Climate Change, Economics, Personal statements, Politics, Religion

Threatdown, Human Species Edition: Climate Change vs Religion

I’ve been wavering between two opinions for the past few years. It has to do with the delicate position in which the human species finds itself. We are perched, as it seems, on the razor’s edge of extinction by climate change phenomena we ourselves are causing. I am very much a fan of humanity, and would like to see us thrive, prosper, and one day leap across the divide to other planets and colonize the galaxy. (I dream big; blame Isaac Asimov).

The first opinion I hold is that climate change itself is the greatest threat to our existence. Given the alarms being sounded by the planet’s scientists observing and measuring our global climate, this is not a particularly original or controversial opinion. Lucky for us humans, it is an imminently (though not easily, as it turns out) preventable disaster, a slow-motion train wreck with time still to stop it before impact.

However, a great number of very influential leaders in business and government refuse to admit that the threat is real. They profit handsomely from this attitude. They literally earn more money and votes by denying climate change than they would by admitting it. Despite this being incredibly short-sighted, singularly self-serving, and based on nothing more than brazen greed, they have nevertheless enlisted the help of many allies to spread this denialism. Their allies include their media outlets (Fox News, the Washington Post, Rush Limbaugh) and their lobbyists and PR machines (Anthony Watts, Joanne Nova, American Petroleum Institute).

Religion inserts itself as an influence into this group of deniers in a variety of ways, probably, but there is one way which has presented itself to me recently. Religion has become an ally of deniers of climate change because one belief that most religions hold in common across the great varieties of faith traditions is that there is something more to human beings than our brief lives here on our home planet, Earth.

This is why I refer to all (or, at least the majority of) religions with the initial capital, Religion. I’m aware of the danger of generalization and stereotyping, and yet I think I’m on solid ground with my claim that most religions hold a Paradise doctrine in common, if we just take the belief in a better life laying beyond death alone, without getting distracted by differences in specific descriptions of the belief. I use the capitalized word Paradise as shorthand for the life-beyond-death belief, letting it stand in for the multitude of varieties of afterlife traditions.

Denialists’ most influential ally is Religion because of this very widespread, very damaging doctrine: Death is an illusion, and a better world awaits us on the other side of it. This belief in Paradise is damaging, because it makes it easy for believers to shut down rational demands for evidence or facts. After all, they didn’t require evidence to accept the Paradise dogma. They require no evidence to believe any of the claims and dogmas of Religion. When scientists and their allies in business and government present facts as evidence that the human species faces an extinction-level crisis, Religion offers little more than a bemused yawn in response.

Think about it from their perspective: If all (or, as they would prefer, any particular one) of their religions were true, and God will fix every mistake humans can possibly make, then what good reason can anyone put forward to worry about climate change, even if it ends up killing off humans at an alarming rate?

In their faith-addled, religion-poisoned reasoning, if the human race ends up down to the last two remaining people, huddling on top of the last patch of dry land, about to starve to death or drown, and one of them happens to be a believer, the last words of the human species could conceivably be: “Don’t worry, man; God’s gonna remake heaven and earth and start over again, anyway. A resurrection is coming!” Or, if the other person happened to be me, the last words will actually be, “Will you shut the fuck up and let the human race die in peace?!”

Some believers even go the extra mile in cooperating with their greedy denialist allies (Christians are good at going the extra mile; Jesus did, and taught them to go and do likewise). They actively cast doubt upon science itself, and deny their children access to it, replacing it with creation science and a profound anti-science fear of anything that casts doubt upon their Paradise dogma. Thus they ensure that whole new generations of religious believers are on their way to becoming denialist allies.

It’s easy to imagine that most denialists within Religion are such unwittingly, as out of touch with scientific facts as they prefer to be. Faith trumps fact in the formulation of their opinions and values. They trust their religious leaders and the media outlets referred to above, and they vote accordingly. They don’t feel the same danger nonbelievers feel at the prospect of climate change, since their faith in a Creator who controls history and, indeed, the weather, dulls their perception of the threat. A threat only feels threatening when it is perceived accurately as a threat. One who believes in the Paradise dogma cannot accurately perceive a threat in climate change.

