Doubting Christ, Young Christian? Have At It!

Yesterday I received from a young man the following email:

I was raised in the church, and have always believed in Jesus Christ. I have just returned from a month touring Europe with my two buddies, and since we’ve gotten back I’ve been feeling further from God than I’ve ever felt in my life. A friend told me about your blog, and after reading quite a bit of it, I thought you could possibly help me. John, please: What do I do with this doubt about God and Jesus Christ that’s in my mind? In September I’ll be starting my second year of college. I don’t want to keep having the doubts I have been. Do you have any advice that could help me? Thank you.

First of all, you don’t have anything to worry about. It was during their time in college that at least half the Christians I know went through a long phase of doubting. That’s as it should be; that’s what college is for. A person who at college doesn’t find himself seriously questioning all sorts of core assumptions about himself and the way he thinks is almost certainly receiving an inferior education. Learning new things means questioning the old things. For you, an “old thing” is being a Christian. There’d be something wrong if after your first year of college you weren’t in at least some way calling into question the validity of Christianity. You can’t broaden your mind without some of the stuff that’s already in there getting a little stretched and bent.

So no worries. What you’re experiencing is normal, and even good.

That said, be careful. You can doubt Christ and/or Christianity; you can question the nature of God; you can put the Bible under microscopes you never even knew existed. That’s all cerebral/intellectual stuff. But physically, don’t sell yourself too cheap. Beware of what you do. What people generally and hormone-buzzed young people in particular too often forget (or continue to pretend they never had occasion to learn) is how readily attraction becomes indulgence, becomes habit, becomes custom, becomes character. Don’t get too high too often — and don’t get high at all if you can help it. Don’t allow yourself to fall into that bullshit thing so many college guys do (um … did you see my piece on cursing?), where all of a sudden women become objects to conquer, manipulate, and exploit. I know it sounds Grandpa Canethumper, but don’t too often choose goofing around with your buddies or just being lazy over studying and doing your homework. If done right, a college education is one of the most valuable things any person anywhere can ever get for themselves. Don’t let all the (heady, I know!) social/sensual stuff that happens at college tempt you into wasting the opportunity that college affords you to wonderfully yourself up for virtually the rest of your life. All you have is your mind; college is your one great chance to arm yours for life. Don’t piss it away.

Anywhoo, I don’t know exactly what it is you’re doubting, but it sounds like it’s whether Christ and/or the whole Christian story is real and true. I suppose that’s what a “crisis in faith” always boils down to.

If that’s it, doubt that. Have at it. What do you have to lose? If God/Christ is real, he can take it, and will surely be there for you when you return. If he’s not real — if all the zealous atheists you’ve surely already met at your school are right — than the sooner you know that, the better. So go ahead, mate. Doubt away.

You know what I’d bet, though? I’d bet you’re not doubting Christ at all. I’d bet that if you really felt your way through this, you’d find that what you’re doubting is Christianity. Huuuuuuuuuuuuuuge difference: it’s the difference between a library building, and the actual knowledge contained in all the books within that building. Christians are forever (and naturally enough, it should be said) confusing Christ with Christianity; they mistake its form for its substance, its expression for its essence. They forget the difference between engaging with Christianity and engaging with God.

So do yourself a favor. You’re busy, I know: you’ve got classes, and study and friends and all that. No question: college keeps you moving. But if you’re serious about these doubts you’re experiencing, then be serious enough about them to spend three minutes a day doing something that I promise you is absolutely, 100% guaranteed to resolve for you this problem of being unsure whether or not God exists.

For three minutes, every day — and ideally at the beginning and end of each day — arrange to be perfectly alone. Turn off your cell phone, unplug your iPod; disconnect. Be actually and really in solitude. Get physically comfortable. Close your eyes. Breathe deeply and slowly, pulling your breath all the way down into your abdomen. Calm yourself. Take your time. When you’re doing stuff like this, three minutes is an hour.

Just … be there. Look into your heart and soul. See what you find there. See if you don’t find, so close to you that it’s easy to miss it, or to mistake it for you, the spirit of God himself, stripped of all but essence, new to you again.

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About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is co-founder of The NALT Christians Project and founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here). His blog is here. His website is JohnShore.com. John is a pastor ordained by The Progressive Christian Alliance. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. And don't forget to sign up for his mucho awesome monthly newsletter.

  • http://spritzophrenia.wordpress.com Jonathan Ellito

    I agree, John. Doubt isn't the worst thing in the world, but boy does it feel like a killer. A buzz-kill, if you will. In the worst case, he could end up like me: Wanting to believe in Christ, but feeling unable to.

    I think I would say "Dear doubter: You're in good company. Most of us who have any intellect have been there. Take your time. Read deeply, and live deeply. Realise that many sincere believers have some degree of doubt. But don't use doubt as an excuse to throw it all away. I did, and I've been trying unsuccessfully to come back ever since".

    Jonathan from Spritzophrenia

    • Tim

      Hi Jonathan.

      You say you feel unable to believe in Christ again. What feelings would you say stand in the way?

    • Jeannie

      Jonathon, you are about where I am.

      I went through a terrible experience where one of my young childen became seriously ill and lost her memory. She had no idea who I was for a while. God has actually used my love, care and constant devotion to my child to minister to me. During this time, I realized a loving God could do no less for me.

      I hope you find a peaceful ending to your search. For me the answer has been to quit trying so hard and just be.

  • Derek

    Good Advice John. I wish I had heard it when I was at University, before my doubts made me give up religion for 30+ years. But I have now happily discovered that my faith has only deepened from discussing my doubts with others who also have questions.

    Thanks John.

  • Ace

    I'd argue that faith that never questioned or examined is more pantomime and fear than actual faith, anyway.

    One thing that always struck me as quite different with how the Jewish friends I had in school approached spirtuality and religion, than how my Christian friends did, is that my Jewish friends were encouraged to learn, to speak up and to ask questions, even hard or uncomfortable ones about their faith.

    By contrast, a lot of my Christian friends, who came from Evangelical backgrounds, were very much not allowed to do any such thing and seemed suspicious if not outright scandalized when anyone did. Quite a few of them graduated as agnostics or athiests.

    I remember one college friend, who was about as Jesus Freak enthusiastic about her Baptist faith as one could get, went to church Sunday AND Wednesday, and was more than happy to preach the Gospel to anyone who'd stick around long enough to listen. Then she, like many of her family members, developed severe bipolar disorder during our Sophomore year (she got it under control with medication but it still wasn't easy for her to manage). She decided that God was in fact, "a puppy kicker" and cruel, and renounced her faith entirely, declaring herself to be an athiest and a secular humanist and that was the end of it and didn't want to hear a word about it again.

    Faith based purely on emotion just doesn't stand up well over time, I think. So question away, I'd say. Life, such as it is, will necessarily cause you to question your faith sooner or later anyway, I think, and it's probably better to do so when you are in a relatively calm period and have ample time and a cool head than in the heat of a major crisis.

    • Ray Cruitt

      I've always respected the Jews for this tradition. I come from a tradition where you are spoon-fed doctrine and to question it was to show apostate leanings. Needless to say, I could not abide by that dictatorial and wholly rigid way of faith. I am now more or less without faith (if I ever had it to begin with, I have to wonder). Interestingly, I am more engaged in a practice of faith, being agnostic and not necessarily satisfied with this state, than I have ever been when I was a member of a religion. Ironic?

      • Ace

        I'm sorry you were abused like that, truly.

        And it really is abuse to treat people that way, when a church tries to beat down members into submission and shut off their brains.

        I always tell people who are part of religious traditions that way when they try to drag me down into that mess, that you can lead a horse to water, but if you try to force it to drink you are either going to end up with a drowned horse or hooves in your face, but they never quite believe me. :

        • Ray Cruitt

          Thanks, Ace! I appreciate it.

          It's funny, I think being liberated from a stultifying religious tradition and feeling like I'm on my own has, in a strange way, made me more spiritually alive than I can remember. I can only imagine that if there is a God that he'd have wanted it this way. It seems natural, that is a deep and profound search for meaning and place in this world. The only thing I miss about being a member of a religion is the sense of community it affords, but at what price?

          • Tim

            As a member of a church community since 1982, let me say that maintaining faith is hard enough. As a minister in a church community since 1993, I'd say that it becomes even harder.

            People test God, and even more so, people test people. Considering how absolutely awful Christians can be to non-Christians and even other Christians, I've been tempted on a regular basis to just say eff it all and scrap my whole life of faith. But then I always come back to school. Why should I drop out of class…even if more than half the class is flunking?

            The church will always be loaded up with jerky assholes that distract our focus. It's easy to become disheartened and bitter with God when we see the naked aggression and vitriol of unwashed church-goers. It's a painful price to stay and suffer these things. But I always come back to Christ and what He did. That is my model. While I was yet an asshole who was awful to other people, Jesus took my place and suffered my punishment. He forgave me because I didn't know what I was doing. I try to always keep that in mind when I get irritated at someone or some group who has decided to play God, or pretend to be the Holy Spirit and make some poor soul's life a virtual hell on earth.

            If I leave the church out of protest, one less man will intercede for the persecuted. One less person will comfort the wounded. Evil will destroy even more lives and fewer people will be there who care enough to try and stop it.

            Evil triumphs when good men do nothing. No church is perfect. No pastor is perfect. The church is supposed to be symbolic of a body…a bride. When lips speak hurtful words, is it better for the hand to fall of the arm and crawl away, or should it try as hard as possible to cover that nasty mouth?

            There's my sermonette for why the church community is important regardless of how miserable it makes us feel, or what it costs us. I welcome your thoughts, Ray.

          • DR

            If I leave the church out of protest, one less man will intercede for the persecuted. One less person will comfort the wounded. Evil will destroy even more lives and fewer people will be there who care enough to try and stop it.>>>

            First, these comments are all so powerful. Wow, the quality of thoughtful people here is very encouraging (christian and not).

            I guess one could say I've "left the church" in the traditional sense where I don't check in and punch my Mass card on Sunday. Nor do I go regularly. And what I've realized is the Body of Christ exists outside of the four walls of a community of people. The verse really, really, really is true, what we seek? We find. If I'm pursuing Jesus who I'm pretty sure was the Son of God? (not entirely sure). I'm going to discover Him because I'm looking for him, even as I reject hanging out in other places where I presume, others are too. I find the Body of Christ on this blog. I find the truth that I believe he ultimately authors in the atheists who show up here and share their beliefs and their story with such eloquence. I discover him in those who participate here as well as in my (real) life that I find rather one dimensional and ignorant, one can discover the truth in what it is not. We find who and what we seek. If the "church community" as we understand it today is a place where people find what they are looking for. It's just one of the places to experience Jesus.

          • Jeannie

            "If I leave the church out of protest, one less man will intercede for the persecuted. One less person will comfort the wounded. Evil will destroy even more lives and fewer people will be there who care enough to try and stop it."

            I love this!

          • http://luwandi.wordpress.com Beth Luwandi

            I really like this, Tim and DR.

