Letter From an Atheist Man Married to a Christian Woman

A while back I ventured the opinion that a young person thinking of marrying someone who doesn’t share their religious belief system would do well to carefully consider the advisability of such a match.

In response an atheist friend of mine wrote the following letter, which he thought I might share with you:

I’m a bona fide marriage expert. Not because I have some fancy Ivy League degree hanging on my wall, nor because I’m a published marriage counselor—no, I’m a marriage expert because I’ve been married twice. I’m a big believer in the school of you-don’t-know-it-until-you’ve-done-it. Having done it twice, I now know it twice as well. Hence, marriage expert.

My first marriage was to a lovely woman of like-spirituality. We were both humanists (which is a fancy term for do-gooder atheists) of Jewish descent. That marriage failed when she realized that she didn’t love me. ME! How could she not love me? You probably don’t know me, but I am very lovable. I know this, because my second wife, an even more lovely Christian woman named Rachel, told me so. Rachel also told me that our marriage is a resounding success, and I believe her. We both have no doubt that we will be together until we die, at which point we will be separated. According to her, I will go to hell and she will go to heaven—or, in my version, we will be dead. Either way, we won’t be together anymore, and that’s sad.

But how can this marriage really be a success? Rachel is a Christian and I am a heretical Jewish humanist. How can we fully be together when we don’t share the same spirituality? How can we unleash the full potential of our marriage if we have a spiritual chasm between us? How can we possibly understand each other when we approach life so differently? What will we teach the children? For Pete’s sake, think of the children! (If anyone knows Pete, or why he cares about the children, please let me know in the comments—oh, and tell him I want back my copy of ABBA Gold.)

As tempting as it was to ignore the problem of our differences and hope it went away, Rachel and I talked about it, and decided that since we valued our marriage too much to leave it to chance, we would be proactive about addressing our differences: we’d do it the hard way. What is it about Jews and Christians that they need to suffer to feel alive? Wait a minute, maybe we aren’t so different after all! No, that’s not it. We’re different. Might as well face it. We’re really, really different.

Women and men are different. Christians and people of other faiths are different. Christians of different denominations are different. Republicans and Democrats are different. Bostonians and San Diegans are different. Mice and men are different. Even Milli and Vanilli are different—in fact, they aren’t even themselves.

I am not a woman who was born in San Jose, CA, grew up on a farm in upstate New York, matured in Washington, has six siblings, and is passionate about her family and her faith. I never will be that woman, and while I can understand her, empathize with her, feel pretty in her clothes, and love her deeply, I will never really know the depths of her experiences or the convictions of her beliefs. No one will, except God (if you’re into that sort of thing). I don’t want to be her Savior, I want to be her husband. I want to spend every day getting closer to her and knowing her more, faith and all.

Everyone has faith of some kind, even atheists (we can’t prove there is no God, we simply believe there is no God). By recognizing your own faith, even if it’s belief in mammon—or as Washington Irving called it: “The Almighty Dollar”—you can understand how essential faith is to the core of our being. Everyone has the ability to relate to the fervent wholeness of faith, and to understand how it can permeate every aspect of one’s life. You don’t have to share the same faith to know how your spouse feels about their spiritual connection. It’s the universal feelings that come from faith, even if the faiths are different, that are the foundation from which you can connect, share, learn, and grow. Your marriage won’t fail over differences; there will always be differences. It will fail if you are not honest with each other, and lack respect for one another—spiritually or otherwise.

Marriage is a partnership. Each partner brings the best and the worst parts of themselves to their marriage, and the success or failure of their union depends on how they embrace the good and the bad. In a successful marriage, two people, who are different by virtue of being people, find the common ground on which they relate to each other, and use that as a foundation. They grow toward each other by learning about and respecting their differences, and then stay together by willingly meeting each other’s needs, whether they fully understand them or not. That last part, that really hard part—that’s love.

That love is what my interfaith marriage is all about. Rachel would call that the manifestation of God’s love and grace in our marriage. I call it my profound privilege to be able to spend every day of the rest of my life growing a little bit closer to my wife.

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 founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. Don't forget to sign up for his mucho-awesome newsletter.

  • Anonymous

    Beautiful!

    • allisonhusmann

      Agreed. :)

      • Anonymous

        May I also add that you are beautiful, Mrs. Husmann!

        • Anonymous

          Ben: I’ll tell you said so.

          • Anonymous

            OH YES I DID!!!

    • allisonhusmann

      Agreed. :)

  • GraceDreger

    This is really gorgeous.

  • GraceDreger

    This is really gorgeous.

  • Marie

    LOVE LOVE LOVE THIS!!!! THANK YOU!! ♥

  • http://rdmlorisgoretownhorrycoscusaearth.blogspot.com/ Robert Meek

    The best of the best about the good reasons for doing and how to do … marriage.

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

    You know, I first clicked on this from FB because her fingers look so deathly white in the graphic. Well, and because you put it up, John. But tell your friend it’s really lovely, which he already knows. But it makes me cry… and he doesn’t necessarily know that.

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

    You know, I first clicked on this from FB because her fingers look so deathly white in the graphic. Well, and because you put it up, John. But tell your friend it’s really lovely, which he already knows. But it makes me cry… and he doesn’t necessarily know that.

  • http://strelitziamusings.blogspot.com/ Birdie

    I love this. What I like most is his celebratory tone. Instead of bemoaning what his wife is not, he celebrates what she is. (I wish I’d known this sooner than I did, but my husband of 32 years loves me anyway.) Respect for each other goes a very long way.

  • Ace

    One thing I’ve noticed in most long-standing relationships is that the people involved usually have RESPECT for one another, and I think any difference, whether it’s religious beliefs or taste in music, is only an issue if people can’t respect those differences and keep going.

    On a tangentially-related aside, I was semi-dating an ex-Mormon athiest a while ago, but gave up the whole thing as a lost cause even though I liked him for the most part, because he couldn’t understand why I didn’t like it when he made fun of religion and religious people in general.

    The snide cracks kept coming, even though he knew quite well (since I told him so) that I have a habit of showing up at church some Sunday mornings and no particular desire to quit doing so in the foreseeable future. I get the fact that his religious upbringing was not exactly a pile of fond memories for him, but he just couldn’t drop it despite my discomfort.

    He didn’t make fun of *me* specifically, and often went on about how I was “not like those CRAZY religious people” but it still annoyed me, and there was a lack of respect for my beliefs in general, so that was the end of it right there, forget about even considering something so serious as being a “couple” or even worse, marriage.

    Oh well.

  • Jody

    thank you for sharing this. really beautiful.

  • Sbedgewater

    Well put.

  • laurelhedge

    REALLY good stuff. By the way, “Pete” is Saint Peter, and he needs that album for the heavenly street lining thing.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1554973255 Erika Beseda-Allen

    i like this very much

  • Don Whitt

    This is really interesting. And full of land mines.

    When I was 15, my middle/older sister converted to Judaism and married a Jewish guy. My parents, stalwart Scottish Presbyterians, were pretty much beside themselves about the whole deal. Me, being a philosophical and loving sort, threw myself in front of that bus and asked them to look at all the similarities, not the differences. They acquiesced and my sister was divorced about 2 years later.

    I think it’s really easy to dismiss differences and celebrate similarities, but I think that’s also dangerous. We’re humans. Essentially, we’re emotional creatures and products of our upbringings, faiths, and circumstances. I think it’s really foolish to minimize differences between ourselves and those with whom we would sign-up for a life-long hitch.

    To wit: I am on marriage 3. #3 is spectacular – not without it’s ins and outs or ups and downs, but it’s pretty damn spectacular. Why? Well, we’ve known each other since we were 15. That may seem silly or irrelevant, but it’s not. My first marriage – a 14 month long experience of marrying a business partner, who struck me violently when she didn’t like how things were going, was followed by a 16 year relationship with a women who struck herself or inanimate objects in such circumstances.

    So, it struck me, what’s missing?

    What was missing was all of the context. Now that I’m married to someone who gets that, life is WAY easier and the love is strong and bilateral. Now, we only strike bargains and matches.

