is the creation of a man.

If one does not draw this line in the sand, then we must accept that the Willowbrook Mall, Eminem's latest record, the '66 Ford Mustang, and Count Chocula cereal are all God's creations. Or to put it another way, God made Elvis, but Elvis sang "Burning Love."

#12 ::: Nina Katarina ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 05:38 AM:

If all Christians thought that way I'd be among you still. I have no problem with any of that. So long as 'look for the resurrection' isn't phrased 'look for and work towards the resurrection', like those goony apocalyptarians seem to be thinking.

They scared the bejeezus out of me.

#13 ::: John (B). ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 05:41 AM:

'I believe in the Church of Baseball. I've tried all the major religions and most of the minor ones--I've worshipped Buddha, Allah, Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, trees, mushrooms, and Isadora Duncan...' (Bull Durham, by Ron Shelton)

Well, actually, my own personal list isn't as extensive as the above, but I have tried (without success) to believe in quite a range of things in my time, and I've come to the conclusion that if there is something/someone out there then it would be more like the Tao or some notional Source-of-All than anything which is worshipped by any of the major religions.

And in the end I believe that it matters less What you worship or Who you worship than it does the Way that you worship and the Way you live your life. If you follow the Way then you'll get wherever it is that you're going in the end.

That and of course I do believe in the Church of Baseball... thank God/Gods that the season is finally under way!

#14 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 06:11 AM:

Lovely, holy, and humbling. Thank you.

Some inmates and I at one of the facilities I visit are working through the historic creeds as a continuing study. (In fact I will be workiing up the materials today for Tuesday night's session.) Googling around a couple of weeks ago I found this:

We believe in the one High God, who out of love created the beautiful world and everything good in it. He created man and wanted man to be happy in the world. God loves the world and every nation and tribe on the earth. We have known this High God in darkness, and now we know him in the light. God promised in the book of his word, the bible, that he would save the world and all the nations and tribes.
We believe that God made good his promise by sending his son, Jesus Christ, a man in the flesh, a Jew by tribe, born poor in a little village, who left his home and was always on safari doing good, curing people by the power of God, teaching about God and man, showing the meaning of religion is love. He was rejected by his people, tortured and nailed hands and feet to a cross, and died. He lay buried in the grave, but the hyenas did not touch him, and on the third day, he rose from the grave. He ascended to the skies. He is the Lord.
We believe that all our sins are forgiven through him. All who have faith in him must be sorry for their sins, be baptized in the Holy Spirit of God, live the rules of love and share the bread together in love, to announce the good news to others until Jesus comes again. We are waiting for him. He is alive. He lives. This we believe. Amen.

My understanding is that this is an English translation of a creed composed by members of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit around 1960 as part of their work with the Masai. It is one example of the adaptation to the local culture and language (or inculturation) of the Mass and other liturgical materiais that the Spititian Fathers did in several places in Africa. (The details appear to be in the book Christianity Rediscovered by Vincent Donovan, one of those missionaries.

#15 ::: Bjorn ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 06:26 AM:

I believe that the fundamental tenents of life are, as indeed most major religions manage to say somewhere, and I take here in their familiar biblical way: 'Treat others as you want to be treated' I believe that the rewards for doing this are in no way connected to any post-life existence or in-life bonuses, but merely mental well-being.
I have no belief in any micro-management of individual lives on earth by all-powerful deities since a deity that is powerful enough to jump-start the universe, or even put its finger in the evolution pie cannot be unobservable. Also, any deity involved in such micromanagement would have tuned the distribution curve of man's evil thoughts a few notches towards good, notwithstanding the power that evil has in facilitating progress which eventually leads to a better world.
I concur with cyclopatra's second paragraph above on a creative deity.
I also think that psalms are often extremely powerful and mind affecting and make want to sing them in belief. But to me even more so is the choir of Old Trafford when they (and very occasionally 'we') sing the praises of the team we love.

#16 ::: Vera Nazarian ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 07:34 AM:

I believe this is a beautiful, living post and a reminder that I love you all -- not in the mushy empty cliche sense that has become associated with the word "love," but in the way of simplicity and human connection. :-)

#17 ::: Nix ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 07:36 AM:
I believe, nonetheless, that there is Something in the universe that loves me, and wants me to be happy in any way I can, so long as I am trying not to hurt anyone else.

You believe? Hah: I'm certain of it.

They're called `my family'.

--- oh, wasn't that what you meant?

#18 ::: Bruce Adelsohn ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 08:23 AM:

I don't feel qualified to comment on many of these statements, of which I agree with some and disagree with some more.

But one of them in particular I find I must note as illogical and inaccurate, in my experience (and the related experiences of folks I know):

I believe that the cure for disliking organized religion is prolonged exposure to the disorganized sort.

I have had extensive exposure to each, and the lacks exhibited by the disorganized groups I've been with neither excuse nor make up for the more extensive and more intense dislikes I developed for organized religion AS AN INSTITUTION and for specific subsets of it in particular. There is no logical reason to assume that an individual who dislikes organized religion will not like the disorganized variety, nor that one sort of dislike will affect the other. (I also note that this is a statement of belief by Teresa, and that neither disagreement nor logical argument is a statement that her belief is not valid, for her.)

As much as I disagree with that statement, I agree with its immediate successor:

I believe that religion isn’t complex; it’s simple. It’s putting it into practice that gets complex.

I would, however, substitute either "belief" or "spirituality" for "religion", and "difficult" for "complex." Many things in this world are simple, and I am constantly reminded, in ways small and large, that "simple" != "easy"

#19 ::: Seth Ellis ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 08:44 AM:

I believe the book of Jonah was meant to be funny.

I couldn't agree more. I re-read Jonah a few years ago, and it wasn't at all the story I remember being taught in Sunday school. First of all, it isn't about righteousness and duty, it's about compassion and duty: Jonah doesn't want to bring a message of destruction to Nineveh; the sailors don't want to throw him overboard (but he insists); and ultimately, God doesn't want to destroy the city.

Second, it really is a barrel of yuks. God and Jonah have a kind of Borscht Belt relationship going on. Speaking as a skeptic, it was the book of Jonah that altered a lot of my received assumptions about the Old Testament.

#20 ::: Neil Gaiman ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 09:22 AM:

That was really beautiful. Thank you...

#21 ::: Bill Glover ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 09:46 AM:

I especially like:
I believe in the God of the Burgess Shale*, Who not only made creation stranger than we know, but stranger than we could ever imagine.

Thank you both for starting my morning so well.

#22 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 09:47 AM:

I believe that man is the augmentation of dust, and that death ends all but memory. I believe in the sufficiency of chance, the inescapability of time, and the interconnectedness of all things. I believe that defeat is permanent, and victory ephemeral.

I believe in the effort of listening, and the practise of stillness; that peace is better than war, and that war is better than submission. I believe permanence is an illusion of scale, and that knowledge is an illusion of history which works anyway.

I believe that what makes me like myself less, I should not do.

#23 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 09:54 AM:

So does God follow other gods into dark alleys, knock them over the head, and go through their pockets for loose doctrine?

#24 ::: Tucker ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 10:13 AM:

Teresa and Graydon both: thank you for giving words to your insights, and those insights to the rest of us.

#25 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 10:20 AM:

Avram --

I believe that, historically, that was chiefly the Company of Saints, at least so far as Western Christianity goes.

#26 ::: BSD ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 10:23 AM:

Jonah: Jonah is not just funny, it's a whole comedy routine, with setu-up, false punchline, and final punchline. I've long assessed the quality of (Jewish) religious-education institutions by whether their most basic (excluding pre-rational by age) teaching of Jonah focuses on:
A: The Boat
B: The Big Fish
C: Nineveh
D: The Vine
The highest honors have so far gone to the program that uses an adaptation in which G-D calls Jonah a Shmendrick in the final lines.

2: I suspect that Shir HaShirim is more full of meaning then you imply, or that I am fully aware of.

3: To cite one's sources is a Talmudic enjoinment.

#27 ::: Adam S. ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 10:28 AM:

In a piece I read somewhere long ago, I vaguely remember the brother of, I believe, a jesuit priest, quoting his brother as telling him, "It's as simple as this: there's a light. Try to walk in it."

#28 ::: Margaret Organ-Kean Durocher ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 10:33 AM:

Avram and Graydon -

If God and the Company of Saints committed the crime, Christian artists were aiding and abetting.

#29 ::: PZ Myers ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 10:36 AM:

These are all lovely sentiments and I can share the general humanist concerns that they are all directed towards supporting. However, they lack one thing, they fail to answer one question that always pops into my head when I see this kind of credo: why do you believe? I can agree completely with some of the general conclusions you make, but I don't share the premises; that means I find most of what you say alien and mystifying. It's as if you said,

"I blartify the pansyngoolic metachroid, therefore we should love and respect one another."

I never blartify and I don't think the metachroid exists, but I still think love and respect are good things, so what I read here is a string of curious non sequiturs. Except for the ones where you blartify the pangenon, and conclude that the drudenates are polydianotic, which just doesn't make any sense at all to me.

I'm not arguing with or disagreeing with what you've said, but just pointing out that it's strange and foreign to those who don't share the context.

#30 ::: Bruce Adelsohn ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 10:37 AM:

Speaking of artists, and of God's love, and of Man's ability to misunderstand the Word of God:

http://www.sinfest.net/comics/sf20030216.gif

#31 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 10:40 AM:

Margaret --

I don't think it's a crime, as such; I think it's evidence that people don't do absolutes, the which many would do well to contemplate.

The real culprit, in a number of ways, was the effort to transform Christianity from being a religion of the urban poor to an Imperial religion, post-Constantine.

Though there are also the efforts to Christianize the Germanic barbarians of the former imperial fringe -- why Anglo churches put such an emphasis on sunrise ceremonies, eggs, and bunnies at Easter -- and the much later consequences of general literacy and the widespread examination of texts, so, really, there's a lot of causes to go around.

#32 ::: Mad AZ Monk ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 10:46 AM:

I believe that the notion of God as an external creative force and divine intelligence is a conceptual fiction, given, among other things, that the qualities attributed to God and those manifest in his supposed creation are so grossly out of alignment. Having found Shakyamuni Buddha's explanation of the arising of phenomena and the way to be liberated in the direct experience of its ultimate nature to be infinitely more coherent, I chose that path.

Whew. Thank you. I don't often get to talk like that on the 'net. And I didn't mean it as in any way detracting from the loveliness of your post. Would that more Christians were as thoughtful.

I heard recently that all through his presidency, Abraham Lincoln was pressured to officially join a church. He never succumbed, saying, "I would have joined a church if I had found one that preached one thing only: love thy neighbor as thyself."

#33 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 10:51 AM:

I believe that the God who made (among other things) light, and space, and number, and time, and the spiral curve of Fibonacci numbers, must be acknowledged to understand more than I do about why there’s pain in the world.

Light, space, number, time, and the Fibonacci series are comprehensible to the mind of man. Having watched a grandmother, aunt, and father slowly unravel with Alzheimer's, and knowing I may face it myself has, on the other hand, convinced me finally that there is no God. As advertised or otherwise. Details in my Live Journal if you're interested. (ww.livejournal.com/users/marykaykare -- it would be an entry right after Christmas.)

MKK

#34 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 10:52 AM:

Avram, Graydon, Margaret -- Rumoured recent interDeity negotiations

#35 ::: Andrew Plotkin ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 10:56 AM:

Thanks for posting that. You believe some things I don't and some I
do, but nothing I can't be in a civilization with.

(I don't know if I'm a perfect natural atheist -- possibly just a
free-range kosher one.)

One line quizzles my brow:

"I nevertheless also believe that so many earnest believers trying so
hard to do right and know right for more than 2,000 years must have
done more than accumulate errors all that time, since otherwise it
calls into question the whole enterprise of religion."

I don't disagree with the conclusion, but with the argument. It has
the form of begging the question -- reasoning by refusing to entertain
the alternative.

The good or ill of human acts can only be ascertained by observation.
(And the observations are necessarily incomplete, of course, time not
having ended yet.)

#36 ::: Tiellan ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 11:15 AM:

The Profession of Faith used to leave a bitter taste in my mouth from years of hearing it recited without much apparent conviction or rejoicing, but it's refreshing to see someone willing to profess their faith in a basically secular forum like this. Thank you for sharing this! I can't say I disagree with much of what you believe, or with much of what others here have professed, but I'll add mine to the outpouring:


I believe that Christ was God's perfect attempt to reach man, and religion is man's imperfect attempt to reach God.*

I believe that God doesn't care how we reach Him, so long as we keep reaching.

I believe there is no greater law than to love one another, and love God.

I believe as Christ taught, that what we do to the least of His brothers, we do to Him.

I believe that we are all children of God, we all have a divine heritage, and we are all blessed with Grace and the Holy Spirit when we need them most.


* I haven't been able to find any attribution to that quote, other than I heard it first from Fr. Dougherty who taught us Death & Dying and Morality in high school.

#37 ::: Mez ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 11:17 AM:

A different creed again (just to cheer everyone up) - can't work out how to get them neatly in two columns here. Please don't read this if you're not feeling strong.

"Iago's Creed" from Otello

Credo in un Dio crudel
che m'ha creato simile a sè
e che nell'ira io nomo.
Dalla viltà d'un germe
o d'un atomo vile son nato.
Son scellerato perchè son uomo;
e sento il fango originario in me.
Sì! Questa è la mia fè!
Credo con fermo cuor,
siccome crede la vedovella al tempio,
che il mal ch'io penso
e che da me procede,
per il mio destino adempio.
Credo che il guisto
è un istrion beffardo,
e nel viso e nel cuor,
che tutto è in lui bugiardo:
lagrima, bacio, sguardo,
sacrificio ed onor.
E credo l'uom gioco
d'iniqua sorte
dal germe della culla
al verme dell'avel.
Vien dopo tanta irrision la Morte.
E poi? E poi?
La Morte è il Nulla.
È vecchia fola il Ciel!


I believe in a cruel God
who has created me in His image
and whom, in hate, I name.
From some vile seed
or base atom I am born.
I am evil because I am a man;
and I feel the primeval slime in me.
Yes! This is my testimony!
I believe with a firm heart,
as does the young widow at the altar,
that whatever evil I think
or that whatever comes from me
was decreed for me by fate.
I believe that the honest man
is but a poor actor,
both in face and heart,
that everything in him is a lie:
tears, kisses, looks,
sacrifices, and honor.
And I believe man to be the sport
of an unjust Fate,
from the germ of the cradle
to the worm of the grave.
After all this mockery comes death.
And then? And then?
Death is Nothingness.
Heaven is an old wives’ tale!

A Boito/G Verdi, based on Othello by W Shakespeare.
Translation by Jonathan H. Ward (ilbasso@aol.com)

Two sources of several:
http://www.aria-database.com/translations/otello01_credo.txt
http://opera.stanford.edu/iu/librettim.html

There are other translations I prefer parts of, e.g.
I believe the just man is a poor actor,
whether in his face or heart,
everything about him is a lie:

and
And I believe man is a plaything of an unjust fate

or
And after this futility comes death.

#38 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 11:19 AM:

I believe that the God who made (among other things) light, and space, and number, and time, and the spiral curve of Fibonacci numbers, must be acknowledged to understand more than I do about why there's pain in the world.

Which is such a nicer way of putting in than in the Book of Job, even if I don't believe in the underlying premise.

#39 ::: Mad AZ Monk ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 11:19 AM:

Andrew Plotkin..."free-range, kosher atheist"...dude, you made my whole day with that.

#40 ::: Kellie ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 11:39 AM:

I never knew until now that it was impossible to read silently the creed. Well, I read it without speaking, but I had twenty-five years worth of hearing it recited and reciting it myself running as a soundtrack. It's enough to make you shiver and remember a few things.

Thanks, Teresa. That was lovely.

#41 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 12:09 PM:

I believe that this is the most beautiful expression of a faith I don't share that I have ever seen.

I believe that I want a book of Teresa's recent essays, almost enough to collect and edit one myself, and beg, oh, NESFA press to publish it.

I believe I would quickly get bogged down in the mechanical/legal/industrial/whatever details of trying to do such a project, and give up in despair; I further believe that for an amateur, however enthusiastic, to jump in and try to do on a spare-time basis what trained and experienced professionals have not is foolhardy in the extreme, even more foolhardy than I actually am. This doesn't keep me from wanting to, only from attempting to.

I believe that the Divine Nature is the universe, in form and substance. That is to say, I am not a panentheist like orthodox Christians and some of my fellow NeoPagans, but a radical Pantheist: everything put together is the Divine.

I believe that a complete understanding of the Divine is way too big and far too complex to fit into a human mind, or indeed of all human minds collectively throughout all generations. I believe that in order to be able to relate to the Divine at all, humans create metaphors. I believe that humans have different spiritual needs, and create different metaphors to fulfill them.

I believe that the story of the blind men and the elephant is a good analogy to the result of this.

I believe that where humans get into trouble is when they insist that their metaphor is the Divine Reality itself, especially because they are, in my belief, always wrong. Even the insistance on a single metaphor as best is a grave crime: I believe that there is no metaphor that can serve all people adequately, including mine.

I believe that the direct experience of the Divine transcends metaphor, training, and religion, and is impossible to adequately discuss in anything as primitive, limited, and linear as human language.

I believe that mathematics is part of nature, and that Fibonacci numbers and the Mandelbrot Set are examples of the Divine Beauty of Nature.

I believe a whole lot of other things, but I believe I've gone on long enough (if not too much).

#42 ::: Melissa ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 12:11 PM:

I believe thanks are in order.

#43 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 12:14 PM:

Er...to be a free-range kosher atheist you'd have to have your throat cut...

I believe the book of Jonah was meant to be funny.

Oh, thank you, thank you. SO MUCH of the Bible is meant to be funny. I can't believe so many people treat it like an O'Reilly manual instead of a living work.

#44 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 12:18 PM:

In all matters of faith, I refer to Carl Sagan: "Faith is belief without evidence, and why would you want to believe something if there's no evidence for it?"

And some other guy:

God says do what you wish, but make the wrong choice and you will be tortured for eternity in hell. That sir, is not free will. It would be akin to a man telling his girlfriend, do what you wish, but if you choose to leave me, I will track you down and blow your brains out. When a man says this we call him a psychopath and cry out for his imprisonment/execution. When god says the same we call him "loving" and build churches in his honor. -- William C. Easttom II

#45 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 12:29 PM:

Mark, to answer Carl Sagan: how about because there's no evidence against it either, and it makes you happy? How about because it helps you behave in ways that you see abstractly as good?

I, for example, have a completely irrational and unscientific belief in reincarnation. This is because I can't stand the thought of never getting another chance at living a decent early life. When I really want to depress myself I believe only what I have evidence for, and conclude, with Russell, that "when I die, I shall rot, and that no part of me will survive in any sense."

I gues my real answer to Sagan (a great man whom I admire in many ways) is: why would you want to believe things that make you unhappy?

Easttom put his finger on one major reason I decided Christianity was not for me. I know that I myself wouldn't condemn anyone to eternal torment for anything they could possibly do in a single human lifetime (much less for being descended from someone who disobeyed me once); I found myself unable to believe in an infintitely merciful deity who was less merciful than I was myself.

I know now, of course, that there are Christians who don't believe any such thing, and even heard a sermon recently to the effect that repentance is not a prerequisite for salvation, which I found odd but delightful. But when I was a teenager all the Christians I knew believed in hellfire.

#46 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 12:48 PM:

how about because there's no evidence against it either

Now this is a silly counterargument. "You can't prove it's wrong!" is no more proof of a faith than it is proof that the world is secretly controlled by Templars.

Sagan is wrong, anyway: there is evidence. The question is whether there is enough evidence to constitute proof.

#47 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 01:03 PM:

I was actually arguing that lack of evidence FOR is not evidence AGAINST. Unless you can prove that there would be evidence for if the underlying fact were true.

And 'proof' and 'faith' rarely play on the same team. As a man without fear has no courage either, so a man with proof of all he believes has, by definition, no faith. Or a woman either, of course.

There are plenty of reasons for choosing a belief other than evidence. This too can be taken to a silly extreme, however: how does any of us commenting here KNOW the speed of light? We believe people who say they've done calculations and measurements that prove it; they in turn believe their instruments, and have faith in their ability to calculate. This way lies madness, because you can't really prove anything except that you're thinking, which you can't prove to anyone else.

Reasonable people take a moderate view.

#48 ::: Marsha Sisolak ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 01:13 PM:

Teresa, I am always surprised to discover who is (or who was) Catholic in the SFF community. Maybe I've just met far too many Buddhists or atheists or pagans (or whatever-belief-system-they-identify-themselves-with) who walk the path of light to distinguish amongst them.

Still, I thank you for expressing aloud so many of my own beliefs. It's a profound relief to discover someone who is willing to state to the world: I believe.