  • Ace

    (Also, if you think no good Christian ever doubts or questions, I'd pick up that book of writings by Mother Theresa that came out a few years ago. I found it quite comforting to know even a saint has bad days decades.)

  • Tanager

    I have moment just about every day where I say to myself "what if this is all something we made up to make ourselves feel better? does it even make any *sense*? what if there is just nothing?" I don't really have any answers. But I also remember that there are questions I can't really even contemplate because I lack the mere ability to comprehend them, or their potential answers…like "what is time? when did the universe begin? does the universe have an endpoint? if it does, what's beyond that? if nothing, then what *is* "nothing?" I can't answer these because I can only see "in part," I believe. So I fall back on my eternal yearnings and C.S. Lewis: "If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world."

    One thing I am sure of: if God exists, and my heart – maybe misguided – tells me that He does – then He has no problem with my questions and doubts. Not one single bit.

    • Ace

      I figure it's like having a blind goldfish in a fish tank.

      That fish only knows its water, and the hard boundaries of its "world" and that food comes from somewhere, but it totally lacks the ability to see the hand involved or the reality outside of its fish tank. If that fish didn't really believe I existed, I don't think I'd blame it for its natural limitations and I'd still love my little goldfishy anyway.

      • Tim

        I meant to reply on this earlier and forgot. Great thought. The blind goldfish is an interesting analogy of God's relationship with unbelievers.

        Guess it is up to God to scoop His hand into the bowl and personally hold us in His hand long enough that we recognize that the fish flakes comes from a provider and not mere happenstance.

        I look back and see with greater clarity that He basically did that for me.

  • http://noisycolorfullively.wordpress.com Monica

    Oh, John. Where were you during my college years?

    Beautiful.

    Spot on.

    Thanks for the reminder.

    It may noy be a crisis of faith, but one facing a crisis of perspective could stand well to follow your advice, as well.

  • ManimalX

    Can't believe I'm actually agreeing (for the most part) with you, Mr. Shore! :)

    You always here of Christians with their favorite "life verses" or "life Scriptures." Well, here is one of mine:

    "But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us." And Jesus said to him, "'If you can'?! All things are possible for one who believes." Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, "I believe; help my unbelief!" – Mark 9:22b-24

    "I believe. Help my unbelief," has been one of my most frequent prayers for nearly 30 years. And the funny thing is… God has answered it every time :)

    You may feel like you are "too smart" for Christianity, but the truth is, you really CAN love the Lord with all of your mind. WITHOUT losing faith!

  • ManimalX

    here = hear

    What an atrocious speller I am when I don't edit my posts before clicking "submit"

  • Lisa

    Great article, and great discussion. Even Mother Teresa had crises of faith. "In my soul I feel just that terrible pain of loss,” she wrote in 1959, “of God not wanting me — of God not being God — of God not existing." I took some comfort in that when I had my own crises, of which there have been a few. And probably more to to come…

  • michael

    nice

  • https://questionablemotives.wordpress.com tildeb

    "Zealous" atheists, John? Come on. Someone has to call you on this.

    Are you as 'zealous' an atheist in regards to Ceres as you are to Hod? Does zealotry really best describe your atheism for all gods save your tripartite one, or is the use of such a word really nothing more than an excuse to use a negative connotation as a general smear against all those who do not share your willingness to believe in a divine supernatural agency?

    • Ace

      I think he's referring to the antitheist Richard Dawkins types of the world, not your average athiest who simply does not believe in any kind of divine being.

      Thought he probably should have drawn a more obvious distinction between the two, because it's not quite the same.

    • Diana

      Hmm. Okay, I'm going to respond to this one.

      Hi tildeb!

      I went back and read John's line about the "Zealous atheists" and I'm a little puzzled as to why that term bothers you. As somewhat who has experienced zealotry on the part of some atheists as well as from various Christians and other theists, I think his term is accurate.

      Also, regarding: "Are you as ‘zealous’ an atheist in regards to Ceres as you are to God? Does zealotry really best describe your atheism for all gods save your tripartite one,…." this argument that Christians and other theists are atheists except as regards our specific deity/s seems inaccurate to me.

      The basic question to me is "Do/es God/s exist?" If I answered that question "no," than the issue of what God or The Gods is/are like would be completely irrelevant to me. Rather like arguing the nature of Santa Claus–Santa Claus is a fictional character to me, so I don't waste a lot of time analyzing his character.

      As it is, because I believe God does exist, this is where I get into the specifics of what God is like. Is Ceres an accurate portrayal of God? Is Zeus an accurate portrayal of God? Is Jesus of Nazareth an accurate portrayal of God? For me, the question of God's existence has been both asked and answered. Now my question is: "What is God like?" I am a Christian because I believe that Jesus of Nazareth is The Christ, The Messiah, The Liberating King sent from God the Father (an archetype!) and is in fact God in the Flesh.

      In other words, I didn't start out analyzing individual Gods/Goddesses and separately believing or disbelieving in each one. I started out with the big question of "Is there, indeed, a God/Godlike Presence?" Only when I had answered that question "yes," did I then get into specifics. And I may be wrong about this, but I think that for most of us, this is how it happens. Yes, we usually start out being indoctrinated into a particular viewpoint (and yes, some people grow up being indoctrinated into an atheist viewpoint–theists are not the only people who indoctrinate their kids–it's called parenthood.) Then we get older and if we're smart we start to question the doctrines we were given. Eventually, we come to our own conclusions, with which we then indoctrinate our own children, thus starting the cycle again. And I think most people question their big ideas first ( "Is there or is there not a God?") and then work their way down to the smaller, more supporting ideas ("Is Jesus of Nazareth God?", though again, I could be wrong.

      • https://questionablemotives.wordpress.com tildeb

        Hi Diana,

        Thanks for the thoughtful response.

        Although I would love to see people come to their religious convictions through honest inquiry – especially at universities where critical thinking and commentary among and between peers can be such an invigorating teaching tool – I suspect agnosticism like yours is not the common starting default opinion. So I'm just curious: how do you account for geography rather than any other theological truth claim playing such a central role in answering the very question you raised (“What is God like?” I am a Christian because I believe that Jesus of Nazareth is The Christ, The Messiah, The Liberating King sent from God the Father (an archetype!) and is in fact God in the Flesh.)?

        • Diana

          How do I account for geography rather than any other theological truth claim playing a central role in how we answer theological questions? In a way, I think I kind of covered that when I brought up whole issue of childhood indoctrination. Everything we learn starts out in the home in which we grew and I don't think anyone is capable of complete separation from that viewpoint once we become adults. At best, we learn to question it–but even the questions are somewhat shaded by our childhood experiences.

          Agnosticism is a viewpoint for which I have a great deal of respect simply because it admits to not knowing. I try really hard to allow a healthy agnosticism to permeate all my experiences, including my religious ones. Whether I succeed or not is a matter of opinion.

          Does this answer your question? Or, have I completely missed the point?

          • https://questionablemotives.wordpress.com tildeb

            Well, it does answer the question, Diana, which may cause you to reflect on what actually informs your previous answer. And this is in part what the young man in David's email is undergoing: how much honest intellectual integrity informs our beliefs and how much of it is indoctrination? How do we balance the costs of beliefs against the benefits from holding them? How much importance do we place on what's true and what's simply socially convenient and how can we know how much we colour our justifications for what we believe by these kinds of considerations because they are not trivial. Most importantly, how does what we believe empower how we act, and are we making this young man's honest quest easier or harder by our attitudes and actions and words of advice?

            I happen to think that agnosticism is a very convenient cop out that sounds good, makes sense on its surface, but is at its heart dishonest. I don't think anyone honestly thinks that Odin may or may not be real; we act as if, by an absence of good reasons for believing in Odin, we are honest in our assumption that we have no good reasons to currently believe. Our opinions can change, of course, if suddenly there are good reasons to change our mind, but to slide into an intellectual position of "I don't know" regarding Odin I don't think is very courageous or honourable or worthy of respect. And for me, that covers all belief claims in the supernatural. Extraordinary claims, as they say (I always wanted to be one of these mysterious 'they' people who are always in the know), require extraordinary evidence, and for me to believe in Odin requires at least that much.

          • DR

            How much honest intellectual integrity informs our beliefs and how much of it is indoctrination? How do we balance the costs of beliefs against the benefits from holding them? How much importance do we place on what’s true and what’s simply socially convenient and how can we know how much we colour our justifications for what we believe by these kinds of considerations because they are not trivial. Most importantly, how does what we believe empower how we act, and are we making this young man’s honest quest easier or harder by our attitudes and actions and words of advice?>>>

            These questions remind me of a book I read about experiencing faith called "The Kingdom Within" by an author named John Sanford. He said that for Christians to have an actual experience of faith, it requires us to be "in the wilderness" of our mind and heart. How that translates for Christians is often the necessity of stepping out of how we were introduced to the faith we say we have (I guess you might call that indoctrination). That the most potentially dangerous "believer" there is in any set of beliefs is the one that refuses to step out of their particular herd. Christians have their Christian community (and unfortunately most of American modern society) that represents their "herd" that's guided by a particular set of authority figures or reference materials or bodies of thought that serve as the last word on what is "right". For some it's the Bible, for some science, others the Pope, others the Oral Traditions, others just simply themselves. But we all have an authority we ultimately look to in order to validate what we believe.

            Atheists have their own tribe of like-minded people they refer to and go on auto-pilot with. Jews, Wiccans – we all have a "tribe". *All* of us would benefit (in my opinion) in demonstrating the willingness to say "There is too much safety in my particular numbers" and enter a wilderness experience in order to ensure that how we've all been indoctrinated is what truly stands as "true" in our actual interior.

            For me as a Christian, I'm beginning to believe that the best example of "Church" we may have is what happens at an AA meeting. A group of very broken, honest people who gather together and quietly look together for support and guidance from a Higher Power. Fighting about who that Higher Power is doesn't happen in AA – people are there to repair the damage they've caused to themselves, their families and the world. I think that's the best example of what religion could be (or perhaps actually is).

          • Diana

            I like this! Thanks DR!

          • https://questionablemotives.wordpress.com tildeb

            It sounds to me, DR, like the book you mention repackages a very old notion about the hero's journey each of us must undertake if we are to grow up. The idea is that we must leave behind what is safe and familiar and enter the wilderness alone, learning as we go how to use the experiences to transcend our old (childish) self into the new (mature and wiser) adult version. It takes courage and perseverance.

            I appreciate the thought you put into this comment and have been pondering several ideas you present… but I'm a bit stuck on your notion of all of us turning to an authority for our beliefs when thinking about many of the other atheists I have come across.

            When I read Atheists have their own tribe of like-minded people they refer to and go on auto-pilot with. I actually laughed out loud, certainly not at you but at the notion of just how 'strident' and skewering would be the combined criticism from exactly these like-minded people! Each I think would be honestly mortified to be considered an 'authority' figure for non belief; the independent streak combined with a very strong sense of personal responsibility for one's self (especially one's sense of self and what one thinks) is of paramount importance, which is about as far from any notion of turning to authority for justification of beliefs (or, in the case of atheists, non belief) as one can get. That's why I mentioned the 'skewering' that would take place.