This paralysis in the face of danger makes believers and other deniers uniquely UNqualified to make decisions bearing on climate change issues, or to wisely vote for representatives to deal with these tough calls. UNqualified though they are, they are unfortunately not DISqualified thereby; they go on voting into office deniers, becoming heads of environmental and science committees in legislatures (Sen. James Inhofe, head of the Senate committee on the environment, and Rep. Lamar Smith, head of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee).

So, the second opinion I hold is that the greatest threat to the future of the human species is belief in the Paradise dogma, which is another way of saying Religion, I guess. Nonreligious deniers, at least, have nothing except their greed barring them from becoming convinced by the facts; they have no hope in a cosmic do-over preventing them from taking seriously the fearful facts daily piling up, warning us to slow down climate change.

The religious deniers, on the other hand, are handicapped in the arena of facts, warnings, and threats to human existence. Their denial of climate change is bolstered by their belief in an afterlife; even when they are forced to agree with inconvenient truths about the climate, their religious dogma trumps facts because they believe their deity will save them in the end. They are notoriously well entrenched in their dogmatic doctrines. It is almost impossible to educate them out of their ignorance of the facts while their critical thinking faculties remain so impaired by the incrustation of faith-claims.

And so I waver between the two opinions about which is the greater threat to my own species: Is it Climate Change itself which deserves our full and aggressive efforts to slow down, or is it Religion’s Denial-Fueling Paradise Dogma we should be working hardest to defeat? Which campaign will more effectively solve the crisis of our day? And what strategies and solutions would you offer to meet the demands of either campaign?

I’m interested in your thoughts, and hope you feel motivated to share them in the comment section below.

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Personal statements

The Dickish Driver

UPDATE 02/05/2015: A brave group of youthful activists in Russia is taking dickish driving in their neighborhoods very seriously, and documenting it online. Have a look at some translated vids: https://www.youtube.com/user/Lomak1581/videos

A dickish driver’s manual must be genetically encoded into human DNA, because I see it so often these days, and it’s not just one age group, gender, or nationality. 

Let us see if we can’t parse the instructions which are instinctively followed by dickish drivers:
  1. Those yellow and white marks on the road don’t apply to you; ignore them. Road signs are optional, too. Why? Because those lines, arrows, and symbols are for novice drivers, and you leveled up past them as soon as you got your license! And you’re a dick.
  2. You are the one who gets to drive the fastest in whichever lane you’re in, because you are more important than everyone else, and a dick.
  3. You should alert drivers directly in front of you to your priorities by remaining as close to their back bumper as possible, swerving side to side because they might not see you, and you’re a dick.
  4. If a space the length of your car exists in a lane beside you, treat that lane as if it were empty, moving into without signaling, since you’re too busy to signal, and you’re a dick.
  5. Technology is more important than anything, everyone knows this. If you make yourself late to wherever you’re going due to devoting more time to your devices (computers, mobile phones, TV, video games, etc), no one can blame you for that, because you’re DEVOTED (and a dick). Just take whatever devices are mobile with you along for your race to wherever you’re going, and keep the devotion alive.

Comments invited! Can you add to this list? Please do in the comments section. If I like it (and you’re not a dick), I’ll add it to my list crediting your contribution. Someday, this may get expanded and published and become an international bestseller, leading all of us contributors to get massively rich*.
* Okay, it may not happen that way, because publishers, the reading public, and bookstore owners can be, well, you know….dicks.
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Atheism, Personal statements, Theology

Rejecting Jesus

[This post is in response to a comment by a pastor on my previous post; here’s the link to the comment].

Miss Burke, my Kindergarten teacher, was young, pretty, caring toward me and all my friends, and best of all, single! (I always took my childhood crushes way too seriously.) Sadly, I left that school after third grade, and Miss Burke didn’t come with me to my new school. Adding insult to injury, she got married, and lived in a house with the man who bested me in a home cloyingly close to where I had to walk to and from my new school. Every day, I had my wounded feelings revived as I mourned having loved and lost. (Waaaaaay too seriously…).