But I'm going to add you to my list of women I most want to be like when I grow up--you'll join Ursula Le Guin and my great-aunt Martha. (I'm sure you know Ursula; you'll just have to take my word on my Aunt Martha. ;)

#49 ::: Catie Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 01:14 PM:

I believe I'll have another cookie. :)

#50 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 01:15 PM:

I was actually arguing that lack of evidence FOR is not evidence AGAINST.

Indeed. But lack of evidence AGAINST is not evidence OF, either.

#51 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 01:28 PM:

Of course. But lack of evidence for OR against means it falls in the realm of choice. And choosing not to believe under those circumstances isn't morally or scientifically better than choosing to believe--much as BOTH sides would like it to be.

If I make something up and believe it, and my believing it makes me happy and does neither me nor anyone else any harm, why not? If I believe in Charlie, the Goddess of Fire, who happens to look like a little blond girl named Andrew, why should I care that I got her out of a Stephen King novel/movie? (Granted, a known fictional source IS "evidence against.") It's not a problem for me or for society unless I try to make others acknowledge Her. If I start writing "scientific" papers claiming to "prove" that She is the One True Goddess of Fire, that's not a problem either...unless you're empathic enough to feel sorry for me as I make a colossal fool of myself.

#52 ::: Rob Hansen ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 01:36 PM:

On a point of logic, can you be "all that Christians are enjoined to be" if you don't go along with those first few Commandments?

#53 ::: breeamal ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 01:47 PM:

I believe that while attempting to mix piety and capitalism people often get things hilariously and offensively wrong: http://www.lordsgymclermont.com/home.htm

Be sure to check the logo.
Link courtesy of ktbaxter.

#54 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 01:55 PM:

Rob - she said "be," not "do." Someone on the radio today said that to many people have become Human Doings rather than Human Beings.

And wait: how can an atheist break the First Commandment? (I'm a Pagan, so I do, but...?)

#55 ::: David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 02:14 PM:

But lack of evidence for OR against means it falls in the realm of choice. And choosing not to believe under those circumstances isn't morally or scientifically better than choosing to believe — much as BOTH sides would like it to be.

There’s only two sides?

I used to get into this conversation a lot, until I figured out that it always foundered on the meaning of the word “believe.” English — speaking of confusing the English language with God — isn’t very good at distinguishing disbelief from lack of belief, or belief from a whole mess of other concepts, starting with thought, feeling, conclusion and hunch.

I think the Western philosophical tradition used to be better at discussing this stuff, but these days, while we acknowledge the problem’s a bit more complex than Pascal made it out to be, we — us laymen, at least — seem to have lost a lot of the tools.

But I believe nearly everything on Teresa’s list, and, that being the case, I don’t think our differences on the rest matter very much.

#56 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 02:24 PM:

David Moles: "believe" and "not believe." They're the two sides cited; of course they're not the only ones that exist.

And I agree with you on the problems with the word 'believe'. Is the word used in the same sense when Teresa says "I believe God made my friend" as it would be were she to say "I believe that 2 + 2 = 4"? Or how about "I believe that the speed of light is 186,000 miles per second"? None of these is the same sense as "I believe I'll have another crumpet" or "I believe in a strong regimen of diet and exercise."

This becomes important in discussions between people of different religions. Wiccans are frequently asked if we "believe in" the Goddess. I like Starhawk's answer, which is "do you believe in rocks?"

#57 ::: Macallister ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 02:28 PM:

breeamal--the logo at your link left me completely flummoxed...who on EARTH thought that was a good/tasteful idea?!

yikes.

#58 ::: Hands Open and Alive ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 02:39 PM:

If the path to Jehovah is through faith in his Son, as was repeatedly drummed into me, then He's cruel and capricious for his treatment of perfectly good folk with no faith or different faith.

If it requires more than that, then there is no hope unless you're one of those who can bring yourself to think that your way is the right way and everyone else is wrong. How much more cruel and capricious?

And so I conclude that going into darkness forever would be a kinder fate. Knowing completely and consciously that I chose and was not merely driven would be a better path.

But, strangely, for my contact with people of faith for so many years, I admire good people with faith for the love they manifest and am deeply ashamed for all the ways I've seen them spurn others who disagreed, who were unable to agree, or who didn't know there was an argument to be had.

I am very tired of watching a small few bend the truth to breaking, dragging others more worthy after them.

#59 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 02:40 PM:

'Go placidly amidst the noise & waste, & remember what comfort there may be in owning a piece thereof.'

#60 ::: Keith ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 02:42 PM:

I believe that God is innordinately fond of beetles (there's more than 20,000 different species of the little suckers! So really, I think we know who His favorites realy are) and thus, not so interested in the rantings and ravings of us two legged critters, of whom there are only 6 billion or so (as opposed to the simply rediculous amount of beetles there are on this planet alone). seeing as how the beetles seem to get along with us despite our attempts at genocide (albeit, on a very small scale), we might be able to learn something form them.

#61 ::: Keith ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 02:47 PM:

Oh and another thing...

I believe that the cure for disliking organized religion is prolonged exposure to the disorganized sort.

Having spent considerable time with both, I'll gladly take 'none of the above'. I prefer my nonsense whimsical, not soaked in blood or shaby with want for attention.

#62 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 03:06 PM:

And choosing not to believe under those circumstances isn't morally or scientifically better than choosing to believe

Neutrality and a willing to accept such existence, if proven, is logically 'better' than belief. Of course, religion is not about proof, any more than love is about logic.

FWIW, I also agree quite strongly with Teresa's comment about moral candyfloss. A religion that does little more, morally speaking, than tell you to just keep sitting in your La-Z-Boy with the remote control and the bag of chips is nothing more than spiritual masturbation.

#63 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 03:33 PM:

I agree with you on all these points, mythago. (I'd still argue that being illogical is sometimes useful, but don't want to get into that.) I've long believed that agnosticism (as the term is commonly used, as opposed to the technical jargon of theologians) is the only truly scientific stance on religion.

#64 ::: Rene ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 03:50 PM:

I believe I have been given plenty of proof of God. However, I doubt I have any proof of God that would convince the scientific community.

(I think I gave up listening to that arguement when I heard people debating how many symptoms of schizophrenia Joan of Arc demonstrated.)

#65 ::: Jill Smith ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 03:54 PM:

I believe that thoughtful communities such as this, which gather intelligent individuals who possess diverse viewpoints shared with consideration and curiosity, give me back my faith in humanity on a daily basis. Whether that has anything to do with a g/God or not is immaterial to me.

Thanks to TNH for hosting, and all the rest for posting.

#66 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 04:04 PM:

I believe humans are the top of the food chain. I believe humans make moral choices that are unrelated to whether they believe or not, and what it is they believe. I believe we stop when we die, so we should concentrate on helping each other while we're alive.

I also believe it's Yuri's Night, not that I worship space, but it's interesting that Passover, Easter, and the anniversary of human spaceflight all happened together this year.

#67 ::: Ken MacLeod ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 04:39 PM:

I believe that anyone who interprets the Bible on a sentence-by-sentence basis, as though it were a user’s manual, is willfully making himself or herself stupider than necessary. A sentence in the Song of Songs does not compile meaning in the same way as a sentence from the Acts of the Apostles.

'...does not compile meaning ...'

So ... the Bible is not a user manual, but source code? As an ex-programmer, I like that metaphor.

#68 ::: Simon ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 04:52 PM:

Mark, Xopher, and William C. Easttom II might be enlightened by a little more contemporary view of what "eternal torture in hell" means. It's not some guys with pitchforks poking you while you burn in sulfur beds or anything like that. Read The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis, where hell is a voluntary self-righteous separation from God, and is distinguished from purgatory only by whether one eventually comes to a humble self-realization and leaves. According to Lewis, God doesn't put you there. You put yourself there. And nobody except yourself is stopping you from leaving.

This quote by Anne Lamott from Patrick's sidebar conveys something of the same idea: “Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die.”

I know there are Christians who still go for the court-sentence-to-pitchforks-and-sulfur routine, but you can't sweepingly dismiss the Christian view of hell that way.

#69 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 05:11 PM:

Simon, does my last paragraph in this post sound like I'm "sweepingly dismissing" the Christian view of hell"? I admit I was unaware of Lewis' view of the subject, but I have seen similar things, notably in MacAvoy, and the movie What Dreams May Come, where Hell is the result of not forgiving yourself.

I don't want to get into the whole "omniscient and/or good" argument. So the second half of this post goes poof.

#70 ::: sennoma ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 05:28 PM:

lack of evidence for OR against means it falls in the realm of choice. And choosing not to believe under those circumstances isn't morally or scientifically better than choosing to believe

It's certainly scientifically better: call it Occam's razor, the null hypothesis or parsimony of modelling, but believing in a God in the absence of evidence for or against one is the opposite of standard scientific procedure (insofar as any such thing exists). This doesn't feel like the right thread for a discussion of the moral value of such a choice. PZ Myers' comment pretty much sums up my view.

#71 ::: NelC ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 05:29 PM:

PZ Myers, you mean to say that you don't blartify the metachroid?

Blasphemer.

#72 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 05:36 PM:

I believe the Gostok distims the doshes.

And of course Yuri's Night is Cosmonaut's Day.
"The first flight of the Space Shuttle took place on April 12, 1981. The Space Shuttle Columbia blasted off on its historic mission on the 20th anniversary of Gagarin's groundbreaking flight. The Columbia's 54-hour, 36-orbit mission tested the vehicle, which has since been used as the basis of international human space flight partnerships."

#73 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 05:49 PM:

"Hey, Yuri! He's Mister Heartbre-eak!"

sennoma, Occam was using his razor to argue that God exists. "Don't unnecessarily multiply entities." If your answer to all the whys in the cosmos is "God wills it," that's about as simple an explanation as you can get.

I'm not arguing FOR the existence of God, but AGAINST the thoughtless application of Occam's oft-misunderstood Razor. And even the modern version (the simplest explanation which accounts for the available data is best) doesn't mean that there might not be data you don't have.

How did I get into this, anyway? I just think people should believe what does no harm and makes them happy. If it takes Occam's Razor and strict rules of evidence to make you happy, then amen, ache, and SMIB.

#74 ::: Margaret Organ-Kean Durocher ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 06:27 PM:

Um. The artist comment (aiding and abetting) was a joke, sorta.

Art historians can spend whole careers tracing how and why imagery is borrowed from one culture or religion to the next. I wrote a paper once tracing the Buddha's robes from classical Greece to the temple at Nara.

As an example, the Virgin took over a number of the classical goddess' attributes, such as Juno's peacocks (in the Virgin's role as Queen of Heaven, Regina Coelus (sp?)).
A number of the very early depictions of God the Father are hard to differentiate from Jupiter Best and Greatest - inscriptions can be the only clue we have.

I don't think there's anything particular awful about this; if nothing else, it's provided me with a great deal of harmless fun.

#75 ::: Angela ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 06:28 PM:

Thank you. That was a beautiful piece to read.

#76 ::: janeyolen ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 06:29 PM:

I believe you have written a classic here. Thanks.

Jane

#77 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 06:34 PM:

Sennoma, there's such a thing as context. True, God isn't scientific. If you're vetting a scientific paper and you find that the author has covered up a bit of missing evidence by claiming divine intervention, you're justified in calling him on it. If you're in the middle of wild sex and your partner shouts out "Oh God! Oh God!", and you call a halt to the proceedings to say "Wait, you realize there's no scientific evidence for the existence of such an entity," then you deserve what you get.

#78 ::: Jill Smith ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 06:37 PM:

Avram - good thing no coffee, because I got a big laugh out of that!

The former example reminds me of that immortal New Yorker Cartoon.

#79 ::: Michael ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 06:58 PM:

On the point of God (not) being scientific:

Scientists tend to be very religious because, in the end, the more you know the less you understand.

If you accept the Big Bang as fact, for instance, what came before? How did it get there?
If you accept creationism, what came before creation? (Answer: God) How did God get there?
Comes down to the same thing.

I view science and religion as two sides of the coin: science asks "how" whereas religion asks "what for."

#80 ::: Karen Junker ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 07:01 PM:

Lovely...

#81 ::: Lynn ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 07:16 PM:

I believe God delights in diversity. Why else create so many hundreds of thousands of insect species? Not to mention the trees, grasses, animals, slime molds, stars, and stones.

I believe in God the Mother, sometimes called Ruach (AKA Sophia).

I believe that we can see God reflected in one another.

I believe in beholding the world with wonder.

#82 ::: Simon ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 07:16 PM:

Xopher: Simon, does my last paragraph in this post sound like I'm "sweepingly dismissing" the Christian view of hell"?

Since you ask: yes.

Michael: Scientists tend to be very religious because, in the end, the more you know the less you understand.

The antecedent (which comes second in your statement) is true, but the consequent (which comes first) does not necessarily follow. Maybe for some. Not for most. You mention "what came before the Big Bang." Stephen Hawking is very interested in that subject. He doesn't find it necessary to postulate God. Scientists of religious views whose thoughts I've read don't consider it a consequent of their scientific knowledge. It's two separate things. Whether God set up the rules of the universe or they came into being on their own is all one.

#83 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 07:26 PM:

Michael: that's a fascinating notion. Any evidence for it? I considered myself a scientist for some years and did not notice any particular degree of religion among the people I worked with. (Yes, Einstein was religious; one of his greatest errors was dismissing a theory with "God does not play dice with the Universe.") Note that there are now \scientific/ discussions about how the Big Bang might have happened; I'm sure somebody religious has been willing to argue "How did God get there?", but I haven't heard of it.

I think I understand and move in the same direction as much of Teresa's creed, but I'd like to hear \her/ explanation of preferring organized to disorganized religion; that organization multiply the force of their members is a problem as well as an advantage. (Consider the misdeeds of the Catholic Church and of the U.S. under Shrub.) This is especially so when allied with -"I'm the designated intermediary so do what I say as if you were hearing directly."- (Yes, that's a crude extract, but even the dilute form causes problems.)

#84 ::: John (B). ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 07:30 PM:

Just on the proof-and-disproof debate, I think it worth pointing out that matters relating to the existence of God are meta-empirical in nature... that is to say, they are not matters that can be answered with reference to empirical arguments. You cannot prove or falsify statements relating to the existence of God through empirical tests, tests which are based in empirical rules of observation and material evidence.

If there is such a thing as a God then it is by definition immaterial and meta-empirical. This is not to say that that there aren't reasons for believing or disbelieving in God, or that it isn't more or less reasonable to choose to believe in a particular form of the divine, but you can't assess God's existence through mechanical science and empirical arguement. These just don't have the tools necessary to deal with the existence of deity.

(The standard example here regarding empirical testing of the meta-empirical is ghosts. You can argue that you've not seen a ghost, you can argue that there's no empirical evidence for the existence of ghosts, you argue that you don't believe in ghosts and even that you can see no reason why anybody would want to believe in ghosts, but you can't prove that ghosts don't exist or falsify a person's claim that they have seen a ghost. Ghosts are by nature meta-empirical entities and their existence cannot be determined with reference to empiricism. And gods exist - or don't exist - in just the same meta-empirical way.)

#85 ::: Stexgirl ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 07:45 PM:

That was very beautiful.

I teach Religious School and each year I tell my students that over time one's relationship with God evolves and changes for each individual.

What you believe at 10 isn't going to be the same at 20 or 40 or 60 or 80 or beyond. (And if it is, well, I submit that you've missed the point.)

I also tell my students that it's okay to doubt and not be sure that God exists. God can handle the doubt as well as the faith we have.

So here's what I believe at this point in my life:

I believe that God cannot be fully understood by human beings and that's the way God meant for things to be.

I don't believe that bad things happen to good people because they were really bad or deserved it somehow. There is randomness and chaos in the universe that God created. If it wasn't there, there wouldn't be free will.

I believe that God gave us free will and the ability love. Using those two things, God expects us to make the best choices we can make, but understands that we're only human. We'll mess up, often in the worse ways possible, but that we have the ability to make better choices, perform better actions and ultimately reedeem ourselves in God's eyes and in the eyes of our fellow human beings.

I believe God created us in God's image: which means that we have the ability to create and destroy. Being created in God's image means that our capacity to love and forgive should be very great. I believe that in asking us to turn to God, to love, to life (as in living one's life fully) God wants us to be creators. I believe that God expects us to love one another and accept one another. The only thing stopping us from doing so is ourselves.

I believe that God, like any good parent, set up the universe, tried to teach us some good lessons through metaphor and simile, and gave us some rules to follow. Then God stepped away to let us grow up. It doesn't mean that God is totally out of our lives: we still have God's unconditional love. But the rest is up to us.

#86 ::: Marie Anderson ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 08:27 PM:

I believe that a religion that exists only to tell you how good you are, and which never requires you to do anything you don’t want to do or refrain from anything you do want to do, is a species of moral cotton candy.

I owe you a beer for this. It's going on my wall with J.R.R. Tolkien's thoughts on war and Dorothy Parker's on obnoxious people.

#87 ::: Tiellan ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 09:14 PM:

I believe that what brings us together is more important than what draws us apart.

Thank you again for posting - and hosting - this sharing of faith.

#88 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 09:17 PM:

Simon: OK, what comment could I have made as a non-believer in Christianity, that you would NOT have regarded as "sweepingly dismissive"?

Just to refresh your memory, you regarded this as dismissive: I know now, of course, that there are Christians who don't believe any such thing...But when I was a teenager all the Christians I knew believed in hellfire.

I think that's a fairly broad view. I had a narrow view as a teenager, it's true, mostly from inadequate data. I've also said, many times, that if back then I had known Christians like the ones I know now, my spiritual journey might have ended up in a very different place; it was the hellfire thing that was the major sticking point at the time, so absent that who knows? (I think I probably would have other problems by now, but I might also have reconciled them.)

So I'm asking you: what could I have said that you would not have found sweepingly dismissive?

#89 ::: Cassandra Phillips-Sears ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 09:29 PM:

Thank you. Happy Easter.

#90 ::: Jason ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 09:45 PM:

I believe because it is absurd. (to quote Tertullian)

I believe that organized religion is like a game of telephone and disorganized religion is like a shouting match, and the best sort of religion strikes a balance between the two.

I believe that faith must be independent of knowledge in order to remain faith and that so long as the mysteries of the world, the divine included, still have room to enthrall us and horrify us both then we're probably in a good state of mind.

I believe that many of the world's best social structures are, in fact, lousy religions and that many of the world's best religions are, in fact, lousy social structures. Or vice versa.

I believe that communication is what makes so much that we can accomplish possible and I believe that this blog is a wonderful source of great communication, so I'll add my thanks in, too.

#91 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 09:50 PM:

I gues my real answer to Sagan (a great man whom I admire in many ways) is: why would you want to believe things that make you unhappy?

Why would it necessarily make you unhappy (in the long run) to believe those things? I will admit that when I first began questioning the religion in which I was raised, I had periods of profound unhappiness, but that was because I'd been told that there was no other way to believe, and I'd boxed myself into a belief about those beliefs. I was faced with two "unhappinesses"--trying to sustain belief in something that was initially comforting at one point in my life, but which was no longer useful for my spiritual growth, or facing that I might be wrong, that the world view which I had been raised might have some huge foundational errors. The second prospect, the better by far for me, was initially quite scary and frightening, and I was unhappy and scared when I considered the things I had learned...at first. Considerable reframing of my life and my beliefs goes on, and those things which once made me unhappy now seem to serve a purpose.

As for Sagan's statement on faith: And I do have sincere doubts about the efficacy of faith as a determinate of truth or happiness for myself--it produces so many contrary results across the board, from person to person, and hell, even from day to day in my life. But many people find solace and comfort in their faith and I wouldn't deny them theirs--unless their faith starts telling them to tell me how to behave. Credo condolons, and all that.

What do I believe: (Taken from a list I have posted elsewhere slightly earlier, so pardons to those who might have seen it already.)

I believe a lot less than I did when I was younger.

I'd like to believe that there was a God/Goddess or even multiple gods, but I don't necessarily believe they are worthy of worship if they exist.

I would like to believe in a benevolent and kind God, but if they exist, they are only mildly interventionist as far as I can tell.

I believe that humans have a lot of potential.

I believe that this world is an awesome place, in every sense of the word.

And I believe that you can get an interesting Easter discussion by watching the Passion and finishing with a chaser of Stranger in a Strange Land.

#92 ::: Ulrika O'Brien ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 09:51 PM:

I believe that if there is a God thingie, that it doesn't much care what I, or anyone, believes. Or else, it isn't anything like as advertised. Otherwise, more decisive and coherent bases for belief would have been available by now. I believe that if one were to construct a viral meme that was strongly resistant to replacement by better information, it would look a lot like religion. (This doesn't prove that religion is a viral meme that propagates resistance to better information, but it does make it rather hard to tell the two apart.) I believe if I were ever to call myself a Christian, I'd give more weight to Jesus' assertions than those of people who never met him. And, I believe that the Cadbury creme eggs should be on discount about now, and I'd best go shopping before they run out.