            Again, DR, thanks for your thoughts.

          • DR

            Each I think would be honestly mortified to be considered an ‘authority’ figure for non belief; the independent streak combined with a very strong sense of personal responsibility for one’s self (especially one’s sense of self and what one thinks) is of paramount importance,.>>>

            I actually wrote that particular graph with intention. It's been my experience that the atheists in my life (they represent the majority of my friendships and professional life) do have an authority – it's just as you described, it's their own "self". They gravitate toward those who reject the notion of any one figure validating their existence which is the litmus test they eventually assess anyone or anything against (like we all do). But the point being, we all have some kind of litmus test agent by which we validate what is true.

          • https://questionablemotives.wordpress.com tildeb

            Maybe I misread you, DR, but it seems that you are suggesting that atheists are using the self as an authority… as in, I think X, so X must be true because I (self) think it.

            My experience with atheists is that 'X' is held to be true unless 'Y' challenges it successfully on better reasons. Then 'Y' becomes what the self thinks! In this regard, I'm not sure I can agree with you about the self being the authority, other than always being personally responsible for what X or Y opinion one has.

            If I ask an atheist why he or she thinks 'X', I almost never get a reference that it is because he or she thinks it so; instead, I get a rather detailed explanation, which often utilizes all kinds of other authorities who have high levels of expertise in whatever the subject may be to further explain why 'X' or 'Y' is held to be true. In this sense, sure, authorities are used all the time. (I go to a doctor over a health concern because I grant that professional a higher level of medical expertise than I have, although I may be far more an 'expert' on myself than any doctor may be. I go because my medical knowledge about my current medical condition is inadequate.)

            As for validating one's existence, I suspect (although I cannot prove) most atheists would take one of two pretty standard positions: a) the notion of some exterior validation for one's life makes no sense other than the obvious biological reality that one IS, or b) we make our own meaning for our lives.

            As for validating what is true, I doubt any atheist would walk past that one without diving into a passionate explanation about epistemology and ontology and natural methodology and outlining sophisticated reasons about the boundaries of possible knowledge. (For example, a certain number of birds are in the air as I write this, and each has a very specific weight. Can we ever know what that total weight of flying birds is? No. Does that mean there is no 'correct' answer? No. It simply means we cannot know it.) So the 'litmus test' you mention for determining what is true is a rather large compilation of understanding subtle and nuanced differences about the kinds of answers (or classifications) we can legitimately come to know and the kinds of answers we can never know and the kinds of answers that are unknowable. These are three very different 'litmus tests' and there are others. This may help explain why atheists seem to be somewhat aggressive in their conversations, but it should be told that they are just as impassioned and zealous (to utilize David's word) arguing vehemently with each other over minor reasoning discrepancies and refutations as they may be attempting to argue with the religious over some much larger and personally meaningful conclusion that fails from the atheist's perspective a host of litmus tests!

          • Matthew Tweedell

            Do I honestly understand what the hell you're talking about when you refer to "Odin"? No, I can't say that I do. I mean, I've heard there is such a god in the traditional Norse pantheon. Wikipedia tells me that he "is associated with wisdom, war, battle, and death, and also magic, poetry, prophecy, victory, and the hunt." Now, in some sense or another, for each of these associations, I do have to say we are referring to some existing reality. But what of some sort of common ground behind them all that we could call Odin? I haven't really considered Norse theology sufficiently to pass judgment in this regard. And I am in no mood to do so—do you realize how long that would take and how pointless it would be? By pointless I mean, what I'm I to do with if I am enlightened with the understanding of Odin's reality? Go join my local temple to Odin? And it isn't the full reality, which I already have, in Christ. No, it'd be like doing extensive research to learn about the nature of the Pope's grandma. I'm sure she's had some sort of important influence (at the very least, genetic), but I just don't care that much about all the details of her and figuring what of the reality of, say, the pope, might be explained by understanding her reality behind him. I have better things to do and much more to learn about that would constitute considerably more useful info. So I remain ignorant here and openly acknowledge it. So allow me to defer (as I routinely do to other authorities in matters atomical to astronomical) to current theological consensus, to the final conclusions of the Norse chieftains and Kings, and to those traditions that seemed to have whatever is truly associated with victory on their side, to conclude that something is better about Christian belief.

            It is YOU who take the cop-out, being simply too afraid to openly acknowledge—and probably even to admit it to yourself—that you really don't understand what Odin is at all, so you wouldn't know if Odin exists if he was staring you right in the face; have you actually searched the whole world to confirm that there isn't actually some old guy with a beard somewhere who calls himself Odin?

          • https://questionablemotives.wordpress.com tildeb

            Matthew, breath. That's it. Calm yourself.

            There is far more evidence that Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy exist than there is for Odin, yet somehow I suspect you do not hold an agnostic account of their veracity. Why is that, I wonder?

            I have zero reasons for withholding my belief that Odin may exist. You suggest that I must march forth and somehow prove he doesn't exist in order to justify my non belief. This is foolishness: Neither of us can prove mushrooms are not intergalactic spies sent to discover the evil intentions for world domination of their arch nemesis broccoli, nor that an invisible tiny weasel doesn't live in your left nostril, but that doesn't mean we have any good reasons for believing either might be true.

            I am guilty as charged, however, in that I do not understand what Odin is all about. Like you, I am told Odin is a Norse god and we honour a day every week to him. But the fact remains that I have no good reasons to think he's any more real than Shakespeare's Ariel. Unless and until such reasons are provided, to suspend judgment is hardly wisdom in action.

          • Matthew Tweedell

            Umm… about Santa… did read the comment to Diana (below)?

            Perhaps you just don't get it.

            "You suggest that I must march forth and somehow prove he doesn’t exist in order to justify my non belief."

            No. Actually, I don't.

            Now, I think I clearly indicated my own complete lack of belief in any sort of "Odin". That is a completely separate matter from whether or not someone or something exists that some soul somewhere knows or knew by that name. Regarding this, I just don't know in the way that I know that you exist (you do exist, right?) despite the fact that here too I have no reason say that I believe in you, tildeb.

          • https://questionablemotives.wordpress.com tildeb

            First off, MT, you did ask have you actually searched the whole world to confirm that there isn’t actually some old guy with a beard somewhere who calls himself Odin?

            Secondly, you write It is YOU who take the cop-out, being simply too afraid to openly acknowledge—and probably even to admit it to yourself—that you really don’t understand what Odin is at all, so you wouldn’t know if Odin exists if he was staring you right in the face. The cop out you mention refers to agnosticism about the god Odin. You suggest that because I don't know enough about this god, I really can't know if he does or does not exist. This is called the Courtier's Reply argument.

            And because you have evidence of my response directly in front of you, you at least have some reason to suspect I exist… a benchmark that is not equaled by your suggestion that perhaps someone somewhere may have evidence that Odin does (or once did) exist. You are being dishonest if you suggest that the two (some evidence for vs no evidence for) equate and therefore justify the "I don't know" cowardice of theological agnosticism.

          • Matthew Tweedell

            But I clearly stated that I DO know that you exist! This isn't a matter of "belief"; I have good evidence that it is a fact. When I "believe" in someone though, that's something more than acknowledgment of his or her existence.

            You are being dishonest if you suggest that I suggest that the evidence I have for you and for Odin are in any way comparable! It's you, it seems, who stand under the tent of cowardice, clinging to the false security of vain certainty. (Thus are you dishonest with yourself even about what it is I am actually saying.)

            Perhaps I've misunderstand the Courtier's Reply, or perhaps you have misunderstood my argument, but I don't see any connection with what you linked to except in that you are saying that if you haven't seen emperor’s clothes, just because you haven't really bothered to take the opportunity to get a glimpse of him in person, you should assume that his clothes (and you even go so far as to say him himself) are nonexistent.

            If I do not know what something is, I do not know if it could possibly exist even—a far cry from knowing that it necessarily does or doesn't.

          • Matthew Tweedell

            I suppose I'm going to actually have to look into Odin's existence to get you to understand. So I've found that there are three books written by a certain Odin (far more that the amount of written evidence I have for the existence of tildeb). It is claimed that she's a post-modern literary theorist with the University of Hawaii (who’s apparently into mysticism, no less). I conclude then that Odin exists. The next question then is whether Odin is worthy of being called a god. For this, we would need to examine our understanding—and to establish some mutual understanding—of the nature of that word.

            (In particular, I suppose it ought to be considered within the context of Norse theology, which I'm not particularly eager to do. If, however, we’re to apply the sense of "god" with which I am most familiar, proper to Abrahamic theology, I'd conclude that Odin is not one. Either way, I'm not about to put my faith in Odin, despite the fact that Odin exists—I don't know him/her, and I doubt that this is the same Odin that most of those who've believed in Odin believed in anyway. And then what makes for the "real" Odin? How are we to recognize him? {The obvious additional restriction that he's male doesn't really help much, and I don't think most actually considered him to have literal male anatomy.} We know there are variations upon his name {such as Woten}; could he perhaps go by other, rather different names as well? My conclusion: I don't know, and I don't care.)

          • Matthew Tweedell

            It is not cowardly, but rather brave, to know that one knows not.

            Cowardly would it be to be too afraid to challenge people like you; perhaps that's what you think of when agnostics say, "I'm not sure," instead of "You're wrong." Yet I am in no wise a coward, though I've learned it to be wise –valiant even– to avoid harsh rhetoric if possible. But dude, you are wrong.

          • https://questionablemotives.wordpress.com tildeb

            Are you really and honestly uncertain that a gigantic invisible pink elephant will not drop on you today?

            If you are AS open to this possibility as you are doubtful, and to be consistent using exactly the same reasoning you have revealed for agnosticism in the Norse god Odin, then I tip my hat to your intellectually 'honest' and 'courageous' agnosticism.

            But I don't believe you.

          • Matthew Tweedell

            This is getting rediculous. As I understand these words in this context, the existence of something invisible and pink is simply a logical impossibility. Anyway—here's where I step into the realm of faith—I feel confident that no kind of elephant will drop on me today—a confidence fully supported by my lifetime experience and what I know of the experiences of all others I've ever come in contact with.

        • DR

          Although I would love to see people come to their religious convictions through honest inquiry>>>

          I don't disagree that critical thinking would be very beneficial, but I think this statement reflects the gaps between a set of beliefs that are rooted within an adoption of a particular world view vs. an actual spiritual experience. Like John, my "conversion" to Christ was sudden and for lack of a better term, supernatural. I'm not the sharpest knife in the drawer but I've a deep appreciation for critical thinking (my job depends upon it). The experience didn't replace that, nor did it diminish it. It was just an experience like falling in love and coming alive in ways I hadn't before. I offer this not to be "blah blah blah go Jesus" – I don't disagree with anything you offer and think that Christians often adopt a world view that's not tempered at all by some very important non-religious ideologies. But there is a point where the world view of a Christian is influenced by what occurs in the spirit.