When my Kindergarten crush on Miss Burke dissolved, I never felt the need to publicly or privately ‘reject’ a relationship which had existed only inside my imagination. In the same way, I never felt the need to make any kind of announcement that I have rejected my relationship with Jesus. Which relationship, I figured out, was only in my imagination.

Like Miss Burke, Jesus existed for me as someone who taught, who loved students, and promised wonderful rewards for good behavior. Miss Burke had one thing Jesus didn’t: she was a real, live person in my life, who showed up every day in my classroom, and melted my heart when she smiled at my drawings. I had indeed embellished my perceptions of her in my imagination, and paid the price for it in a broken heart (puppy love version).

In previous blog posts, I’ve been clear about having a knowledge of Jesus, the Bible, and at least one version of Christianity, Seventh-day Adventism. However, as Christians are sometimes urged to do, I invested great emotion and time seeking more than just knowledge about Jesus, but also a relationship with him, as if he was real. As if he heard my prayers, even all my thoughts. As if he had the power to make that kind of a God–believer communication more than one-sided.

And I fully expected him to do just that. To make himself real to me, in obvious and faith-building ways, or even still, small, subtle yet undeniable ways. Or even just any unambiguous way. The longer I went with no obvious communication from God, I got good at lowering my expectations, lowering the bar for what could pass for the amazing all-powerful Jesus making himself real to me.

Constantly reminding myself that faith in Jesus has much more to do with that relationship than with any other way of experiencing religion, I poured my whole heart and soul into maintaining communion with the One I imagined had created me for just such a connection. The testimonies of those fortunate Christians who had successfully made contact with our Savior formed a tantalizing goal for me, and I presented such testimonies to my Bible classes in the hope that some of us, any of us, would have similar good fortune. When evangelism or revival meetings came around, these ‘relational’ testimonies were frequent and occupied key places in the messages. It was obvious to any who paid attention that there were true Christians, who could say they were in a personal relationship with Jesus, and then there were all other Christians. The ‘good’ Christians were those seeking that relationship, and I counted myself among the good ones; the ‘better’ and ‘best’ Christians had it already.

I was as passionate and sincere about trying to make personal contact with Jesus as I knew how to be. When just memorizing his life and teachings from the Bible itself wasn’t producing results, I turned to EGW’s writings on Jesus. When Desire of Ages and Steps to Christ didn’t make Jesus seem any closer, I turned to popular Christian devotional writers, like E. M. Bounds, Charles Spurgeon, C. S. Lewis, and many others. I attended and lead out at worship services designed just for the purpose of getting Christians into relationship with Jesus. Eventually I abandoned my early doctrinal focus altogether and became fully focused on promoting this kind of ‘relational’ Christianity, even while it eluded me. As long as I could help others have it, that would be enough for me (once again, lowering the bar, you see).

After at least a decade and a half of pursuing it, no relationship emerged that was any different than one which was purely imaginary. Like many Christians do, I had trained myself to accept personal powerlessness, so the most frequent request I had in prayer was for strength, and wisdom, and patience, and other character traits I felt I lacked. One very low-bar way I could claim I had been answered by God was whenever I had personally experienced strength, or wisdom, or patience; I could thereby count that as evidence of God existing and moreover showing up in my life. Anything good that ever happened, whether it could have been luck, accident, or the result of my own good decisions, I had gotten into the habit of seeing it as God and me having a close relationship. It is pitiful, when I reflect back on it, but it is, I think, an experience which many Christians are immersed in right now.

All part of the many sophisticated and elaborate ways people embellish their own perception of reality in order to justify irrational beliefs. My atheism is simply a natural end result of seeing how low the bar had been set; recognizing how little evidence there really was that Jesus was alive and active for me, or for anyone else; and then letting my life reflect those truths. Truth has always been important to me, not just being truthful, but that capital letter ‘Truth’ idea. I still feel a kind of dedication to seeking Truth, and I believe now that I’ve searched for Truth in Jesus thoroughly enough to satisfy myself that there isn’t any there.

