Reading and Praying… One of those I can do.

The new school term has started, so I’ve been going through the list of suggestion posted here and at Mark Shea’s blog in response to my offer to let you pick my religion-related New Year’s Resolutions.

[UPDATE: The full list of suggested books is now up]

I’ve looked through all the suggestions, and, except for a few exceptions, they fall into two categories:  try prayer and read [book].  I’m going to post the list of books I’m looking at (though I’ll probably have to cull) by morning, but, because so many Christians (both online and off) recommend prayer to atheists, I wanted to respond to that suggestion in a little more detail.

Last year, during Lent, I asked my boyfriend if there was anything he wished I would do with regard to religion.  He suggested prayer, and I said I could try, but I really really doubted I could.  We abandoned the experiment about half way through Lent.

The trouble is, atheists have nothing to say to God, by definition.  The first time I asked what on earth I could pray about, my boyfriend suggested I should say anything I wanted, provided it was directed toward God.  I could express my anger toward God, rail at Him, no concerns about politeness, as long as I was talking.

“I’m not angry at God,”  I explained. “I don’t believe in God, so I don’t have anything to be angry at.  A nonexistent being can’t upset me.”

In a spirit of experimentation, I tried acting as though I was speaking to God, but the whole experience continued to feel completely foreign and empty.  I could do it inasmuch as I can play the devil’s advocate in debate or try to play a character in an improv game, but none of that feels genuine, and, when I try it with something that other people find sacred, it seems disrespectful as well as dull, and I’m not inclined to try it again.

An addendum:  In perhaps the most ridiculous example yet of my fixation on social ritual and politeness, even when I tried to pretend to speak to God, I felt uncomfortably intrusive.  I had to suggest to my boyfriend that he offer a heads-up to God in his own prayer, so that I was not presumptively addressing someone to whom I had not been formally introduced.

About Leah Libresco

Leah Anthony Libresco graduated from Yale in 2011. She works as an Editorial Assistant at The American Conservative by day, and by night writes for Patheos about theology, philosophy, and math at www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked. She was received into the Catholic Church in November 2012."

  • orgostrich

    I experienced the same thing when my boyfriend asked me to pray. I found I had things to say, but didn't know how to say them. And I'm not sure what response I was looking for… just anything to make me believe I wasn't only talking to myself. I never got any response at all. I don't know, maybe I'm doing it wrong somehow.

  • Matt Gerken

    That last bit is hilarious!I think when most Christians envision you starting out with prayer, they're thinking of something along the lines of a skeptical cry when you are trapped in the wilderness. You're pretty sure that no one is there, but as long as you make an honest effort, it's possible that the Lord will work in you and answer or provide some other revelation. This latter part is especially true of more evangelical types.But I think you identify a feeling that from time to time is almost as awkward for people who believe in God. Just because we believe in God doesn't mean that he doesn' feel pretty darn distant from time to time. And it is okay to feel a bit of apprenhension about talking to God- he's God! There are some great parts of the Confessions where Augustine considers all the strange connotations of praying to the Creator.But all of this uneasiness is one great reason the Catholic and Orthodox Churches emphasize the saints and prayer to them as intercessors for us. It is naturally easier to identify their human experiences and individual stories, and perhaps easier to talk with them so that they can talk to God on your behalf. It's like asking Chris to introduce you to God, except with people who have even better rapport with him! (No offense Chris)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14053209866506474919 Grant Atkinson

    For the record, I completely sympathize with that last addendum.Frankly I don't really understand how prayer is supposed to work from a theoretical standpoint. I never understood the point of informing an omniscient God of your desires, since shouldn't he already know them? It makes more sense to me as a tool for the faithful to better hone their devotion to God in a manner similar to meditation. I'm sure there are many who would be quick to tell me that that's not it at all, though, so you'd do well to take what I say with an industrial-size grain of salt.I'm an experimentalist, not a theorist, at heart, so eventually I decided to start praying whether I thought I was doing a good job or not. Often it still feels like I'm just being foolish and talking to the air conditioner. Still, when I think to myself, "If you're there, you can hear me, and I want to know you," I don't think I'm completely failboating the idea of prayer. I always welcome advice from believers on how better to do this.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13116034158087704885 March Hare