      • Matthew Tweedell

        If you reject belief Santa Claus, you ought reject belief in Christ; otherwise you reject the consistency of logic, and thus any objective truth (a position for which I—along with anyone worthy of being counted human—am obliged to maintain zero tolerance).

    • Tim

      I'm a zealous believer in Christ. I don't take that word as negative connotation. It means I am sold on the belief in, and the teachings of Christ to the extent that I enthusiastically attempt their application to my life. If someone happens to ask me why I believe in Christ, I will eagerly give them an answer. Yes. Zealous. Having zeal. Maybe most atheists don't have any enthusiasm regarding their disbelief, but I would bet some have zealously tried to argue fact and reason with a person of faith that they wanted to dissuade from a life wasted on what they believed to be fairy tales.

    • DR

      This is only my experience, but all of the atheists in my life are quite zealous and quite adamant in what they believe about NOT believing, as well as what they believe about religion. They have absolutely no qualms in offering it, they do not waver and for some of my dearest friends. if they could destroy all organized religion (or make it illegal), they would and would do so without hesitating.

      There are religious fundamentalists. There are secular fundamentalists. Both are the opposite side of the same fundamentalist coin, if you take the particular belief system out of the conversation? They generally sound exactly the same.

      And so do those with zeal (I wouldn't put them in the same category as fundamentalists, necessarily). I like atheists who are zealots because they tend to have the courage of their convictions and I know exactly where I stand. It's really uncomfortable, but I respect it.

      • https://questionablemotives.wordpress.com tildeb

        I'm very hesitant about responding to this comment without appearing to cause offense but I think it must be said.

        The notion of passion exhibited by many atheists is not descriptive of 'belief in non belief' as you suggest (zealous and quite adamant in what they believe about NOT believing). This is very intentional twisting of language to make believers and non believers seem to be flip sides of a similar currency of belief. But it is very misleading. It's like defining an unmarried person as another kind of married person… except to a non spouse; a person who does not own a car to be another kind of car owner… except to a non car; and so on. Non belief in supernatural divine agency, to be clear, is not another kind of belief; it is the absence of similar (and/or sympathetic) belief.

        The zealousness attributed to atheists is not in relation to any kind of alternative belief or world view or perspective and it's important to understand why this difference is critical. It is a passionate caring and deep concern about how we can come to know what is probably true about the natural world. It is a zeal about how we inform ways of gaining this knowledge, about the importance of testing whether or not this knowledge is reliable, practical, verifiable, and falsifiable. It is a zeal about establishing a common currency of rational discourse about what can be known about the natural world, for as soon as one opens up the door for that discourse to include the intentions and wishes and expressions of some supernatural agency as a way to justify our knowledge about the natural, and be asked to offer equal respect to this way of knowing as if it were justified, then we no longer have a common currency of a rational discourse about what we can know about the natural world.

        It is one thing to have beliefs about supernatural agencies; it is quite another to insert those beliefs into claims about the natural without adequate justification. And this unjustified insertion of beliefs is the cause of the kind of passionate response from atheists we call zealous.

        • Diana

          "It is a passionate caring and deep concern about how we can come to know what is probably true about the natural world. It is a zeal about how we inform ways of gaining this knowledge, about the importance of testing whether or not this knowledge is reliable, practical, verifiable, and falsifiable. It is a zeal about establishing a common currency of rational discourse about what can be known about the natural world, for as soon as one opens up the door for that discourse to include the intentions and wishes and expressions of some supernatural agency as a way to justify our knowledge about the natural, and be asked to offer equal respect to this way of knowing as if it were justified, then we no longer have a common currency of a rational discourse about what we can know about the natural world."

          So, let me see if I understand: Atheists (by your definition) care deeply about truth as revealed through the physical senses (seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, smelling.) They care more about physically verifiable realities than they do about speculating about not-so-physically verifiable realities, that may not be realities at all, but pure fantasy. They want to make sure that discussions of reality remain grounded in what is physically verifiable and not intermixed with viewpoints that can not be physically verified.

          Is this a fair summary of your viewpoint, or did I miss something?

          • https://questionablemotives.wordpress.com tildeb

            Diana, I'm getting a sense of hostility from your response to my comment and I apologize if I gave you cause. I'm not as good a wordsmith as David and I am certainly less gifted in making my comments moderate.

            What I meant to explain is why so many atheists – especially those of us who have been labeled as New atheists because we dare to promote non belief – seem so zealous. We're zealous because we care more about what's probably true than we do about respecting people's beliefs about they think may be true. (Maybe that's a character flaw.) Much of this is based on coming to know what justifies the difference (between what is probably true and what is believed to be true) because there is an important difference.

            This difference plays out in all kinds of public policies and personal decisions so knowing which is which really helps to understand why, for example, public funding of health care should not include those treatments that don't work or are simply harmful. How do we know they don't work? Well, if all we do is rely on those people who believe the treatment works and pit them against those who believe the treatment doesn't work, we're no farther ahead in making an informed decision one way or the other. And that's why we establish rules of efficacy: the onus is on a producer who claims a product does something efficacious to prove that efficacy. I don't personally care if someone touting a product has his or her feelings hurt if that product is shown to be harmful. (See here for the latest example)

            When misguided beliefs mistakenly link autism with vaccinations and empowers a new outbreak of measles to kill real children unnecessarily, then we need to recognize that how we determine if beliefs are well informed and probably true is very important. What's true matters and is far more important a base for informed public policy than simply tolerating whatever beliefs people choose to endorse simply because they are cherished beliefs.

            Everybody has what he or she thinks are good reasons for holding opinions and beliefs. I think some of these reasons are better than others. I think some beliefs are better than others. We need to be careful how we determine which is which. We need to be aware of how we interpret our experiences before we extend them as if they are knowledge (they may be!) into the world because they may have significant consequences that harm others. I think we need to be open to seriously considering other reasons and other beliefs but critical and skeptical about claims that are extended into the world as knowledge that do not have any means to otherwise verify. I think we need to be much more reluctant to extend our beliefs into affecting public policies if the basis of what we think of as our knowledge is not subject to independent validation.

            These are some of the issues about belief in which I am passionate. The reality I care most about is the one affected by our beliefs.

  • MKatch

    I'm an atheist and wasn't offended by the "zealous" comment. I simply took it as a fair representation of how many atheists in their college years act. I knew plenty of friends who as soon as they gave up their religious background — if they had one — wanted everyone else to realize how obvious a decision it was. Though in this case giving up your faith in the Christian God is a big, life-altering deal, and it is to be expected that people might get a little riled up when first undergoing the process. Still, I wouldn't say Mr. Shore was being insensitive here. To take it as such is to ignore the tone present throughout the piece, as he uses a fairly informal and pat-on-the-back McJones tone, and I highly doubt this casual use of the word zealous was actually aimed to incite harsh feelings.

    I'm not a believer myself, but I'm glad there are people like Mr. Shore who know the balance between outright zealot and easily that can mix into this sort of casual tone (think of any political radio talkshow ever).

    • MKatch

      please read as "how easily that can mix"… yes, proofreading… I think they taught me that at university.

      • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

        Thanks very much for the thoughtful defense, MK. You got it exactly right. College students in the main are zealous, strident, impassioned, and … all like that. That's all I meant.

        • https://questionablemotives.wordpress.com tildeb

          Maybe it the time spent growing up during blatant discrimination against gays when it was typical to label any homosexual who had the militancy to complain about unfair treatment as an 'activist' (and who was therefore pursuing the 'homosexual agenda') that has me attuned to words like 'zealot' to describe those atheists today who have the strident 'arrogance' to dare criticize publicly the assumption of respect that has long been offered to anything under the label of 'religious'.

          You're right: students are impassioned about a range of issues and this is something to be welcomed. But I still think it is ironic how often the language that describes unwholesome and extreme religious belief is used so freely to describe those who publicly defend non belief. Someday perhaps I will come across some positive words for these honest folk, especially from writers who are usually very moderate in most other opinions.

          I write this because it is very difficult in many western countries for young people to be treated fairly and with equal respect if they are or are coming to be atheists; instead, there is a significant social cost as if there is something wrong, something lacking in one's character, with being a non believer. Descriptive words that have a negative connotation are the default and this is a subtle form of support and breathing room for bigotry to be maintained.

          Is the advice offered to the young man who wrote the letter in his best interest, the best interest of his honest inquiry, or in the best interest of the responder? And that's the danger of advice: someone might follow it.

          • Diana

            "I write this because it is very difficult in many western countries for young people to be treated fairly and with equal respect if they are or are coming to be atheists; instead, there is a significant social cost as if there is something wrong, something lacking in one’s character, with being a non believer. Descriptive words that have a negative connotation are the default and this is a subtle form of support and breathing room for bigotry to be maintained."

            This is changing. Slowly, but it's changing. In fact, among younger people at least, I've noticed a distinct tendency to ridicule and ostracize people of faith–especially the Christian faith. It may be that I am just oversensitive to this, but it is what I have seen.

          • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore
          • https://questionablemotives.wordpress.com tildeb

            Thanks John. Good writing!

          • http://dianer.blogspot.com/ DR

            I don't mean to fawn, but I've been really challenged by some of the things you've offered in these comments. I hope you keep participating.

          • https://questionablemotives.wordpress.com tildeb

            That goes both ways, DR. Just remember that my intentions are good if I happen to tick you off and that it's never meant as a personal attack but a criticism of ideas. And I will assume likewise!

          • DR

            Yes, please do. I know I fired off at David C this morning, but know that's based on historic experiences with him here. Not because of his comment (which in and of itself – minus his history – wouldn't have been such a big deal).

            I like this site because of the interaction with people who aren't christian. I get a little tired of the insular nature of christian communities (which I chose for a very long time). It was an atheist who actually woke me up to realizing I wasn't really living what Christ professed through my politics and a number of different things. I think the best thing for Christians like me, at least, are people who aren't Christian. So welcome, welcome. (I'm saying that like this is my blog).

          • DR

            Maybe it the time spent growing up during blatant discrimination against gays when it was typical to label any homosexual who had the militancy to complain about unfair treatment as an ‘activist’ (and who was therefore pursuing the ‘homosexual agenda’) that has me attuned to words like ‘zealot’ to describe those atheists today who have the strident ‘arrogance’ to dare criticize publicly the assumption of respect that has long been offered to anything under the label of ‘religious’.>>>

            Oh, that makes perfect sense. I'd probably react much in the same way based on that experience.

          • Ben

            >>"I write this because it is very difficult in many western countries for young people to be treated fairly and with equal respect if they are or are coming to be atheists"

            I think you'll find that this is only seriously true in one western country – USA. Europe (esp. the UK), Australia and New Zealand all have a significant secular leaning in public discourse. Not sure about Canada, mind you, but I've never gotten the indication that they are that religious either.

            Here in Australia, being young and Christian will get you far less respect than being young and athiest – I know because I was both.

            Equal respect for all would be nice but our western mindset seems predicated towards polarisation.

          • Diana

            This is so true–especially your last sentence. Thanks for sharing, Ben!