    • Don Whitt

      And that’s not to say people can’t ameliorate differences or that differences are fundamentally BAD. . It’s more about saying, “Hey, how hard do you want your life to be?” and “There’s someone right next to you who loves you – give them a break.”

  • http://questionablemotives.wordpress.com/ tildeb

    Everyone has faith of some kind, even atheists (we can’t prove there is no God, we simply believe there is no God).

    Sigh.

    If one means the word ‘faith’ in the religious sense to believe in something without compelling evidence to back up good reasons for holding such belief, then it’s nonsensical to suggest that atheists believe in the absence of something. I don’t have faith that Jesus was not the Messiah and hold that belief because, well, just because I wish to believe it is so; I am satisfied that there is no compelling evidence for me to believe he was. There is a difference.

    Many are not satisfied with my answer but we do not share some kind of similar ‘faith’ to reach opposite conclusions.

    This canard about atheistic ‘faith’ must be challenged whenever it arises because it is not true if the word ‘faith’ is to continue to mean anything in the religious sense of the word. And it’s a rather important word. I assume people of ‘faith’ wish to maintain its religious sense of ‘belief IN something’ rather than give it away to those who wish it to be synonymous with ‘I-have-no-good-reasons-to-think…’. If that is to be the case, however, then everything we don’t think is a matter of ‘faith’ which renders the word useless.

    The religious can avoid this problem by maintaining faith to be the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. I presume the religious would like to keep the word to used in this positive way and out of the hands (and mouths) of anyone who wishes to abase the word to mean a ‘Do Not Believe’ negative belief.

    • Diana A.

      Your continual need to tell other people how to express their thoughts is really getting on my nerves. So you don’t view atheism as requiring faith of any kind and someone else dares to use “The F Word” when describing their atheistic views. So what? Lighten up, already!

      Quit “straining out gnats and swallowing camels.”

      • Shadsie

        Agreed. People getting too sensitive about semantics.

        And, it’s true, you know. How can you know how the universe was “created” (whether it was created or just popped into existance as part of a string of multiverses) unless you were *there?* Among other things. If you aren’t all knowing and all powerful – you take existance with a little bit of faith, like it or not. It’s not the same as “religion,” but it’s still a form of faith, so don’t be afraid of the F-word. You use it, whether you like it or not.

        Oh, and what’s with all this thought that “people of faith” *don’t* base their beliefs on *reasons* hmm? We ALL have reasons for what we believe. Maybe my reasons aren’t good enough for someone? They’re still reasons. It’s funny how one will explain one’s *perfect reasoning* for belief to a hardcore athiest and they’ll turn around and say that your reasoning is “not reason” just for the *simple matter that it lead you to believe in something or supports your belief in something.*

        I have a big imagination. I imagine things like “Hey, maybe I’ll find a portal to Narnia in my closet someday” or “Maybe life is a big honking collective dream that we’ll all wake up from” or “maybe all fictional universes are real and the people who “create” them here in our “Real World” are merely tapping into them to transcribe bits and pieces of them somehow.” These imaginings are fun – and crazy – but they ARE NOT THE SAME AS MY FAITH. I don’t wake up with the faith that I’m going to discover ANY of these.

        However, the idea I’ve got in my crazy little head that there is a reason, meaning and underlying plot to life IS supported by evidence I have found in my own life and in my various observances of how the world works. I’m sure my “reasons” aren’t “reason” enough for any athiest, but it doesn’t mean I hold my FAITH in the same baseless light as I do some of my wilder imagingings.

        People get those confused all the time.

        • http://gaychristiangeek.blogspot.com Anna Rose

          I would like to point out that I have no irrefutable reason to believe in a noumenal reality (metaphysical solipsism, yo); arguably, believing in the independent existence of the things and people around you requires “the F word”.

          • Shadsie

            There are all kinds of ways of faith, really. I’d really, *really* like to think that even people who are “ardent rationalists” and get up in arms everytime anyone mentions “faith”… have faith in themselves, or faith in their friends. Many folks have a very strong faith in mankind, or faith in human imagination, intelligence, and wonder. Think where we would be technologically and in knowledge if no one had faith in science or scientific method.

            Faith is not a bad thing. It can be misplaced, but it, in and of itself is not bad – and the fact is that everybody has it in one form or another.

          • Don Rappe

            Very deep, my friend. (I just say friend cuz I’ve come to like you and your thoughts.) When I say God created the heavens and the earth (the universe) I think I mean something poetic by it. One of the notions that I mean to exclude, is that the whole world is in my head. I’m just not smart enough for that. You may be interested in this. The theory of electromagnetism as we have it today is regarded as a model of a comprehensive physical theory. It is still the paradigm for “field theories”. William Gilbert distinguished between electric (amber) force and magnetic (lodestone) force. He discovered relations between them by thinking about unseen lines of force. James Clerk Maxwell who was educated as Gilbert was not, applied hydrodynamic theory to the “lines of force” as Gilbert described them and came up with what are commonly called “Maxwell’s equations, which have not needed correction and physicists still study them in graduate school. OK, I’ve finally come to the point. One thing Gilbert and Maxwell had in common is that they were both pious believing Christians. Both of their powerful bicameral brains held a strong belief in the possibility of “things unseen”.

      • Ace

        Yea, I wasn’t going to say anything as I normally find Tildeb’s posts interesting but this horse has been beaten thoroughly in other discussions here already, and is starting to sound like a broken record. *sigh*

        I think I’ll go play video games for a while.

      • http://questionablemotives.wordpress.com/ tildeb

        Funny you should mention this, Diana A. I almost didn’t comment for exactly the reasons you pointed out. It seems petty, n’est pas? But it bothered me. And it continued to bother me.

        It bothered me because it’s under these kind of warm and fuzzy stories that such assertions are stated as if they were facts that lead to their promulgation. Complaining about them seems almost… well… petty. Petty and trivial. Just look at the other comments: people honestly think the lie is true, that to point it out is merely quibbling with semantics, or is tantamount to telling someone how to express their thoughts. But is it really?

        Whereas most readers will be quite comfortable enough agreeing that those who claim that not playing football is a sport or not collecting stamps a hobby if that is what is required for us athletes and collectors to get along with those who do neither, I find it disturbing. I think it’s okay NOT to play football and NOT collect stamps and still be a respectable, lovable, person without pretending to be either an athlete or collector… of a different kind.

        The reasoning for me is hardly comfortable: it’s quite grating and disingenuous, as if we all have the same kind of faith but merely and trivially direct it into different notions so we really can get along. But it’s not true in the specifics, in this case no matter how we define sport or a hobby.

        Millions have no trouble voting for the Tea Party either and surely someone somewhere needs to point out why promoting the culture of fear and mistrust are hardly the building blocks to political cohesion and cooperation if that is the goal, any more than suggesting that theist and atheist share a similar need to have faith is hardly the building blocks to a respectful marriage, if that is the goal… at least in my mind. It is an adequate compromise so long as no one takes any of it too seriously. But as soon as someone does take any of these notions seriously, then it’s no longer trivial , no longer a matter of simply lightening up and going with the flow. And that’s where the assumption that not playing football is a sport is actually an insult to athletes who take their sport seriously, that not collecting stamps is a hobby is an insult to collectors who take their collecting seriously. Pretending otherwise I think can end up causing more harm than good if one wishes a marriage to be based on honest mutual respect of these non-trivial differences – and the ones who end up paying this non-trivial cost are all too often children caught between parents who no longer have such trivial, semantic, and re-expressed thoughts.

        • Ace

          I don’t think anything about this letter is baldly proscribing a specific way of thinking, merely detailing the personal opinions and the thoughts of the two persons involved (and *mostly* that of the author).

          If the person who wrote this feels that way about his athiesm I don’t particularly see where you or I or anyone else have the right to come storming in telling him he is necessarily wrong and bad and horrid for even suggesting it. It’s one point of view only.

          Frankly you aren’t making too much sense to me personally, at the moment, which is unusual because you are generally pretty good at expresssing yourself and rarely come off this oddly. Oh well.

