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Real life

College doesn’t so much as teach you what to know as it teaches you how to find the answer. What questions to ask, how to get the answers and how to connect the dots. So, that’s basically what I ended up doing.

I determined the Bible to be an insufficient source of information. It was either inaccurate, indecipherably and, at times, self-contradictory. Some of it was just down right appalling. Sure, there were some real events, places and people in it, but, so what? Harry Potter had those things too but it is, in no way, true.

I also knew that truth, what little we knew being the limited species we are, was gleamed through careful observation of our surroundings. Truth permeated reality and, by careful observation, one could learn the truth by studying the reality that this truth worked on. By reverse engineering reality, I could discover the truth about reality and, presumably, whatever God there was. I could throw everything out and start from scratch and should be able to arrive at the truth and, thus, know God.

What this basically amounts to is Pantheism. All things are a part of reality, reality is an expression of truth and truth is God so, reality is God. I didn’t really have a name for it until perhaps a year or two ago.

Now… what’s the problem with this?

Well, I didn’t really do anything here. I just redefined God instead of finding Him. I just redefined Truth instead of finding it. I could, theoretically, define God to be anything I want and call it good. But this does absolutely nothing to add to my overall knowledge of reality and this universe much less contribute in any way to my moral framework and overall philosophy. In other words, it’s completely useless and I just had to toss it out.

This basically brings me to the present day and my current form of Atheism.

I want to say this: Atheism is not the assertion that God does not exist. It’s simply the absence in belief rather than a belief in absence. In this sense, I am an atheist. More specifically, a weak atheist. I’m completely open to the possibility to a Deity of some sort but I have yet to find any definition of such a being which has any empirical evidence to back it up. The best one can do, so far, is to claim that I cannot disprove their Deity’s existence. That’s true, of course, but I also could not disprove the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Invisible Pink Unicorns, Underpants Gnomes or Russell’s Teapot. Simply because we cannot disprove something does not mean we should accept it by default. The burden of proof is on those presenting the assertion, hypothesis or theory not the other way around.

Anyway, so that’s my story. I’ve glossed over a ton of details and specific arguments I’ve come across and, eventually, discarded for one reason or another. I’ll get around to those. If you have questions or comments or need clarifications for something, ask. I’ll either email you back or create a new post.

Next up – Pascal’s Wager

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College

College is as far from reality as you can get. No, really. Parties, girls, booze, pot and occasionally some homework. Ok, to be fair, I did a lot of studying and not a whole lot or none of the others. I was there for a degree – a future – and anything else was incidental. I say this only so you understand the world in which I was in and how it enabled me to think of things in the terms I had to so I would come to the conclusions I did.

I was exposed to a lot of ideas then. I met Christians of every sort, Agnostics, Atheists, Pagans, Wiccans, Muslims, Hindus, Taoists, Deists, Pantheists, Panentheists and just about everything else in between. I met Democrats, Republicans, Liberals, Conservatives, Libertarians, Fascists, Communists, Socialists and Anarchists. I met Homosexuals, Heterosexuals, Bisexuals, Asexuals and Transsexuals. I met monogamous individuals and polyamorous individuals. I met artists, scientists, engineers, musicians and laymen. It was here away from the watchful eye of the rest of my family and society that I finally felt as though I was able to make the decision to be something other than what I was. Although, of course, I didn’t stray from Christianity, not at first. If anything, at first, I went further into it.

I attended a few other churches. Experienced what you could say is being “saved” some point in my freshman year. Oddly enough, it felt exactly as everyone said how they felt. I attended Campus Crusade for Christ. That last bit I didn’t particularly like. Maybe it was me, but it just seemed fake. Like it was more of an escape for those involved than an actual worship. Maybe it was me and I was looking at it wrong or maybe it really was like that. I don’t know. But that’s how it felt and that’s what I took from it.

Like I said, I ran into a lot of ideas. The more I thought of it (perhaps that’s where I run into problems here…) I became increasingly disturbed at this idea of a Hell. There were a lot of arguments in my head but they mostly boiled down to this: How can infinite torment for what amounts to finite, at time vast but still finite, sin be doled out or even allowed by an infinitely loving and powerful being? And an even better question: If I were to go to heaven, would I ever be happy knowing there were good, perhaps not believing but still good, individuals being tortured while an infinitely powerful being did nothing to stop it? Would any decent human being be content to live for eternity in that situation?

Of course, it all depended on your definition of Heaven and Hell. So I changed mine to conform to this cognitive dissidence. I molded my concepts of salvation and punishment to fit my increasingly complex questions, the natural evolution of the questions posed over a decade ago to my parents. Looking back, I realize that practice of molding your perception of reality to fit your beliefs is, in general, a mistake.

Another question that plagued me was with my “saved” experience. I reasoned that it was entirely possible that it was a genuine experience. But, also, that it could have been psychosomatic as well. I wanted so badly to feel and experience this thing and I was told over and over and over again what it would feel like. Would it be a wonder that I would feel it, eventually, regardless of its nature? How can I use this experience as evidence of anything? How would I know it is real with only my subjective and admittedly flawed perceptions to rely on?