  • Diana

    "If that’s it, doubt that. Have at it. What do you have to lose? If God/Christ is real, he can take it, and will surely be there for you when you return. If he’s not real — if all the zealous atheists you’ve surely already met at your school are right — than the sooner you know that, the better. So go ahead, mate. Doubt away."

    I like this. I also like what you said about making time to be alone so he can look inside his heart and soul. Once again, John, you hit the nail on the head!

  • amelia

    I'm going to share this with my daughter (a zealous athiest). Thanks, John. <3

  • JohnB

    John, as always, well thought out and insightful. I'm going to refer to my self as grandpa canethumper to my kids whenever I have one of those "OMG, I sound like my dad" moments. :)

    To whoever wrote the email:

    When I was young, I attended a fundamentalist Christian church. I met some amazing people who were kind and giving. I am proud of the values they taught me, and have fond memories of outreach work, choirs, and church activities. On the other hand, some those people were among the most intolerant, bigoted, and insensitive people I have ever met. The contradiction between what I was taught and how I saw people act was hard to handle. I ended up taking a break from religion while I went to college.

    I went through about 15 years of struggling with the "What do I do with this doubt about God and Jesus Christ that’s in my mind?" Ultimately my struggle ended about 5 years ago.

    I've got this advice to offer:

    Find a local community of Christians (some call this a church, but on-line works too) that you can connect with, and make some friends there. Perhaps they have something like a weekly rotating dinner. Perhaps they have some young adult groups or activities. Point is: get to know them on more than a superficial level so you can find out if it is right for you. If that group doesn't work for you, find another, and try again.

    A community of people who share your values will help you with your struggles. You can be sure many of them are either going through the same thing, or have found a way to solve the "doubt" question already.

    • Matthew Tweedell

      Wow! Impressively neutral vantage-point, JohnB!

  • http://www.trinitylc.org Siri C. Erickson

    So well said, John! I would only add that choosing great friends with whom you can share the journey with will make all the difference.

  • Bill

    A little background first. John knows, and maybe some of you readers that I'm divorced (20 years now) and gay with two grown successful sons and three granddaughters. Tho I knew it since high school and acted on it sometimes, I struggled mightily with it particularly in my 40's (I'm 66 now). They were years of agony and prayer and what I discovered toward the end was REAL faith, the kind without fear and trepidation. Not faith in tradition but faith in God, whatever he/she/it is. And I discovered God within me, not "out there" somewhere. I was flat on my face several times during that period when all the trappings and traditions fell away and there we were, me and Jesus, and that did not fall away. I've belonged to congregations since then, but now even that is gone. It's just me and God as personified by Jesus and his message. Two sentences ago I wrote "whatever he/she/it is". That was deliberate because I feel that I really know the answer to that. It's been in the Bible all along. "God is Love". It really is that simple. All the rest is window dressing and to the question some may ask of how I can profess faith in God while being confidently gay I suggest that God doesn't care. "He who lives in Love lives in God and God in him". The so called scriptural condemnation of homosexuality is false human traditional interpretation. You see, I didn't rely entirely upon my own imagination to come to this conclusion about my life. I read and and learned about Biblical history and exegesis and early Christianity and learned that much of what Christians in general call "faith" is not faith in God, but faith in traditions, even faith in the Bible which is, after all, the (perhaps sometimes inspired) writings and interpretations of other humans. I finally came to the point of speaking to God and saying that I am going to be who I am and Love as I am given and "if you don't approve, then I will trust that you will guide me differently." That was many years ago and today I am confidently gay.

    I hope that young man reads this because my point in all this is to suggest to him that what he is doubting is not God so much but what his faith thus far has consisted of. Do as John suggest, young man. Look inward and I think you will find a new faith as I did, that your faith so far has been in "traditions" and that traditions are not God. And have some faith in your own mind and heart. God gave you an intellect after all and I've concluded that one of the greatest "sins" Christians indulge in is rejection of God's gift of our intellects and reasoning. Too many Christians take Paul's admonishment about the mind and heart being deceivers to extremes and shut down their own critical thinking skills altogether. Yes, they can be deceptive, so keep that in mind as you allow your mind and heart to lead you. After all, THAT is precisely where and how God speaks to us, right? It is there you will find your new faith, NOT in the Bible by itself. One cannot find faith outside of oneself.

    • http://farfromthisshore.wordpress.com Don Whitt

      @Bill,

      "One cannot find faith outside of oneself."

      I like that a lot. It's not the "belief system", but "how" and "why" you believe.

    • A'isha

      Bill, that is the greatest comment I've read. Seriously. I'm in my 40s now, and it seems I'm going through what you went through in your 40s. I would really be interested in reading more about your life and struggles and how you've gotten to this point in your life. Do you have a blog yourself?

  • Gina Powers

    John…freakin'….Shore….how the HELL did you do that??? For the last week or so, my um, spiritual mojo kinda got derailed, and I've actually been asking God to, I dunno, tickle me or something (yeah, I KNOW….I never said I WASN'T a dork) and remind me he actually is here. You're weirding me out, John…and thank you, to both you and the original author. I hope his spirituality continues to evolve, and your answer was sensitive and awesome. My two cents of late: I'm thinking you can run, but you can't hide–our papa will always find us somehow…..great job, guys!

  • DR

    Man. The people who participate here are really, really wonderful.

  • http://blueberrypancakesfordinner.wordpress.com blueberrypancakesfor

    that was perfect john. PERFECT.

  • Ben

    Amen, John.

    Christ can handle doubt and, to my mind, true faith even requires it.

    It’s apathy that’s the killer. Especially if it’s accompanied by all the shiny things that help us “amuse ourselves to death”.

  • DonP

    Dear Doubter,

    Ask questions of God or the Universe or the PTB or what ever Higher Power you can believe ……..is. Do it alone and quietly. Believe that that Power is and that it has your best interest at heart and you will receive your answer. If you continue in that exercise the Higher Power will guide you into all the truth that you can contain. Seek without fanfare. Seek honestly. Seek respectfully of others weaknesses and beliefs.

    Mostly though…………. enjoy life without harm to others. It was made just for you.

  • David Clemes

    Yes, you should doubt. Read your bible cover to cover. there are more atrocities ordered by "GodJesusHolySpirit" than Hitler. It is filled with contradictions and was altered for the hundreds of years after Christ. The very way the bible came to be is all the proof anyone needs to understand that it is not the perfect work of a God.

    • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

      Careful there, tiger. Play nice.

      • DonP

        John, I have reminded myself of pearls and swine. Or some vague memory thereof.

        • DR

          It's been awfully refreshing to deal with non-Christians/atheists who are actually here for discussion and demonstrate an ability to be civil and not disrespect someone's sacred text so dismissively. I'll be honest in needing them to provide a more mature perspective on their beliefs and their experiences. I was so stupid to believe that guys like David C actually cared about the dialogue. They don't. And I don't say that with bitterness (much), it was just this ignorance I was clinging to which is gone.

          This is a classic example of how atheists can be as hostile and close-minded in the name of righteous anger. He thinks he's different from the religious fundamentalists, but he's really not.

          I've done a lot of growing up in the last few months (thanks to guys like David). No more nice little christian girl. Bullies need standing up to. If his atheist peeps won't do it, I don't mind.

          • David Clemes

            Don't worry John I'm playing nice. I did not state anything that is not true.

          • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

            No, David. That's not playing nice. That's being an asshole. Do it one more time and you're outta here.

          • DR

            I'm morbidly fascinated with people like David who hate Christians so much it's almost palpable, but will alter his name and come back for more discussion with the very people he hates. Though he refuses to actually engage in any meaningful way, he just says the same thiings over and over again, your basic fundamentalist rants in the form of "educational comments".

            It's odd to see secular fundamentalists espouse such generalized hatred for a group of people while taking rather extreme steps (avoiding bans by changing his name) to actually interact with us. I think that reveals more about David than he realizes.

          • David Clemes

            I fail to see where I have expressed hate. I am not your enemy, you are not my enemy. I have engaged in a discussion and nobody cares to answer a single point. I have been mislabeled as "hurt" although I am not. I have asked simple questions.

          • DR

            Enemy? What are you talking about? It's very simple. To date on this forum, you demand people answer your questions about slavery and why they won't acknowledge the Bible is bad in the ways you believe it is. When they don't answer according to your terms? You claim that we don't answer your questions and then go on to say that Christians are sheep.

            You don't see this (I think your anger makes you incapable of seeing it, nor do you seem to be here to learn anything about yourself, you're just here to "educate" others). but you're just as dogmatic and myopic as the fundamentalist christians you despise. You're mind is just as closed as theirs are. And that's evidenced through your questions have to date, not actually been questions, they've simply been statements in the form of questions.

            I realize you see Christians as being a lot less intellectually savvy as you are (this is the perception you create), and that's fine – who cares, everyone's going to live despite your opinion. But stop deluding yourself – your behavior here has been really bad,

            So who knows – maybe you'll actually entertain having an open mind. I doubt it, but John seems to seem that you possess that capacity. I don't think you do, you've proven that, but John is far more gracious than I am.

          • DR

            Lastly, you know why you get under my skin? Because I actually believed that you were a good guy. I really believed you were here with an open mind that wanted to really talk instead of being the kind of atheist that just took shots at Christians as a whole and the text they hold so sacred. I defended you! But I was naive and stupid for doing so. Thank you for opening my eyes that assholes exist in all forms, including atheists. I'm done giving you a pass for your boorish behavior on this site because you've been wounded. How about trying to model some of that enlightened civility you infer we don't possess. That might get you a little further (not that you're interested, I think you're more of a drive by hate kind of guy).

          • Old Stuff

            It's OK DC…I'm and 'asshole' too. I get 'ya man! :-)

    • DonP

      In this case Perfection is in the ear of the hearing. The deaf hear nothing and when they speak it is evident.

    • Tim

      Yes. God did order His chosen people to do some things that are hard to reconcile with the notion of an all loving, all forgiving God. But if God is who the Bible says He is, then He is the ultimate and final arbiter of all judgment. Hitler wasn't God, and neither am I.

      If I kill or order the killing of anyone, I better be ready to prove self defense beyond a reasonable doubt. I've read my Bible numerous times and studied and meditated on those events. Without exception, God killed and ordered killing because it was essential to the survival of His people. We don't always recognize the clear cut lines of righteous motivation in those events, but then, we're not particularly righteous ourselves. If God is the perfect sole overlord and creator of the cosmos, I pretty much have to defer to His judgement no matter how darkly in a glass I can see the merit.

      Oh, and here's the kicker that atheists and non-Christians always hate to hear…if Adolf found sincere faith and whole-heartedly trusted Jesus Christ to cover his atrocities before he died, then I guess I'll see the little fellow goose-stepping with joy alongside the rest of us sinners one day. In God's economy, we all deserve annihilation. I suppose it was His prerogative to drive that lesson home for our sake.

      • Diana

        "Oh, and here’s the kicker that atheists and non-Christians always hate to hear…if Adolf found sincere faith and wholeheartedly trusted Jesus Christ to cover his atrocities before he died, then I guess I’ll see the little fellow goose-stepping with joy alongside the rest of us sinners one day. In God’s economy, we all deserve annihilation. I suppose it was His prerogative to drive that lesson home for our sake."