    This might be just me, but rather than talk to something I don't believe in (someone is a word reserved for humans!) I get a weird tingly feeling when I contemplate why there is something rather than nothing.By that I don't just mean a universe, it's here and we trace it back to the big bang, but behind that, the 'branes or whatever it was that generated the big bang, why is that there? There is no necessity for it, it doesn't have to be. What would it be like if it wasn't there?It feels, to me, like I am almost pulling the curtain back on the wizard, finding that the game is a cheat and that I will end it if I look too closely. There is a part of my brain that wants to stop the thought processes before I do any damage.Much better than prayer.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10845051786114528609 Julie Robison

    Leah, the last part is hilarious! When I was in college, I met people who loved to pray off-the-cuff: Oh Lord, la la la. I felt extremely uncomfortable with that; I grew up strictly recitating prayers, which I find comforting in the sense that those prayers were given to us in the Bible. Then I found the Fr. Hardon prayer book in my house, which is this little red book packed full of more (written down!) prayers: http://www.therealpresence.org/archives/Prayer.htmThe thing about prayer is that sometimes you don't even need words. Silence can be a form of prayer, if you are intent on listening to God. Maybe you won't hear anything, but perhaps you'll feel the spirit move in your heart. Perhaps something will change or happen. It might not happen right then, of course, because God is not limited by time. Everything happens in his time. You're right Grant– God does already know what you want and need. But Jesus said, "Ask you and shall recieve. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be open." (Matthew chapter 7-ish?) There are different types of prayer: petition, thanksgiving, adoration/ worship, repentent, and love. I love what St. Padre Pio said: "Pray to the Lord, for even God needs our prayers."What? God needs our prayers? Why? Technically, God doesn't need us. He's all-powerful. He didn't even have to create us. But he did, out of love, for love. He doesn't want us to pray to him only out of duty and homage, but to come before us as Jesus did as a man to his father: thankful for our gifts, in need of support and strength during times of weakness, asking for help in our troubles, telling him how much we love him (as we tell people on earth, so we tell our father in heaven!).There is a difference when you tell a person something and when you think something. The same goes for God. Prayer is not theoretical, prayer is action – it is an active way to build a relationship with God. It might be hard (it definitely was and continues to be for me, in the sense that I have to purposefully carve time out of my busy day and set it aside for him), but the fruit prayer bears is incomparable. I also second Matt with the saints; they have been and are essential in my journey.Pax tecum, and good luck! You can do it. :)

  • thomas tucker

    Dovetailing with your previous post, and recognizing the old saying attributed to St. Francis (Preach, and if necessary, use words) may I suggest that you spend time volunteering with the poor or impoverished, or with immigrants who need help with tutoring? I think you are more likely to encounter Christ in that way than by reading or thinking.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11174257204278139704 Charles

    This may not be related but I was recently reading a book called "Almost Catholic" by Jon Sweeney… and when I read this reference to Chesterton (which I have not read in the original) I thought of this blog:Chesterton makes it simple to see Christ clearly. And it is no wonder that his writings have ushered many a Christian into the Catholic Church. He once wrote the following in his Autobiography, recounting a conversation he had with a friend:He once made to me the very sensible remark, “The only little difficulty that I have about joining theCatholic Church is that I do not think I believe in God. All the rest of the Catholic system is so obviously right and so obviously superior to anything else, that I cannot imagine anyone having any doubt about it.” And I remember that he was grimly gratified when I told him, at a later stage of my own beliefs, that real Catholics are intelligent enough to have this difficulty; and that St. Thomas Aquinas practically begins his whole argument by saying, “Is there a God? Apparently not.” But, I added, it was my experience that entering into the system even socially brought an ever-increasing certitude upon the original question.–I also don't know if Chesterton was right about making the answer to the original question more certain…

  • B. R. Lind

    It's probably harder because you grew up in an atheist household, as opposed to being taught to pray and later deciding there was no one there.Re:addendum, I had a similar experience not too long ago. My friend was in a scary situation, and I was utterly helpless to assist, so I wanted to pray. But it seemed awfully rude to make requests of someone whose existence I'd been denying, plus it felt insincere because I knew I was just trying to make myself feel better and would probably not feel grateful even if my requests came to pass. So I asked a pious Catholic friend of mine to pray on my friend's behalf, which he did.I slept through breakfast the next day, and when lunchtime came around, I impulsively skipped it with the vague notion that a fast would get God's attention. It was sort of like throwing a tantrum. (I then had dinner early, so it wasn't even much of a fast!)I'm pleased to report that, for whatever reason, my friend came through swimmingly (you might know what I'm talking about). Did I feel grateful? Actually, I felt oddly triumphant, like a little kid who kicked and screamed until she got what she wanted (something I've never actually done because it would not have worked on my parents!). I do feel grateful to my Catholic friend for the heartfelt prayer I know he offered.