Eventually, by my senior year, I got rid of the idea of Hell altogether in place of a different system of punishment. By that time, I had also gathered a fair amount of knowledge of biology, evolution, abiogenesis, cosmology, physics, etc and was able at least to understand the naturalistic explanations of natural phenomenon including the emergence (not creation) of life and the universe. The effect was I began to see less and less of a reason for a God to personally interfere with anything. Sure, God could have set it all up and just let go, but this God is very different from the God described in the Bible – this God was impersonal. And God could have interfered, but this is just something we can inherently never know. It wasn’t so much that I saw evidence for God’s non-interference, but, rather, that I saw none for God’s actual interference. The difference is subtle, but important.

By the end of college, I was increasingly of the opinion that, were there a God, He certainly is beyond anything we’ve ever conceived and simply not detectable by human means for one reason or another. There were good and bad things that happened to everyone at, seemingly, the same statistical rates so I also found no evidence that God cared anymore about His creation, if indeed He ever did.

I was now a Deist. 

A Purgatory of Maturity

High School was not pleasant for me. Really, I can’t imagine how it would have been pleasant for anyone other than the stereotypical “in” crowd. We’re all awkward, confused balls of hormones caught between being too old to be a kid and too young to be an adult – a purgatory of maturity.

To add to all the normal issues I was rather skinny, not very athletic, a geek and in band to boot. I played the trombone. I didn’t play sports and didn’t have much interest in typical “guy” things. I might as well have put on thick coke bottle glasses and a pocket protector. Well, I did have the glasses so I guess I was halfway there.

With band came a lot of things, though. Friendship, learning experiences, work ethic and comradery. My freshman year there was, as there ever were, three drum majors – students who took up a leadership role within the band. One of them, for one reason or another, seemed to take to me. We’ll call him Bob.

Bob was a lot like me. We thought alike, dressed alike, looked alike. We both were interested and exceled in mathematics and the sciences, though he was admittedly much better at them than I. He ended up being one of his class’ valedictorians. We both tended to have more simplistic styles – jeans and t-shirts were our resting states. You didn’t really find us in the trendy, preppy clothes. We were mistaken for brothers on at least one occasion that I can vividly remember. Bob was also a couple years older than I and just about every girl in the band had a crush on him at some point. It was joked once or twice that I was “Bob-lite”.

All of this mixed together to create what amounted to a mentor for me in High School. Bob, as it turned out, was also a Bible believing Southern Baptist Christian. I can remember, vividly, him telling me about how he was “saved”, where and when he was. A cemetery, I believe, in July – one of the benefits of having a nearly phonographic memory. He also tended to lean towards a literal interpretation of the Bible as well, which surprised me for a lot of reasons I won’t go into in this post.

That aside, like any impressionable teenager, I tried to emulate him. I tried out other churches, denominations and ways of thinking but always within the Christian realm. I became more entrenched in math, science and music. Read my bible, from time to time. I even became one of those drum majors and worked with him for his senior year.

I could never find a church I liked. There was always something I objected to on the grounds of personal morality, world views or it just plain didn’t make any sense. One had a thing against homosexuals which made no sense to me. Again, another subject for another post. Another had a thing against the card game “Magic: The Gathering” and, I kid you not, Pokemon. I guess because one had the word “Magic” in it because otherwise it’s just a card game. The other… well, I’m not sure why. Seriously, why would anyone have a problem with Pikachu? Sure, he’s annoying he’s hardly the snake in the garden.

Anyway, after Bob moved on to college, I was left on my own once again, though I was able to coast along for a while being, basically, what everyone expected of me. I never was a Biblical literalist the way Bob was, though. I just could never make sense of that. Evolution was just too strong, to me which was the basis for my rejection of the Bible as a literal work. Admittedly, at the time, I really didn’t have a good reason for accepting Evolution. It just seemed more reasonable to me and that the Genesis accounts were metaphorical or meant for a less scientifically literate human race. Now that I have a better understanding of its mechanisms, I feel a little more justified. I made the right decision but for the wrong reasons back then. Better than making the wrong decisions for the wrong reasons, I guess.

It should also be pointed out that it never occurred to me to be something else. That I could be Hindu or Muslim or Agnostic or Atheist or Buddhist or Taoist or whatever else was out there even though I knew people who were these things and I asked questions about their faith. I would always think “how could I believe in something so silly”? The irony of that statement is not lost on me now.

Perhaps it also had something to do with the need to be accepted during those years – a behavior which is both a boon and a bane when you think about it. On one hand, it keeps you from going too far off the reservation which can be dangerous. On the other hand, it can restrict you a little too much and, worse, you won’t even realize it. Teenage rebellion is, after all, about the desire to establish yourself as an individual, to be accepted and finding a balance between these two basic drives.