        Yeah, this is a hard thing for even some of us Christians to accept–especially when coupled with the notion that the Jews who died without wholeheartedly trusting Jesus to cover their atrocities will be spending eternity in Hell. Luckily, I don't believe that.

        What I do believe is that Heaven and Hell are in many ways the same place and that we carry Heaven and Hell in our hearts. In the world that is to come, if we insist upon hating our neighbors, it will be Hell. If we refuse to forgive those who have hurt us, (even as badly as Hitler hurt the Jews), it will be Hell. In short, if we refuse to get in line with God's values, it will be Hell.

        I find CS Lewis's book "The Great Divorce" edifying in this regard. Even though he does depict Heaven and Hell as separate places, he posits the view that the inmates of Hell have opportunities to visit Heaven…and can even choose to stay there if they're willing to open themselves to the Love of God.

        Most of them, alas, decide that they prefer Hell to having to change. Interestingly enough, many of the inhabitants of Hell are people who professed Christianity in life–which is biblical.

        Finally, while I don't necessarily believe that Hitler is spending eternity burning in Hell, I would imagine that those first few minutes in the presence of God being forced to see himself for what he was probably felt like an eternity in Hell. In fact, I think comparatively, the experience of being burned alive for all of eternity would be downright tame.

        • Tim

          Diana, I also struggled quite a bit with the concept that a Jesus trusting Hitler would see heaven and his Jesus rejecting Jewish victims would suffer hell. Well certainly none of us have a lock on how things shake out in God's final decision. But I remember that Abraham was the first Jew. And he was counted righteous by God, not because he obeyed every jot and tittle of the law, but because he trusted God. Trust is a bond that is personal and unique to the individual who trusts. Faith is similar. Nobody but God can esteem my faith as insufficient. And if faith the size of a mustard seed can toss mountains into the seas, then I have to imagine the smallest inkling of trust is also enough to be counted as righteousness.

          At this point in my walk, I've come to believe that the Law is embedded in every heart. Not just the believer's heart, but the unbeliever's too. Not just the Christian or the Jew, or the Muslim, but the earth and animal worshippers as well. EVERYONE Just like in the beginning, I think the Law is also the expressed Word (Logos) who IS God. God is the one who influences us to trust and to receive faith and grace. We are still apprised of a sovereign will to either yield to God's influence or nullify it. In that respect I believe we do carry God's kingdom in our hearts— and when our heart is divided and we serve two masters we will eventually love one and hate the other. I think our lives bear the evidence of which master we serve.

          Good comment.

          • Diana

            Thank you, Tim. And good comment right back at you!

          • ManimalX

            Bloody good response, TIm.

      • Ace

        "The last will be first, and the first will be last."

        Yes, it goes against a lot of what humans consider "fair" not to mention our rather bloody-minded love of what we call "justice" in our nasty eye-for-an-eye attitude toward our fellow humans, but luckily for ALL of us, God is a lot more forgiving than we are.

    • Diana

      Then again, God does draw straight with crooked lines (or at least, that's what the Portuguese think. They could be wrong, I suppose.)

    • ManimalX

      Tim gave a good response. It is all about what we call God's "Holiness." It means He is above and apart from His creation and that nothing He is depends upon His creation. It means that everything He does is a perfect expression. When He love, it is perfect love. When He hates, it is perfect hate. When He is jealous, it is prefect jealousy. When He dispenses justice, it is perfect justice. When He is selfish and egotistical, it is the perfect expression of pride because He really IS the best there is and He really is better than all of creation and He really IS freakin' God!

      The same thing can not be said for individual humans. Our expressions of those things are tainted, weak shadows of what they are really supposed to look like. When we love, we usually do so selfishly. When we hate, we usually do so selfishly. When we are jealous? Yep, selfishness. When we do justice, even the best we can do is only temporal, something that only works until the time that Jesus dispenses final and ultimate justice.

      In Scripture, God is likened to a Potter who has the right to do anything He wants with the pots He creates. That is what is meant when we call Him "Lord." We are recognizing His complete and utter holiness, His right to rule over us. And it is exactly this that rankles the pride of so many and causes them to start recreating God in their OWN image, making Him out to be some sort of god that doesn't require their complete and total submission (yes, that also includes atheism, the elevation of self or reason or naturalism to the status of God, or "divine per se" in someone's life). Pride was the original sin, and it is still the biggest cause of unbelief today.

  • http://monina468.wordpress.com Monina

    Beautifully said, Mr. Shore.

  • http://none Don Rappe

    Certainly a good post and good comments. I share the need for "quiet time". Good idea to not let our lives go too out of control while rethinking our values. Strong actions are best taken when our values are firm. If the unexamined life is not worth living then I suppose the undoubted faith is not worth holding. (or something) For me, I try to learn from the sacred writings without worshiping them. In this sense I can agree with the critique of David C. I was delighted when I first realized that the author of the Garden of Eden story didn't think the knowledge of good and evil was a fruit that grew on a tree any more than I did. So using the words written could free me from much of the huffing and puffing about the Bible, pro and con. I can try to respect the need for church structure without worshiping it either. I can be both catholic and protestant. I try to follow the christian way without despising the Jewish faith that the Master held. And I'm always trying to remember to be careful about removing the speck in someones eye when I've got this damned beam in mine.

    • Diana

      "For me, I try to learn from the sacred writings without worshiping them….I can try to respect the need for church structure without worshiping it either. I can be both catholic and protestant. I try to follow the christian way without despising the Jewish faith that the Master held. And I’m always trying to remember to be careful about removing the speck in someones eye when I’ve got this damned beam in mine."

      I love this!

  • http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/hp_blogger_Michael%20Rowe?action=profile Michael Rowe

    What a terrific, smart, realistic, and eminently sane piece of writing (let alone great advice.) Big ups.

  • Old Stuff

    @The Doubting Student

    By the way the you state your concern to Mr. Shore, it would seem that you are more concerned with maintaining belief than discovering truth. This is understandable and very common. If a belief system provides comfort, you may not enjoy the idea that your beliefs might not be true. But, as a lifelong student, I have learned to enjoy being shown my errors. It means that I have progressed and learned. You may doubt for very good reasons and, as Mr. Shore suggests, it is not something to overcome…but something to explore fully. I had my doubting period long long ago and years of introspection and scientific study led me to my well established [and eminently comfortable] position of non-belief. You will find that your world does not crumble. If Mr. Shore will permit, I will post my e-mail in a subsequent comment so that you can contact me directly to discuss the other side of doubt.

    • Old Stuff

      For further discussion, contact me at oldstuff1835@gmail.com

    • http://dianer.blogspot.com/ DR

      This has so much wisdom in it. You're not an asshole, old stuff, you're one of my favorite participants here. You're a critical hinker who's drawn some conclusions that you both offer and defend with an open mind and civil approach. You actually engage others. Assholes just objectify others and use them as catalysts to support their defended posture toward a group they had no real desire to engage with personally. I offer all of this from David C's past performances here. I would so love to be proven wrong.

      • Old Stuff

        You’re not an asshole, old stuff, you’re one of my favorite participants here.

        It's nice of you to say, but it is a quick turn from "engaged rationalist" to "offensive jerk" just through the citation of some unambiguous, challenging fact that is not couched in cotton candy and rainbows.

        • http://dianer.blogspot.com/ DR

          That's a quick turn from all of us, let's be honest.

        • Diana

          "…it is a quick turn from “engaged rationalist” to “offensive jerk” just through the citation of some unambiguous, challenging fact that is not couched in cotton candy and rainbows."

          But of course, and rightfully so! Isn't it a law that all unambiguous, challenging facts must be couched in cotton candy and rainbows? And if not, why not?

          • Old Stuff

            Interesting point Diana. I guess I am of the population that is just tired of feigning respect for really bad arguments. I am with Thomas Jefferson when he says "Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions."

  • DonP

    I am curious Mr Oldstuff, if you do not believe in a creative intelligence ( a creator), can I assume that you also believe that there is no way to justify the existence of life? It just is for it's own sake and needs no justification? To perpetuate itself ad infinitum?

    Yes?

    Then I guess the question: "What good are you?" is also irrelevant?

    • Old Stuff

      Life does not need to be "justified". The universe does not need to be "justified". There does not have to agency or intent behind the universe or our presence in it. It is the philosophical trap that seems characteristic of the human animal (and maybe other large brained species) that there must be an actor with some human-centric intent.

      Don't get me wrong…I don't say that there can't be some agency behind existence of the universe because we (at present) can only speculate what preceded the Big Bang 13,700,000,000 years ago. But assuming there is an agency is a recipe for an intellectual train wreck. …and then to claim knowledge of some specific agency….well that is not even supported a little bit by evidence.

      So to return to the 'zealous' point that is getting some attention…

      I am zealous to expose the fundamental argumentative failures (such as assumed agency) for what they are…utterly and screamingly vacant.

      It is OK to NOT know something, and it is far better to NOT know something than to believe something erroneously. I have no problem not knowing what preceded the Big Bang. I have no problem what specific confluence of events led to the first self-replicating entities (proto-life). These are points that give us great opportunities for the most rewarding effort of real inquiry. To claim knowledge of these things in the absence of evidence is an intellectual dead-end.

      So your questions make little sense to me in the absence of agency.

      • DonP

        Yeah, yeah, yeah. I got all that. So guess the question: “What good are you?” is also irrelevant?

        • Old Stuff

          The question is ambiguous. Rephrase it such that it has clear meaning and I will endeavor to answer.

          • DonP

            The question is not ambiguous at all. Your response to me all adds up to you agreeing with my assumptions about a part of what you believe. The logical extension then is that you sir…….just are. You have no value at all. After-all, that assumption would be based on some moral agency or "human-centric", to use your word, definition of worth.

            You said:"Life does not need to be “justified”. The universe does not need to be “justified”. There does not have to (be) agency or intent behind the universe or our presence in it. It is the philosophical trap that seems characteristic of the human animal (and maybe other large brained species) that there must be an actor with some human-centric intent."

            Pretty much says what my question implies wouldn't you say? No Mr. Oldstuff, the question is not ambiguous at all, It most assuredly is "irrelevant".

          • DonP

            Perhaps you really are not as analytical as I assumed you to be when you said you had scientifically analyzed the data to reach your conclusions. So I will go ahead and spell it out. If there is no divine, no creator, no higher moral agency who made this whole mess then we all are here,,,,,well…..just because we are; There is no right or wrong, no good or bad, no value or lack thereof.

            You sir are no good at all or right for that matter.

            Now I do not mean to say that as an insult. It is just a logical conclusion.

          • https://questionablemotives.wordpress.com tildeb

            If there is no divine, no creator, no higher moral agency…(t)hen there is no right or wrong, no good or bad, no value or lack thereof

            I don't see how this conclusion is anything more than an unprovable assertion unless one can somehow show that the latter is dependent on the former.