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1258495613 Jessica Furbee Bailey

          Personally, I am fine with atheists describing their beliefs as a faith. It doesn’t take anything away from my faith in God if someone says they have faith that there is no God. Whatever. My religious beliefs are mine and how you describe yours can’t possibly take anything away from that.

        • Shadsie

          I really see it as more like… some of us are playing football while you’re bait-fishing. A passive sort of sport that doesn’t have anything to do with athletecism but is still called “sport.” Then again, I am one who considers EVERY point of view on origins, where we are going and the meaning of life a matter of “faith,” not all views being religion-proper, mind you, but when you get into these issues, semantics are quibbled over.

          I believe in God and in Jesus and I like to hope there’s a Heaven. I’ve recently been turned onto a “Hell is temporary at worst” idea that I really hope is true, and if not, I really hope Jesus gives people a chance *after* they die becuase too many of his followers are very good at turning souls *away* from him. As I’ve said on other posts, I don’t have the same kind of “certainty” of all this as a Fundamentalist, but, when it comes down to it, I do believe in “silly things.” Yet, I have had people tell me that my beliefs are “not a religion” because I don’t go to a church anymore, don’t care about selling it to anyone and am not allied at all with the political Religious Right. Being told that what I have is somehow “higher than” or “not” a religion made me go “Huh?”

          Furthermore, when I think of “faith” I don’t always of religion. It’s gotten squirelled up with “religion” in our language, but it’s really a different thing. I see “faith” as more related to “hope.” I’m fine with meeting non-religious people (so long as they don’t express hatred for me on default or act like they’re waiting for “my kind” to die out), but I don’t think I want to meet the person who has no faith. As I’ve said, don’t you have *faith in yourself?* I don’t think if you did, that you’d be able to let fly with your thoughts to strangers. Don’t you have *faith in the future?* I get up every day under the faith/assuption that “nothing really bad is going to happen to me today.” Sometimes, this faith prooves to be misplaced, but if I had no faith in anything good happening at all, I’d stay in my bed every day until I wasted away. Faith based on likelyhood is still faith in its own way.

          And it gets waaaaay damn trickier when it comes to things like origins/eternal destinies/the meaning of life. In short, I respect the original poster/writer for admitting that he has faith, rather than pretending everything regarding the deeper philosophical questions is known or utter robo-logic. If he sees it that way, let him if it makes him happy. I don’t see how it’s harming anyone – especially since some of us are going to, in your terms “believe the lie” no matter what. To get some people to think the way you do would demand a change in our brain-structures.

        • http://mine4thetaking.blogspot.com/ FreeFox

          You don’t like football?! O.o Now you’ve done it, Tildeb. So far, I was giving you the benefit of the doubt, but finally you have shown your true colours… :DThis reminds me, I had to think of you yesterday. I had stumbled across this (quite interesting) article on causes of homophobia.At some point, the article says this: “Are people always either/or [...] Or is sexual identity more complex than the cultural binary allows? This question points toward one of the vital functions of a binary, that of defining one axis of the binary in opposition to the other; [...] The identity “heterosexual” requires its opposite, “homosexual”, in order to define itself and to delimit the boundaries of behavior that receives society’s sanction and behavior that is demonized. One identity cannot exist without the other.”As I read that I had to think of your ongoing quest to define the binary religious/atheist, including the positive identity as “rational” and “peaceful” for the atheist, and all those “demonized” attributes you tie (either by argument or by implication) to the religious identity: delusionary, murderous, fascist, intolerant, etc.(And yes, I know that most literalist Christians do the same, only with the opposit signs. This is actually what got me thinking in the first place. For all your insistance on the fundamental difference, you just sound too much alike.)I know you are convinced of the rationality and well-meaning of your struggle, but so is Maggie Gallagher, or Orson Scott Card, or every determined, proselytizing Christian I’ve ever met. Given the passion with which you let the issue drive you (and the typical cherry-picking method of arguing), I cannot help but wonder about your subconscious motivation.If I understand Mr. Hudson (in the above linked article) correctly, his reasoning goes like this: Society has created a normative ideal of what a man should be. If however for whatever reason, the ideal cannot be fulfilled, men suffering from uncertainty and a sense of failure, seek out what to them is a manifestation of this horrible non-manliness. They don’t attack queers because they fear they are queer themselves, they attack what they feel is anti-men because the fear they are not man enough themselves.So I wonder if you are not so detemined to exorcise atheism, to externalize that irrationality, that un-proven conviction, that faith, for some such “defining” reason as well. What would be the emotional opposite of that? What besides Auschwitz and Witchburning could be so infuriating about faith based existance?I am certain you must be familiar with the technique of invalidation, practiced so successfully by both parents and the CIA: The ability to cast into doubt the validity of the convictions and experiences of their children/victims, and most succesfully when done in that maddening, quiet voice of reason, of course, that deadliest weapon of the superiour mind: Grown-up logic to argue the child out of those pesky emotions, desires, or wilfullness, the sweet voice with which to convince them that they wanted to see it your way all along, n’est-ce pas? A self-confidence, a personality so hurt would have to tremble at the sight of someone so bold to proclaim themselves right just on the ground of faith. It would explain both the the ironclad passion, this need-to-survive argumentativeness, and the supressed anger lurking under the surface.(And of course, it helps greatly that logic does provide a shitload of great arguments against literalist faith… I know, it really does. Just not all that many for the need to argue them so relentless…)Oh, wait, no i just confused your with “Straw-Man Tildeb” again… ;)

          • Diana A.

            Thanks for linking to that article. I see a lot of truth in it.

          • http://questionablemotives.wordpress.com/ tildeb

            I happen to thoroughly enjoy football in whatever form it takes. But don’t call me an athlete for not playing football.

            You continue to misrepresent me, FF; my complaint is that the epistemology of faith is untrustworthy. (It’s too easy to fool one’s self.) From that, I argue that religious belief must be personal rather than public, and that the religious have a duty to rein in their beliefs to the personal domain only for this reason. When asked to explain further, I have presented arguments about how these kinds of beliefs are so detrimental to human well-being in the form of empowering superstitions, pseudo-sciences, various -isms like race, gender, and sexual orientation, as well as the underlying impetus to the creation of totalitarian states that yield such rich atrocities as genocides like the holocaust. Beliefs – not good reasons grounded in methodological naturalism – empower the various kinds of faith-based ignorances necessary to convince large numbers of otherwise good people to put away their skepticism and subdue their tolerance and respect and dignity of the Other to take actions in the name of that belief set. And it plays out daily all around us. Each of us must therefore do our individual part in this ongoing battle. And it is a battle.

            As for my motivations to keep criticizing the extension of beliefs of others into my world, you can believe whatever you want. I don’t like revealing too much personal stuff because I happen to appreciate anonymity. My ideas and arguments need to stand or fall on their own merits.

          • http://mine4thetaking.blogspot.com/ FreeFox

            Type your reply…

          • http://mine4thetaking.blogspot.com/ FreeFox

            You have repeatedly, passionately, and not unconvincingly argued how some beliefs are detrimental to, well, something. You remain however far to McCarthian for me to ever feel quite touched by your concerns for your fellow humans.
            But be that as it may, what exactly is it that you base these concerns on? I mean, on what grounds do you care about another holocaust, or who gets exorcised by the RCC, or any of that? Why do you think there is some moral value in objective truth?
            I do not mean to intrude in your precious anonymity, but you must admit it is a rather significant question. If only objectively, falsifable, provenly true opinions can lay any claim to validity in the public sphere, where do you get these scientific proofs for the basis of your own value system? What is that system anyway, beyond a general disdain for Nazism and Witchburning?

          • http://questionablemotives.wordpress.com/ tildeb

            Well, I don’t know if this the right venue for answering this kind of question because it hasn’t anything to do with the post.

            Suffice it is to say that having too little concern I think is more of a problem than having too much.

            At the risk of offending others, I will press on because I DO think morality is an important concern.