  • B. R. Lind

    . . . and greatly relieved, of course.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    Interesting post. Even having come from being a believer (in response to B.R. Lind), I still report a current extreme awkwardness even when I do attempt prayer. At present, this has been reduced to "Jesus, give me that which I cannot deny" or something like this — as in, if I'm going to believe, you need to give me whatever it is that I need.I have been able to "half-pray" without praying… more contemplation/internal-dialogging/rooting around. Cryptic, I know. I have been in times of prayer, closed my eyes and essentially tried to focus on reducing any unbased obstruction within myself to finding out if god existed or not. In essence, applying the Litany of Tarski to the god concept.Lastly, I will echo that the whole idea of prayer and intercession seems completely convoluted to me. My wife just attended an entire talk about prayer, how to ask, what to ask for, and why god says no. She told me about it and I would just ask questions. For example, can we change anything with prayer that wasn't already going to happen? There was a large focus in the talk about "conforming your will to god's." The speaker then suggested (using awesome logic), that if you want what god wants and god's will always comes to pass, you will always get what you want.So… you're supposed to ask conditional upon it being what god wants. But the speaker didn't explain how to know ahead of time. He also said that sometimes we are told "no" because god knows best and perhaps suffering is his way to give us what we really need, which is to be brought closer to Jesus. But, then, how would you know, for example, whether to pray for someone's recovery or their staying sick? Perhaps god decides that a miracle is what he wants… but perhaps he decides that this person really needed to stay sick to suffer to be brought closer to Jesus and ultimately to heaven.In other words, by praying for recovery, you could be praying for the person to go to hell.This all seemed quite confusing to me. I don't see how you can "align" your will to god's when you pray since you will only ever know what his will apparently was after the fact.Really, what I want to know is whether god and/or prayer brings about anything distinguishable from natural occurrences coming along as they will.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05333871014217027441 red_horizon0127

    I would like to offer some advice that a priest recently gave me when I asked for guidance on discerning my vocation. You are not discerning your vocation, but I think our goals are similar: you and I are both hoping to give God (if God exists, from your point of view) the opportunity to speak to us. Here is what the priest suggested:Twice a week, every week, for several months – it's up to you to decide how long, but I would not give up before six months have passed – visit a local Adoration Chapel. Just bring yourself – no books, no Rosary, no cell phone, nothing – and pass the half hour in front of the Blessed Sacrament. You don't have to pray – though you can, if you feel so moved. You don't have to pay attention – though you can, if you feel so inclined. You don't have to do anything except stay put for one half hour. If you spend the half hour there and find the whole arrangement laughably absurd, so be it. But please stay there for the half hour. Then come again next week.As I'm sure you are aware by now, Catholics believe that Christ is present in the Blessed Sacrament. We also believe that when we spend time with Him in this way, He imparts grace to us – that is, His favor, His divine friendship, His supernatural support. So no matter what you do there, Leah, and no matter what you don't do, God is going to do something with you. He will not see His daughter give Him a chance only to let her walk away with nothing. You can help Him along by saying, for example, "Lord, I am open to you. I am willing to give you a chance." But don't force this phrase out of your mouth. It will come in good time. In the end it's all really simple. Think of the person you've loved the most in your life. Did you want to spend time with this person? As much as you loved this person, God loves you more. You don't have to do too much, Leah: just show up. That's what prayer is: showing up.Finally, I want to recommend to you "The Religious Sense" by Msgr. Luigi Giussani.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    @David: I will adopt this practice and record the results in my soon-to-come mini-book (see the "Come out" resolution at that post). I've deconverted from Catholicism so I understand what you've said.I also own the book you listed. Are you involved in C&L; (that's his community, right)?Do you offer anything in the way of what one could find out from this six month experiment? Do you suggest that one is supposed to feel any different, hear anything, be changed in some way, etc.? In other words, what is the goal of this 6 months?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09702791550394853808 Zac