At the time I prided myself on having an open mind and knowing who I really was. But, I was young and still didn’t truly understand what that meant. Granted I think I was little more aware of the process than others were – I’ve always been a bit more introspective – but I still didn’t know myself as well then as I do now. Then again, I doubt I know myself as well now as I will in another 15 years so perhaps it’s simply a function of time and experience.

Later, after talking to others I knew in those years, it seems I gave the impression of being solid and a rock and confident in my beliefs. I was anything but. Like most people I was a bit lost then, looking for where I fit in with this thing called “life” but I think I just didn’t show it as much.

Then came graduation and the “big” world of college.

The Wonder Years

This post will be about my starting life. What I started out as, where I came from, etc. I think it’s important to establish this because my early life and what my parents taught me is important to how I turned out.

I was born Catholic.

Wait… never mind. I keep reminding myself of something Richard Dawkins said. I try not to copy other people’s work but, frankly, he said it best and it just makes sense to re-use it in this context. I hope he doesn’t mind. To paraphrase, nobody is really born one religion or another. It’s like being born a Democrat or a Republican. It’s more accurate to say that I was born into a Catholic family. My mom was one of ten, my father one of three. I, myself, am the second of four. Our family reunions look like we invited half the town. Indeed, on my mother’s side, that was precisely the case.

Growing up, I had all the questions you would think a kid would have. Does God listen to our prayers? If God exists, why are there so many bad people? Where do we go when we die?

The answers I got always followed the formula of “well, we believe … etc etc etc… but nobody really knows for sure”.

My parents were being honest of course and I can’t fault them for that. Nobody really knows for sure. We can believe all we want, but we don’t know. We can believe so hard it’s almost as if we do know, but we can’t really know. Otherwise it isn’t believing and it isn’t faith.

But, at the time, I hated those answers. Come on! I was what? 5? 7? 10? I needed an answer, dammit! This is an important question and you’re my parents. Why don’t you have an answer? Shouldn’t you have all the answers I need right now? Of course, I didn’t say that out loud. Looking back, they did me a favor, really, and laid the ground work for who I was to become later in life which is really the function that parents serve, when you think about it. From the point of view, they did exactly what they should have done.

But, it wasn’t enough to “believe”. I would come to “believe” in many things as a child. The Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and so forth, but these all turned out to be not true. I’m not comparing the belief of an afterlife or God(s) to these other fairytales, but it was clear to me that belief alone was simply not a reliable tool in determining fundamental truth. You can believe in something all you want but that doesn’t make it true, I remembered thinking sometime in middle school. And if something is true, that’s no guarantee you will believe it.

No… I had to find the answers on my own.

So I went through the motions for my family’s sake all the while listening, gathering my information and forming my own conclusions. I got my first communion, confession, confirmation and all that. I even took another name – Edward, in case you were wondering.

Sometime in the summer after my 8th grade year, I remember saying to my parents “I don’t understand how an old, childless, unmarried, celibate white guy has the authority to tell me how to live my sex life”. I was 14 so I didn’t have a sex life. But I knew one day I would so this would be important to me at some point in the future. I’m sure it was no coincidence that, after that, my parents stopped making me go to Sunday mass.

So, it’s at this point that I effectively departed Catholicism. I’ve never actually officially renounced it, sent the letter, asking them not to count me in your congregation, excommunicate myself and all that. Frankly, I never saw the point. Maybe I should, if only to have that conversation with a priest. What fun that would be.

Anyway, so that’s the end of that. On to High School… joy.

Hello World

Hi. So, this is my blog. Yeah yeah yeah, I’m late on the blog fad. I get that. Anyway, I thought I might get a few questions out of the way for my first posting.

What am I going to do here?

It’s mostly going to be about religious topics. I’m not going to actively try and offend anyone on here so I want to get that out of the way. If you happen to be offended, I will apologize right now for it, but know that I never intended to do that. Please understand that last part. I will point out flaws in religious claims, investigate them and show why they are either true, false or have a probability of being true or false. I will not so much as insult a religious belief or idea, only point out the reality of it.

Why am I going to do it?

Religion is important to me. More to the point, it should be important to all of us. Even if you personally don’t have any religious beliefs others around you do and their decisions, whether we like it or not, affect us in profound ways. Especially in the current times when so much extremism is making headlines (a post for another day).

How am I going to do this?

Well, the first few entries after this one is going to be about my personal conversion from Catholicism to some odd hodgepodge flavor of Christianity to Deism to Pantheism to Atheism. Some of you who know me personally might find some of it a surprise, some who know me better less so. The first few posts will also gloss over a lot of details of what went on in my own head. I won’t go through the specifics of every single argument that went through my head because, simply, that would be too long. I will post individually for each argument but the first few are, specifically, meant to outline my conversion process.

After that, if and when I find a subject I feel strongly about, I’ll post on it or maybe I’ll take questions I get from readers. I won’t start fights here, but I’ll respond to something that moves me or when I’m asked to. Maybe at some point I’ll convert these into youtube videos. Who knows.

Anyway, I hope you stick around. This should be a fun little guide to my life.