            Moral value is based on human well being. Because I am a member of the human race, I have these moral values. And like most people, I judge which to elevate based on a variety of factors. What I don’t do is pretend that these values come from somewhere outside of the natural universe but rely instead on our growing body of evidence that our biology and its interactions with our environment is our primary source for our moral concerns.

            Opinions vary, I’m sure you’ll agree. There must be some way to compare and contrast and determine how well informed they are if they make factual truth claims about the universe and our place in it. Surely these claims about such facts really can be shown to be either true or false and no longer simply opinions that vary. Understanding this difference I think matters a great deal if one’s concern is to inform one’s opinions with something more than assertions and assumptions based on the vagaries of opinion. We simply don’t have that luxury if we are concerned about what is true.

            When it comes to truth claims, we’re talking about facts; when it comes to opinion, we’re no longer talking about facts. Facts are brutes; they just are. So how we can come to know these facts is therefore reliant on how practical and useful is our epistemology. Over the last one hundred and fifty years, methodological naturalism has proven itself to yield an ontology that all of us can rely on. It accurately reflects the facts we know and offers as avenue of further inquiry into what we would like to know. It also comes with applications that help and hinder human well-being but that’s not the issue here. The issue here is about upon what facts can we better understand morality.

            If you want to come to know the facts about morality, then you have to give up paying equal respect to a metaphysical epistemology that fails to provide knowledge that works and is reliable, one that fails to provide us with an avenue for further inquiry, one that does not produce applications that are of use because it it is not designed to further inquiries based on facts; rather it is designed the other way around. It is designed to produce answers into which the facts must fit. If the facts don’t fit, then the facts must be rejected. And this is exactly what we see with faith-based metaphysical epistemology. Rejecting facts that don’t fit means the method of investigation is a dishonest inquiry if the goal rather than starting position is to actually determine rather than assume what’s true.

            If you hold the opinion that morality has no such facts that can be known, then you certainly cannot jump into bed with the widespread notion that morality has an absolute set of rules handed down to us from elsewhere. This vague metaphysical opinion has no means to inform it because the epistemology has no means to do so… other than with more opinions, assertions, and assumptions. One starts with the assumption and assertion and opinion that the claim itself is true; for the epistemology of methodological naturalism, determining what’s true is the conclusion. That’s a strikingly different method of inquiry. Again, though, this metaphysical approach to inquiry has nothing to do with accounting for the facts that exist or producing workable and practical and reliable knowledge. That criteria of building knowledge has already been rejected in favour of assuming that one already knows the answer. And it is much easier to go along and believe one is doing good by burning a witch than it is to turn against so many of one’s friends and neighbours and insist that we must first do the semantic work necessary to determine what it specifically is we’re trying to burn. If the ‘witch’ part is a metaphysical notion that has no means at its disposal to discover if it is actually true, then the burning represents a failure of intellect first and a failure of metaphysical morality secondly that costs a poor wretch her very life for our willful ignorance. And in today’s world, metaphysical morality is an intellectual failure.

            The method of inquiry into morality, therefore,

          • Diana A.

            “And it is much easier to go along and believe one is doing good by burning a witch than it is to turn against so many of one’s friends and neighbours and insist that we must first do the semantic work necessary to determine what it specifically is we’re trying to burn.”

            I’m not intending to argue against or for anything you’ve said here. My own viewpoint is that one could also decide that the witch is one’s neighbor and since Jesus said to “love your neighbor as yourself” and since burning someone is hardly a loving action (although some interesting and scary arguments have been made otherwise) that one should refrain from burning a witch.

            One of the reasons why I tend toward Christian Universalism (and specifically Thomas Talbott’s arguments in favor of Christian Universalism) is Mr. Talbott’s argument that the rejection of Universalism by Constantine (among others) corrupted the Christian gospel (good news) of love into a “gospel” of fear–in other words, not good news at all. Having replaced love with fear, the good-hearted Christian attempts to get everybody to conform to Christian dogma by using the threat of everlasting punishment as a goad. The problem with this is that Jesus (and by Jesus, I mean God), never gave a rat’s ass about dogma. Jesus (God) was/is concerned with the heart–the deepest motivations of a person. And a person who is ruled by fear rather than by love is not right with God no matter how good that person seems on the outside and no matter how much that person conforms to Christian dogma. Of course, this is my interpretation and I could be wrong.

          • http://mine4thetaking.blogspot.com/ FreeFox

            Yes, that is all well enough. I expect that most moderate Christians on here would be in perfect accord with you that burning witches just isn’t the thing to do. And I am certainly all in favour of looking for all the empirical and theoretical scientific evidence (or, where that is sadly lacking, at least solid real life experience) before deciding on a course of action. Science is without a doubt the best method to go about plotting the most efficient course towards a goal.
            It is that goal, however, and how to come by it, where you have me confused. Now, please, I truly would not want to imply that any sort deity was necessary to form an opinion and decide on a goal. To the contrary, I would agree with you that most peeps who claim to base their decisions on divine will actually pick and chose the divine will to support whatever the hell they want to have supported anyway. But still, whatever the foundation for a fundamental goal (or value) may be… I still lack any “objective” basis in your argument.
            In other words, it seems as if you have just decided out of your gut that a certain form of non-combative harmonious world peace is that goal, and that for that goal, religious reasoning is dangerous. Now, I can see your point, but I most certainly do not share that goal. The world you seem to aim for may be peaceful (theoretically, I doubt it is any more realistic than the communist dream was), but it seems also sterile, mono-cultural, and dull as dishwater. And not little Big Brotherish/Brave New World like. Our arm-bands might not be adorned with a swastica or the hammer & sickle, but with a symbolized atom or a stylized Erlenmeyer flasks, but they are still way too uniform for my taste.
            So maybe we have found our most basic bone of contention: It is not the methodology we disagree on – as I said, I am all in favour of looking to the real world and how it really functions to inform my actions, and certainly – in cases of conflict – not a musty old book. But the fundamental goal, the vision you have for humanity, I cannot share. And I see no rational reason provided by you to take it into serious consideration.

          • Shadsie

            On the subject of “Brave New Worlds” – I’ve read another book recently that dealt with something like that. It’s a book I should have read as a kid, but didn’t come to until late and thought I ought to catch up because it’s considered a modern classic.

            The protagonists of the story find themselves on a “dark” planet. They come upon a city that is rather technologically advanced and everything is very efficient. The workers in their suits go to their businesses rank and file. Everything is done on time. Even the children play in the street in sequence. A little boy who bounces his ball incorrectly is taken away to be re-educated. As the protagnoists delve deeper, they find that there is no suffering in this world – since everyone thinks the same, does things in perfect sequence, and no weak or sick exist. If you so much as get a cold, it is considered more humane just to euthanize you.

            The leader of this world tried to ease its way into the brains of the protagonists. They fought back through, get this – irrationality. One character, if I recall correctly, thought about random stuff from history and historical documents – and lines from poetry. Another character (the math-whiz) thought about irrational numbers. In the end, one of their numbers is taken in, and is saved through his sister’s pure, unfilitered, irrational *love* for him.

            And peppered through this are some Biblical lines, particularly about how God uses the “foolish and the weak.”

            The book, is, of course, “A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeleline L’Engle.

            Given the choice between a “pure logic” world where all pain is eliminated through the cost of individuality and heart and being “foolish and weak,” I’m going to pick being foolish and weak every time – even if it means enduring suffering.

          • http://mine4thetaking.blogspot.com/ FreeFox

            Yeah, I love “A Wrinkle In Time.” (Though sometimes the preaching can get a bit annoying, you know, like in C.S. Lewis) But its a great YA book on the virtues of individuality. <3

          • Anonymous

            Tildeb, I get what you are saying, or at least I think I do.

            To your point: That criteria of building knowledge has already been rejected in favour of assuming that one already knows the answer.

            An article appeared on HuffPo, 11/13, with the rather lengthy title: John Shimkus, GOP Rep. Who Denies Climate Change On Religious Grounds, Could Lead House Environmental Policy

            Basically, this guy denies climate change because “nothing bad can come of the Earth unless it is preordained by God.”