          • DonP

            Perhaps then, it is my own inefficiency with the language that I can not say it any simpler minded than I have.

          • https://questionablemotives.wordpress.com tildeb

            Or perhaps it is a problem with the reasoning.

          • DonP

            @tildeb like I said simple minded…………I am.

          • Old Stuff

            Well now that you have clarified (in a round-about way) I shall endeavor to respond as promised….

            There are some things that you have right (sort-of) and some things that you have wrong (clearly). You are right that my position is that biological life does not have the sort of intrinsic value that might be bestowed upon it from a creator (the way that I might bestow value on a coffee table that I build in my shop). In isolation; I would argue that nothing has value. "Value" is bestowed by creatures that can contemplate the concept of "value".

            You would be wrong (spectacularly so) if you think that, in the absence of divine value, that all other values and related virtues evaporate. The absence of a god diminishes my love for my family not at all. I value my friends and neighbors (as they do me). I value my intellectual endeavors. I value the environment and ecosystem. I value education. What is valuable is unchanged with the exception of the belief that some deity values you as a I value my coffee table.

            Right and wrong still exist and [I would argue] are able to become more refined when unshackled from an iron-age text. And there is evidence to that effect. ( Non-believers are underrepresented in prisons. Non-believers have lower divorce rates. etc. etc.)

            Again…it is the assumption that all values are diminished in the absence of a god that is the intellectual train wreck. It is precisely these false assumptions that motivate me to even discuss these matters of religion.

          • DonP

            I simply disagree, If there is no created purpose to the universe then meaning as well as value is arbitrary depending only on the observer's definition. Which is also, arbitrary and has no more meaning or value than any other. Your love for your family and friends has no more meaning or "value" than another's hatred and murder. Right and wrong are defined the same way. Arbitrary and dependent only on the observer.

            The universe in your world doesn't care what you think or what you value and attributes similar "value" to to the one that hates and murders. I can see how you can live in your universe. Living in your little bubble of defined meaning and values. But, for me, for it to be worthwhile there has got to be a plan grater than myself that has made everything and despite my eyes and heart telling me otherwise all the "evil" does have a "good" purpose in the end. Makes me feel like I'm part of something beyond my own personally defined bubble. Unlike you, the world I would construct if left to my own devices would not be nearly so sanguine.

          • Old Stuff

            This seems to fall into the category of: You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.

            The facts are that 1) you are wrong and 2) reality doesn't care what you want.

            I could go on and on about how values and society just keep going on and on in the absence of god-belief. This is well documented stuff. It is only religious dogma that says otherwise ('dogma' being a swear word in my vocabulary) It's probably not worth you and I discussing this further. If I do, it means dragging out a bunch of hyper-links and making that turn to the 'asshole'.

          • https://questionablemotives.wordpress.com tildeb

            Assuming there is a created purpose (whatever that means) then how can you possibly know what it might be for you, for me, for the 300,000 mean, women, and children killed in a matter of minutes during the Indonesian tsunami… and let's not forget the animal kingdom, which is founded on predation and prey where critters with fully functioning nervous systems and pain receptors starve to death and are actually eaten alive? If all this is morally 'good' because (you believe) god deems it to be so, then how on earth can you figure out what is morally bad?

          • DonP

            @Oldstuff, So you believe your position is true because of what? Because of something someone else said, analyzed…..what. Oh, I get it now, I'm wrong because you are right. It's still an arbitrary opinion, value or meaning. The universe has no meaning it just is. Your reasoning is not linear , it is illogical. You jump from the universe just is with no reason to you defining your own reason or believing someone else's reason ( As in the hyperlinks you mentioned.) and placing it on the universe as if it owns it.. Then heaping it out as some kind of authority that itself is in reality non existent. It can't be if the universe has no meaning or purpose, it just is. No matter how much observer study you throw in my face it is still arbitrary. and a product of a piece of the whole that itself has no purpose. Totally illogical.

          • Old Stuff

            @DonP & other believers

            Seriously Don?!? I say my position is true because I have evidence and you have none.

            Sorry all; but if no believers will step up and challenge DonP for his failed arguments, it is more telling of endemic undue respect of religious apologetics no matter how bad they are. Another example of how religion is somehow supposed to be immune from criticism. I shall state some facts and they will be offensive to many. There will be no cotton candy or rainbows to placate those of a sensitive spiritual constitution.

            DonP,

            Your argument is based on, that in the absence of a “created purpose”, all values become arbitrary and that “right and wrong” become arbitrary. You even infer that murder would be no less ethical than tending to the injured. Were that the case we would see the godless violating all sorts of common laws (i.e. murder) far out of proportion to their presence in society. The reality is that, while atheists make up 16% of the U.S. population (the most commonly used number), they represent merely 0.2% of our federal prison population. Popular religious denominations/sects have their incarcerated populations commensurate with their general presence in society. This is a federal statistical study NOT conducted by some 'liberal elite' special interest group. I have been unable to find the original source material behind the federally published statistics; but I would suspect that, when approaching the prison check-in desk, they answer some questions including their religious affiliation. Some have argued that many check a religious affiliation for preferential treatment. This is valid to a point, but with these numbers that argument requires that 99% of non-believers falsely report. Such an argument is what is referred to as ‘special pleading’ and is regarded as irrational. This study alone should demonstrate that values and ethics are independent from god-belief. Indeed one could argue that being decoupled from god-belief makes one more (if secular law is any measure). I have no need to make that argument however.

            http://www.freethoughtpedia.com/wiki/Percentage_of_atheists#1997_Federal_Bureau_of_Prisons_Statistics

            Now let us look at how religion correlates to “societal ills” as defined by a Christian university. Creighton University , in 1995, conducted a study that compared the level of a host of societal ills with the level of religiosity amongst “prosperous democracies”. The selection of prosperous democracies is important in that it avoided the contaminating variables of socialism/facism/theocracy/poverty and would be the best comparison between societies with similar personal freedoms and rights and lifestyles. From the study:

            For this study’s purpose, “dysfunctionality” is defined by such indicators of poor societal health as homicide, suicide, low life expectancy, STD infection, abortion, early pregnancy, and high childhood mortality (under five-years old). Religiosity is measured by biblical literalism, frequency of prayer and service attendance, as well as absolute belief in a creator in terms of ardency, conservatism, and activities.

            To the [suspected] dismay of the Creighton analysts; the least religious societies had the lowest presence of these societal ills…sometimes starkly so. Similarly the mostreligious societies had the highest levels of these societal ills…sometimes starkly so. Like the prison population study; your conjecture that the absence of god-belief makes values/ethics a wild west is simply crushed when we actually look at statistical, factual reality about how the godless conduct themselves as individuals and as societies. Still…this study does NOT address causation, but rather correlation only.

            http://moses.creighton.edu/JRS/2005/2005-11.html

            Other preliminary studies corroborate what I have already said and go onto other topics that, by mere mention, would have me banned from this blog.

            http://www.amazon.com/Atheists-Groundbreaking-Study-Americas-Nonbelievers/dp/1591024137

            @others believers besides DonP:

            I know that others here know that DonP’s arguments are invalid. I know that Mr. Shore knows that DonP’s arguments are invalid. I am less irked by DonP’s baseless claims than the unwillingness of other believers to call him out . It is one of the most pernicious characteristics of the religious meme that restrains one from criticizing another’s religious arguments.

          • DonP

            @oldstuff, Look I do understand what you are saying. I even understand why you believe it. I am merely trying to point out that the source for all your values moralities and what have you is your own definition. I simply can not see how a universe having existed or come into existence with no purpose and no innate morality or immorality for that matter, can of it's own accord suddenly develop those attributes. Because you say it or observe what you define as morality or value is just you saying it. It is a construct of your own making to bring what you perceive to be value to your own life. Your observation and your definitions are your own, not the universes which is your source.

            To me your statistics are irrelevant. I look at humanity and see chaos. I look at the universe and see even greater chaos. I know there are sciences that can make some sense out of the chaos and find mathmatic cycles in the same. But the chaos I am talking about is just the plain old violence that is part of both man and the universe. Now none of this proves God. The concept by it's very nature is unprovable. But so is your position. Yes I know you have observations and studies but they are sourced from nothing that has meaning to me. I see that they do for you.

            I am not a highly educated man and I probably can't hold a candle to your obviously studied intellect. I know this much though; If there is no God then there is no purpose for any of this. Not me, not you and certainly not either of our observations. I choose to believe in a Creator because it gives meaning to my life.

          • Old Stuff

            OK. I see where we are missing each other here. You are right…I believe that there is no 'purpose' for the existence of anything. That includes the universe, our planet, and the life on it. You, on the other hand, elect to believe that there is some other purpose because you want to believe that there is some other purpose irrespective of whether there is some purpose.

            You take your position because you don't like the perceived consequences of your position not being true…and for no other reason. Some people think that is rational thought. Some think that is something to protect our children from.

            The important take-away here is to know that, even thought there be no 'higher' or 'universal' purpose, not one other perceived value or purpose is affected. To discard supernatural belief leaves your life humming along just like it was before.

            May your life hum along for many more years.

          • Matthew Tweedell

            Hey, OldStuff.

            I for one just don't bother stepping up to challenge DonP just because I know it's highly unlikely to do any good: I doubt I'll change his mind, and others who will read it will already make up their own minds regardless of what comments I might contribute. But if you insist…

            What DonP is saying is that what counts as societal ills and what things are made illegal become completely arbitrary. In a way, he is correct; as you acknowledge, things acquire their value through the action of a mind, and if there is no greatest or perfect mind (which I assume he identifies with God), then there's no wrong way to eat a recess or to get ahead in life (whatever that means), as experience has shown that people *will* disagree in the value attributed to different ways of doing those things. Of course, you and I would say that the laws of logic, laws of human behavior, and laws of nature set objective standards that determine goods and evils, except that I would go on to identify those very things with God himself — laws ordained by Him and revealing of His nature — knowing that no one is perfect in his/her understanding of them; they are not merely defined by man and as a law man's attempt to do so must result in much unnecessary trouble for him, though inherent in this curse is the blessing that we might transcend it.

            Where DonP goes wrong, in my understanding, is a misunderstanding of the objective definition of right and wrong. Yes, qualitative values are subjective; Right and wrong, on the other hand, are functions of goals. If the goal in eating is to increase the vitality of the body, then — I'm sorry — but there *is* a wrong way to eat a Recess: namely, by the gross. In some cases, however, the goal of eating something is perhaps to feel better emotionally, in which case Recess may actually be the wrong thing to be consuming at all; perhaps Prozac would work out better. Yet other times, if you just have a certain sort of craving, Recess may be just the right means of satisfying it, if taken the right way. It's ways and means that are right and wrong and can be established as being objectively so without any appeal to a higher power. It follows simply from the meaning of those words and the objective reality of the world, regardless of how you relate another word like "God" to that reality.