#93 ::: Brenda Daverin ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 10:01 PM:

Thank you, Teresa. This was beautiful.

#94 ::: Vassilissa ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 10:12 PM:

I believe that divinity is a well we can come again and again, and that it doesn't matter what shape our beliefs are, just that they hold water.

I believe that more than 70% of the world, and two-thirds of the human body, is water.

I believe that two people who believe in different things, and care about them, have more in common than they might have with a third person who wasn't interested.

I believe that respect is as important as love.

#95 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 10:37 PM:

Me: I guess my real answer to Sagan (a great man whom I admire in many ways) is: why would you want to believe things that make you unhappy?

PiscusFiche: Why would it necessarily make you unhappy (in the long run) to believe those things? I will admit that when I first began questioning the religion in which I was raised, I had periods of profound unhappiness, but that was because I'd been told that there was no other way to believe, and I'd boxed myself into a belief about those beliefs.

I was responding to Sagan's question, "Why [besides evidence] would you believe anything?" My question was meant to imply "Because it makes you happy." I was contrasting two different bases for choosing a belief.

Believe me, I'm the last one to argue against doing scary things as part of a spiritual journey or even an ongoing practice. Power is veiled by fear.

#96 ::: Darkhawk ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 10:38 PM:

Jason:

I believe that many of the world's best social structures are, in fact, lousy religions and that many of the world's best religions are, in fact, lousy social structures. Or vice versa.

I believe that you have just cleverly encapsulated a significant part of my issues with my temple's heirarchy.

#97 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 11:06 PM:

There is no God but God, and Fibonacci is His prophet.

see:


Fibonacci Numbers and The Golden Section in Art, Architecture and Music


and


The Mathematical Magic of the Fibonacci Numbers


and


Quilts Using the Fibonacci Progression
in thir [sic] designs



and


Architects have used the Golden Mean...

and


"Fibonacci Number." From MathWorld--A Wolfram Web Resource [has extensive references including hotlinks]


and

For the NEW Testament, see The Fibonacci Quarterly.



Boy, did they send me a humbling rejection letter recently...



Math is hard. Let's go shopping.

#98 ::: Alice Keezer ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 11:22 PM:

Xopher: I forget which philosopher we were discussing, but a philospohy teacher once asked a series of 'why' questions of several of his students. All of us, eventually, answered, 'because it makes me happy.' And then he'd stop and go to the next student.

So either the point was that the only reason we do ANYTHING is because it makes us happy, or that a good philosopher can make anyone say anything the philosopher wants them to. I'm still not sure.

#99 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 11:42 PM:

Alice: Bang on. Some people are happy when facts, carefully examined by rigorous rules, lead to a conclusion, and they accept that conclusion. I count myself among them, but they're not the only people around, and it's not the ONLY source of happiness for me. (Also if I don't like the conclusion I look for more facts - real facts; I don't invent data to support the conclusion I want. I've seen what that leads to, up close and personal. I had a boyfriend once who believed that the Kamehamehas would inevitably (re)take over Hawaii someday, and that he could end up on the throne. He thought he could sing, too.)

On a related note, the ONLY reason I ever have "Logic vs. Bible" conversations anymore is to back someone into a faith statement...I don't even do that without a reason (they're annoying me, or we're good friends...amazing how similar those two can be motivation-wise).

These conversations end with them finally getting exasperated and saying "Well, you just have to have faith," to which I reply "Exactly. You do, and I don't. Therefore there's ample reason for you to believe the Bible, and absolutely no reason for me to believe it." (See why I only have those conversations when a. I want them to go away or b. I'm sure they won't go away just because of that, and want to get it settled?)

Of course I doubt your philosophy teacher could do that to me...which is most likely pure arrogance on my part. But I'd probably end with "Because it keeps me from any real happiness in life."

#100 ::: Simon ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2004, 11:55 PM:

John (B): You cannot prove or falsify statements relating to the existence of God through empirical tests, tests which are based in empirical rules of observation and material evidence. Unfortunately this has not stopped many people from trying. The argument that the universe had to have a creator is still around, for instance, and even made a cameo appearance in this discussion ("What came before the big bang?")

Xopher: The word "But" at the beginning of the last sentence, and the whole previous paragraph. (You only referred me to the last paragraph, but context is important.) You dismissed Christianity on the basis of what you now realize was an outdated argument; you made no indication that you're reconsidering your opinion of it now that you realize this; and most of all, you associated yourself with Mark's Easttom quote as an explanation for this attitude you have not changed.
But this all may be hairsplitting. I can't really read your mind.

Alice K.: Reductionism of the sort you describe has been used for many strange purposes, including proof that altruism does not exist.

#101 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2004, 12:18 AM:

Simon: you didn't read that post carefully enough and/or I didn't explain it clearly enough. I didn't "dismiss" Christianity; I considered and rejected it. That's a pretty important difference; do you understand why I think so?

I rejected it based on good reasoning from flawed data. But remember, I was rejecting the kind of Christianity that the Lutheran youth group I was hanging out with professed and believed in; and that I would still reject today, because they did believe in the "Judgement/consigned to eternal flame" model. Therefore my rejection of it (that particular brand of Christianity) was and is justified. I would not worship the God those people worshipped even if I knew for a fact He was Creator and Ruler of the Universe.

There are other forms of Christianity, as I now know (e.g. the faith statement this whole thread is about). I reject them also, but as "not for me" not "could never have been for me" -- I cannot dismiss them as falsely logical, as I could my highschool friends' Christianity. I have walked a different path; I'm not cut out to be "dual-path," which is what NeoPagans call people who are both Pagan and Christian; I am quite happy with the path I'm on, which has probably kept me from destroying what's left of my life, if only because I have to clean my apartment for Circle every couple of weeks.

I don't know, perhaps my position became clearer in my last comment on this topic? Or perhaps you weren't distinguishing between 'dismiss' and 'reject', which would make more sense. I'm not being flippant here (or anywhere in this comment except the end of the previous para, and that was about ME, not you or Christianity). I'm honestly confused by your reaction.

#102 ::: Bill Blum ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2004, 01:00 AM:

I believe that religion has a point for some people, and no point for others.

I believe that people that try to deny the validity of scientific explanations of various and sundry phenomena have a problem, and they need to pull their head out of the sand forthwith.

#103 ::: Cat D ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2004, 01:01 AM:

Being nick-named 'Cat' not just because of my full name but because of my "What happens if I do this . . . ?" nature, I must say that I came to my present set of religious loyalties because of what I like to think of as "Applied Curiousity". I started out Catholic, turned atheist for college, went down a few mystic paths, and came scampering back when (in my subjective opinion) I had raised enough spiritual ruckus to give myself a good scare, which -- fortunately -- I survived.

So, in short, having been around a few odd blocks, I cling to Divine Mercy as expressed by Jesus in His death on the Cross. And, though it feels like pulling teeth some nights, I make the effort to ask "Have Mercy on my enemies as You have had Mercy on me."

Another particularly dangerous prayer I turn to is "For the sake of Divine Mercy, I wish to forgive." (Not that I like to forgive, or want to forgive, but that I am trying as an act of will to do so. I usually find that the interesting social fireworks start up after I add that one in my daily meditations.) I mean, half the time (after all that big-hearted desire to forgive my offender and if I really think about it) I was the one in the wrong, which means I'm the one who should be giving out the apologies . . .

#104 ::: Greg ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2004, 01:30 AM:

I have held the Creation of the God of the Burgess Shale in my hand, and yea, it is good.

OK, not all of the Burgess Shale, mind you, just a fist sized piece. Just last week even.

I believe we should treat each other with great compassion and respect. And treat borrowed books the same.

Beautiful post Teresa. Some things are applicable out of context - I've only been to church services twice in my life and never to a service conducted in English. Faith is a wondrous spectacle, regardless of conscious understanding.

#105 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2004, 01:59 AM:

Teresa, that was wonderful. And the discussion following is mostly good.

Reasons to believe in a faith - or in no faith, in God - or Gods, or no god - are almost guaranteed to be so different from individual to individual that asking why someone believes is a tricky question at best. Check out C.S. Lewis's Surprised by Joy. The method by which he came back to Christianity was nothing like what i expected - nor was his initial reluctance and resistance to his own conclusions.

I believe in an ultimate God who created all, and who knows all that has been, but not all that may yet be.

I believe God has a plan for each human being -- but that he has given us the free will to follow his plan, or to take another direction. We are given hints in the form of our best talents and our circumstances, but we are never told what to do. To so much as guess this plan requires effort, therefore an easy path is the least likely.

I believe free will allows us to sometimes surprise God, and sometimes (though rarely) by doing better than his plan.

I believe the Universe was created because God desired dialogue, not monologue. I believe free will was created because otherwise, there would be no dialogue, and the Universe would be masturbation, not creation.

I believe God weeps at the fall of each *untimely* sparrow - but that he cannot prevent the sparrow's fall without robbing each of us of free will. If he robs us of free will, he robs us of our purpose, and in doing, destroys us. A fallen sparrow becomes decay becomes fertile earth becomes more in time; a being without free will ceases to be.

I believe God cannot speak to us directly, but that he may send messengers to bring us nearer to his hopes than we are now, and that in the Western Hemisphere of this single world, the greatest Messenger to date was Jesus Christ.

I do not believe in eternal hell. Or eternal heaven. In a finite universe, neither is possible by the laws of physics. God alone is outside the universe.

I believe in mercy. In a merciful universe, neither eternal hell nor eternal heaven are possible.

These lead me to suspect reincarnation is likely, but I do not have the certainty to believe in reincarnation.

I believe it is getting too late for me to think clearly and catch the clause I missed or miswrote. this will have to do.

#106 ::: Leah Miller ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2004, 02:36 AM:

I believe that God is an author.

I believe that this explains a lot.*

I believe that God loves us with a fiery and devoted passion.

I believe that this is a brilliant lesson in world-building.

*especially about pain.

#107 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2004, 04:20 AM:

Is it Easter that gets people thinking? Maybe that on top of all the other things right now. Hope this isn't too long, but I'm hoping that the extracts will encourage those to read on who might be put off by some of the earlier parts.
www.smh.com.au/articles/2004/04/08/1081326871813.html
Crucify God, resurrect art, by Jack Robertson, April 9, 2004

... you can Google up a strong, credible, authoritative set of ‘proofs’ for every Human opinion or idea every argued thus far - The Holocaust did happen (208,000 sites and falling); The Holocaust Didn’t Happen (128,000 sites and climbing) ...

... It’s not dumbing-down, but the precise opposite: these days we’re all far too smart to be smart enough to be stupid enough to believe in our own fiercely hopeful fictions as we weave them – much less to believe them so long and so hard that they become true, like our stories of Yahweh and God and Allah have done over the centuries.

The problem with those established religious fictions is that they are now increasingly destructive ones, since the world’s artists and intellectuals copped out of believing in God’s stories long ago, leaving the zealots and power-players unchecked, free to twist them into real world horror stories.

What we need is for more smart people to start believing in God, and if like me you can’t stand any of the Big Three, then you ought to pitch in and help ... invent a new one ... The more people who help invent a new belief, the more chance there is that it’ll become believable, and thus useful ... Alas, the internet as it stands kills all hope of this gauche game – let’s call it trying to get idealism to fly - as massed cynicism has always eventually done ... given enough time ... Only now the destruction of idealism happens almost instantaneously, and we can witness and record this, our own on-going creative-death-by-sophistication, in self-accelerating real time ...

God certainly knew what she was doing when she wrote the story about the Tower of Babel ...

I think that this Easter (or soon) we Humans need to crucify God and resurrect Art. We need to make ourselves dumb enough to be smart enough to seize the brilliant opportunity presented by the fertile temporary concatenation of global technology, Millennial angst, epistemological anarchy (a new cyber-cosmic soup, if you like), Luddite World power-political uncertainty (or vulnerability) and universal spiritual hunger, and finally figure out a way to transcend the triangulating neutralisation inherent in the Big Three religious narratives ...

We don’t even have to create the new fictional script(ure) ourselves. All we have to do is act it out in the real world, believe in it long and hard enough until it becomes just as true as the wholly-fictional ‘One God’ in whom, in barely discernible but deadly ways, three different kinds of religious zealots all believe so absolutely, after several thousand years of practise, that they are prepared to kill each other in the concrete world to prove it ...

(on Margot Kingston's Webdiary, part of the Sydney Morning Herald site)

#108 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2004, 04:20 AM:

Is it Easter that gets people thinking? Maybe that on top of all the other things right now. Hope this isn't too long, but I'm hoping that the extracts will encourage those to read on who might be put off by some of the earlier parts.
www.smh.com.au/articles/2004/04/08/1081326871813.html
Crucify God, resurrect art, by Jack Robertson, April 9, 2004

... you can Google up a strong, credible, authoritative set of ‘proofs’ for every Human opinion or idea every argued thus far - The Holocaust did happen (208,000 sites and falling); The Holocaust Didn’t Happen (128,000 sites and climbing) ...

... It’s not dumbing-down, but the precise opposite: these days we’re all far too smart to be smart enough to be stupid enough to believe in our own fiercely hopeful fictions as we weave them – much less to believe them so long and so hard that they become true, like our stories of Yahweh and God and Allah have done over the centuries.

The problem with those established religious fictions is that they are now increasingly destructive ones, since the world’s artists and intellectuals copped out of believing in God’s stories long ago, leaving the zealots and power-players unchecked, free to twist them into real world horror stories.

What we need is for more smart people to start believing in God, and if like me you can’t stand any of the Big Three, then you ought to pitch in and help ... invent a new one ... The more people who help invent a new belief, the more chance there is that it’ll become believable, and thus useful ... Alas, the internet as it stands kills all hope of this gauche game – let’s call it trying to get idealism to fly - as massed cynicism has always eventually done ... given enough time ... Only now the destruction of idealism happens almost instantaneously, and we can witness and record this, our own on-going creative-death-by-sophistication, in self-accelerating real time ...

God certainly knew what she was doing when she wrote the story about the Tower of Babel ...

I think that this Easter (or soon) we Humans need to crucify God and resurrect Art. We need to make ourselves dumb enough to be smart enough to seize the brilliant opportunity presented by the fertile temporary concatenation of global technology, Millennial angst, epistemological anarchy (a new cyber-cosmic soup, if you like), Luddite World power-political uncertainty (or vulnerability) and universal spiritual hunger, and finally figure out a way to transcend the triangulating neutralisation inherent in the Big Three religious narratives ...

We don’t even have to create the new fictional script(ure) ourselves. All we have to do is act it out in the real world, believe in it long and hard enough until it becomes just as true as the wholly-fictional ‘One God’ in whom, in barely discernible but deadly ways, three different kinds of religious zealots all believe so absolutely, after several thousand years of practise, that they are prepared to kill each other in the concrete world to prove it ...

(on Margot Kingston's Webdiary, part of the Sydney Morning Herald site)

#109 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2004, 04:21 AM:

I believe you are right, and that I have been luckier than I have any right to be, in my friends, and in my fate.

I believe God is in the details, and that the details are writ broad in all the world.

I believe my dog is better than I am, because he never worries, and that I am luckier than he, because I believe my Master is always there, somewhere, and I fear he thinks I may never see him again when I leave.

I believe I owe you a great thanks, and that I am going to share this list with many people.

So... thank you.

Terry

#110 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2004, 04:24 AM:

Bother. Getting weird messages & strange feedback from both my machines. Managed to muck up post. Humble apologies to all. I'm appreciating what you all have to say.

#111 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2004, 04:25 AM:

Bother. Getting weird messages & strange feedback from both my machines. Managed to muck up post. Humble apologies to all. I'm appreciating what you all have to say.

#112 ::: Ray Radlein ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2004, 05:39 AM:

I believe that I now have a Buzzcocks song running through my head.

#113 ::: Rob Hansen ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2004, 06:17 AM:

Xopher: Rob - she said "be," not "do."

Ah, but remember:

"To be is to do" - Socrates

Then again, there's:

"To do is to be" - Sartre
"Do be do be do" - Sinatra.

#114 ::: DM SHERWOOD ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2004, 07:52 AM:

Remarkable
I'd like to take it appart line by line but this comment section is already too long. Basically I like the Deist bits,have less time for the tradidion of the \christian church(any church)than you do,and have more time for the Neo -Pagans than you do.
My religion some combination of Bertrum russell's suggestion of a new sin that of believing in something without surficiant evidence and GRR Martin's Tale of Dragon and Thingimee' TRUTH MATTERS. This makes me an atheist at presant this is open to change.

#115 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2004, 08:21 AM:

mythago says:

SO MUCH of the Bible is meant to be funny. I can't believe so many people treat it like an O'Reilly manual instead of a living work.

I know at least two O'Reilly authors who would be offended by this, in at least two different ways, mostly by the implication that their O'Reilly manuals aren't funny.

Mez, I think Iago has his metaphysics right, but his ethics wrong. Anyone here can find Heinlein's This I Believe without my help for a corrective tonic.

Xopher, I too "conclude, with Russell, that "when I die, I shall rot, and that no part of me will survive in any sense", except I have a piece of Bertie in this quote, and I have a daughter.

Simon, I have a good friend who teaches theology. She and I disagree radically on the value of Heinlein's Job: A Comedy of Justice. She points out that it's not biblically sound. I don't disagree, but I counter that it is sound (or at least received) doctrine for some churches. Make that a whole lot of churches and believers, probably a plurality in America.

PZMeyers and NelC, you are both obviously neither True Faith-Holders nor Fanatics. Neither would even discuss the m*t*chr**d, let alone their practices of blartification thereof.

And speaking of Yuri G

Tiellan says:

I believe that what brings us together is more important than what draws us apart.

I could quibble with this, but why? I agree with it more than I care to pick at it.

#116 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2004, 08:25 AM:

And don't forget:

No one expects the Metachroidal Blartification!

#117 ::: metasilk ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2004, 09:20 AM:

Theresa, thanks for sharing this, and having a place open for other people to then speak their beliefs. (I like blog comments from the Quaker angle of speaking when you are moved to speak.)

Keith, thanks for bringing up beetles. E.O. Wilson is nifty.

Marilee, I would say rather that we are part of the food web, not "top of the food chain". The chain metaphor, while accurate in some sense, misses/leaves out a good bit of what happens. I suppose "top" also implies the absence of decomposers, which, thanks to the beetles, isn't so. In no way, however, am I disagreeing with the other implication of "top"--the bit about us humans producing significant, large, and long-lasting changes and consequences on the land, sea, and air.

Ken: Bible as source code? Works on many levels, and in a sideways twist, is recently popularized by the Bible Code idea (and refuted by many mathematicians). This interpretation is in keeping with the Trickster side of God, I suppose....

#118 ::: Arlen ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2004, 09:21 AM:

I believe God knows the full and complete ramifications of everything He (She/It, choose your preferable pronoun, as God is far beyond our petty ideas of gender) does, and further, knows the full and complete ramifications of every thing *we* do.

I believe God is able to do whatever He sets His mind to.

I believe God embodies the tension between Truth and Mercy.

I believe God is wherever He is needed.

I believe God is behind the operation of everything we in our arrogance call "Laws of Nature," that nothing, not even gravity itself, operates without His support.

I believe God is intimately involved with His creation, that the tiniest sparrow falls, not because of chance, nor even because He *allows* it to, but because He *wills* it to.

I believe God knows more about the brevity of our lives, the length of eternity, and the relation of the two than we do.

I believe God will deal with everyone in a manner consistent with both Justice and Mercy, in ways that I could never conceive of, even on my best and brightest day, and that therefore how He deals with anyone is not for me to judge. It is enough that I care about how He deals with me.

I believe God gives us all a flashlight before sending us into the darkness, and that the maintenance of that flashlight becomes our responsibility. That the batteries are rechargeable will avail us nothing if we decline to recharge them at any of the charging stations He provides for us along the way.

I believe God.

#119 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2004, 10:34 AM:

adamsj, I have nothing but respect for the O'Reilly books, and some of them have funny bits, but they are what I pull out when I have insomnia.

since the world’s artists and intellectuals copped out of believing in God’s stories long ago

No, only those whose artistic and intellectual communities see a particular form of atheism as chic.

#120 ::: Mez ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2004, 11:36 AM:

metasilk: can't say I agree with Iago's ethics either, but it's a beautifully presented example of a type of thought you see variants of some 400 years on.
Saw a production of Otello this year set in 20th/21st(?) century, with contemporary military uniforms. The set was a palace damaged by fire & shelling. It reminded me of the recent Balkans war. The scene where Iago states his Creed was very dramatically powerful, and well sung, but at least I'm old enough to have thought & experienced enough to not be swayed by such appeals. It can appeal to some. That was one theme of Stephen King's The Stand, IIRC.

mythago: some, perhaps many, people select their current 'beliefs' because of what is currently chic. "God-bothering" is pretty chic in much of the US. Others have thought & felt deeply, and considered the good & bad consequences of different beliefs while developing their own convictions. And different ones still come up with different answers - tho' as Bjorn said, 'Treat others as you would like them to treat you' tends to recur. Please don't dismiss all atheists as airily as some zealous non-believers dismiss all believers as being ignorant superstitious bigoted dupes.