            And the *proof*? Why there’s not just one, but two pieces of evidence…

            1. God’s promise to Noah in Genesis 8:21-22. “Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though all inclinations of his heart are evil from childhood and never again will I destroy all living creatures as I have done. As long as the earth endures, seed time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, will never cease.

            2. Matthew 24:31. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds from one end of the heavens to the other.

            Rep Simkus explains, “The Earth will end only when God declares it’s time to be over. Man will not destroy this Earth. This Earth will not be destroyed by a Flood. I do believe that God’s word is infallible, unchanging, perfect.”

            Science is of no value. Evidently the same applies to common sense. Even

            fox “news” guy Bill O’Reilly asserts the belief that pollution does not have serious implications is beyond foolish.

            By the way, Simkus is NOT an aberration. He has quite a few like-minded colleagues. Some of whom claim that the earth is 6,000 years old.

            These are indeed scary times.

          • http://questionablemotives.wordpress.com/ tildeb

            My central point exactly, Susan.

            And this example you offer is what we get: assertion, assumption, and faith-based beliefs brought into the public domain as if it was a compatible way of knowing anything about anything. In addition, it is brought forward as a public policy where it can do the most harm. But it’s really nothing more and nothing less than ignorance in action shrouded in belief-based faith as if that added legitimacy when in fact faith-based beliefs add nothing but obfuscation and misdirection and excuses for protecting ignorance from legitimate criticism.

            The basis of that criticism is all about determining (having the means and the method to find out) what’s true.

            If one simply favours the answers that some broken epistemology like metaphysics provides, then one doesn’t need to look too hard at what those answers are based on. We simply assume the basis of that answer is true. But if one wants to respect answers that are true, then one has to offer respect to the method that offers us the very means to do so.

            So now we come to the crux of why so many people think I cross some invisible line and become a hater of religion, a denier of beauty, a automaton, an anti-spiritual evangelical crusader, and so on: when a metaphysical ‘answer’ assumed to be true without any method to determine if it is so (even and especially if it is favoured by many) is in direct conflict with a conclusion arrived at by using a trustworthy and repeatedly proven epistemology that works, then I think we face a very stark and uncomfortable either/or choice: either one respects the metaphysical (informed by assertion, assumption, and faith-based beliefs) OR one respects what’s true. We cannot align the two. There is no middle ground, no accommodation, no apologetics to bring these polar opposites into alignment. We have two very different ways of coming to know anything… and they simply are not compatible methods of inquiry.

            Now put someone who respects faith-based beliefs to be equivalent to any other way of knowing anything about anything in a position of public office and this is what we get: someone exercising that public office’s power to favour some preferred answer informed by nothing other than faith-based belief that stands in direct conflict with what’s true, what the facts reveal, what informs our knowledge, what empowers our understanding, what justifies our actions. In its place stands this faith-based belief – disrespectful of what’s true, empty of facts, uninformed assumed answers, sanctimonious beliefs in place of complex understanding, misguided and harmfulresponses to issues that matter greatly to us all.

            Such faith-based beliefs exercised by misguided public officials are an ongoing example of why faith-based beliefs exercised in the public domain are intellectual bankruptcy and not some other kind, some other way of knowing.

          • Anonymous

            Yeah, it’s a drag that religious people engage in such muddled thinking.

          • http://questionablemotives.wordpress.com/ tildeb

            It’s not just some religious people, John; it’s those who believe without any means to establish the difference between poor and good reasons, weak and strong positions, informed and ill-informed opinions. This includes all kinds of woo – from alternative and complimentary medicines to demonic possession, from conspiracy supporters to those who pay for psychic readings, from alien abductions to dowsing. Faith alone – meaning faith-based beliefs – does not help us in this regard. If these beliefs are kept strictly personal, then no harm no foul. But when they are extended into the public domain and affect public policies that have consequences for all of us, then we’ve got a job to do.

          • http://shadsie.deviantart.com/ Shadsie

            But, from your posts, it would seem that you have a problem even when people keep their faith private. Just people *having* it seems to make them, in your mind, destructive (or at least inferior or incapable of certain things).

            As for politicians, I’ll tell you what I’ve learned long ago – politics is stupid. Politicians are stupid. They go for the flashy and the lowest common denoninator to get votes and the media is always, ALWAYS going to accentuate the negative and the most outrageous. Why do the “Global warming is a myth” people get press? Because the press knows such people get attention / angry up people’s blood. The media and it’s love for the outrageous are why I knew who Miss I Used to be a Witch and Hate Mastrabation running for Delaware was this election, but didn’t know half the people running in my own state!

            Sensible minds are out there – and, yes, some of them do believe in God – they just don’t get a lot of attention because they’re boring in a world that loves controversey.

          • Anonymous

            John,

            Surely you think the info I posted from Huffpo serves as a perfect example of muddled thinking, right?

            This elected official doesn’t believe in climate change because of the scriptures. Or, more specifically, his interpretation of the scriptures. And he’s not some random dude, but a potential leader for the House Environmental Committee.

            Link to my comment:

            http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/2010/11/10/letter-from-an-atheist-man-married-to-a-christian-woman/#comment-101047335

          • Anonymous

            Yeah, it’s a drag that religious people engage in such muddled thinking.

          • vj

            “In its place stands this faith-based belief – disrespectful of what’s true, empty of facts, uninformed assumed answers, sanctimonious beliefs in place of complex understanding, misguided and harmful responses to issues that matter greatly to us all. ”

            Yes, people’s actions are informed by all sorts of beliefs (religious and otherwise). However, your premise seems to be that people who subscribe to religious belief are by default guilty of harmful responses, and are by definition incapable of rational inquiry and seeking after facts. For me, a ‘metaphysical’ framework of the universe (including origins of life, and being kind to others) gives me a broad understanding, and the facts uncovered by science & experience serve to inform increasing levels of detail within that framework. As much as you, as an atheist, object to being described as having ‘faith’, I, as a person of religious faith, object to being told that I am “disrespectful of what’s true”.

          • http://questionablemotives.wordpress.com/ tildeb

            I don’t blame you for feeling that way, vj. But remember, I am criticizing those who believe that their metaphysics have any merit when in conflict with knowledge or in some way can inform inquiry that gathers knowledge. I don’t think it can because it puts the cart before the horse. That’s why it’s relevant to take a closer look at how we can come to know what we know (epistemology).

            For example, you claim that your ‘metaphysical’ framework gives you a means to gain a broad understanding of the universe into which facts uncovered by science and experience then fits. This is exactly the problem: here’s my answer… now how do these facts and experiences fit into supporting it! And then we have another problem: what to do with facts and experiences that do NOT fit. Will you change your framework? Are you willing to substitute some OTHER framework? What merit comes with the framework you have selected as your starting point? Are you open to following the evidence about facts and experiences where they lead you or will you spend your time shaping and molding facts and experiences to better fit into that which you have already accepted to be true? In this sense I do not see you metaphysical framework as an ally but an impediment to honest inquiry; it promote confirmation bias and offers you no way to challenge the framework itself. This is a problem of epistemology, meaning is it trustworthy? If history is any indication, the framework of metaphysics is incapable of promoting honest inquiry; it starts with the conclusion and offers us no means to test its efficacy in regards to what’s true because it is assumed.

          • vj

            My framework starts with ‘God created Everything’. Scientific data gives me some idea of ‘how’ He may have done so – to me, the elegant simplicity of DNA indicates the handiwork of God (I realize you don’t share that conviction, my point is that I haven’t rejected the fact of DNA, merely the interpretation some give to it). I have no idea if the first humans were created directly from dust, or if that is a symbolic story. But clearly it is a fact that at some point there was a first human. And all carbon-based life forms are essentially ‘dust’ anyway, so I don’t see a conflict. I am absolutely convinced of the fact that the Earth is very old in deed, and conclude from that that the 6 ‘days’ recounted in Genesis are very long periods of time, rather than literal 24-hour periods.