            Now, good and bad are judgments passed by men/women on their perceptions of effects/results, the prediction of which is used to set the goals by which right and wrong are established. That which is the right way of tending towards greatest quantitative value of good result may be called Good, and that which opposes its progress is Evil. But to understand this — to possess the standard of "greatest quantitative value"—to perfect knowledge in Good and Evil — is the prerogative of no man. (It is to be as God. And we keep on trying to get there, but God has made it such that we die, so we never will. Animals have the innate wisdom not even to try; thus their own mortality is inconsequential to the lucky bastards. Yet for us, our own mortality can be but the beginning, because we speak here of our effect.)

            So things *feel* good or bad (individual results may vary); things *are* good or evil, objectively inasmuch as feelings are real; and right and wrong are properly the objective, logical evaluations of propositions — claims and proposal. (Emotions and sensations, whether deemed good or bad, aren't right or wrong in themselves; rather what people do with them is. Nevertheless both thoughts and actions are among things that can be good or evil, as thoughts affect the inner worlds as much as actions affect the outer worlds.)

            I just pray that spending so much time doing this right here will not prove in vain — that it’s the right thing to do –though I’m not even in the know about what the goal is exactly, relative to which I ought to judge such a thing. Oh well, I did it anyway, on faith.

          • Matthew Tweedell

            Ok, so, by the time I got to posting that, DonP has revealed that his definition of God is such as to be unprovable. Who needs a god like that? It's just supersticious speculation. And both of you are talking about some sort of "purpose" without a clear understanding of what constitutes it, so as there would be some real meaning to the term, some real difference between universes with or without one.

            May the eternal hum sustain your spirit.

          • DonP

            @ Mr. Twedell, Good heavens man! Can you speak human? At any rate you said "That which is the right way of tending towards greatest quantitative value of good result may be called Good, " Since I am not sure what the rest says (means) I will say this: It is not logical to define a concept by it's own self.

            Please I don't want to follow this one any more and now my brain hurts.

          • DonP

            @ Mr. Twedell, Maybe I can get this in before you say anything else. Lot's more defines my concept as well as experience with God but I doubt that it would be of any value to Oldstuff. You see I'm kind old my self.

          • Matthew Tweedell

            @DonP. I was defining the relation between two different senses/uses of the word "good". In the sentence you quote, the first is an adjective used as defined previously — relating to perceptions, opposite of "bad" — while the other is a noun — taken here as proper to imply that it is a proper name for some thing of which there is but one — introduced as the opposite to "evil". The only thing “illogical” (that is to say, confusing, not at all inherently incorrect) is that the English language uses the same word for the opposites of “bad” and “evil” and the same form for the adjective and the noun here. (Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary has this as one of the definitions of good: “something that is good”. So if it’s good enough for them…) “Stop judging by mere appearances and make a right judgment.” (Jn. 7:24, NIV)

          • Old Stuff

            Thanks for some of you adding some nuance that DonP might not have communicated. Had it been there before, I might not have 'gone off' quite like I did. Still; my primary point holds.

            Matt said:

            What DonP is saying is that what counts as societal ills and what things are made illegal become completely arbitrary.

            Values are NOT arbitrary…even in the philosophical sense. Many core values are the same whether a god is involved or not. Other species share core values such as reciprocal altruism. My point simply being that the things we value don't attain that value because of a deity OR because we arbitrarily decide to value them.

            Maybe it is just confusion over semantics. Our values are pretty constant for our species (and other species in important ways). This is true whether deities or holy books or philosophical discussion is in play. These are evolved predispositions or instincts. I think it is safe to say that a society could not sit down and just decide that murder is perfectly fine (not to say that some haven't rationalized killing under a premise that defines it as something other than 'murder'). I argue that many core values are not arbitrary at all but rather instinctual/innate/evolved.

            We big brained species assign value to behavior that does not conflict with the innate.

          • Matthew Tweedell

            Then why do people differ so starkly in their values? What you are saying is that good and evil, and the right and wrong way to maintain a society are absolute, with which I agree, and believing this does not require belief in God, even if belief in God requires believing in this. Either way, though, values can be different. Murder may indeed be always evil, but someone somewhere will have occasion to value it; how else do you explain how hit men earn a living? This is because values come from within us, as an individual response to the world. The value of everything from gold to gasoline may vary in different parts of the world and at different times. How do you account for gold's seemingly extraordinary value, relative to its utility and to similar metals? And where is the universal value of a given fetus? I think you are confusing value judgments (at least when judged collectively through arbitration (but by over which time and space exactly?), based collective “needs,” which may really be more like emotional complexes sometimes that we collectively develop and get over) with the absolute fact of what's good and evil. Even as our values are influenced by evolutionary development (which, being an ongoing process, renders arbitrary the definition of a particular genetic profile for our species on which basis to determine the innate settings of values, which are anyway enormously effected by environmental circumstances that can change on a dime should, say, a global natural catastrophe take place), evolutionary development becomes wholly arbitrary—logical but without any aim or any significance—in the absence of God. (Not to mention that there are plenty of evolutionary flukes too.)

          • Old Stuff

            @Matthew Tweedell

            Of course individual values run the gamut. Some are sociopaths and some carry spiders outside in lieu of squishing them. I am merely saying that, collectively, large populations converge on similar core values. Those core values are may be very few and not well defined, but they do result in 'constants' like 'murder is bad'. IMO; most can be explained by 'The Golden Rule' (aka reciprocal altruism)…and that transcends/predates Christianity and even our species.

            [ http://www.madisonmonkeys.com/ ]

            You said:

            And where is the universal value of a given fetus?

            Such a discussion is far too granular for this discussion. There are legitimate debates as to what constitutes 'human'…and hence when is it murder. Is it when two specific cells come in contact with one-another? It is when a cell contains a full complement of DNA? Is it when a fetus can feel pain? Is it when a fetus becomes sentient? Is it when a child is several years old? While I don't want to open up the pre-natal rights can of worms here; I think it is useful to recognize that there are natural value constants even though we might not be able to define them precisely.

          • Matthew Tweedell

            @OldStuff:

            Those are still just the results of human arbitration and are not binding in reality. What you’re describing is what is good or evil. Which we choose to value, however, is an individual or collective choice that could still be right or wrong (as determined by the goal of valuing what is good). There are no terms to express any sort of natural constant for values, absent a natural Evaluator. It’s all relative to specific circumstance, which can be varied in an arbitrary manner. The value of life itself is entirely non-existent except in the value life places in itself, which ultimately find expression in our consciousness through subjective evaluation, which must be relative to the observer (as well as in our bodies through material properties, which Einstein tells me are also relative). (Note: in the understanding that I’m employing of these concepts, there can be no observer, even a god, who does not have life.) It is in this way that the lives of loved ones mean more for us than the lives of strangers, despite the fact that taking a life without just cause be would always be evil, which is ultimately absolute (like existence) and not properly subject to evaluation in terms of degree.

          • Matthew Tweedell

            @myself “recess”? Everyone knows I meant “Reces”, I hope. Best not to rely too mindlessly on spellchecker.

          • Matthew Tweedell

            Well, obviously I STILL can't spell, but at least this time I can post it under the right "Reply" link.

          • DonP

            In relation to your explanation…………thanks. My brain still hurts though. What was that before anyhow, verbiage vomit plus a high number? Or, did you actually conscientiously write that stuff? Never-mind., I may be here all night trying to figure out what you say if you answer that. It really serves no purpose, all that fancy prose, if I'm kind, to us lowly in understanding. It just serves to obfuscate the profound and life changing subjects we mere mortals are concerned with on generous John Shore's blog……

            By the way thank you John. Allowing me to express my thoughts here has been a real help to me in cementing as well as knocking a few pieces of rock off my own views. People like Mathew Tweedell here have really challenged me and helped to define what I really believe. I kind of like who I have found living inside of me. I didn't think I did.

          • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

            That's cool that the you you found through my blog is someone you like, Don. Because no one else here likes you at all.

            Hah! I still got it!

            And no, I can't return it. I knew I should have bought it at Nordstrom, instead of through Ronco Presents. Still, the one I got came with a free set of chattering teeth. So, you know.

            Hey, seriously, Mr. P. Thank you.

  • http://dianer.blogspot.com/ DR

    @tilbe: belief’ as you suggest (zealous and quite adamant in what they believe about NOT believing). This is very intentional twisting of language to make believers and non believers seem to be flip sides of a similar currency of belief.

    First, apologies if i just butchered your monniker, Im getting pancakes so am typing this on an iiPhone. Thank you for your reply. There is a for me to consider, here. Perhaps I'm being too formulaic in my approach. I think theres something for me to learn here, i might come back after a sufficient carbo load and ask a few questions. Nonetheless, what a challenging couger

    • DR

      Challenging COUNTER. Not cougar. Wow.

      • Diana

        Re: challenging cougar…err, counter–talk about your Freudian slips!

        Although, I kind of liked it myself.

        • https://questionablemotives.wordpress.com tildeb

          I especially like the aye aye phone. That's either the phone of a rather ugly little critter (nothing personal, DR) called an Aye-aye, or another term for a phone into which one always enunciates one's agreement. Hopefully, you won't always agree with me or I'll remind you to use a different phone!

          • DR

            Oh tildeb, soon you'll learn that my iPhone is just an excuse for my horrible spelling and punctuation. Let's just keep that our little secret. Or should that be "sekrit"?

  • http://frommaryspen.blogspot.com/ Mary

    Sorry for not reading through the huge list of replies… There is a book, something about leaving one's brain at the door… It was a good read.

    It took me 13 years to come back after my "crisis", which was triggered by my father's death and the disintegration of our family when I was 17.

    Jonathon, all I can say is… Follow John's advice. It's good. Very good. Study. Read. Doubt. At the end of the day, God will still be there, and you will have stretched and grown and come out of all this stronger than before.

    Rejoicing in the day,

    -Mary

  • http://secher-nbiw.blogspot.com/ Cobalt

    This entry rings false to me for one big reason:

    The encouragement to question doesn't actually seem to be as sincerely-loved as I think we're supposed to walk away having decided. I mean, the tone of this essay–to me at least–seems not to be, "Are you doubting? Go ahead. See where your thoughts lead you, and just do what you feel is best, and you'll be okay." It seems to be, "Are you doubting? It's okay. We all go through that phase. It'll be over soon, and you'll feel better when it's done."

    There doesn't seem to be much acknowledgement that this questioning is allowed to /go somewhere/. It's condescending for the same reason that the old saw, "A man who is not a liberal at twenty has no heart, but if he is not a conservative by thirty he has no brain." It acknowledges that this is an acceptable phase, but it's only acceptable /if/ it is a phase.

    Seems a little disingenuous to praise questioning and comfort the questioners, but also make it perfectly clear that questioning is only safe if it stops safely short of its potential conclusion that these beliefs are worth discarding.

    • Diana A.

      I think you’re seeing what you want to see.

      • http://secher-nbiw.blogspot.com/ Cobalt

        I think you could do a better job of addressing what I said.

        • Diana A.

          I could, but why would I want to? You'd just see what you wanted to see in that too.

          • http://secher-nbiw.blogspot.com/ Cobalt

            Nooot rising to that bait. You can go be sh*tty to someone else now, please.