#121 ::: nutmegger ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2004, 11:50 AM:

Arguments about the existance of God are inherently futile. God, as a concept, is so far beyond what a single mind can comprehend that we might as well be single-cell organisms arguing whether Socrates or Descartes was a better philosopher. The scales are just not ones for which humans have measurements.

The mystery of God to me is best expressed in the fact that there are certain things we just consider 'laws', even though there is no reason to expect that they should be. Gravity obeys rules. Why? We don't know, and we can't know. All we can do is explain the rules. And be grateful, profoundly grateful, because without certain fixed rules, like gravity and the speed of light, things at levels we can understand would just cease to exist.

I think Jesus should be understood in his historical context. He faced an institutionalized religion that had lost touch with its philosophical and moral roots. As had prophets before him, and after him, such as Martin Luther or Jeremiah, he spoke against the loss of the spiritual by those charged with its protection and desemination.

At the risk of stepping into a minefield, the thought that a God, who is busily making sure that electromagnetism is a force across inter-galactic distances, has one only son, who has unique interpretive understanding of God's meaning is to attempt to put into words what is inherently unspeakable. God is greater than that. We have to understand that the moral laws we operate under are just a fraction, and perhaps not even the most important fraction, of the laws that God sustains, just through God's existance. That we have spent most of recorded history struggling with even this small introduction to God's abiding power should remind us of our need to be humble.

#122 ::: David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2004, 12:25 PM:

So does C.S. Lewis explain anywhere how after all his soul-searching he managed to decide that Anglicanism was the One True Faith?

#123 ::: Simon ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2004, 12:34 PM:

David M., C.S. Lewis at no time declared that Anglicanism was the one true faith. His basic book on Christian belief is called Mere Christianity, "Mere" as in "simple, basic, default." In fact he says he's going to stay out of doctrinal disputes, and he follows this principle in most of his religious work.

Xopher, that's a whole different principle than what you set forth in the post in question.

#124 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2004, 12:48 PM:

Simon: OK. I thought it was just a more detailed explanation, but OK. I wasn't really going into my present attitude toward Christianity in the initial post.

Anyway. Pace.

#125 ::: Leah Miller ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2004, 12:50 PM:

A long time ago, as an exercise in logic, I came up with two options. I was raised in a house where chemistry and physics were given equal weight with church and art, so forgive me. I'm not entirely sure I even believe this premise, but it's somewhat entertaining.

There are two options, inside or outside religion: will or not will. They represent a single difference: with will there is something outside matter and physics which can in some way affect the universe. With "not will" there isn't, and everything proceeds according to natural laws.

The universe as we currently conceive it was started with the big bang, and explosion of matter and energy according to the laws of physics (which may have been slightly different at the time). Since then the atoms and sub-particles have proceeded on their way, interacting based on a set of rules and properties, some of which we are trying to understand through our science. These atoms form molecules, which make up our brains and the chemicals within them. Oversimplified, how often these chemicals fire across certain pathways creates thought, association and also some emotion. Thus thought exists. It is not an illusion, but it is an ability granted us by our brain's compliance with the laws of physics. However, these same laws of physics and chemistry dictated how we will respond to each stimuli we are exposed to, for example an argument. Now, here is where the paths diverge.

In the universe of not will, there is only one set of thoughts we can have in response to a given stimuli at a given time... the chemical physical set. When the brain fires the paths that a certain argument triggers, it will affect the rest of the path pattern in only one way... the way it must, according to the natural laws set into action around the time of the big bang, or possibly before.

In the universe of will, there are several sets of thoughts we may have. The information enters our brains and somewhere, in the "uncertainty," something acts. And random motion of one electron determines whether our reaction will be positive or negative. That randomness is influenced by some force, the force I'm calling "will" for the sake of argument.

In the universe of "not will" this randomness is either purely random or determined by a scientific variable we have not yet examined.

Thus, in this argument, only in a world of will does "free will" exist. Will may be God, it may be self, it may be magic or spirit or a hundred different terms, but it is something outside the current scope of natural law.

The unfortunate thing is that, if will does not exist, then the way we think and react to stimuli cannot be changed. You may argue, and it may change some minds... no. Rather you must argue, you are determined to argue, based on everything in the universe that has come before. All atoms acting upon each other cause you to argue. And all atoms acting upon each other cause the other person to react. There is no choice in any of it. I cannot stop from writing this all, poorly. So, though you may try to help them, the people who believe in will and cannot be easily dissuaded are that way because of all of the universe, all of physics.

Or, if will exists, then they are exhibiting it in their choice to believe in will, and you are exhibiting it in your choice not to believe in will.

....yeah.

You can imagine that when I first came up with this I was a bit weirded out. I've periodically tried to come into synch with the idea of "not will" but I'm not one of those people who has, so far, been moved that way by the universe.

Either that or I'm right in my suspicions about will.

Sorry to subject you all to this. It's just something that occurs to me again every time this subject comes up. I do believe that this is the most succinctly I've ever been able to pose it in writing.

I also realized, just in this writing, that either "will" or "not will" could stand in for a religion. Replace God with physics. Odd that.

#126 ::: Tiger Spot ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2004, 02:04 PM:

Leah --

I've come to the conclusion that, since there really isn't any way to tell whether or not free will exists, I had best act as if it does. That way, if it does exist, I'm correct, and if it doesn't exist, I couldn't do anything differently anyway.

I have the same response when people say things like "But how do we know we all really exist? What if we are merely brains in a box / simulations on a computer / thoughts in the mind of God / whatever?" There's no way to tell, so we may as well act as though we're real.

#127 ::: Ulrika ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2004, 02:31 PM:

I believe that patronizing homilies about flashlights are amazingly callous coming from someone who lives on the same planet with, just for instance, the Rwandan genocide, the Holocaust, the routine exposure of female infants in China, the flesh trade in children in the Middle East and elsewhere, and so on. If people who live and die through these attrocities suffer blackness and despair, or somehow fail to be fully grateful to God for this enriching lesson, this is somehow their OWN FAULT FOR NOT RECHARGING THEIR FREAKING BATTERIES????!!?? You know what? I'll just pre-disemvowel myself: Fck Y, nd Fck yr ptty lttl tnpt Gd, t.

#128 ::: Heather ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2004, 02:47 PM:

I personally fail to see what is amazingly callous about someone expressing their own beliefs much like everyone else in this thread has done...Just because someone says something that you don't agree with is no reason to take it as a personal attack--unless of course I missed something in this thread and it was MEANT as a personal attack...I'm just trying to figure out why the response to the flashlight analogy was so very, very vituperative...

#129 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2004, 02:52 PM:

I like the sailboat analogy myself. You can change some things, tack across the wind, whatever, but sometimes you're becalmed and no act of your own will will accomplish anything; and sometimes you're in a huge storm, and no act of your will will keep it from blowing you where it will.

Will will will.

Lesson: we're only in control of our own lives when things are going well. We can still screw it up, but at least our hand is on the tiller.

#130 ::: David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2004, 02:57 PM:

Wow. That’s nothing like my interpretation of the flashlight metaphor. Not that I’m saying mine’s right, mind, but still.

#131 ::: Skrik ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2004, 03:11 PM:

Funny: I don't believe anything the rest of you believe. Does this make me a bad person?

#132 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2004, 03:17 PM:

Skrik: Well, no, but it may make you crazy if you mean it literally.

For example, I believe that when I click the Post button after I'm done typing and previewing, my words will be stored, and that anyone on the web who can access the site will be able to see them. If you don't believe that, what are you doing here?

I also believe that doughnuts, each imbedded with an emerald the size of a robin's egg and the color of new grass, will NOT fall, by dozens and hundreds, into my backyard tomorrow morning starting at 7:23 AM. If you don't believe that, I'll see you there tomorrow!

#133 ::: Jill Smith ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2004, 03:20 PM:

I went to church on Sunday with my mom for the first time in a long time. She goes to an Episcopal church in Nashua, NH where in amongst the weekly blessings they say, "God Bless our Bishop, Gene Robinson." After all the hue and cry in the national media, it was nice to see an ordinary, quiet, "life goes on" affirmation of the man's work and worth.

As a sidenote, in response to various people who try to prove a given point using the Bible as an authority or citation, the Rector of that Nashua parish, William "Odie" Odierna, is fond of saying, "You can take this book and make it prove anything you want." He prefers the open, tolerant, loving message. I thought that was also nice to see.

#134 ::: Jill Smith ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2004, 03:23 PM:

Xopher, I think the jewel-encrusted donut shower is actually due for 7:14 AM. Be sure to set your alarm early enough.

And are they Dunkin' or Krispy Kreme?

#135 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2004, 03:23 PM:

Heather: I also found

That the batteries are rechargeable will avail us nothing if we decline to recharge them at any of the charging stations He provides for us along the way.

less than sympathetic -- even if the author may not have seen it that way. I tie this back to the discussion some months ago about the woman charged with neglect in the suicide of her son; some felt that she could always have done something, and some (myself included) felt that there is a degree of being overwhelmed by life that erases any capacity developed for coping. What recharging should such a person have done? Prayer (or any other religious activity) is all very well for some people -- but it is a combination of mental discipline and mental undiscipline that does not work for everyone. Perhaps Arlen's view could be more-typically phrased as "The Lord helps them who help themselves" (or perhaps not -- the weakness of metaphor is that it allows misinterpretation, but metaphor is one of the threads of this thread) -- but I'm not sure that the Lord comes off any better for the rephrasing.

Mez: Iago's aria is only 1.5 centuries back, not 4; as Leonard Bernstein noted in The Joy of Music, opera usually has to turn complex thought into broad brush strokes in order to fit in everything else, so Iago is drawn with no redeeming qualities. (Otello doesn't have an overture, but there's a celebratory bonfire, a mass drunkfest, and a scene of the fishermen's families worshiping Desdemona in a way that does nothing to advance the story but was probably obligatory for the time -- at least if you didn't have a ballet.) Or maybe he isn't; I have read Verdi described as an atheist, although he may have been more unhappy with the Church's interest in keeping Italy divided than specifically concerned about the existence of God.

#136 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2004, 03:57 PM:

Jill, I believe that the doughnuts which will not fall will not be Krispy Kreme...which of course means that they will even more not be Dunkin.

#137 ::: sennoma ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2004, 04:16 PM:

Xopher:If your answer to all the whys in the cosmos is "God wills it," that's about as simple an explanation as you can get.

It's about as unnecessarily complicated as you can get, from where I stand. How does positing an all-powerful etc etc Being simplify things?


And even the modern version (the simplest explanation which accounts for the available data is best) doesn't mean that there might not be data you don't have.

But, but -- the point of the principle in question is that one should work with the data to hand, and modify the model as more information becomes available. One cannot argue for an unnecessarily complex model on the basis of evidence that might later become available.


I just think people should believe what does no harm

Before I could go along with that, we'd have to discuss what constitutes harm, and whether or not religious belief or lack thereof can be blamed for the greater weight of same.


Michael: Scientists tend to be very religious

Not the ones I work with. I don't have any hard data to hand either, but I'll bet you lunch that religious belief is much less common among scientists than the general population.

#138 ::: Ulrika ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2004, 04:54 PM:

I believe God gives us all a flashlight before sending us into the darkness, and that the maintenance of that flashlight becomes our responsibility. That the batteries are rechargeable will avail us nothing if we decline to recharge them at any of the charging stations He provides for us along the way.

Another way this smug and patronizing bit of self-congratulation on one's own good luck is sometimes phrased is, "God does not give us burdens we cannot bear."

To which I say, bullshit. God sends children into the hands of torturers and rapists and slavers every day of the year, and lets them be broken. So if it's true that God does not give anyone a burden they cannot bear, if God gives us the flashlight and leaves it to us to charge the batteries to keep us from darkness, then the only possible conclusion to draw about those who find it dark, or who break under the burden, is that it is THEIR OWN FAULT. And for some strange reason, I find the idea of blaming children for their despair under torture, yeah, callous.

And if you can't see it, well, hey, maybe you'd better check your flashligh batteries.

#139 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2004, 05:25 PM:

For Occam, it wasn't a matter of simplicity of explanation. That's my point. It was a matter of number of entities. And one is the loneliest...that is, lowest number of entities that can account for all the behavior of the universe.

People like to cite Occam's Razor when arguing a side of a debate he'd never have accepted. This is because he wasn't exactly Dr. Science, not because the people who use the Razor are wrong. I find this funny, so I like to mention it.

I agree with you on the principle in question. But sometimes the presence or absense of evidence isn't a yes/no thing. In linguistics, for example, native speaker intuition about how something works is sometimes considered evidence, and sometimes not. The best linguists use it only as a tie-breaker.

My favorite example is the "long" vowels in English. They're not truly long as in e.g. German where long vowels are actually pronounced for longer than short ones. They differ from the short vowels by being tense and by being followed by a glide, y for front vowels, w for back. For years linguists treated the glide as predictable, despite the fact that it's needed as a separate sound elsewhere, and the vowel tension as the primary difference. Why? Native speaker intuition, which in this case equals "prejudiced observer."

By Occam's Razor (modern version), the tension of the vowel is conditioned by the presence of the glide, and the complexity of the model drops dramatically. It also neatly accounts for ay as in 'bite' /bayt/, which otherwise is quite suppletive. Experimental evidence also supports this: if you drop the glide in the "long" vowels, native speakers misunderstand; if you keep the glide and drop the vowel tension, they think you have an accent, but understand correctly.

An appropriate use of native speaker intuition would be when you have two models of equal or nearly equal complexity, and naive native speakers like one a lot better. Using non-naive speakers (like, say, linguists at MIT) is foolish at best.

So I basically agree with you; it's been very amusing to find myself on this side of the debate. Only thing is, with spiritual matters no one is a "naive native speaker." We've all been trained, deliberately or not. So how do you count personal experience? Is it evidence? Does the fact that I tell you I have been possessed by Osiris and prophesied with his voice count for anything? (Yes, I'm speaking of an actual experience I had. No, I'm not sure how much I count it as evidence of anything either.)

Also, different degrees of certainty are required for different types of belief, operational decisions, etc. I need solid scientific evidence to make a scientific pronouncement. I wouldn't publish a paper on the opinions of high school kids without doing research among them, and showing my data. But for spiritual matters I'm generally talking about my own experience, and I am the ONLY source of data on that topic; you just have to trust me. Whether or not it was "really" Osiris speaking through me you're free to doubt. I doubt it myself a lot of the time, but the fact is it's just not very important. I experienced it as Osiris speaking through me, and the spiritual value of that experience is the same whether it was an independent entity of that name who stepped inside my head for a few minutes (as I believe inside circle) or a construct from my unconscious mind brought forth by ritual, to speak my own wisdom from the most Osiris-like part of my mind (as I believe outside circle, for example now).

So when I come home from playing basketball, don't ask me who won the hockey game. I don't know or care; I was doing something different.

#140 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2004, 05:37 PM:

CHip says: "I think I understand and move in the same direction as much of Teresa's creed, but I'd like to hear \her/ explanation of preferring organized to disorganized religion; that organization multiply the force of their members is a problem as well as an advantage. (Consider the misdeeds of the Catholic Church and of the U.S. under Shrub.)"

My brother and his family were here last night, the last visit before they go back to Taiwan as missionaries, and they told a story of their pastor (Chinese Evangelical church in Virginia Beach) who had just had his 10th child. He encouraged everybody to have lots of children because he was going to make sure his 10 kids each had 10 kids and those each had 10 kids because in five generations, his family could control Virginia government. My brother says he's serious.

#141 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2004, 05:45 PM:

Now THAT is evil. Genetic greed.

#142 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2004, 05:50 PM:

Metasilk, I meant "top of the food chain" not as actual food, but as intelligence. I believe humans are the most intelligent beings in the universe, which doesn't leave any room for gods.

#143 ::: Andrea Blythe ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2004, 06:24 PM:

Ulrika wrote:
"Another way this smug and patronizing bit of self-congratulation on one's own good luck is sometimes phrased is, "God does not give us burdens we cannot bear."

To which I say, bullshit. God sends children into the hands of torturers and rapists and slavers every day of the year, and lets them be broken. So if it's true that God does not give anyone a burden they cannot bear, if God gives us the flashlight and leaves it to us to charge the batteries to keep us from darkness, then the only possible conclusion to draw about those who find it dark, or who break under the burden, is that it is THEIR OWN FAULT. And for some strange reason, I find the idea of blaming children for their despair under torture, yeah, callous. "

I can understand where you are coming from. When we look at the hard things, the cruel things in the world, it is hard to believe that we have any control over certain events. These children certainly did not ask to be treated in this way.

But I would argue that children are a lot more resourceful than you take them for. The children can handle it, because they do. Simply by living and dealing with the sh** that has been presented to them, they are dealing with it. Children manage to pull themselves through the most chaotic and horrifying situations, simply through their own will. They can handle it, because it is possible to heal. Sure, the more violent and cruel the situation, the harder it is to heal. But that does not mean that they are incapable of such a feat.

There are many stories out there in which children are horribly abused, and then grow up to be good and genuinly happy people. They may be haunted from time to time by their past, but they are able to deal with that as well. They are able to continue living. They are able to create lives for themselves.

So, if you look at it that way, then the statement, "God never gives you more than you can handle" is true.

#144 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2004, 06:36 PM:

Genetic greed? I'd put it differently, but: This is who used to live across the street from one of my best friends back home. Find a picture, if you can.

#145 ::: Ulrika ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2004, 06:45 PM:

There are many stories out there in which children are horribly abused, and then grow up to be good and genuinly happy people. They may be haunted from time to time by their past, but they are able to deal with that as well. They are able to continue living. They are able to create lives for themselves.

Yes, and there are many people for whom no such happy ending occurs. Children who watch their mothers murdered, and then die by the same hand, or of malnutrition, or neglect, or heroin addiction, or gang violence. People who commit suicide after fully remembering how they were molested repeatedly by Catholic priests. The test of any system is not how it succeeds, but how it fails. You want to look only at the happy examples. I'm saying that's cheating, and you have to look at the unhappy examples. It's no good pretending they don't occur.

So, if you look at it that way, then the statement, "God never gives you more than you can handle" is true.

Yes, if you refuse to look at the cases where it isn't, any claim is true. This is what I mean about smugness, and self-congratulation about good luck.

#146 ::: Simon ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2004, 07:00 PM:

There are some people here who appear to be very angry at God.

I wonder, are they angry at him for existing, or for not existing?

#147 ::: Ulrika ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2004, 07:10 PM:

There are some people here who appear to be very angry at God.

Especially if you fail to engage what they say, I'm sure it does.

I wonder, are they angry at him for existing, or for not existing?

Probably not.

#148 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2004, 07:27 PM:

There are some people here who appear to be very angry at God.

I wonder, are they angry at him for existing, or for not existing?

Haven't seen any of those. Have seen a few angry at the people who claim to speak in his name.

#149 ::: David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2004, 08:28 PM:

Simon — Perhaps calling Anglicanism Lewis’ “One True Faith” is an exaggeration, but I’d like to know what convinced Lewis sufficiently of its truth (as opposed to the truth of “mere” Christianity; that argument I can follow, even if I don’t necessarily agree with it) that when it came time for him to choose a church for himself, that was the one.

Every atheist should read Mere Christianity, if only because the first three-quarters of it offer lucid answers to pretty much all of the most obvious and stupid arguments against God and against Christianity, and will make you think of better ones. (I have to admit that Lewis lost me in the last section, though.)

Xopher — I think a case could be made, that positing “God wills it” is, in fact, a massive multiplication of entities, because you have to multiply that statement by all the different referents of it.

#150 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2004, 10:25 PM:

Oh, David, I'm not going to defend Occam! This isn't fun any more.

#151 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2004, 11:12 PM:

Adamsj, they might as well have a creche! The kids in dormitory rooms and the girls clothes in one closet, the boys in another and they just choose what fits?!

#152 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2004, 12:04 AM:

Andrea, are you sure you know what “never” means?

#153 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2004, 12:38 AM:

And there in some of the comments afterwards, of course, are soem of the clauses I forgot:

I do actually believe we can get to know and understand God as well as we can every human being or other living thing around us...

...which is to say, never completely.

I also believe we can come closer to that understanding than we have yet, if we find it worthwhile to try. It is certainly worthwhile to try with people we love, and even with people we hate, why not with God? Not trying to understand better because we can never understand completely is one of those things that just befuddles me.

I believe there is no one way to worship God. I believe there are better ways and worse ways and that those better and worse ways are not based on what name or names you put to God, but based on how your beliefs cause you to treat the rest of God's creation. I believe becoming creators ourselves is one of the best ways, and becoming healers is another. Both "Creator" and "Healer" in the last sentence are defined at their broadest.