            If I didn’t have a framework, I wouldn’t even know which ‘honest inquiry’ to make regarding Life, the Universe and Everything. It’s a starting point, not a prescription. Of course I’m willing to change my framework, but I think the reality is that it doesn’t change much in essence, just in particular details (it’s pretty general to start with anyway). Over the centuries, men and women of religious faith have uncovered many of the scientific facts that underpin our modern understanding of the way things work. I don’t think their faith was a hindrance to their lines of ‘honest inquiry’, I think it may have been the spark that inspired their efforts.

            When what I think I know to be true is challenged, I examine my original understanding in the light of whatever new knowledge is presented, and take it from there. I try to focus on the good – in people, in circumstances. I try to ‘first do no harm’.

            As FreeFox puts it below, I stand on the side of reason, science, and provability. However, I don’t feel the need, nor is it practical, to start from absolute zero on everything – I like to find out what others have found out, and see where that leads me. I am willing to learn from anyone who presents truth, but I reserve the right to make up my own mind about things and not automatically adopt anyone’s interpretations. I build the framework as I go – I am happy to follow wherever truth leads, and so far that has lead me to still be a believer. So far, in my 40 years on this planet, I have not encountered any facts or personal experiences that do not fit into my original ‘God created Everything’ framework.

          • http://questionablemotives.wordpress.com/ tildeb

            At the risk of boring John, I feel you deserve a response, vj. So let’s look honestly at the effect your framework has: you assume agency behind creation as a starting position. Is this true? Does it really matter? Does it it any way affect how open-minded are you to, say, understand and appreciate how evolution works – a mechanism of biological change that has failed to show any agency other than cause and effect over time? If you are like most people, your automatic response will be that you don’t really allow your framework to dictate the facts, but let’s look a little deeper.

            If you bring your framework with you before you even begin to understand how life has evolved here on earth – and dismiss why how we know this to be true matters a great deal – you have already set up an impediment to learning about what is true. And this is where we get into trouble separating what we know in specifics from how we know in general. (Again, most people will pay lip service to accepting some suitably watered down version of evolution like ID or micro-evolution or a god that starts the process in deep time and so on… all which just by coincidence happen to allow the framework of ‘God created everything’… sort of… in a manner of speaking.)

            By starting with a framework based solely on assumption and without any means to test whether or not that framework is true, we subject what we know to be strained through this artificial belief filter we have arbitrarily inserted and justified only by assumption. Might that explain why only 25% of Americans believe in evolution unfettered by any kind of supernatural agency compared to nearly 80% who believe angels are real? This is not a small or trivial matter. This reveals a widespread problem respecting why the method of inquiry for the former has been undermined by respecting the method of inquiry former for the latter and that this discrepancy in results of the two kinds of inquiry are deepening this discrepancy between what is true and what is believed to be true. These are not the same things at all. (I cannot build a efficacious medicine we can all rely on to work by using the method of inquiry that allows for belief in angels, but I can produce all kinds of snake oil products to sell to those who are willing to believe my products work subject to the vagaries of supernatural efficacy.)

            My point remains that we can dispense altogether with this filter based on assumption if we first accept that how we come to know anything about anything matters, that the kind of results that come from granting faith-based belief does NOT produce an equivalent kind of result we can achieve by an unbiased method of inquiry that tests the results for efficacy. Believing Iraq has weapons of mass destruction is not equivalent to knowing whether or not Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. And respecting this difference matters because it has affect. The efficacy of snake oil is NOT equivalent to the efficacy of medicine. Believing in angels is not the result of an equivalent or harmless method to inquiry that has no direct effect whatsoever on understanding why, for example, evolution is true. Too many people think this aspect of our starting position for honest inquiry is unimportant yet my argument is that this difference is the very foundation upon which we build our practical knowledge of the universe. There is a significant and meaningful difference between snake oil and medicine, the difference between the kind of belief in angels and the kind of belief in evolution, between respecting the misguided notion that there is equivalency between faith-based beliefs as a framework and the framework necessary for coming to know what’s true. And this difference is important.

            You are willing to grant assumption this place of honour in your framework because it fits with your beliefs in the context of your social setting and environment in which you live. I am not so open to allowing your assumptions to have any merit in mine unless and until you can show me why I should – not for my sake or comfort level or as a sign of tolerance and friendliness and special favoritism but because you can show me why it is an equivalent way to learn about what is true. I do not see this in action. I see this willingness to accept faith-based assumptions as an INCOMPATIBLE method to honest and open and unbiased inquiry, one that directly impedes and actively interferes with coming to know what is true. And you can reveal this bias to yourself by asking the following question and seeing if you – not me – can come up with an answer: what evidence would I accept that shows me that my starting framework is wrong?

          • vj

            “I see this willingness to accept faith-based assumptions as an INCOMPATIBLE method to honest and open and unbiased inquiry, one that directly impedes and actively interferes with coming to know what is true.”

            STILL you insist that I MUST be, by virtue of being a person of faith, INCAPABLE of scientific inquiry! Do you not see how unbelievably offensive that is? The fact that I believe in the existence of a spiritual realm of some sort DOES NOT mean that I don’t want the efficacy of my medicine proven in clinical trials…

            You also ask “what evidence would I accept that shows me that my starting framework is wrong?”

            I have tried to understand the non-God position. I have tried to find a compelling case for it, some reason to change my starting position. So far this has presented me with the following ‘facts’:
            - “To be sure, many of the fine details of life’s beginnings remain pretty imponderable.” (Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything”
            - “How did life arise? The short answer is that we do not know” (McCarthy & Rubidge, The Story of Earth & Life)
            - “If we want to postulate a deity capable of engineering all the organized complexity in the world, either instantaneously or by guiding evolution, that deity must already have been vastly complex in the first place.” (Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker) [Dawkins goes on to reveal his distinct BIAS against the God hypothesis, but I suppose you think it's OK for atheists to be biased in their assumptions.]

            I’m not asking you to accept my faith-based assumptions about what is true (clearly you don’t), and I totally agree that public policy should be decided on sound data. What I am asking you to do is accept that, even though I have faith-based assumptions, I am still ready, willing and able to apply my mind to empirical evidence in any given context, and that there is much we can agree about.

          • http://questionablemotives.wordpress.com/ tildeb

            You come to the astounding conclusion that STILL you insist that I MUST be, by virtue of being a person of faith, INCAPABLE of scientific inquiry!

            This is NOT what I am saying! At all. I am saying that the conclusions reached by faith-based beliefs use a METHOD of inquiry that is incompatible with honest inquiry. It is the method of thinking between the two that is incompatible.

            People can – and DO – exercise incompatible methods all the time by compartmentalizing their methods of thinking depending on the subject. How else can a priest be a priest and espouse certain church values most of the time and then go and rape a child? It’s not religion or pedophilia that defines what a priest is or how he thinks and rationalizes his behaviors: he compartmentalizes his being a priest and being a pedophile even though the thinking behind the two activities are incompatible. You can be a scientist and a religious believer; many of us in fact are. But the thinking that underlies the two activities requires using incompatible methods of inquiry.

          • Anonymous

            “I am saying that the conclusions reached by faith-based beliefs use a METHOD of inquiry that is incompatible with honest inquiry.” Only you, Tildeb, would use the word “honest,” right there—and then utterly fail to see what an arrogant, narrow-minded, bigoted, and patently offensive thing that is to say. I NEVER respond to you—and will surely regret doing it this time—but I do want to request that you change either the tone, number, or length of your comments. Cuz … enough already. Thanks.

          • http://questionablemotives.wordpress.com/ tildeb

            …utterly fail to see what an arrogant, narrow-minded, bigoted, and patently offensive thing that is to say.

            You believe so, but is your charge true that faith-based inquiry is honest inquiry when it starts with accepting the conclusion as true? I don’t think so and have explained why. If you disagree with my reasoning, then please explain your reasoning (although I can appreciate that you are always pressed for time). I’m not above being mistaken and appreciate being shown why. The name-calling, however, fails to offer me this opportunity. As for the gag order, hey… it’s your blog. I’ll respect your conditions.

          • Anonymous

            I’ve blocked Tildeb from the site. So … he/she won’t be answering you. Happy Thanksgiving!