UPDATE JANUARY 4, 2015:
The following is my reply to an old fellow church member who started a conversation with me about this post on my link to it on Google+. If you want to see the whole conversation, click this link right here.

Joanne:
You say you’re sad for me. I don’t know why; please, don’t be! Read more of my autobiographical writings and you’ll hear the refrain repeatedly, that I’m much more at peace, and joyful, and contented, and more free from depression and anxiety and guilt and shame, than ever I was while inside religion. I’m sad that you’re sad that I’m happy!

Freedom from religion has caused many ills to drop away from me, and simultaneously added so much health, wellness, and richness to life. I guess if you want to lament my good fortune from envy, I get that. But please don’t bother hoping or praying that I give up my better condition in exchange for a return to the worse one. It’s wasted effort for you; it’s just not gonna happen.

I “never quite [got] it right,” you say. That’s insulting. Yes, I did. Of course I did. Shame on you for stooping to insult. I let go and let god, I practiced the presence of Jesus, I asked WWJD, I surrendered, I fasted, I prayed the word, I claimed the promises, I answered the altar calls, I listened actively, I sought windows when doors closed, I counted my blessings, I used prayer lists, I journaled, I played the guitar leading others in worship, I sacrificed financially, I followed every dietary rule, I taught Sabbath School classes, I preached sermons, I taught christianity to your church’s youth until your son (who I helped to get hired) stabbed me in the back and got me tossed out of my teaching post–exiled to Fresno, I bore that insult with grace and magnanimity, I forgave many so much, I sang, I worshiped, I cried tears and pondered verses and memorized every verse, text, slogan, prescription, maxim and principle. And got nothing in response. For you to deny that, saying “I never quite got it right,” is the same as calling me a liar.

I hope you remember that I was the teacher your daughter Lori and her friend Alyssa came to after you attended your first Prayer Conference, and I was the teacher who helped AUA get connected with them. We even hosted one. You reference these events sometimes as if I wasn’t present for them.

You were there for some of those Prayer Conferences we attended, during which I did all the right things, for the right reasons, with correct motivations, in every way doing exactly what was expected in exchange for the elusive goal, “Jesus showing up in my life”. Your daughter, Lori, also did all the right things, and got it exactly right, and yet got the same non-response from your god, and became an atheist long before I did.

And yet you say that I didn’t quite get it right! I don’t sit by and tolerate that kind of childish insult, any more than you should. I wrote in the blog post that I got it right, I tried getting any communication from god in every way he himself commanded it be done, and I got zero response. I tried for twenty-five years, Joanne; you tried for 45, you said. I gave up long after I should have. You can’t accept that, perhaps, but to accuse me (or others who’ve left) of the old “not trying hard enough” trope is a great way to get them to ignore everything else you have to say. My advice to you: Refrain from insulting the lost sheep you’re trying to win back. Condescension does not win souls to your worldview (at least not the kind of souls who reserve the right to think for themselves; but you probably don’t want those anyway).

This insult gets to the heart of the problem with attempts at communication between religious believers and their ex-religious friends & family. There just cannot be friendship when the ex gets treated with the condescending insult, “you didn’t do it right; please try harder…” Because you don’t know another person’s inner life, their private mental states, or their motivations. Because you can’t know that, and yet you say that you do, is insulting.

And even worse is how many contradictory biblical statements exist, teaching about how simple it all is, “even little children get it,” about the great lengths god went to just to make it easy to comprehend and accept the biblical Jesus into one’s life. Well you can’t have it both ways, can you? You cannot promise that a thing is not only possible, but necessary to eternal life, and actually simple enough for little children to do, and then get me to accept that a fully invested, mature adult can try her hardest and fail for 45 straight years!?! That’s doublespeak. That’s a con job. That’s a hustle. That’s how multi-level Amway-style marketers snag suckers for their downline (Just keep at it! Rah, rah, rah! You’ll get there! Year, after year, after year; $ after $$ after $$$ until they finally wake up: “I’ve been robbed!!!”). Sorry, Joanne, but rational, thinking people are rejecting this bullshit now. In DROVES. Why don’t you join us?