(Tangent) I do not believe God is a He in the masculine sense. I just also believe that nobody has yet come up with a satisfactory gender neutral word in modern English.

I know that some have tried to artificially impose one; none have stuck outside of small circles, and none have reached the status in which I would use them in everyday conversation, or place them in fiction and expect the audience to read them without being jarred out to the story. (Sorry, Xopher.)

I use "He" because I started steeped in Roman Catholic tradition, and also because the most important deity I have described in my fiction, the one that helped me define my faith, and the one whose order comes nearest to my own chosen methods of worship, is a Goddess. She (And the others' cited) are also A: fiction, and B: beings which dwell within a universe, and have a discernable beginning and possible end, and other limitations. It is almost a confusion-avoiding gesture.

#154 ::: Yahmdallah ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2004, 01:16 AM:

Beautiful, Teresa

#155 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2004, 02:38 AM:

The problem of pain that Ulrika addresses in her posts is one strong and standard objection to the plausibility of a compassionate, supreme Creator, who has a special interest in loving the human souls who temporarily inhabit the Earth.

As she knows, C.S. Lewis comments on the objection by asking how human beings have developed any belief at all in a compassionate creator in the face of their knowledge of the dispassionate cruelty of nature. (Lewis argues that an "independent and inexorable" Nature was the best system the Creator could come up with -- if the universe was also to contain free will. And he argues that there's a larger plan we can't see where all the pain actually has a cleansing or beneficial effect upon the spirits that populate the world.)

Like the atheists, I don't find Lewis' answer to be very satisfying, intellectually or emotionally. I've had any number of visions and beliefs in my life that either are or aren't inextricably bound to my organic brain and body.

As I get older, I have more and more consciousness of the anthropomorphic bias imposed on my perceptions about the world. I have emotional feelings about the nature of the world; and I also have logical curiosity about it.

Something came out of nothing at the beginning of time.

I still believe the "why" of that is as interesting a question as the "how."

It's easier for me to believe in Phil Dick's gnostic concept of Caritas entering the Universe gradually than in Lewis' notion of an anthropomorphic Creator-God who's always had our best interests at heart.

The story of Christ is one human attempt to describe the process of Caritas entering the world. The stories of the Buddhas are another attempt.

To me, the question of whether the Universe was created by someone approximating our Earthly visions of a Creator is less interesting than the question of what has happened and will continue to happen to the spirit force of the Universe. I wonder and worry about whether that spirit is inextricably linked to the process of biological life; and what happens when there is no biological consciousness to perceive (or be) it. But, while I'm alive, I believe in the existance of Spirit -- for all of the reasons Teresa mentions and others.

"These dreams of you; so real and so true ...."

#156 ::: Joy Rothke ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2004, 07:35 AM:

I admire Teresa's eloquence.

I believe because it comforts me and it makes sense to me. And the world is too chaotic and cruel without the presence of God in my life.

#157 ::: Dot Imm ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2004, 08:31 AM:

Chiming in with thanks for this brave and touching post.

#158 ::: Kylee Peterson ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2004, 10:15 AM:

Many comments ago, Xopher wrote:
Granted, a known fictional source IS "evidence against."

I disagree, actually. As Lenora Rose said, it might be just confusion avoidance, but I find that looking at deity through filters helps me feel closer to it, and overtly fictional characters work just as well for me as, say, the fictionalized Greek gods I've read about. In my opinion, some face of God is Charlie, if somebody thinks so.

Thank you for the post, Teresa, particularly the Burgess Shale and the creed that's a little different from the one I know.

#159 ::: John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2004, 11:01 AM:

Beautifully written, Teresa. And amen to all of it. If I could add only one thing, from memory (admittedly flawed), it's what Chesterton once said about Christ, and whether there was something He hid from us while He was here. Chesterton thought there was—and it was illustrated by His sudden silences on certain questions, and His sudden departures to the desert—so we couldn't see it, maybe because we couldn't quite understand it.

His mirth.

#160 ::: eashack ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2004, 11:12 AM:

That was beautiful, thank you. Even the parts I no longer quite believe.

I believe I can't choose what I believe.

#161 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2004, 11:13 AM:

Kylee, I meant "evidence against" concrete objective existence, like the Washington Monument or the planet Mars. Or the transuranic elements that have never been seen, only detected in reactors.

Since deities are metaphors, of course a fictional one is as real as any other. We agree on that.

#162 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2004, 12:25 PM:

Re: Lenny Bailes' "It's easier for me to believe in Phil Dick's gnostic concept of Caritas entering the Universe gradually than in Lewis' notion of an anthropomorphic Creator-God who's always had our best interests at heart."

Much as I adore the fiction and essays of C.S. Lewis, I still think that the most philosophically interesting Science Fiction treatments of the evolving relationship between intelligence beings (organisms, then planets, then galaxies in telepathic contact) and God was William Olaf Stapledon [Star Maker, 1937], which inspired young Arthur C. Clarke. P. K. Dick is a close second, in my feelings on the subject... Maybe Roger Zelazny third, and then David Zindell [The Broken God, The Wild and War in Heaven, with Neverness being the "prequel"].
Theophysics. Theomathematics. Theoastronomy...

See:


TIMELINE COSMIC FUTURE


which interleaves William Olaf Stapledon bio-sketch and novel excerpts with 21st century astrophysics data.

#163 ::: shawn scarber ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2004, 12:42 PM:

I believe if there is a God, he wasn’t joking about the free will portion of his contract, and if you’re going to have faith, that’s the gamble you’ll take, because he’s got a strict non-interference clause based on the precept of his existence. Prayer, belief, faith, and the Holy Ghost aren’t going to stop the pain and suffering in this world.

#164 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2004, 12:49 PM:

re: shawn scarber's "... if there is a God, he wasn’t joking about the free will portion of his contract."

Of course I believe in Free Will. I have no choice but to believe...

#165 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2004, 01:10 PM:

In the universe of not will, there is only one set of thoughts we can have in response to a given stimuli at a given time... the chemical physical set. When the brain fires the paths that a certain argument triggers, it will affect the rest of the path pattern in only one way...

Those of us with biochemical problems in our brains become less and less certain this is untrue. For example. I am a biochemical depressive. Before this was known, even before it was known depression could be caused by brain chemicals, I spent years and years and years in therapy for my depression. However, because of its chemical state my brain was unable to benefit from this. I literally could not think/feel in non-depressive ways. Now that we can (sometimes) regulate my brain chemically, I have a great set of coping skills though. But the fact remains there are certain ways I am incapable of thinking/feeling because of the chemistry in my brain. I become less and less sure of the reality of emotions, thought, personality and all that stuff as this continues to ramify. Life is weird. Chemistry is weird. Brains are really weird.

MKK

#166 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2004, 01:12 PM:

Without getting in any detail into my actual beliefs or religious preferences, and without argument (meaning: I ain't gonna argue it, this is just a personal opinion, and I don't mind if people disagree):

Pain is the price of free will.

#167 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2004, 01:14 PM:

And, to add my voice to the chorus, separately: Teresa, what you wrote is wonderful. I may disagree with individual applications of your points but I can whole-heartedly applaud the spirit of them.

#168 ::: shawn scarber ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2004, 01:25 PM:

Pain is the price of free will.

Freedom is its reward. Not a bad deal in my opinion.

#169 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2004, 01:43 PM:

MaryKay, someone once asked me whether depression is the result of low serotonin levels, or whether low serotonin levels are the result of depression.

I said: "Is dawn the cause of sunrise, or is sunrise the cause of dawn?"

Everything you think, feel, and experience is biochemical/bioelectrical event (or series of events) in your brain. An abnormal brain doesn't think normally, feel normally, or even (sometimes) experience normally. I wonder sometimes whether my rather odd taste in music and art are because of the abnormalities of my brain, but no doubt I'll die wondering.

#170 ::: Michelle ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2004, 01:50 PM:

I agree with Tina, except that I would express it as: "The existence of evil is the price of free will"

And that goes for any of the definitions of evil.

#171 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2004, 04:07 PM:

"Pain is the price of free will."

This can be oversimplified.

Some kittens are born into homes with smart, loving humans who feed them and give them shots. Other kittens are born into alleyways with no food and no one to watch over them. They all start out with equal amounts of free will, but unequal potentials for the experience of pain and injury.

If you want to look at the creation of the Universe as a one-time engineering job; maybe the specs were state-of-the-art at the time. As time moves forward, you're going to find an increasing number of sentient lifeforms questioning the necessity of a number of unpleasant aspects of reality.

Atheists offer that as evidence that the appearance of the universe was a spontaneous, unplanned event. No omnipotent deity (especially not the compassionate one humans want to believe in) would be so callous as to include the design flaws they perceive.

Or, as Kurt Vonnegut said, "What was God thinking, when he robbed old people of the power to move their bowels?"

Deists offer the "design flaws" as evidence that the Primal Urge might not be/have been as compassionate or omnipotent as religious humans would like to believe.

I like to give the Primal Urge the benefit of the doubt. Maybe it did the best job it knew how to, at the time. Phil Dick, in his later writing, fantasizes a romantic struggle between different powerful entities at the time this Universe began. I'm not as much into that, as the other idea that sentient life and spirit evolve and learn over time.

#172 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2004, 04:08 PM:

Xopher, I can answer that, at least for myself. Low serotonin levels were the cause of my depression.

(Mine's a little different than most, I had a big medication-caused stroke in 1987 and too much of my brain is damaged to get enough serotonin by itself anymore.)

#173 ::: Simon ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2004, 04:36 PM:

David M.: Lewis didn't really think it made all that much difference which Christian sect one belonged to. The Anglican church was there, it was convenient, he was comfortable with it (it was what he'd been raised in), so he went to it.

An equivalent of Lewis's adherence to Christianity would be to say, "When a man is hungry, then he should eat." That's the one true principle. Your question is like asking whether it's more principled for him to eat in a Mexican restaurant or an Italian restaurant. That's a question of preference and convenience, not principle.

There are some Christians to whom sectarian choice is a matter of deep principle. Lewis was not one of those Christians. While he might have been uneasy at becoming, say, a Catholic, it would have been in the way a hungry man who dislikes Mexican food would be uneasy in a Mexican restaurant. That they're serving food, or (to drop the analogy) that they're pursuing the Christian truth, was the important thing to him. He did have ecumenical pursuits, particularly with Catholics, a notable thing in a man raised in a reflexively anti-Catholic culture (Protestant Ulster) and who never quite lost that upbringing.

Ulrika: What if what these people, the ones you're expressing anger at, are telling you about God is true?

#174 ::: sennoma ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2004, 05:12 PM:

Xopher: someone once asked me whether depression is the result of low serotonin levels, or whether low serotonin levels are the result of depression

At least in cases which respond to medication that increases serotonin levels, it seems likely that the serotonin defect comes first. There are, however, plenty of cases that don't respond (thank $deity mine is not one of them), and even in responders the serotonin hypothesis is pretty clearly not the whole story. For instance, why the lag (usually 1-3 weeks) between increased serotonin levels as a result of SSRI therapy and improved mood? State-of-the-art answer from molecular biology, clinical psychiatry and half a dozen related fields of intense research: um, we dunno.

(You probably knew all that, but I thought I'd chime in anyway. Got nothing to do until the next step in my 'sperrymint.)

#175 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2004, 05:26 PM:

There are many stories out there in which children are horribly abused, and then grow up to be good and genuinly happy people.

There are many, many other stories out there in which those children do not grow up at all. I cannot fathom the mentality that says to these children, "Well, SOME kids in your position turn out okay--what's your problem?"

I don't believe that God sends children into the hands of abusers, or God "gives" us burdens that are allegedly no more than we can handle, etc. We, humans, do those things. Alcoholic abusers and rapists and crack whores who turn out their children are not instruments of God's will, sent to make sure their kids have a sufficient amount of adversity to make sure they have Character.

#176 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2004, 05:27 PM:

Xopher: I'm pretty sure that seritonin deficiencies cause much of my depression. However, seritonin manufacture can be affected by a number of things, including light/dark cycles. See Patrick's post above. Our physical bodies evolved over 100s of thousands of years in very different physical circumstances than those to which we subject them today. It's a wonder there aren't more things wrong with us. Light/dark cycle affects me more strongly than most people (which is why so many of my worst depressions are in November) but stress chemicals also play their part. And once the depressive pattern has been established, it's easier to fall back into either chemically or situationally.

MKK

#177 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2004, 05:50 PM:

The point is, low serotonin levels ARE depression. One is the neurochemical name for the condition, the other is the behavioral/perceptual name. They're the same thing.

Several people are claiming the "low serotonin levels came first." No; they came at the same time. I don't deny that depression can arise from either emotional/psychological causes or chemical/biological causes. Mary Kay, yours seem to have clearly arisen from biology first; with mine, it's less clear.

I'm saying that depression is the condition of having low serotonin levels in the brain, whether caused by abnormalities of brain structure as for Mary Kay, or by abnormalities of family structure, as for me. Whatever causes your serotonin levels to drop.

#178 ::: Ulrika ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2004, 06:03 PM:

Simon sez: Ulrika: What if what these people, the ones you're expressing anger at, are telling you about God is true?

At whom do you imagine I am expressing anger?

But to answer what I suppose to be your question: any God resembling the one described in the parable of the flashlight I reject, utterly. My own moral sense is outraged by powerful entities setting up rigged, ugly, unwinnable games for the powerless and innocent. I consider that a species of evil. If it proves that this evil God exists and resents my rejection, then I reckon I'll pay the consequences, whatever those may be. Seems pretty simple. Better to suffer in Hell, than to submit out of fear to an unjust Heaven.

Or, to put it another way, if a God exists that really thinks that the available "recharging stations" (and may I just say *blech* at this whole saccharine analogy?) are adequate to stave off the darkness of all those who suffer, then that God is not as advertised. I couldn't tell you whether the failing lies in the omniscience department or the omnibenevolence, but one of the usual three criteria is definitely not being met.

A lot of theists seem to take it for granted that once you establish existence of a God, that worship follows automatically. I think this error stems from the supposition that God must be as advertised by their religion. They've been reading their own press releases. But even Anselm and Descartes don't supply very plausible arguments for supposing that any existent God really has to be as Christianity posits Him. On any given day, it seems equally plausible to me that God, if there is one, is actually the Cartesian demon. And as far as I can tell, in light of well-articulated versions of The Problem of Evil (which free will doesn't get you out of, incidentally) there is no way to achieve informed certitude about the genuine goodness of God this side of the eternal, so, barring better information, I suspend judgment.

#179 ::: sennoma ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2004, 07:48 PM:

depression is the condition of having low serotonin levels in the brain

No it's not. Here is the clinical definition (scroll down or go here; in either case, ignore the ads).

As I said above, there are major problems with the serotonin hypothesis. In addition, major depression can present in the absence of any serotonin irregularity and individuals with low serotonin do not always exhibit depression.

From this quick intro in Psychiatric News: Whatever the illness of depression is, it is not due to a deficiency of neuroepinephrine, dopamine, or serotonin.

#180 ::: sennoma ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2004, 07:52 PM:

In case of confusion: the "go here" link is direct to Major Depression, if you scroll down instead you'll get links to dysthymia, cyclothymia and BMD as well. (None of those are synonymous with "low serotonin" either.)

#181 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2004, 08:27 PM:

I was going to point out that low serotonin levels are not the equivalent of depression but sennoma got there first, and even pointed to one of the sources I would have used. Which gave me a bit of amusement for a moment as when I first looked at the link, I was trying to figure out how sennoma had a pointer to v39 issue8 when I'd only just received the electronic files and it won't be live til the end of the week or later. Then my dysgraphia slunk away and left me with the answer...

Okay. Anyhow. What sennoma said. And serotonin levels affect many, many things. Depression is only one possibility.

#182 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2004, 10:12 PM:

OK then. I'm wrong about serotonin; I was still going on what my neurologist said, and that was -- five years ago now? I was using it as an example, but I didn't know how it really worked.

My main point, however, is that anything we think, feel, experience is all happening in the brain. Everything has some kind of chemical or electrical or (whatever else) associated with it; and not merely associated. Those things ARE our thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Whatever depression is, however it's brought on, what's in the brain is it. There's nothing else for it TO be.

That may seem obvious, but it's awfully scary for some people.

I can't remember why I brought this up now. Oh well.

#183 ::: Neil ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2004, 10:20 PM:

Hmmm . . .

Did you know that the book of Jonah is the haftorah for Yom Kippur? That makes it the book of the bible I know the best.
I says interesting things about repentance.

As for a lot of the other stuff, I just ask the crazy who's obsessing about one sentence someplace about the rest of the chapter, or the subsequent chapter. What was Jesus quoting when some one asked the cheap trick question about the most important commandmant?

And as for the big stuff: God's work is more urgent than lovely questions. Fortunately, it's easier to recognize God's work, and the doing of it, than aints or perfectins or whatever.

#184 ::: Temperance ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2004, 10:35 PM:

This is such an interesting discussion. Teresa, thanks for starting it. I don't agree with everything you said but I respect it.

I believe that God is an artist and a lover. A true artist doesn't just paint things that are pretty. A true lover goes through the pain of life and death with you.

#185 ::: Alex R ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2004, 10:38 PM:

I'll stick my nose in this discussion, because Ulrika's complaints about some forms of theism closely match my own.

And yet I believe, on good days at least -- my own belief or unbelief is something I seem to have little control over.

But it's pretty darn hard to fit the often horrible state of reality in with the idea of a loving and all-powerful God. The conventional answer seems to be "free will" as though that explains something. How does it remove anyone's free will -- if removing free will is even possible -- for a loving and all-powerful God to step in and alleviate the suffering caused by man or nature? What the "free will" argument seems to *really* be saying is: the world that exists is already the result of God's optimization. If God were to interfere more, the decrease in free will would outweigh the benefits of reduced suffering. So it's also kind of like the "God's mysterious plan" argument -- that if you understood God's mysterious plan, you would see that the way things are is the way they ought to be.

No, it makes much more sense to me just to throw out the idea that God is all-powerful. Heck, omnipotence has instrinsic logical problems anyway, as the old can-God-make-a-stone-so-heavy-he-can't-lift-it question shows.

I accept a God that is mysterious and not fully comprehensible, and that my notions may be (likely are) wrong in important ways. But what make sense to me is that God is, in fact, pretty weak in the physical world. God's power is in the realm of the spirit: to inspire, to teach, perhaps to judge. But God is not *directly* responsible for the good that is done in the world, any more than s/he is responsible for the evil.

No, it is up to human beings to do God's work, to try to alleviate suffering and to create joy. God can't do it alone.

#186 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2004, 11:10 PM:

Never mind omnipotent. Omniscient alone will do it. If God created Adam, and God is omniscient, then God knew just what Adam would do. Having created him that way, He, not Adam, is responsible for the Fall. If you pull the trigger you can't blame the gun, especially a gun you designed and built yourself.

This applies, of course, to everyone throughout history. This means that the idea that God is good (and that has its own causality problems) is incompatible with the idea that God sends anyone to Hell. Creating critters in such a way as to give yourself an excuse for torturing them endlessly is evil. Ulrika's right: worshipping such a god, even if one were convinced He were the One, True, and Only God, would be impossible for any person of conscience.

If I'm walking in a Christian worldview at all (which I have to do to enter discourse with them, since they're not as good at changing frames as I am), I prefer Jack Spong's idea: that damnation was invented by the Church heirarchy as a means of social control, and that it is not the way God plays the game.

None of this really answers Ulrika's objection, which is the Problem of Evil. The only way the "flashlight" metaphor applies to the Rwandan genocide, in my opinion, is that if the perpetrators had "charged their flashlights" they couldn't have killed all those people. The suffering of the victims is not because of THEIR "flashlights," but their killers'. But even in Christianity (of the enlightened sort practiced at the church where I sing), people don't suffer because they're bad, or fail to suffer because they're good. Some people suffer, and others don't, because that's the way the world is. And it's up to us humans to make the world better, to decrease the total amount of suffering in the world.

In my own religion, of course, none of these contradictions arise. We're not trying to be factual; we have no pretensions to logic; our gods are not omnipotent or omniscient (well, you could argue about Apollo), and as for omnibenevolent -- well, they have their good days, and then they have their bad days. They've mostly gotten over the whole smiting mortals thing by now, though they can be damn rough on their own devotees (take it from one of Hekate's own; 'gentle' is not a word I would use of her, though 'kind' and 'tenderhearted' both are).

They act through us, sometimes. But they more often act with us. It's our world, not theirs, and we make the choices. Except that we ARE them (this part gets confusing). In any case, it's our job to make the world a better place, and decrease the suffering if we possibly can.

Boy, that sounds familiar. Oh, that's right, it's up there in my discussion of enlightened Christianity. Funny how you can get to the same place by different paths.

"There are many paths to the top of Mount Fuji; but from the summit we all see the same moon." -- Japanese proverb.