          • vj

            Oh, well, thanks, I guess :-) Although I wasn’t personally bothered, and after my previous post had already decided that I wasn’t going to play his/her game anymore (my life called, and said it needed my back)… Actually, I found it quite a relief to express my thoughts in this thread – all of my immediate family (parents etc, not spouse!) are atheists of some sort, but of course we are all too polite and nice to each other to ever have this discussion in person.

            And Happy Thanksgiving to you and Cat!

          • Anonymous

            My blocking Tildeb (and FreeFox) didn’t actually have anything to do with you. And to be perfectly honest, I had no idea of the religious sensibilities of either person: I didn’t know Tildeb was an atheist, and for all I know FreeFox is a Zorastrian. I could never figure out what either of them was saying. And maybe my distaste for their … writing ways was unique to me. If any of you guys want them back, say the word, and I’ll be glad to unblock them and invite them back. Since they annoy the heck out of me, I figured they did everyone. But maybe not. Maybe readers/commenters LIKED those guys. If so, no worries; I’ll just ask them back.

          • http://mine4thetaking.blogspot.com/ FreeFox

            “[...] when a metaphysical ‘answer’ assumed to be true [...] is in direct conflict with a conclusion arrived at by using a trustworthy and repeatedly proven epistemology [...] we face a very stark [...] choice.”

            Aye. Then we do. And then I’ll always stand with you on the side of reason, science, and provability. ^_^

          • http://questionablemotives.wordpress.com/ tildeb

            Then why not start there rather than by this circumbendibus route?

          • http://mine4thetaking.blogspot.com/ FreeFox

            Because there are issues in my life for which the scientific epistemology does not have practical answers or advice. In my choice of a lover, or of a profession, science cannot help me. In the appreciation of a sunrise, in the celebration of a new day, and in the thankfulness to those who helped me reach it, science has no say. Science does not give me the energy to get through a fight, it does not give me the patience to pacify the crying baby, or the wisdom how to react when the love of my life lies to me. Science can give me a lot of useful information on all of these subjects, allowing me to make informed choices. But it doesn’t make the choices for me.
            That which I percieve as God does. That which I percieve as my spirit guides do. That which I percieve as gods, spirits, the soul, fate, magic, and miracles does, just as love, hope, even fear and anger do.
            But with the revelations of reasons, not against them.

          • http://mine4thetaking.blogspot.com/ FreeFox

            So much for the connection between science and morals. ^_^

          • http://mine4thetaking.blogspot.com/ FreeFox

            “Moral value is based on human well being.”

            How exactly did you get to that conclusion?

          • http://questionablemotives.wordpress.com/ tildeb

            That’s the right question: on what is moral value based? My answer – human well being – has come to me after many moons of study. What’s your answer?

          • http://mine4thetaking.blogspot.com/ FreeFox

            “My answer [...] has come to me after many moons of study.”

            Are you anthropomorphizing the “answer”? How has it come to you? Climbed in through the window? I will tell you my answer, but I really want to know your axioms and the logical path you took to come to the conviction that “moral value is based on human well being”. (Including how you define “human” and “well being” in any practical/meaningful way.)

          • Anonymous

            Stop! Your guys’ half-baked, sloppily articulated, excruciatingly boring pretentiousness is sucking the life out of the universe.

          • http://mine4thetaking.blogspot.com/ FreeFox

            Seriously? Is that a gag order?

          • Anonymous

            (Was that too rough?)

          • http://mine4thetaking.blogspot.com/ FreeFox

            Maybe my ideas aren’t so well baked and articulated as your divine blog posts, and maybe they are excruciatingly boring (to those who feel compelled to read them, for whatever reasons), but I resent being called pretentious. For me the question on what to base my moral decisions is pretty vital and important.
            (I can live with sucking the life from the universe. The universe is after all sucking the life out of me as well, second per second… unless you think doing so is immoral… but I have to wonder, what you base that on… :D)

    • Don Rappe

      I would think Paul was poetically describing faith rather than trying to define it in your quote. I think Thomas Aquinas went to some pains to distinguish strongly between belief and faith. Most people consider him religious. Paul Tillich redefined faith as “ultimate concern”. While that doesn’t turn me on too much, many religious people go with it. So it’s not necessary for our faiths to meet your definition of it, which, by the way, would make it impossible to hold. My own preferred definition was given by Jean Paul Sartre. Although he uses words that presuppose faith to be false, his definition is the best in my way of thinking. (He compares it to self deception.) Clearly the letter writer has a different way of understanding his atheism than you yours. I have no doubt that this helps him to respect his wife’s views with the possible exception of the “going to hell” view. I would take that with a grain of salt. I always enjoy your well reasoned and moderately expressed views. I am not tired of them. To you in particular I would say that faith involves both sides of my bicameral brain. It is this sort of faith that makes us refer to Buddhism or Taoism or Confucianism as “religions”. It is not about specific Westernized God beliefs.

  • Cathy

    wow…

  • mattkorey

    I think this is completely lovely. It seems almost a bit idyllic, as in not true or made up. I’m hoping this is a real letter written by a real person in a real marriage as they are describing. Hate to be suspicious, but it seems almost too good to be true. But I will hope it is. Hooray for hope and happy marriages!

    • Anonymous

      No, it’s a real guy. I would have linked to his website, but it’s down just now, and he didn’t have anything else he wanted me to link to. But this is a real letter he really wrote me. Promise.

    • DBarach

      Matt, I’m real and my wife is real and our twin boys that were born since I originally wrote this post are real too. We’re still happily married and everything that I wrote then is still true now.

      I’d also like to add that I’m sad that tildeb hijacked this letter to spew off about a word choice of mine to push his/her unrelated thoughts. This wasn’t a post about who is allowed to use the word faith, it was about how love and respect can bring people together regardless of their background. That a Christian missed the point about Love and Respect and instead focused on Faith makes me think that some Christians still don’t understand Christ.

      • http://questionablemotives.wordpress.com/ tildeb

        If you’d written about how we can all live together in spite of our differences, that would have been swell. If you had written about how we should come to celebrate our differences, I would have applauded. But now I read that you are sad. And it’s my fault. How callous of me.

        I don’t think you need to be sad about my ‘hijacking’, DB; after all, you are the one who argued that faith (like the kind believed in by your spouse) is shared by all (false) and that we need to recognize this fact (false), that it brings us together (false), is essential (false), makes us complete (false), and fulfills our emotional being (false). So I responded why these claims abuse the term as it meant by those who hold a religious sense of the word, meaning a belief-based faith in the absence of good reasons. I gave you a break because I figured your intentions were good.

        Yet you now wave your paragraph about faith aside (after you have written it and used it as a central thesis in your advice column) and claim that my focus on how you have inappropriately used this term is really about WHO can use it. Of course, this falls under your category of spewing. That’s not very accepting of you of my differing opinion. In fact, it’s duplicitous and that really pisses me off.

        So let’s recap, shall we? You write:

        Everyone has faith of some kind, even atheists (we can’t prove there is no God, we simply believe there is no God). By recognizing your own faith, even if it’s belief in mammon—or as Washington Irving called it: “The Almighty Dollar”—you can understand how essential faith is to the core of our being. Everyone has the ability to relate to the fervent wholeness of faith, and to understand how it can permeate every aspect of one’s life. You don’t have to share the same faith to know how your spouse feels about their spiritual connection. It’s the universal feelings that come from faith, even if the faiths are different, that are the foundation from which you can connect, share, learn, and grow.

        Every point here is false (not true) if we are to use the word ‘choice ”faith’ as it is used by the religious. I will be glad to explain why. But I suspect you are too comfortable in your own fuzzy thinking and misplaced sense of offense to challenge yourself to come to a better informed understanding of who exactly is spewing nonsense here. I don’t think you really care. And that’s why this kind of letter needs to be challenged for its blatant and intentional misuse of what it is we’re talking about here: how to accommodate a belief-based faith in a personal relationship to avoid the kind of conflictual problems that typically accompany it. Your solution? Pretend non belief is a different kind of belief. And that works for you. Kudos. But that doesn’t make it true and you should be sad that somewhere along the way you forgot that what’s true actually matters… especially in a relationship that is to be founded on mutual respect, trust, and honesty. It’s hard to have honesty if one has already capitulated on what’s true.