Regarding your personal testimony: I’m glad you seem to see how little there is to recommend believing in Jesus. I’m honestly even less interested after hearing how little he did for you to get your undying loyalty.

If I’ve got this calculated right, summing up the deal your “omnipotent, omniscient” Jesus got you to accept was:
* you get to be his spokesman
* you get to finance his professional spokespeople (at 10% of your income, minimum; more, if you want bigger bragging rights);
* you get to believe (against all appearances otherwise) that a good god is in total control of your life, this planet, even the universe.

That was what god got, in exchange for the following series of unfortunate events from you (any one or all of which he could have prevented you from experiencing)?
* incest and lifelong debilitating effects from childhood trauma
* 45 years of uncomfortable doubt
* a car accident
* neglectful parenting
* neglect of your spouse
* misery
* pain (emotional, physical, spiritual)
* fibromyalgia
* CHF
* cancer
and you indicated that this is just a brief summary of the crap your god allowed you to experience, rather than prevent it from touching you.

(It’s funny how into ‘preventative health’ some Christians are, in the name of a god who never prevents any misery in the world, not even in their lives!)

It is impossible to distinguish between what you call “god working with you and controlling your life”, and there being no real god at all, just you pretending he does. I can’t distinguish between those two possible explanations of all that happened in your life. Or in mine, or in the lives of the many who told me their stories, or in all those thousands of personal testimonies I heard over two and a half decades, and still occasionally hear. It’s much easier (and more honest, I believe) to go with the simpler, less fantasy-based explanation: humans created gods, and duped their children into believing them.

Miracles. I don’t think an appeal to science is going to work here, if you actually think that planets require divine intervention, or else they smash into each other (I’m just going by what you wrote). So, we’ll skip over miracles. Let it suffice that medical science and groupthink and placebo and cherry picking and confirmation bias are better explanations for what you call “miracles”.

Finally, I disagree with your statement that I “chose not to believe.” That’s rewriting my story, and that calls for a correction. Your current worldview (and my former one) denies a lot of evidence and censors lots of dissent in order to arrive at a false dichotomy: “you can either believe in the religion of the Bible, or you can believe in anything else–which means you believe in the religion of Satan.” (You never mentioned Satan, but I have a sneaking suspicion that you probably still believe in the old Fallen Angel.)

Being a false choice, that oversimplified, black/white fantasy is convenient for the maintaining of the charade; it’s the clasp that keeps the Christian blinders from falling off, if you will. I did not, in fact, choose not to believe in Jesus anymore; his complete non-interaction/non-intervention with me or anyone I ever met over the course of 25 years of crying out to him for ANYTHING from him with my whole soul was the unclasping of the blinders–the belief just dropped away. I had no choice in the matter. I could no more continue the charade after finally allowing myself an uncensored look at the evidence than one can unring a bell. When Dorothy looked behind the Wizard’s curtain and saw the sham of it all, she stopped believing in the Wizard of Oz.

I don’t know if you’ll ever have the experience of the blinders dropping off, of waking up from the delusion of religion. Until you do, though, you will continue to be mentally blocked by the programming Christianity must constantly flood your brain with; you won’t see past that false dichotomy. You are not permitted to see it.

That’s the great chasm that exists between church members and ex-members which forms a formidable barrier to any meaningful conversation, to any trusting relationship. It’s tough to connect with someone who has completely rejected everything you hold dear in life, someone who used to hold your God up as the Ultimate, but now despises every kind of falsehood spread by god-fearers, god-lovers, and all the ‘true believers’. I get that. And I thank you for taking the time to reach out.

All our best to you and your family, we wish you all health and wellness in the new year.

Good luck,
Jim
PS: I’m copying this conversation onto my blog, to document it where it will do the most good.