    (Another visitor from Shea's blog)I think people ask you to pray because they hope that this will leave you open to God and allow him to influence you directly. But this seems about four or five steps ahead of where you are now. As you correctly observed, praying to God presumes the existence of God. Praying as an atheist will feel contrived and insincere.But to be fair, there are enough accounts of people who do not believe, yet nevertheless find themselves praying in a moment of crisis or need, which reveals a deeper level of faith beneath their unbelief.Yet since you are doing it more as an experiment…I would not expect it to be productive.If I could offer an alternative New Year's challenge for you, it would be to seriously engage and reach a definitive conclusion on this philosophical argument:http://www.lifeissues.net/writers/mcm/ph/ph_01philosophyyouth20.htmlDo not think of it as and argument for the existence of the Christian God…that's about three steps on from this argument. This is simply the argument for a non-contingent being.The 'challenge' aspect of it is to not weasel out, and either accept the logic, or provide a sound logical objection.Kind regards,Zac

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    As I realized early on in my journey to atheism, the greatest problem with prayer requests is that they're a bottomless hole. No matter what you do – say the Sinner's Prayer, chant the Rosary a hundred times, go to Mass every week for a year, pray to a particular saint, spend half an hour per day sitting in silent meditation in front of a box of wafers, or even perform an exorcism on yourself – there will always be theists who'll tell you, in the most polite way and with the best of intentions, that that's the wrong way to go about it, and that you should do something else if you really want to experience God. When does this stop? When can you give up and conclude that the reason you didn't get an answer is because there's no god to give you one? Obviously, if you listen to most religious apologists, the answer is "never". You can even see this with the people commenting in this thread. To those people, I ask in all sincerity – When will Leah or I or any other atheist have done enough? If we had limitless patience, free time, and energy to carry out your requests, would there ever come a time when you'd agree that we'd tried everything reasonable to communicate with God and counsel us that it was OK to stop trying? I very much doubt that any theist here would say so, but anyone who disagrees is welcome to prove me wrong.You could spend your whole life, and a thousand lifetimes more if you had them, trying every last ritual and every last prayer that every member of every religion claims will open a channel between you and God. You could spend six months in silent contemplation at a Zen monastery, take ritual baths at every sacred well in India, ingest peyote or ayahuasca with Native American shamans, handle poisonous snakes at an Appalachian backwoods church… the list goes on and on and on, and new items are being added all the time, as human beings exercise their nearly limitless creativity untrammeled by fact. It's simply impossible for any one human being to try all these things. With that in mind, I ask this question of every religious evangelist who wants me to try his particular sect's ritual: Why should I believe this will work? What evidence can you present to convince me that this particular exercise is more worthwhile than any of the other rituals invented by any of the other thousands of faiths on this planet? So far, it's a question that none of them have been able to satisfactorily answer.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    As I realized early on in my journey to atheism, the greatest problem with prayer requests is that they're a bottomless hole. No matter what you do – say the Sinner's Prayer, chant the Rosary a hundred times, go to Mass every week for a year, pray to a particular saint, spend half an hour per day sitting in silent meditation in front of a box of wafers, or even perform an exorcism on yourself – there will always be theists who'll tell you, in the most polite way and with the best of intentions, that that's the wrong way to go about it, and that you should do something else if you really want to experience God. When does this stop? When can you give up and conclude that the reason you didn't get an answer is because there's no god to give you one? Obviously, if you listen to most religious apologists, the answer is "never". You can even see this with the people commenting in this thread. To those people, I ask in all sincerity – When will Leah or I or any other atheist have done enough? If we had limitless patience, free time, and energy to carry out your requests, would there ever come a time when you'd agree that we'd tried everything reasonable to communicate with God and counsel us that it was OK to stop trying? I very much doubt that any theist here would say so, but anyone who disagrees is welcome to prove me wrong.You could spend your whole life, and a thousand lifetimes more if you had them, trying every last ritual and every last prayer that every member of every religion claims will open a channel between you and God. You could spend six months in silent contemplation at a Zen monastery, take ritual baths at every sacred well in India, ingest peyote or ayahuasca with Native American shamans, handle poisonous snakes at an Appalachian backwoods church… the list goes on and on and on, and new items are being added all the time, as human beings exercise their nearly limitless creativity untrammeled by fact. It's simply impossible for any one human being to try all these things. With that in mind, I ask this question of every religious evangelist who wants me to try his particular sect's ritual: Why should I believe this will work? What evidence can you present to convince me that this particular exercise is more worthwhile than any of the other rituals invented by any of the other thousands of faiths on this planet? So far, it's a question that none of them have been able to satisfactorily answer.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    (It seems like this comment is causing problems for the comment form, so I'll try to repost it in sections.)As I realized early on in my journey to atheism, the greatest problem with prayer requests is that they're a bottomless hole. No matter what you do – say the Sinner's Prayer, chant the Rosary a hundred times, go to Mass every week for a year, pray to a particular saint, spend half an hour per day sitting in silent meditation in front of a box of wafers, or even perform an exorcism on yourself – there will always be theists who'll tell you, in the most polite way and with the best of intentions, that that's the wrong way to go about it, and that you should do something else if you really want to experience God. When does this stop? When can you give up and conclude that the reason you didn't get an answer is because there's no god to give you one? Obviously, if you listen to most religious apologists, the answer is "never". You can even see this with the people commenting in this thread. To those people, I ask in all sincerity – When will Leah or I or any other atheist have done enough? If we had limitless patience, free time, and energy to carry out your requests, would there ever come a time when you'd agree that we'd tried everything reasonable to communicate with God and counsel us that it was OK to stop trying? I very much doubt that any theist here would say so, but anyone who disagrees is welcome to prove me wrong.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    (continued)You could spend your whole life, and a thousand lifetimes more if you had them, trying every last ritual and every last prayer that every member of every religion claims will open a channel between you and God. You could spend six months in silent contemplation at a Zen monastery, take ritual baths at every sacred well in India, ingest peyote or ayahuasca with Native American shamans, handle poisonous snakes at an Appalachian backwoods church… the list goes on and on and on, and new items are being added all the time, as human beings exercise their nearly limitless creativity untrammeled by fact. It's simply impossible for any one human being to try all these things. With that in mind, I ask this question of every religious evangelist who wants me to try his particular sect's ritual: Why should I believe this will work? What evidence can you present to convince me that this particular exercise is more worthwhile than any of the other rituals invented by any of the other thousands of faiths on this planet? So far, it's a question that none of them have been able to satisfactorily answer.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05333871014217027441 red_horizon0127