#187 ::: Alice Keezer ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2004, 12:55 AM:

An analogy for how our brain works (one I wish I could take credit for):

Picture a snowy field in March, someplace where it snows a lot (Canada, Alaska, Minnesota, Maine . . .). You see worn paths in the snow from where someone has walked again and again and again. Here and there, you might see a lone set of footprints, but most of those are snowed over. There's a heavy crust of ice over the top of the snow. If you cross the field, it's easiest to cross on a worn path. If you try a single-footprint path, it'll be tough, but if you try to add your own path, you're going to have a heck of a struggle.

Our brains work much the same way. Our neurons fire in pathways they're familiar with. You CAN force them to move in ways they never have before, but it's going to be difficult, and you'll have to do it again and again to establish that new pathway.

It's one of the reasons things like depression are so stubborn. Our brain gets used to working that way so, even if the chemical imbalance is righted, it's a struggle to make our brains work in an entirely different way. Not impossible, mind you, but a struggle.

This is why therapy mixed with drugs is more effective than any other treatment for depression. We're just getting help making those new paths. Strangely, therapy+drugs is followed very closely in effectiveness by therapy alone, then just drugs lagging far, far behind.

#188 ::: Mary Messall ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2004, 01:44 AM:

I believe...

That everything makes sense, if you look closely enough and think hard enough.

That on large scales and small, the universe is beautiful.

That art is how we turn pain into beauty.

That in telling stories, human beings create meaning for the world.

That in telling stories to their children, human beings create meaning for their lives.

That there is such a thing as “truth.”

That we never know the whole truth.

That stories don’t have to true to be meaningful, but they can’t be false.

That human beings are basically good.

That there is such a thing as “good.”

That all people are equally valuable, even when they’re not good.

That when people aren’t good, it’s usually because they’ve lied to themselves.

That all people lie to themselves sometimes.

That the truth is almost always complicated, though comprehensible.

That it is always better to forgive, even yourself, but to forgive is not to excuse.

That accidents happen. Not everything is someone’s fault, or someone’s success.

That we’re all in the same boat, and none of us really knows what we’re doing here.

#189 ::: Margaret Organ-Kean Durocher ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2004, 02:45 AM:

Neither the Ten Commandments nor what was referred to as My Bounden Duty* in Sunday School require us to worship God. We are to set no other god before Him, we are not to bow down to false idols, but he wants us love Him.

So, maybe we have free will in order to make that free choice? If it's not a free choice, it's not love.

And I don't believe that the pain and suffering caused by our alienation from God and from each other is felt only by us. For some reason, and I cannot tell you why, nor cite Scripture to support it, I have always believed that God suffers as much from it as we do.


*(The first commandment is to love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, mind, and soul; the second is like unto it, love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets).

#190 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2004, 02:54 AM:

Whatever the illness of depression is, it is not due to a deficiency of neuroepinephrine, dopamine, or serotonin.

How very odd then that the only thing that reliably undepresses me is a drug which regulates both neuroepinephrine and serotonin. I find this statement makes me cranky, but it could be that I haven't had dinnner...

MKK

#191 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2004, 10:56 AM:

I join the rest in saying, Wonderful post, Teresa. (And the ongoing discussion is encouragingly civilized, compared to what organized religions keep doing to each other.) I suppose I belong to the pantheist/we're-not-capable-of-understanding-it-all school, minus any dogmas *it* may have acquired over the centuries.

Hoping it doesn't seem too self-serving to do this, I append a poem I wrote yesterday:

Divination

This wind
tugs at my hair
as though to pull my soul out
through the roots.

No matter what the old priests said,
my ghost
won’t soar with mindless swallowtails
(though they shine like suns)

Nor will it join
the harmonious little goldfinch
busy at its bag
of thistle seed.

Better perhaps to dance
with the willow
flinging off young branches
half-ravaged, April green.

Terrified or transcendent?
The steadier red plum beside it
casts a few leaves
but will not tell.


#192 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2004, 11:33 AM:

Xopher:

I personally don't believe it all happens in the brain. There's a lot more to (everything) than intellect: frex, the visceral ganglion contains about a third as many nerve connections as are found in the brain. "Gut feelings" may actually be that! "Mind" is larger (IMO) than "brain", which is not a generally held opinion.

And on religion, and responsibility -- Sydney Carter wrote a wonderful song with the lines
"...And there wouldn't be an apple
If it wasn't in the plan.

It's God they ought to crucify instead of you and me
I said to the carpenter, a-hanging on the tree."

Carter's a lovely Anglican mystical songwriter; check him out.

#193 ::: Michelle ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2004, 12:07 PM:

Alice Keezer,

This is why therapy mixed with drugs is more effective than any other treatment for depression. We're just getting help making those new paths. Strangely, therapy+drugs is followed very closely in effectiveness by therapy alone, then just drugs lagging far, far behind.

I'm curious as to the sources of these data, becuase we were discussing mental illness in my health policy class three weeks ago, and the efectivness rates given for drugs and threapy were similar. Now this was just a single point in the discussion, and the focus was a general overview of mental health care; the specific point was that ECT has the greatest success rate at treating depression, but that therapy and medication have the lowest relapse rates. So I'm curious as this seems to contradict what I was just taught.

As far as depression, I was medicated off and on for years, and the only thing that has really had a lasting effect was the diagnosis of my OCD. Somehow learning that things that bothered me weren't just due to a lack of will power helped tremendously and made something "click" in my brain. (The inability to stop doing things that I didn't like was horrifying, and I was convinced that it was solely due to some lack on my part. To say that this made me feel bad about myself would be a profound understatement.)

Of course I know that I'm at high risk for relapse (the whole pathways in the snow is an excellent analogy), but that doesn't really bother me, as much as it makes me grateful being okay now.

#194 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2004, 12:15 PM:

Tom, you still have to perceive those gut feelings with your brain, or they don't become experiences. Your body can react to something, but it doesn't become an experience, as such, until you notice it: with your brain.

#195 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2004, 01:03 PM:

That's old perceived wisdom, Xopher. I'm not convinced it's true. And I've seen enough of other people's experience to leave me believing that mind does not equal brain, that brain does not even contain mind. Just because we think we sit behind our eyes seeing the world does not mean it's so.

This is (as far as I can tell) an undecidable proposition. I find it more useful to include the body and its large numbers of neural connections in the discussion -- those who believe in the primacy of the brain do not agree. Religious argument. Not decidable.

#196 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2004, 02:53 PM:

Somewhere years ago, I heard or read about a case of a woman with some form of spinal chord injury. I forget the details, but the result was that she was much more "disconnected" or "distant" emotionally than before the injury. The hypothesis was that a lot of "emotional" processing involves things like hormones circulating in the bloodstream and interacting with various organs and systems (heart, adrenal gland, etc.).

So while I tend to agree with Xopher's underlying theme that it's all ultimately physical, I'm not convinced that all those physical processes are located above the neck.

#197 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2004, 04:09 PM:

Alice, that's not the way *my* brain works and I have piles of studies of my brain. When the doctor gave me the medicine that dropped my blood pressure so low that I didn't get oxygen to my brain for a while, I went into a six-week coma, followed by six weeks where I didn't recognize people and things. Then I had to learn to read, walk, and take care of myself again.

I would never have woken up from the coma if the new connections had to be made over and over through the crusted snow. My brain re-connected on its own, the doctors say, because my brain was "plastic" -- I'd continued learning as an adult. I still have deficits -- partial paralysis on the left side, balance problems, and occasional aphasia -- but the people posting here who have met me in person will tell you the deficits are not obvious.

(Now I'm considering if I can afford the $200 to take a Bio-Medical Ethics class at the local campus of the community college just for personal interest. I have to drive over there first and see if the closest handicapped parking spots are close enough to the building the course is in.)

#198 ::: sennoma ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2004, 05:43 PM:

How very odd then that the only thing that reliably undepresses me is a drug which regulates both neuroepinephrine and serotonin. I find this statement makes me cranky, but it could be that I haven't had dinnner...

Your depression != depression in general, and unless you are taking a drug I've never heard of you don't actually know what it does at a cellular level, only that certain neurotransmitter levels respond to it in a predictable fashion at the level of the whole brain. As the article I linked is at pains to point out, we don't know what the underlying mechanism is, nor do we know what the precise connection between depression and neurotransmitter levels is.


This is why therapy mixed with drugs is more effective than any other treatment for depression. We're just getting help making those new paths. Strangely, therapy+drugs is followed very closely in effectiveness by therapy alone, then just drugs lagging far, far behind.

Like Michelle, I'd like to know more about this. "Therapy" covers a lot of ground -- I thought of cognitive behaviour therapy, not ECT, myself. My understanding is that CBT and SSRIs have about the same success rate with mild to moderate depression, and the combination does better than either alone. For severe depression, however, CBT does very little without chemotherapy but SSRIs alone have a moderate success rate and ECT has a good relief rate but a high chance of relapse.

#199 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2004, 07:05 PM:

One of the best-rated Serotonin reuptake inhibitors (antidepressants) was Serzone.

It was banned in Europe and about to be banned in Australia.

For whatever reasons, America's FDA failed to deal with this. Someone is suing to get the FDA to do so. The insurance companies stopped covering it, raising its cost in pharmacies.

It seems (I got all this from the Web, but don't have URLs handy) that Serzone fatally destroys some peoples' livers. People have died of this, by the hundreds (extrapolation if about a tenth of cases were properly reported).

Twist: they don't know how to tell if you're one of those people who could be killed by the stuff.

People on antidepressants (MANY) are unwitting guinea pigs.

Now, THAT's depressing to me...

As to Tom Whitmore's position (mind happens in more than the brain): I tend to agree. But I also have been claiming for 25+ years what the recent Scientific American features: the brain is more than what happens in nerve cells as such. The Glial Cells outnumber the electrically-active neurons 10 to 1. The do lots of RNA to Protein manufacturing. Now the evidence is gathering that the Glial Cells have a LOT to do with brain functions such as learning.

What I've been claiming (based on my 1973-1977 PhD research) is that roughly 90% of the information processing in cells (including brain cells) is not DNA or electrochemical signals, but, rather, chaotic protein dynamics.

I contend (in modern language which didn't exist when I did my research): the brain is a massively parallel nanotechnology computer. The neurons are merely the Local Area Network to connect distant nanocomputers. So are neurotransmitters. So are hormones.

I also agree with the people on Making Light who reject the Reductionist position that Depression IS a specific neurotransmitter malfunction. I think that it's more complex than that. I think it matters. Depression may be the #2 disease in terms of economic impact -- people who can't make it to work, or are underproductive because they're so depressed.

When I was a child, I was confused by adults talking about Depression versus The Depression. I kept asking why the 1930s had so many people all suffering from the same unhappiness, and did that cause the hard times or did the hard times make everyone unhappy? Following The Roaring 20s, were vast populations simply coming down from a decade-long high, and badly hung over?

Not that I've stopped being confused, mind you.

#200 ::: Alice Keezer ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2004, 07:08 PM:

Good point, sennoma - I forgot to mention that I was referring to cases of mild to moderate depression. Indeed, severe cases rarely if ever respond to only therapy.

And when I refer to therapy, I refer to simple psychotherapy - the "talking cure" developed my Rogers and those who came after him. Gestalt therapy has some success, but behavior therapies are rarely if ever effective.

It's been far too long since I was in a classroom.

It's quite likely another study has come along and found that drugs are just as effective as therapy in treating moderate depression - psychology is forever contradicting itself. I'm sure there are psychologists snorting at those results, muttering something about a placebo effect. Did your teacher say anything about combined effects, Michelle? Because that was really the most important part of my statement - that even if chemical imbalances are fixed, we usually need help teaching our brains to go over new patterns that keep us from spiraling into depression.

My source was an abnormal psychology text, my professors at the time (Dan Seabold, PhD, Bert Jacobs, Dr. Daniels - who came up with the snowy field analogy, I might add), and personal experience.

I was hospitalized twice for depression in college, after having suffered moderate to severe bouts since age 12. The second time I was released, it was with a low dose (20 mg/day) of Effexor. They gave me good referrals to a psychiatrist and therapist.

Within two weeks of re-joining the world of the living, I realized that I wasn't reacting the way I used to. Minor setbacks weren't the end of the world, and I felt increasingly optimistic, outgoing even. They halved my dose of Effexor then, a month later, instructed me to stop taking it. I continued seeing my therapist for another two months, long enough to cope with and even expect my new method of thinking. The best description I've managed to come up with so far was that it was like the optimist in me had woken up and brained the pessimist.

I wouldn't call myself cured now. I still undergo periods of irrational fear, anxiety and sadness, and lose interest in my surroundings. When I realize I'm sinking into an old pattern, however, I quickly identify it and, biting and clawing the whole way, drag myself back out. It's never easy, but I always remind myself that taking the easy way out almost killed me.

The major down side to having it under control, though, is that I don't cry anymore. Sometimes my nose will stuff up and my eyes will water, which always results in a headache. But mostly, when I'm feeling stressed and upset, I start laughing. Hysterically. Until tears come streaming out of my eyes. It's very abnormal, and it scares people when I'm saying, "ah ha ha OW," and can't stop, but it's just as cathartic as a good cry.

#201 ::: Dave Howell ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2004, 08:21 PM:

I humbly offer you a gift in return, in thanks.

Divine God, I praise your name.
May your will be with us;
     may my world be as yours.
Help me find sustenance,
     and, as I forgive others, forgive me.
Help me avoid falling to temptation and evil,
for the world, the power, and the glory are yours eternally.
Amen.


See also earlier versions, with other text.

#202 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2004, 10:32 PM:

Michelle: the specific point was that ECT has the greatest success rate at treating depression

Do they talk about side effects? The doctor who was trying to convince me it was a Good Thing sounded like he was dancing around its being widely destructive (i.e., worse than the side effects Alice reports from her therapy).

#203 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2004, 11:44 PM:

Jonathan writes: "Twist: they don't know how to tell if you're one of those people who could be killed by the stuff."

That's true for many drugs. The reason I was in the hospital when I was given the med that caused the stroke was that ibuprofen caused my first kidney failure. I didn't take very much, I was just sensitive to it. My nephrologists say ibuprofen should never have been released OTC, that about 2% of everybody who takes it gets some degree of kidney disease.

#204 ::: Michelle ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2004, 09:55 AM:

Alice Keezer,

It was a *very* general overview of mental health policy, but combined efficacy was mentioned as important. As we (my classmates and I) are in public health, we won't be going out to treat people, but we do need to know a broad overview about different types of health problems and their various treatments and issues.

I paid particular attention to the lecture, because of my own history with depression and OCD. It's always interesting to learn new things about yourself, although as always the danger of learning about mental illnesses is that you see the symptoms of almost any disease in yourself.

The major down side to having it under control, though, is that I don't cry anymore.

Wow. I thought it was only me. I can find myself of the verge of tears (and often do) but even when I feel like I want or need to cry, I can't. It's very disconcerting. It's one of the reasons that I don't want to go back onto medication, because I feel like my system has already been screwed up enough.

CHip,

It was a very broad overview, so we didn't get to side effects, but I vaguely remember reading/hearing something several years ago, about current ECT being radically different from the shock treatment that was given several decades ago. I'd suggest checking the NAMI and NIMH sites for further information. I'd also suggest talking with your family doctor or general practitioner if you have one. They should be able to find that information for you if you can't find anything you like.

Sorry I don't know anything more specific, but my general understanding is the ECT is used to break someone out of a serious depression, and once that happens, it is followed up with therapy, drugs, or a combination. But please check the NAMI or NIMH websites for better information.

Marilee,

I had a boss whose wife died becuase she unknowingly abused acetemonephin. She thought it was harmless and used it all the time, and it destroyed her liver. All drugs are dangerous, even asprin. The problem is that people assume that because you can buy it over the counter, it must be safe. Same goes for herbal and alternative remedies. Just because it's a plant, doesn't make it safe.

#205 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2004, 11:43 AM:

JvP: Heavens. Making Light proves its usefulness again.

I've been taking Serzone since 2001 (no, before 9/11, and thank the gods). Guess I better not put off my Liver Function bloodtest any longer, huh? (My first one was completely clean, but I should have had another long before this.)

Of course, if I were supersensitive to it, I'd be dead already. But I think I'll get On The Stick about this.

If my liver function is at all impaired, I will regard you, Jonathan, and Making Light, as having saved my life.

#206 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2004, 11:44 AM:

By the way, my insurance still covers it.

#207 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2004, 12:38 PM:

Xopher:

What I've heard from a Serzone-taker is that she found some articles on this, printed them from the web, gave them to her primary care physician, who ordered a blood test and liver function test, and referred her to a specialist to evaluate whether she should get off Serzone, by what tapering off schedule (don't do cold turkey!), and what she should switch to.

Please let me know that you've been able to find the material that I vaguely referred to, and that you're okay.

What puzzles me is that most people have chances every day to help other people, and don't.

Last week, driving through Pasadena, I saw a man who had fallen. His wheelchair was on its side, and he was on the ground. I pulled my car over immediately, even as I noted people within a hundred feet on the sidewalks on both sides of the street who were ignoring the matter.

I got him to his feet, holding on on to me for support, which is what he first asked for. Another driver pulled over and came to put the wheelchair up, and we got him into it. It was motorized. He had little experience with it, and had made a bad manuever over a bump in the sidewalk. His legs had been paralyzed, I'd guess from the Korean War, from the pins he wore on his hat.

We have to help each other. This I Believe.

#208 ::: Jon Sobel ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2004, 12:56 PM:

I've always found it hard to understand the meaning of the term "belief" in a religious context.

As near as I can figure, belief falls somewhere between trust (where for practical purposes I ignore my doubts about something) and faith (where I consciously accept something as true without evidence).

I've never felt a need for anything beyond the "trust" level. I trust that voting out the current President will slow our plunge into the abyss; I trust that terrorists will not blow up my subway station this morning; I trust that my wife isn't out somewhere acquiring sexually transmitted diseases. I know that I can't "know" any of these things, but I "trust" in them because life would be too painful, even unlivable, if I didn't.

What makes a person "believe in" or "have faith in" a deity? What makes a person conceive as real something that is neither evident to the senses nor a product of purely rational thought? Why is my own comfort level maintained by mere "trust" while others require belief or faith? Is it just semantics? Is it just the variety of human nature? In the immortal words of Pete Townsend, "Who Are You? I really wanna know."

#209 ::: Jill Smith ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2004, 01:52 PM:

On another belief tangent, I recently did a piece on beliefs/opinions masquerading as facts.

Rather than reproducing it, it can be found here if anyone is interested.

Teresa, so sorry to hear that your migraine has not loosed its rusted claws from your life. I thought maybe my brand-new sinus infection was your migraine, reborn in all its unholy wretchedness and come to visit me for my sins. Guess not.

#210 ::: Stefanie Murray ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2004, 01:54 PM:

CHip:

I had ECT in 1994. I'd be happy to share my experience if you are interested: drop me a line.

#211 ::: Michael Finley ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2004, 02:38 PM:

Beautyful -- thanks so much.

#212 ::: Laurie Mann ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2004, 06:57 PM:

Thank God(s) I'm an agnostic! ;->

#213 ::: jon ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2004, 10:58 PM:

I believe in one God, the Father, the almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen. I believe in one lord, Jesus Christ, the only son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, one in being with the Father. Through him all things were made. For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven; yada yada...

now that's what i call funny, whether it's meant to be or not

#214 ::: Katie ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2004, 03:26 PM:

I believe in inner peace, in quiet places, in still water.

I believe in meditation/prayer, in talking to God and listening to yourself.

I believe in what Mark Twain said: "Always do right. It will gratify some and astonish others."*

I believe that the purpose of life is to live, and to use your life to help the lives of others, and in doing so allow God to be alive here.

________________________________________
*Our evil math teacher (who is actually wonderful and quite possibly the best teacher I've ever had) is making us write a five-paragraph essay on that quote over the weekend because he was disappointed about our behaviour when the subsitute was here. I would rather do a million math packets

#215 ::: Simon ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2004, 01:09 PM:

Ulrika wrote: At whom do you imagine I am expressing anger?

God. I said that before. But you're definitely angry at somebody. If you're trying for a "Who, moi?" response here, it's not gonna work.

My own moral sense is outraged by powerful entities setting up rigged, ugly, unwinnable games for the powerless and innocent.

It's not unwinnable. The literature of practical theology and apologetics is full of instructions on how to win it. (Hint: expressing it in those terms does not help.)

If it proves that this evil God exists and resents my rejection, then I reckon I'll pay the consequences, whatever those may be. Seems pretty simple. Better to suffer in Hell, than to submit out of fear to an unjust Heaven.

It's not God who'll be doing the resenting here. According to Lewis, you will live forever secure in your own self-righteousness.

Or, to put it another way, if a God exists that really thinks that the available "recharging stations" (and may I just say *blech* at this whole saccharine analogy?) are adequate to stave off the darkness of all those who suffer, then that God is not as advertised.