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Atheism, Counter-apologetics, Ethics, Personal statements, Philosophy, Seventh-day Adventism, Theology

Good Without God, Better Without God




For whatever reason (I’m not sure I’m willing to guess), in the few years since I’ve come out atheist, I have experienced a motivation to behave ethically and morally far beyond that which two and a half decades of Christianity ever provided.

My denomination was the Seventh-day Adventist Church. I was not your average pew-warmer, either. Within 18 months of my baptism at the tender age of 20, I had embarked on a year-long foreign missionary teaching assignment, been ordained a local elder in that mission-field’s church (at the ordination ceremony, when the pastor read to his church the biblical requirements of an elder, he literally skipped over the verse in 1 Timothy 3 which states that the elder must not be a recent convert; I swallowed hard and kept smiling), and had preached sermons and taught lessons more than many elderly members who had been Seventh-day Adventists all their lives.

Within five years of my baptism, I had married a pastor’s daughter, was the father of my own daughter, and had entered my religion degree program at the church’s most conservative college (then called simply Southern College, now called Southern Adventist University). Three years later, I was continuing my teaching career, standing before classrooms full of youth in an official church ministry capacity: Bible teacher, licensed to teach grades 7-12. My life had a trajectory; my role in the church gave me unlimited opportunities to model good citizenship, and the character qualities of a member in good and regular standing. Mine was a Purpose-Driven Life.

In the Bible, in Ellen White’s writings, and in fellowship with like-minded fellow Adventists including especially the most Christian-like people I’ve ever met– my wife and her adoptive parents– I actively sought moral motivation. I wanted to be a better person, just like most of my fellow Christians were actively seeking to be. It’s one of the things Christians do.

However, I remember that I always received from all my spiritual sources something mixed in with the motivation, something that perhaps tainted it. I know that I always believed that my sinfulness was real, was permanent (until God would remove it at my resurrection), and that it was part of me– I believed in that Bible doctrine of the sinful nature.

I was damaged goods. I was broken. Yes, I was redeemable, and sometimes I actually managed to believe I was redeemed. But mostly, confirmation bias of my sinfulness created a feedback loop in my mind, so that every idle moment, every stray temptation, every minor cruelty or neglect or mistake or stumble always reminded me that I was never going to be good enough for the most important One in my life, my God. I had to have a substitute who was better than me, a mediator who would step between me and judgment, a Holy Spirit guide for my decisions and choices– because I wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t good. I could never be good by nature until some future time. Maybe I’m guessing now at why I couldn’t be truly good by nature while I was a Christian: it would have contradicted the teachings of the Book I’d wrapped myself in as a career and personal compass, the Bible.

Eventually, I stepped away from that high Christian post, came down from a life as a watchman on the walls of Zion, and became just another family guy in Orlando, Florida. I also joined a small but growing group of Americans who identify as “none” when it comes to religion, and the even smaller group who class themselves as non-religious, non-spiritual, non-believer in all gods. In other words, atheist. Which to me restates a negative: ‘no god’. I also became an official, dues-paying member of another organization whose positive, life-affirming and hopeful principles I could whole-heartedly support, the American Humanist Association.

Humanists have a little motto: Good Without God. I like that, and it describes my current ethical motivations. But as I started to say at the beginning of this, I now experience a more powerful and consistent motivation to be good, now that I’m without God (as it were). Now that I’m no longer deluded into believing that all my attempts at goodness are “filthy rags,” (Isaiah 64:6), I feel that morals and ethical values are more important to me than ever before. I read books about the topic, I listen to podcasts about it, scour philosophical writings for clues, discuss it with my ever-patient wife, and through it all, I am coming to the conclusion that like the Humanist motto, ‘Good Without God,’ it’s quite true that a secular, atheist, humanist person can perhaps even be Better Without God.
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UPDATE: The Facebook friends I have occasionally comment on my posts. The following was posted by Larry Hallock, and is reproduced here with his permission; I thought it extended nicely the theme in this post:

Larry Hallock: Excellent blog post, Jim. That first paragraph says it all… I mean, I have had the same experience, and from what I’ve read, many others have said the same thing—life becomes so much richer, so much more meaningful and rewarding… the pieces of the puzzle finally fit… without the baggage, life just seems brighter. And it’s enormously better emotionally when you’re not constantly fretting, consciously or subconsciously, over whether or not you’ll get the promised supernatural help, or why it’s not there, or why you can’t understand, or whether you’re accurately reading the mental impressions from your god (any given thought could be a deceiving counterfeit from the bad god, Satan, so an enormous amount of resources, especially time, is required for constantly praying for the good god to come and fight off the bad god for you), and whether you’re pleasing the god by interpreting its “will” correctly and then carrying out whatever it is you think it wants, according to the minimum standards required for you to be brought back to life in order to go to the great fantasy land in the sky rather than being brought back to life in order to be killed again, only this time by torture. Life was never truly joyful for me, not in a deep, abiding sense, when I lived by all of that, compared to just living by what is good, loving, positive, constructive, kind, …the Golden Rule. It is invigorating to live according to your own skills, ingenuity and creativity (being your own boss!) rather than always living every waking moment solely to please others, to say nothing of solely to please just one guy who makes enormous demands with deadly consequences if you don’t make the cut—and, all the while, he refuses discuss any of it or talk to you, just sorta leaves you to guess at what’s wanted. Sorry, but at this point I’ve started chuckling out loud, so I need to stop typing. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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Atheism, Counter-apologetics, Epistemology, Personal statements

How Do I Know?

These past few months, I’ve become more interested in how I know, than what I know. While facts play a big role in the formation of my values and beliefs, the primary concern is summed up in my title: ‘How do I know?’

How did I decide that my favorite set of values are ‘right,’ opposed to all those ‘wrong’ values? How did I settle on my particular list of ‘good to know’ facts, and how do I test and retest their reliability in the real world?

Epistemology is the term philosophers use for this question, How do I know what I think I know? Our parents, teachers, and other important early voices give us our childhood epistemology. Children are at the epistemological mercy of the adults surrounding them.

Without the cognitive tools of experience, common sense, or mature logical reasoning, children must answer the question How do you know? with ‘so and so told me.’ Which is another way to say ‘I don’t know, but I trust my mom (or teacher, or doctor, or pastor, or grandpa), and they said so’.

Of course, as children develop into adults, hearsay and appeals to authority are increasingly unacceptable, as those tools mentioned earlier reveal themselves to be more reliable. Life experience, common sense, and especially scientific evidence-based reasoning are widely-trusted and universally accepted epistemological tools in almost every realm where accuracy matters.

Almost. One form of hearsay remains despite the best attempts of enlightened reasoning to relegate it to the dustbin of history: faith.

I have recently finished a long period in my life during which I trusted faith as much or more than other ways of knowing things. (I’m not interested in the many different definitions Christians toss about for faith; whatever you count as the ‘biblical’ or official meaning of it, the way it is experienced by believers is the important thing to me.)

For me, it was the easiest way to dismiss doubts which arose as my years of studying the Bible grew into decades. Whatever could not easily be explained the way most difficult questions are– logical reasoning, evidence-gathering, observation, consulting experts and their research, etc– was explained away, by saying to myself, “Well, I guess I’ll just have to take that on faith, and ask God about it in heaven.”

I learned that practice of explaining difficult things away by faith early on in my Christian experience, and encountered it consistently throughout the full period during which I interacted with many fellow students of the Bible.

I have abandoned faith now, and no longer explain things away with capricious appeals to a future Q&A session with an imaginary Sky God. It’s tougher to think things all the way through, but ultimately more satisfying because of the higher confidence level I can have in those values and beliefs which survive that testing process.

It’s much tougher to deal with the many regrets I have that I ever swallowed the poison pill of faith, wrapped as it was in a pleasant coating of fellowship and social interaction. But life goes on, and I strive to make the best of it, using far superior tools than the one I left in the dustbin of my own history: faith.

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