      • http://shadsie.deviantart.com/ Shadsie

        Tildeb is not a Christian. Unless something changed last I looked, he/she was an athiest – one of a few who hang out on this blog. Mr. Shore is pretty interesting to all kinds of people.

  • Guest

    The accompanying photo of the hands is…pretty hot. (Fanning self.) It has that timeless bodice-ripper quality.

  • Katgelinas

    This was just excellent! Really that is what love is!

  • Anonymous

    Commenter “Tildeb” has been blocked off this site.

  • Diana A.

    How come? Not that I’m disagreeing with your decision. I’m just curious as to which straw broke the camel’s back.

  • Anonymous

    There never is one straw. There’s just an accumulated weight that eventually you get off your butt and drop. I hate people who use language as a weapon.

    • Diana A.

      Okay. I see your point. Thanks!

  • Suz

    Thank you for blocking Tildeb and Freefox. I don’t want to bash, because I appreciate people who make me think. However (you knew that was coming, didn’t you?) I look forward to no longer wading through murky verbiage, looking for a point that might be relevant. Their arrogance was getting on my nerves. Rather than CONTRIBUTING to the conversation, they both had some bad habits: nit-picking on words and phrases out of context, obfuscating issues with vague, incoherent, ” intellectual” arguments, and rarely acknowledging logical thinking by anyone but themselves. I’m one of several people whom they have engaged in debate, then ignored, after we offered rational explanations for what they perceived as irrational comments. Intelligent commentary enriches this blog; rudeness does not. I apologize for any smug superiority in this comment, as I know I’m vulnerable to the hypocrisy of despising in others the flaws I’d rather not acknowledge in myself, and those two were really getting under my skin.

    • Anonymous

      Exactly. That’s precisely how I experienced those two, and I, too, am happy to not have to deal with it/them. To me, those guys were … well, these guys:

      http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/2010/09/24/away-you-rare-blog-commenters-of-the-silly-putty-sort/

      • Suz

        Thanks for the link. I haven’t been following very long, so I haven’t had time to read many backposts. You must be an amazing writer (yeah, mushy-mushy) and person to have SO MANY insightful, compassionate, articulate (and funny) readers. Lurking or participating, I love these conversations! Thank you for this blog; I think I’ll take a seat over there on the rug in front of the fireplace.

      • Suz

        Thanks for the link. I haven’t been following very long, so I haven’t had time to read many backposts. You must be an amazing writer (yeah, mushy-mushy) and person to have SO MANY insightful, compassionate, articulate (and funny) readers. Lurking or participating, I love these conversations! Thank you for this blog; I think I’ll take a seat over there on the rug in front of the fireplace.

  • Anonymous

    Huh. I always received insight from tildeb. Lately, however, I’ve been unable to visit John’s house as often as I used to, so maybe I missed some drama, which is not a bad thing.

  • Anonymous

    Just reviewed this post. So, yeah, I guess there was definitely some trading of high octane testosterone, ego and passion. A few comments were reminiscent of Bill Clinton’s “it depends on what your definition of ‘is’ is.”

    What I appreciate about tildeb is his perspective as an intellectual, an athiest and a ‘non’ American.

    The experiences he shard as a Canadian – e.g. one time he wrote about being in a club listening to a band and looked at the crowd…it was composed of older people, young people, Canadians, straighst, gays, non-Canadians…all were there enjoying the music NOT noticing their differences, which evidently was NOT out of the ordinary.

    I thought there was a lot to learn from the juxtaposition of his experiences to the average American’s experience.

    Maybe something is going on in his life that has rendered him a little more combative lately.

    I wish him well.

  • Anonymous

    Just reviewed this post. So, yeah, I guess there was definitely some trading of high octane testosterone, ego and passion. A few comments were reminiscent of Bill Clinton’s “it depends on what your definition of ‘is’ is.”

    What I appreciate about tildeb is his perspective as an intellectual, an athiest and a ‘non’ American.

    The experiences he shard as a Canadian – e.g. one time he wrote about being in a club listening to a band and looked at the crowd…it was composed of older people, young people, Canadians, straighst, gays, non-Canadians…all were there enjoying the music NOT noticing their differences, which evidently was NOT out of the ordinary.

    I thought there was a lot to learn from the juxtaposition of his experiences to the average American’s experience.

    Maybe something is going on in his life that has rendered him a little more combative lately.

    I wish him well.

  • Anonymous

    Maybe one day he will come back…

  • Shadsie

    So, this has just been put up on Huffpost a couple of days ago, right? Against my better judgement, I did some commenting on it. (I’m “AdorableHero” there – with avatar of a video game character in green with pointy elf-ears, that would be the world famous Link of Legend of Zelda) because if you’re on Huff, you might as well be silly…

    I feel a need to apologize to you for… if I’ve gotten out of line in my comments there. Really. That “Dan” guy really grinds my gears and I’ve been rising to the bait. If I have made things problematic for you over there in any way, I am sorry.

    • Anonymous

      No, no worries. I … just don’t care what goes on in HuffPo comments. It’s always a feeding frenzy over there.

      • Anonymous

        (I just went and read your last comment on HuffPo. Apparently it wasn’t being published; so I published it. I loved it! It’s just great.)

        • http://shadsie.deviantart.com/ Shadsie

          Thanks. Just saw – I was out for the last few hours in the cold doing manual labor. I’m wondering which comment, because I made a lot of them. If it’s the one about the “bettering” someone who doesn’t want to “get better,” eh… I recently wrote a short story about that very concept, so it’s been on my mind – I can definitely see that vibe when it comes up. I’ve had past conversations with that particular opponent on Huff, all having that same vibe (including a whiny demand of “What will it take for you to become an atheist?!!” ) so I guess he (and others) inspired a short story out of me. Heh.

          I actually find people who think that my mind is worth “saving” rather cute. Frustrating, but I have to tell myself it’s ultimately a sweet sentiment (or else write pompous characters based upon them as revenge).

  • Matthew Tweedell

    Wow, I can’t believe I missed all this that was going on!

    (I was kind of busy at the time, and didn’t really bothered to follow at this article, since it was a repost of something I’d read before.)

    I was wondering what had happened to Tildeb! I used to appreciate his presence here (gadfly though he was—I guess I thought his bites good for building immunity/tolerance, and he did have his moments in the sun). Maybe if I’d have stepped into this fray (as I recall, I was typically the one to engage him before), it might have degraded into some sort of steady state quickly enough to avoid infecting so much of the thread. Oh well, Tildeb doesn’t believe in a savior, so no savior for him before the judgment seat of the all-blog-mighty & benevolent BlogMaster.

    But FreeFox? Now there’s a creature of good heart to be accounted worthy of greater mercy, no? Things do certainly seem to have gotten carried away between him and Tildeb, but how much is his share of the blame? Or perhaps I’m just saying this because of some subconscious fear that I myself could do the same.

  • http://www.randi.org Cedric Katesby

    Everyone has faith of some kind, even atheists

    Nope. Not collecting stamps is not a hobby. Baldness is not a hair colour. Atheism is not a faith.

    (we can’t prove there is no God, we simply believe there is no God).

    Nope. A claim of the existence of something requires evidence to support said claim. Nothing else makes sense. The burden of proof is on the claimant. If you claim that Bigfoot exists then it’s up to you to provide evidence that Bigfoot exists. It’s not up to the other guy to “prove” that Bigfoot doesn’t exist. That’s just silly.

    “We can’t prove there is no Bigfoot, we simply believe there is no Bigfoot.”

    “We can’t prove there is no Santa, we simply believe there is no Santa.”

    “We can’t prove there is no Baal, we simply believe there is no Baal.”

    “We can’t prove there is no Flying Spaghetti Monster, we simply believe there is no Flying Spaghetti Monster.”

    That which is asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.- Christopher Hitchens


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