As advertised by whom? Those kind of greeting-card sentiments are pretty nauseating, but judging God by his "advertisements" is like judging literature by its ads. Try reading the books, not just the ads.

In particular, if you want to know what happens when available recharging seems completely inadequate, there's a Lewis book on precisely that subject: A Grief Observed, written in response to his wife's death from cancer at the age of 45.

A lot of theists seem to take it for granted that once you establish existence of a God, that worship follows automatically.

Neither omniscience nor omnipotence require worship. (What Margaret Durocher said.) Loving God the way Winston loved Big Brother is not love; worship without love is not worship. It's better, I agree, to just stand aloof - as you're doing - but a little less certainty in one's own position might leave one more open to finding out what others see in this.

Alex R. wrote, omnipotence has instrinsic logical problems anyway, as the old can-God-make-a-stone-so-heavy-he-can't-lift-it question shows.

God is superior to all physical limitations. God isn't superior to logic.

Xopher wrote, If God created Adam, and God is omniscient, then God knew just what Adam would do. Having created him that way, He, not Adam, is responsible for the Fall. If you pull the trigger you can't blame the gun, especially a gun you designed and built yourself.

If you let a small child walk, and that child falls and skins her knee and cries, you weren't exactly omniscient in knowing that would happen, but your certainty that something like that would happen soon enough is close enough to omniscient that you're "responsible" in the same way.

But the alternative is to keep the child from learning to walk. Would that be better? (Some people probably think it would. Some parents are so obsessive in protecting their children from germs that their immune systems never get a chance to develop.)

Now you may well say that there's a big difference between a child skinning her knee and massacres in Rwanda. And there is. But if the principle you're outlining here is valid, it applies to the knee also. You can't blame God's responsibility categorically this way.

This means that the idea that God is good is incompatible with the idea that God sends anyone to Hell.

God doesn't send anybody to hell. They send themselves there. That's what The Great Divorce, alluded to earlier, points out.

#216 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2004, 04:58 PM:

Simon, my arguments are not about Lewis. I don't know how many people accept him as the supreme, or even a major, authority on Christian theology. My arguments are not directed at his thesis.

Certainly my argument doesn't refute the idea that people send themselves to Hell. It refutes just what I said, which is that God sends people there.

But it only takes one more step: if God made Adam in such a way that one of his descendents (me, for argument's sake), would send myself to Hell, that's ethically no different than if he made me directly and put me in Hell, for no reason or any reason. Assuming God knows everything, including the future.

I don't actually believe I'm descended from Adam, but that's the argument. It's an argument that Hell is empty, not against the goodness (or omniscience) of God.

#217 ::: Virge ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2004, 03:12 AM:

"I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come."

Some may be looking forward to a life beyond the grave that has all the trials and discomforts of this life. Even a life just like this one could be seen as better than not existing. However, that is not the traditional Christian view of the world to come.

For anyone who believes in heaven, is there any reason to expect it should be better than this life? Choose your favorite theodicy and apply it to heaven. The Christian claims of a painless, joyous eternity in heaven present me with a logical impasse when I try to match them with any of the arguments for the existence of evil and the nature of free will.

If God cannot abide sin now, how can he cope with it in heaven? Will heaven be eternal suffering for God?

If sin will be completely abolished in heaven so that God can live with humans there, why should there have been any suffering earthly life? If it is feasible to have sinless creations in a pleasing relationship with God on a long term basis, then why did we need original sin? Why run the "6000 year soap-opera"? Why not go straight to heaven and avoid the need to make any humans suffer?

If Jesus' sacrifice atones for human sin and makes sinful humans acceptable to God (even in heaven), then why wait 2000 years after the job is done? Why allow 2000 years of human suffering on a corrupt earth? If you use your omniscient, outside of time view and do the sums you find that the best time to end it all is straight after the sacrifice is completed. That's the time when you can minimise human suffering (if you want to).

"God so loved the world that..."
...millions of people keep suffering and choosing to go to hell. God, the loving father, knowing that this will continue to happen to his toddling children, allows it. Callous, careless, clueless or impotent?

Jesus' teachings about how people should love and forgive one another still have a lot going for them. His alleged teachings about redemption and heaven don't hold water.


I believe life is wonderful.

I believe people look for ways to be significant.

I believe personal responsibility is a burden that people try to shed (by following a craze, a crowd or a creed, but mostly by refusing to think about it).

#218 ::: SImon ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2004, 02:49 PM:

Xopher, if you knew for certain that your adult child was going to go out and do something bad for her, what are you going to do about it?

Virge, you probably think you have killer arguments there, but in fact they're extremely naive, and I - a fallible human with my own problems with Christian doctrine - have neither the time nor patience to go over it.

David Moles wrote,

Every atheist should read Mere Christianity, if only because the first three-quarters of it offer lucid answers to pretty much all of the most obvious and stupid arguments against God and against Christianity, and will make you think of better ones. (I have to admit that Lewis lost me in the last section, though.)
and that, mutatis mutandis, is my best reply to you.

#219 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2004, 03:13 PM:

Simon - not at all comparable. Part of the joy of having children is that they are NOT your creations, and are NOT predictable in behavior. An omniscient being cannot fail to predict the behavior of all other beings. A human who became omniscient would be a very unhappy creature indeed, for the short time from the event to hir inevitable self-destruction.

In addition, once a child of mine is an adult, she is in theory my equal (not my peer in experience, but she has the right to be treated as comparable to me). At what age do humans have the right to be treated as the equals of God? By God, I mean.

OTOH, if we're children compared to God, well, when a two-year-old is running out into the street, you grab her and yank her back. You don't say "well, she had free will, and I told her there were trucks."

And if an adult, related to me or not, is about to commit suicide, I have a legal and moral obligation to try and stop her (there are certain very limited circumstances in which my moral obligation disappears, but they're not relevant here).

#220 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2004, 07:28 PM:

Props to Simon for recommending Lewis's A Grief Observed, a searing and awful book.

#221 ::: MD² ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2004, 08:48 PM:

I think I'll go with John Huston on the matter of believing in god, "[...] neither christian, nor atheist, nor sceptic". Truth is I'm a complete miscreant. I've never understood why god ? What does it bring or change really ?
Please understand this is not meant to be insulting in any way, I really have trouble understanding.

Simon, problem with your children analogy is that you only know something may happen, when an omniscient god knows something will, and this makes all the difference.

MMmmmmmh... About memory, could we put it that the brain's the CPU (and RAM maybe), while the body as a whole happens to be the hard drive. That's roughly how I understand the latest papers I've read on the subject.

I believe in law number 7.

Law number 7: if you can read this sentence before you've understood it, then you're guilty.
(Not a very nice translation)

#222 ::: Karl T ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2004, 09:18 PM:

Teresa, the only times I have ever spoken the Creed aloud have been in my grandmother's church. She's been gone since 1997. I have read the Creed several times since then, not aloud, with some aesthetic appreciation for the beauty of the words but no deep emotional reaction.

Reading it here, coupled with your thoughtful and reverent words, I can hear my grandmother's voice. There is nothing, nothing that I could do for you that could properly repay you for such a gift.

Thank you for sharing your love with us, with me; I believe that we are all richer for it.

#223 ::: Simon ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2004, 10:29 PM:

MD: No, the problem with the children analogy is that no sane person would let happen to their children, if they could prevent it, what God lets happen to people all the time. (Think Rwanda.)

I don't see where the limitation of omniscience "makes all the difference" at all. In my earlier children analogy, the small girl walking who skins her knee, you may not know exactly when and how it's going to happen, but you know sure enough that it will. Every toddler does it. Would you prevent it? Even if you could see it in the process of happening and reach out your hand? (A quite plausible situation.) Maybe sometimes, but not all the time.

The point of the analogy is this: that at least sometimes it is better to let people experience bad things, that you could prevent, than it would be to prevent them. Because that is how people learn.

Now I doubt very much that any innocent juvenile victims learned very much from being massacred in Rwanda. But I believe that the above is an adequate response to any general denunciation of God for not preventing bad things, and general denunciations is what we've been getting.

And this may be a better response to Virge than the brush-off I regretfully (& regretably) delivered above. Also Xopher.

#224 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2004, 10:49 PM:

(Simon -- I was all ready to say something about how simplistic and dogmatic you were seeming to be [to me] when you posted your last msg, which moves to a different level IMO. And I'll stick my potential msg where the sun doesn't shine.

This is a complex topic, and I am glad to see complexity where I wasn't expecting it -- helps me remember that other folks are complex too. Thanks for expanding my worldview.)

#225 ::: Virge ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2004, 01:39 AM:

"The point of the analogy is this: that at least sometimes it is better to let people experience bad things, that you could prevent, than it would be to prevent them. Because that is how people learn."

Simon, the analogy has been distorted to the point where you compare a valuable learning experience (probable skinned knees of a child) with an abomination (omniscient certainty of torture and death in Rwanda). One only gets to learn if one survives.
The analogy is now useless in this discussion.

On your accusation of my naivety I can make no claim. Any statement I make would be from the mouth of a babe.

I can only fume and think of similar brush-offs by biblical literalists when confronted with damningly simple evidence and arguments. They appeal to the otherness of God and future revelations to clarify that which now seems lunacy.
(No, I'm not claiming you are a biblical literalist.)

I know you don't wish to waste your time but since my arguments will have already been adequately covered in the literature, perhaps you could direct me to relevant books or websites. Even just "name that fallacy" would be helpful.

Consider me ignorant, but not without the capability to learn.

#226 ::: Dan Layman-Kennedy ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2004, 08:44 AM:

I believe that there are more things in Heaven and earth than anyone's philosophy has yet accounted for.

I believe that stories are more valuable than dogmas. I believe that calling religion "mythology" elevates rather than denigrates it.

I believe that something unseen and numinous moves through people in the process of Art, and calling it "divinity" is as good a word as any. I believe that the work of William Shakespeare is probably all the evidence you need of a divinely-inspired text, and he had lots of stuff to say about women and Jews and Africans that was just plain nonsense, so treat holy writ with caution.

I believe that all beings are Buddha-beings and worthy of compassion. I believe that to live is to suffer, and that there is nothing to be done about this, and everything to be done. I believe that desire is the root of suffering, and this doesn't stop me from fiercely embracing all my own wants and lusts and passions anyway.

I believe that the idea of a god is a god. I believe that our own ability to draw connections between things imbues them with significance, and that our capacity for irrationality, contradiction and magickal thinking is not a design flaw. I believe that whether or not angels and demons exist is less important than understanding that the universe occasionally behaves as if they did.

I believe that the Force flows through everything, and that luminous things are we, not this crude matter.

And I also believe that to reject the world is to miss the point.

(I believe that contradicting one's self is an acceptable position, and that I am infinite and contain multitudes. And I believe that ambiguity is itself a kind of holy state.)

I believe that the deep human need to play dress-up and speak in poetry is a good a reason as any to participate in religion.

I believe that much of our nature becomes clear with the realization that a human being is a sort of big naked lemur that can drive a car, but that our biology is neither an imperative nor an excuse for behaving awfully to each other.

I believe that our culture isn't doing itself any favors with its preoccupation with messianic figures, but I'm as guilty of that fascination as anyone else, so there you go.

On the other hand, I believe there are a lot worse role models than Christ, and that the issue of his literal divinity is hugely unimportant in light of this; see "the idea of a god," above. And I believe that there are lots worse things to build your faith around than "God is love."

I believe, maybe more than anything, that it's often necessary to just let the Mystery be.

I believe that conversations are a hell of a lot more useful than creeds in bringing people together. And I believe thanks are in order to TNH for starting this one.

#227 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2004, 10:26 AM:

Simon, while I appreciated your last post, I don't see how it answers my points at all. We were not, as far as I could tell, discussing "why does God allow bad things?" I walk away from that discussion with a roll of my eyes. We (you and I) were discussing "is it possible that a God who is both omniscient and good could allow any soul to end up in everlasting torment?" At least I thought we were. If you don't think so then maybe our whole discussion has been at cross-purposes.

Dan, I think you and I have pretty similar beliefs. Thanks for that articulate description. (I believe in engaging the Mystery --without trying to explain it-- myself, but other than that...)

#228 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2004, 10:27 AM:

Let me hastily add that I did not intend any pun at the end of my first paragraph above.

#229 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2004, 11:29 AM:

Thank you, Dan! I'm printing out your Credo so I can share it with my (non-online) Mom, who should love it, and reread it myself later.

#230 ::: Dan Layman-Kennedy ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2004, 12:59 PM:

Xopher: I've gotten that impression myself, reading some of your comments here. Hail fellow-traveler; it's always nice to be in the company of Good People along the ill-defined and wandering path.

Farren: You're most welcome - indeed, thank you. I hope your mom likes it.

(If I'd known I was making a Meme, I'd've provided footnotes and properly credited Alan Moore, Iris DeMent, et al...)

#231 ::: Simon ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2004, 10:27 AM:

No, Virge, I am not comparing a small child's skinned knees with the massacre in Rwanda. Instead, I specifically said that my analogy does not extend so far as to cover that level of suffering. That was the only reason I even mentioned Rwanda! I may not be the world's clearest writer, but I still have to wonder what level of misreading is necessary to produce an interpretation like yours.

I didn't reply to your specific beliefs about God because it would require shoveling away way too many miscomprehensions. You want a recommendation of something to read? I already gave you one: Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. Not a hard book to find. Not particularly long.

Xopher: Your post of 4/19, 3:13 pm, seemed to me to be about suffering on Earth, not about everlasting torment in hell. That is the one to which I was responding.

About the everlasting torment, then. I've addressed that. Remember that the version of "everlasting torment" I'm defending involves no coercion and nothing resembling, or even equivalent to, imposed physical or psychological torture as we know it here. The sulfur and pitchforks are out. The theologians, in fact, define the torture we're discussing as the knowledge that you're separated from God. Though I'm not sure I'd go that far.

Also, I repeat that God is not imposing this torture or forcing anybody to endure it. It's self-inflicted. The God-hating will live forever, secure in their own self-righteousness. If you can't imagine what I'm talking about, read the book that explained it to me: The Great Divorce by good ol' C.S. Lewis again. Also not a hard book to find, and even shorter. I don't imagine that I'd rank very high on the scale set out by this book, but at least I know what to aim for.

But your question was not why God imposes this, but why he allows it. I can't condemn God for allowing this. Sorry if this is going to confuse Virge again, but this is the equivalent of letting your sulky teenager go up and mope in her room instead of forcing her to come down and enjoy the party. She'll eventually figure out that the only person she's punishing is herself. That is exactly the kind of torture Lewis has in mind.

Yes, there are things like depression that can't be cured this way, but what I'm talking about here is moodiness. (Note to Virge: this does NOT mean I'm comparing self-inflicted hell to depression. It means that I'm NOT comparing it to depression!)

#232 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2004, 11:39 AM:

It's more like letting your sulky teenager live in her room on an ongoing basis, never coming out at all. In other words, a justification for a diagnosis of depression.

Skipping one party is not like refusing to interact with your family and friends on a more-or-less permanent basis. The latter would be cause to ask for professional help.

I find another aspect of your post oddly disconcerting. Does this mean I'm invited to the party even if I've been disobeying Mom and Dad all day, even being defiant and insulting? Do I have to act contrite to come downstairs, or can I be grudging and sullen and slowly cheer up?

In other words, can I come to the party without "giving in"?

Another way of looking at it is that I've been told there's a party, but only by very unreliable sources, in fact, sources whose evidence of the planned party makes no sense to me, and who have tried to fool me in the past. When I ask why I should believe them, they say "trust me." I don't, so I go out clubbing that night instead. This is no reflection on the HOST of the party, who after all I've never even met.

I'm not being flip. I don't expect to capitulate on any of the things I believe now. And I've never expected, or even desired, to go to heaven. I have work to do here on this planet that I can't get done in what remains of my life (less than a century, and that's being optimistic). A brief vacation (say a decade) in the Elysian Fields, and then back into, as it were, the breach. Or breech.

#233 ::: Simon ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2004, 03:08 PM:

You've shot the metaphor and trampled it into the dust, Xopher. Refusing to come to terms with God "is not like refusing to interact with your family and friends on a more-or-less permanent basis," either.

And your comparison with "I've been told there's a party, but only by very unreliable sources" is completely off. The heaven-dwellers in The Great Divorce didn't get there by professing allegiance to an invisible being they had no confidence existed. They got there by loving their fellow creatures, i.e. doing what God wants them to do. If they believe in God, it's not a priori, it's something they were led to by their approach to the world. You may not find the same, but I think you're a sensitive enough person that at least you can come to understand it.

I have to say to you what I said to Virge. Please go read the book: in this case The Great Divorce. The ill-aimed mudballs at religion from some of the posters here are giving me a very low opinion of the knowledge and perspicacity of at least some of the run of unbelievers here. I was hoping at least for a better class of mudballs. And if this makes Tom Whitmore change his mind and decide I'm simplistic and dogmatic again, I can't help that. There's much too much that's simplistic from all sides here.

#234 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2004, 04:01 PM:

It's interesting, Simon. I keep trying to get at what you believe. That's why I ran with your analogy. You keep referring me to this book. I know that I can read it if I want to know what C.S. Lewis believed. I don't believe in Pure Reason as a way to the Divine, so I probably won't read it.

I hope you're not classifying me among the mudball-throwers. Such is not my intent. I experience the Divine in everyday life myself (in somewhat different form than Lewis, or you, or even the other members of my coven). The absense of that presence is misery.

A (Pagan) friend of mine once said "The gods are like radio stations: they broadcast all the time. Worship is the art of tuning your radio to one of them, or a group of them. A lot of people have their radios turned off, but no one can have their radios tuned to all the gods all the time." The clear point of this simile is that if you don't hear the Divine Voice, the fault is not in the Voice, but in you. (Also that no one hears It perfectly, but that's less relevant to the current discussion.)

Maybe "fault" is too strong. Hearing it is a learned skill. Maybe not everyone needs to know it, just as not everyone needs to know CPR. But I'm sure glad I do.

Which reminds me, I have to turn in that CPR form. Speaking of loving your fellow creatures.

#235 ::: bellatrys ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2004, 05:01 PM:

[decloak]

Xopher - I was once like Simon. I know what he's trying to say, and I know why it's wrong, since I spent much of the second third of my life where you are, depression and all. Now, I consider myself a Believing Agnostic, Catholic variety. I *believe*, but I don't think that it can be logically proven. I am content with uncertainty - I consider that the nature of faith, and I don't either fear uncertainty or try to force certainty of the unprovable on anyone else.

And although I was raised to think that Lewis was the bees' knees, the more Lewis I read, and the longer I lived, the shallower and flatter his platitudes come off. Particularly The Problem of Pain, w the Four Loves a close second. The only thing that restored my respect for him is his acknowledgment that his trite, glib dismissal of suffering didn't work, after he went through the worst of all personal hells, watching the one you love decay alive.

It was the combination of learning suffering, and that most Christian theodicy consisted of "pie in the sky" and refusal to admit how bad real life can be, that forced me to become agnostic for so long, until I found a few people who didn't whitewash things and pretend that there were easy answers to the Problem of Evil. (One was Annie Dillard, the other JRR Tolkien.) I share your indignation - by and large, I consider most Christian writing, Lewis included, to be preaching to the choir, or at least those who are already thinking of joining.

(Great Divorce however *is* the best of Lewis' Theodicy, and makes the most sense of Hell, and is a good fantasy that I draw on not infrequently, worth reading. Till We Have Faces is good until the end, which betrays imo the beginning.)
(Feel free to email me if you wish.)

#236 ::: Dan Layman-Kennedy ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2004, 07:14 PM:

Things I can't believe:

I can't believe I misspelled Faren's name in response to such an excellently cool comment the other day. D'oh! So sorry about that.

Just you watch, I'll be all "Theresa" next.

#237 ::: Virge ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2004, 08:06 PM:

Sorry, Simon. Let's go back a few steps.

You said:
"The point of the analogy is this: that at least sometimes it is better to let people experience bad things, that you could prevent, than it would be to prevent them. Because that is how people learn.
Now I doubt very much that any innocent juvenile victims learned very much from being massacred in Rwanda. But I believe that the above is an adequate response to any general denunciation of God for not preventing bad things, and general denunciations is what we've been getting."

Then later, you said:
"I specifically said that my analogy does not extend so far as to cover that level of suffering."

We both agree that the learning experience analogy doesn't deal with the extreme suffering we observe in this world.

You use an every day analogy to justify God allowing some bad things, sometimes. You claim that this "is an adequate response to any general denunciation of God for not preventing bad things". You acknowledge that the analogy doesn't cover my accusation.

Please understand why I misinterpreted what you had said. I was mistaken in thinking you were trying to defend the goodness of God in all cases when all you were really saying is "God isn't always bad".

I've re-read your posts and I can find nothing that absolves God of the responsibility for the cases of extreme suffering here on earth. You've got God off the minor charge of allowing small bad things to happen, but the major charge still stands. And as Xopher has already pointed out, omniscience mitigates against the accused.

"I already gave you one: Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. Not a hard book to find. Not particularly long."

Simon, I really was hoping you were going to give me a better reference than C. S. Lewis. You accuse me of naivety and confusion but you recommend a book where Lewis expounds his trilemma argument. I trust C. S. Lewis to deliver a good story. I trust him to explore philosophical questions and open my mind to new ways of thinking. I don't trust him to give me reasonable answers. My faith in Lewis' critical thinking skills dropped because of his heavily polarized trilemma argument. If you follow that argument you're forced to conclude that all people are either completely sane or certifiably crazy; continuous liars or impeccably truthful. People are not like that. Furthermore, one can't correct his argument by adding a few extra pigeon holes and then discounting them. Minds are wonderfully complex. Leave simplistic rhetoric as a tool for the politicians when they want to justify a war.

FWIW After conversion in my late teens I spent several decades of my life as a Christian in an actively evangelical church. I've led study groups, led church music teams, served as a deacon and been an integral part of the life of a loving community. It was through deeper study and analysis that I reached the point where I decided to completely review my faith. In that review I studied the evidence both for and against each of the pillars of my faith. None of them stood the test. I now consider myself agnostic.

"Sorry if this is going to confuse Virge again"

What can I say? Are you trying to raise condescension to an art form? Most Christians I've met try to practice Christ's humility. You seem determined to paint me as a fool.
I used colourful language in my first post. I'm sorry if that got your back up.

Can we start again? I'd still like to hear more of your defense of God's goodness.

#238 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2004, 11:21 AM:

That's OK, Dan. Mom adapted it from my grandmother's maiden name of Farren, anyhow. And thanks for your kind words.

#239 ::: BigMatt ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2004, 11:45 AM:

I believe that I will never be able to comprehend the meaning of life.

I believe that the moment I stop trying to comprehend the meaning of life, I will no longer exist.

I believe that a universal energy connects all things, living and otherwise.

I believe that energy can never be created nor destroyed, simply transformed.

I believe that love is the most powerful energy, be it the compassion we have for our fellow travelers, the zeal that spurs our artistic and intellectual pursuits, or the passion that draws two lovers together. Love connects all things.

I believe that hate is the product of fear and ignorance and can only be fought by calming and educating.

I believe that the first step toward happiness is deciding to be happy. The second is to fight our logical brain as it contends with the struggle that is life.

I believe that organized religion has caused more pain and suffering for some than any other force in this world.

I believe that organized religion has provided more comfort and understanding to others than any other force in this world.

I believe that contradictions are not necessarily antithetical.

I believe that I have a responsibility to help those around me in any way that I can.

I believe that government should be an embodiment of the statement above.

I believe that, in the end, I will have made a difference.

#240 ::: meta4 ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2004, 01:43 AM:

i believe in carbon, and fire.
we burn the fuels we need to survive discretely till we die and are burnt by molecular meltdown and redistribution.
the epitome of fire is not the bright obvious flame, but the subtle transformations and regenerations in the heart of the compost pile and the gut.
god is impossibly divine carburetion.
our lovely, waterskipping, winewitching jesus had the best output/input ratio of godliness ever recorded, though many and nameless others have probably exceeded normal expectations also.
kinky freewheeling spontaneous hypotheses aside,
thanks teresa, for once again widening the envelope.
a good credo is like a good cup of tea.
a very good combustion-enhancer!

#241 ::: meta4 ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2004, 02:28 AM:

another head of the hydra speaking: (such a stimulating thread!)
i believe god is the ultimate disguise artist, always respinning the design of hier universe to try and achieve the impossible (for a conscious god):
to forget even for an instant, that you are the author of all.
i have an encompassing compassion for god, because of hier intellectual solitude.
i am concerned about god's welfare, quite needlessly, and so grateful to be capable of humanity, duality or receptive consciousness, trance, dream and transport, without which i would be alone astride an uncomfortable everest (ouch!) of absolute knowledge and creativity.
every breath, thought, word and deed i offer, asleep or awake either lightens or weighs down the buoyancy of god-
i have absolute responsibility for every mood i am, except when my shadow is in play, when i have absolute and equal responsibility to observe and take notes, for future damage limitation purposes.
god's best disguising occurs when atheists are wise and wonderful, and believers are assholes. (apologies to divine anatomy).
the fun of evolution is the growth of one's capacity to penetrate others' disguises, while removing one's own.
god made sin, despair and guilt to salt the sauce, and to give us a pit to enjoy climbing out of.
there is no tension without contrast, no chiaro sans scuro, no drama withot plot, no leisure without work, no good without evil, no future without past, no life of the spirit without drama.
god is sole
i am soul
diggin' the principle, reaping the practice!

#242 ::: meta4 ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2004, 03:04 AM:

"Beautifully written, Teresa. And amen to all of it. If I could add only one thing, from memory (admittedly flawed), it's what Chesterton once said about Christ, and whether there was something He hid from us while He was here. Chesterton thought there was—and it was illustrated by His sudden silences on certain questions, and His sudden departures to the desert—so we couldn't see it, maybe because we couldn't quite understand it.


His mirth."

LOL!!!

if god loved us he wouldn't let little children suffer.

this was the hardest nut to crack, and involved letting go (though luckily not irredeemably), of sentimentality.
to god children and adults are equally responsible karmically, because children are reincarnated adults.
there is no absolute innocence or guilt in humans, only in god.
we live in a relative world- give thanks- we're funky, we fuck and fuckup, fool around till we wise up, and really have nothing to complain about, considering the possibilities that are still available.
looked at statistically, life is a multiple tragedy, looked at artistically, life is a paradise of raw material, looked at aesthetically, creation is awesomely inspirational.
real good is what happens when we fix real evil, every day, staring at the core, rippling outwards.
centripetal to centrifugal
or perhaps: petal to fugue
we are the membrane between yin and yang, sometimes lumpy and bulging like the belly of my vey pregnant donkey arabella, sometimes smooth and harmonically more uniform.
god asymmetrizes, we symmetrize.
and the beatles rule!
in the beginning was the BEAT, and it was good.
let the shiny and scurrying inherit the earth.
enjoy!

#243 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2004, 04:52 AM:

I know a rather cynical professor of Electrical Engineering. He once won a $6,000,000 NSF grant, started his own Lab, spun off some high-tech companies, then was caught and fired for spending a little bit of the grant on doodads for his boat.

"What do you believe?" I asked him.

"I believe in electrons," he said, then was silent for a long time, and poured another glass of wine.

Electrons were discovered in (memory here, don't quote me) as recently as 1898 by Thompson. Not a science professor. A professor of Natural Philosophy.

What will hardened engineers and scientists believe in another 100 years, as the bedrock and foundation of their universe?

What will computer scientists believe, when the computer is part of their brains? "The brain is the most important organ," I thought. Then I wondered. "But exactly which part of me is telling me that?"

Woody Allen: "The Brain. My second-favorite organ!"

Where is the organ of belief?

"Tell me, where is Fancy bred?
In the heart, or in the head?"

Richard Feynman wrote:

I wonder why.
I wonder why.
I wonder why I wonder.

I wonder WHY I wonder why
I wonder why I wonder?

#244 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2004, 07:08 AM:

I believe that organized religion has caused more pain and suffering for some than any other force in this world.

As opposed to--disorganized religion? Cooperative-run consensus-based religion where everything is voted on by committee?

Compared to, oh, sexism, or ethnic hatred, ot plain old greed, I think religion is far back in the running on the "causes of misery" list.

#245 ::: Virge ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2004, 08:42 AM:

'Compared to, oh, sexism, or ethnic hatred, ot plain old greed, I think religion is far back in the running on the "causes of misery" list.'

Dare I suggest that although sexism and ethnic hatred probably existed before it, organised religion provided an opportunity to codify and legitimize the practices. It was a convenient structure to lock these inequalities in place and inhibit change.

However, if it wasn't for organized religion, I guess humans would have found some other meme to establish and maintain their favorite inequalities.

#246 ::: bellatrys ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2004, 10:14 AM:

[before I go offline for a couple days]

(mythago)
'Compared to, oh, sexism, or ethnic hatred, ot plain old greed, I think religion is far back in the running on the "causes of misery" list.'

(virge)
Dare I suggest that although sexism and ethnic hatred probably existed before it, organised religion provided an opportunity to codify and legitimize the practices. It was a convenient structure to lock these inequalities in place and inhibit change.

However, if it wasn't for organized religion, I guess humans would have found some other meme to establish and maintain their favorite inequalities.


· People who are passionate about causes will always and naturally see them in the light of their personal Holy, whatever their pan'en may be.

Thus, those who care and work for social justice will do so in the name of God or the gods, and this is true if for them the latter are more in the line of Platonic abstracts, and find justification for their actions in the tenets of their faiths.

It is also true of those who are *against* things that we would consider goods, equality, freedom, etc., that they too will do so in the name of their own Holy, and invoke the teachings of their faiths as justification for their actions.

· OTOH, people who *don't* care about the common good, or who don't want the inconvenience of taking action, will not do so *regardless* of the teachings of their faiths - and this is true regardless of whether they are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, or Jedi, if their faith is essentially a cultural-ethnic group identity. And they will also find justification for their inaction in the leaves of their Pana.

This realization came to me when I tried to understand why it was that on the one had, it could be claimed with some legitimacy that various religions had transformed social spheres for the better, and yet on the other hand, there was so much more evidence that religions, regardless of the ideals of their founding, just adapted themselves to mainstream culture (warts and all) particularly when established as a state religion. Why it was, that on the one hand you get MLKs and Gandhis and Mother Teresas, and on the other hand you get people who hold up the Epistles as justification for slavery and sexism and who think moral obligation begins and ends with going to church and obeying the positive laws of the local govt. when they don't inconvenience them. As long as they're not killing anyone personally, or robbing any banks, they're okay.

And there is a tremendous need to invoke one's pan'en in justifying one's biases - it not only does the all-important task of shifting responsibility and widening the potential target (ie, "it isn't just me, all intelligent Martians think X, do you want to challenge the group of all right-thinking patriotic fellow-citizens?") but of making it untouchable - a protester full of conviction might say, "Yes, a million Martians *can* be wrong" but if religion is invoked, the objector is put into the position of saying, implicitly or apparently, "and so are the Gods"--

Thus all the Xtians I know who would have to find another religion if it were ever proven without a doubt that the lines "wives be submissive to your husbands" etc were interpolation, or if Paul's (deuterocanonical or not) place in the canon were diminished...

#247 ::: Mez ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2004, 07:05 AM:

I was reminded of this today, and thought it might be appreciated here. The poetry mailing list and discussion site linked at the end has been a help in down times.

Opening Words

I believe the earth
exists, and
in each minim mote
of its dust the holy
glow of thy candle.
Thou
unknown I know,
thou spirit,
giver,
lover of making, of the
wrought letter,
wrought flower,
iron, deed, dream.
Dust of the earth,
help thou my
unbelief. Drift
gray become gold, in the beam of
vision. I believe with
doubt. I doubt and
interrupt my doubt with belief. Be,
beloved, threatened world.
Each minim
mote.
Not the poisonous
luminescence forced
out of its privacy,
The sacred lock of its cell
broken. No,
the ordinary glow
of common dust in ancient sunlight.
Be, that I may believe. Amen.

Denise Levertov

http://www.cs.rice.edu/~ssiyer/minstrels/poems/1302.html

#248 ::: Joyce Wycoff ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2004, 03:32 PM:

What a honor to follow Denise with another bit of poetry:

Free Will

Free will means a kid with a gun and a need
can hijack a car, rob a bank, or end a life.

Free will means a woman drunk on desperation
and margaritas can drive her car
into a family of four,
leaving one bewildered orphan and
a lifetime of guilt.

Free will means a man we’ve appointed
can say the words that lead to war,
the death of our sons and daughters,
the destruction of our cities,
and a legacy of hate for future generations.

Free will means we don’t always have a choice
about the events that come our way.
They roll through our lives,
sometimes like soothing
Ripples on a pond; sometimes like oceanic
Tidal waves swamping us and all around us.

Free will means there is no certainty,
As six billion people make free will choices
That collide and crumble into a chaotic stew.

Free will means only that we can choose.
Regardless of what life brings, we can choose
To live or die, love or hate,
forgive or seek revenge,
Create beauty or destroy it,
get up or stay down.

Free will allows us to rail at God,
Beat our breasts and cry, “Why me?”
But, there is no meaning in events.
Meaning is only created by our choices.
And it is here that God holds out her hand
And says, “I can help.”

Joyce Wycoff

#250 ::: Samantha ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2004, 10:30 AM:

This was wonderful. Can I use this everywhere I go? If I give you credit?

#251 ::: Rachel ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2005, 03:07 PM:

Thank you for this wonderful credo. I recently put out a call for personal credos at my own blog (after linking to a few interesting ones, and posting my own) and one of my readers sent me here.

I'm about to add you to my aggregator; this must be the fifth time somebody's pointed me to your site, and every time I click the link I'm glad I came. Thank you.

#252 ::: Laura Roberts does not find comment spam ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2005, 04:46 PM:

but I wondered why a post this old still allows comments.

(No offense meant to the post itself.)

#253 ::: Will Entrekin does find comment spam ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2005, 08:37 AM:

So really, Laura, you were only a bit early.

#254 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2005, 11:00 AM:

When a post comes to a Really Old Thread, it's held for human review. If it's non-spam, it gets released. After a thread has been re-opened that way, it stays open for a little bit.

That's how this spammer (from 216.77.62.44) sneaked in.

#255 ::: Dn ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2006, 01:13 AM:

dbt n f y hs sn 13th cntry "Bbl". Whtvr gs n thr bks f ls s t th plsr f th pblshr nd wh pys fr th bk. Rm hs n, th K hs svrl dffrnt vrsns t. Th ngrs vn hv vrsn [f crs thy stll thnk thy shld b hndd vrythng thgh w wh hv bn nslvd tw thsnd yrs d nt lk fr hnd ts]. Th mslms hv thr vrsn. ll rlgn s pck f sm thr prsns pnns. nd f crs, sm dts thnk ths Crtr f prphts[prfts]nds hlp whn t cms tm fr ny bld lttng. h, thy knw w wr shp nd w hv bn rp fr th flcng. My thr b hll fr sch s ths [bt my t smthng ls s th Grks nd Rmns wn't cntn t b blsphmd].
Bwr f wht y blv nd LWYS chck srcs nd nms.

#256 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2006, 08:54 AM:

Diana@255: Although I doubt you'll be back--your post has the hallmarks of a cowardly hit-and-run, and I wouldn't be surprised, in fact, to discover that you are actually another incarnation of mrk.yrk--allow me to mention that not only have many people on this blog seen (and read, which you very obviously have not) a thirteenth-century Bible, some of the people here make their livings by working with such religious texts, and with ones considerably older than that. I am a mere babe in the woods when it comes to scholarship, and certainly nowhere near the level of several of the regulars on this blog, but even I have read the Vulgate.

You are an ignorant, bigoted little troll, and the sad thing is, you don't even have the self-awareness to know it.

#257 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2006, 10:09 AM:

Let your doubts be answered, Ms. 24.177.7.139 -- I have seen (and have the language skills to read) 13th century Bibles.

What interests me now is by what strange paths a Republican came to this thread, and why it decided to post without having read or understood the main entry and the comments.

#258 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2006, 02:34 PM:

Republicans are welcome here on the same terms as everyone else: behave yourself civilly, don't utter known falsehood, and don't push my patience when you're newly come to Making Light and have no history of inoffensive participation in the conversation.

This specimen fails all three tests.

#259 ::: fr richard ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2007, 12:05 PM:

hello, everyone:

I'm an Episcopal priest and fellow traveler on the edge of the proverbial abyss here in the diocese of northern indiana. I don't know if anyone still minds this blog or not, but I just found you all and I'm hoping the lights are still on here somewhere. I too am estranged from the organized part of religion even though I'm knee deep in it at present. Teresa, your entry threw some light in my dark corner. Thank you kindly. Is anyone out there?

Peace, and Lenten Misery to all this year of the CE 2007.

Fr. Richard

#260 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2007, 12:32 PM:

Fr Richard,

Although I don't think any of our current threads are explicitly religious, this community is always shaped by the beliefs of its participants. (Like any other community, naturally.)

Note that there is no consensus within Making Light about any of these matters, only a general commitment to discussion from the heart.

In other words, welcome, come hang out (usually on more recent threads), but don't expect that all of this site is explicitly religious. You sound like you want to talk - may I suggest the current open thread?

#261 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2007, 01:08 PM:

Fr. Richard: I'm an Episcopalian too, and this is one of my favorite places on the Web. Abi's right--come talk to us on an active thread!

#262 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2007, 01:37 PM:

Welcome, pilgrim. Please make yourself at home.

This is still an active weblog, and even old posts can show new life as interests swirl. Teresa writes on religious themes fairly often. Please check out the main page, then look around a bit.

We welcome your participation.

#263 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2007, 02:13 PM:

Joyful Lenten penance and misery to you too, Fr. Richard, and be welcome.

Maybe we should start a Lenten thread.

#264 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2007, 02:24 PM:

Maybe we should start a Lenten thread.

I don't know if that's possible on Making Light.

It would have to be a thread with no levity.

*dodges thrown pretzels, flees*

#265 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2007, 03:00 PM:

I think the problem with a Lenten thread is that it would have to shut down by Easter.

*stands still, accepting thrown pretzels as just penance*

More seriously, Teresa, I think a Lenten thread could be a sombre pleasure here. I'd hate to add to your already complicated life by suggesting it as an annual tradition, but you could try it out and see what happens.

#266 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2007, 04:18 PM:

Teresa: You were going to do a post about the Seven Wonders of the Natural World. I can't remember what they all were, or even if you had all seven -- the way the water molecule folds, the Fibonacci sequence...

#267 ::: Jamie ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2008, 08:42 AM:

"I believe God doesn’t play mean practical jokes on His children; for instance, the ones He makes gay"

This one almost made me cry. It really did...

#268 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2008, 10:23 AM:

Now that's a first-time poster comment to point to as a good example! Welcome, Jamie. Don't be a stranger!

#269 ::: annie ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2008, 09:46 AM:

I'm going to ignore all the comments above and just say that that is an awesome list of beliefs. Thumbs Up! :D

Except the one about Jonah. I always thought it was God's way about complaining about how silly we can be sometimes, much like the israellites crossing the desert.
So I guess its funny in that sense, cause we are very funny beings.

#270 ::: Charles Cameron (hipbone) ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2010, 09:30 AM:

.
Complexity
.

I had one of my thoughts by the balls
the other day -- there it was
in the lab with every damn one of its tendrils
hanging off there like some hairy
apology for a spider
that got hollowed out by worms,
and I noticed it was linked
by neuronal association not only with every

other thought I'd ever had, but with
the spinal ganglia, optic nerve and eyes,
and via direct photonic interplay
with sun moon and shebang, emitting
sparks all the way back to the original bang!

I'll teach that sonofabitch to speak sentences.

.

#271 ::: Charles Cameron (hipbone) ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2010, 09:31 AM:

.
Complexity
.

I had one of my thoughts by the balls
the other day -- there it was
in the lab with every damn one of its tendrils
hanging off there like some hairy
apology for a spider
that got hollowed out by worms,
and I noticed it was linked
by neuronal association not only with every

other thought I'd ever had, but with
the spinal ganglia, optic nerve and eyes,
and via direct photonic interplay
with sun moon and shebang, emitting
sparks all the way back to the original bang!

I'll teach that sonofabitch to speak sentences.

.

#272 ::: Charles Cameron (hipbone) ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2010, 09:38 AM:

TomW suggested I post that poem (above) here, which in turn brought me to read Teresa's opening post: my grateful thanks.

Might I offer also the following, from the opening of Simone Weil's Letter to a Priest:

When I read the catechism of the Council of Trent, it seems as though I had nothing in common with the religion there set forth. When I read the New Testament, the mystics, the liturgy, when I watch the celebration of the Mass, I feel with a sort of conviction that this faith is mine or, to be more precise, would be mine without the distance placed between it and me by my imperfection.

#273 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2010, 01:45 AM:

Welcome, Charles -- and I hope we get to see more of you here. It's an amazing poem.

#274 ::: patgreene ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2010, 02:12 AM:

This is ... mindbogglingly lovely. Thank you.

#276 ::: Xopher sees particularly unconvincing SPAM ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2011, 11:44 AM:

It's like they're not even trying.

#277 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2011, 12:11 PM:

Oh, no, Xopher, they're very trying.

Well, they were. Now they are ex-trying. They have ceased to try.

#278 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2011, 12:34 PM:

abi, 279: They have joined the tryer celestial.

#279 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2011, 12:07 AM:

TexAnne, 280:

*applause*

#280 ::: Niall McAuley sees link spam at #282 ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2012, 04:12 AM:

Two protestors were arrested late last night; one was drinking battery acid, and the other eating fireworks.

Police charged the first, and let the other off.

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