    Hi, Hendy,Yes, you're right: I'm involved in Communion and Liberation. And yes, this is an ecclesial movement somewhat unwittingly established by Giussani during the latter half of the previous century. I'm just curious – have you read the book? If so, what did you think of it? I read your Reflections post, and I would be interested to know what you thought of the book, given your point of view.As regards the experiment – You ask interesting questions. I had to spend some time thinking about how to answer them. What can one expect from attempting this "experiment," as you call it? What is the goal of the experiment? Well, let me see if I can provide good answers.I guess I will start by saying what I do not think applies here. We are not talking about something mechanical. It is not that phenomenon x occurs when conditions a, b, and c are satisfied. When I turn the ignition in my car, the engine starts. This is not like that. So I can't really tell you what's going to happen if you spend time in an adoration chapel. I don't know what you're going to feel, whether you'll hear something, or even whether you'll be changed in any way. I don't know. In fact, anything is possible.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05333871014217027441 red_horizon0127

    The reason for this is that we are speaking of persons and relationships. For all I know of a certain close friend of mine, I don't know what he'll have to share with me when I visit him. Nor can I predict how he will respond to me when I share certain things with him. I don't know what I'll feel, what I'll hear, or in what way I can expect to leave the interaction changed. Because we are speaking of two persons in relationship to each other, almost anything is possible.So it is when you spend time in the adoration chapel: this is a relationship between persons. I have some measure of control over myself – whether to sit or kneel or leave, whether to speak to Him or think about my finances or try to resolve compelling atheist arguments and so on. This being a relationship, I can also hope to influence God. But I cannot control Him. And though He hopes to influence me, He does not control me, either. In our relationship we each retain our freedom and we decide together where this relationship will go. This makes my visit unpredictable, risky, and exciting. But the first step to enjoying the adventure is accepting that there is another person present over whom I have absolutely no control. I must relinquish control. Otherwise, if I try to control this person, if I try to control the relationship, I first of all commit an injustice against this person whose freedom is paramount, but I also empty the relationship of life and beauty. If I desperately try to hold on to someone by clutching her in my fist, I find that she turns to dust and drains through my fingers. I am left with nothing but tears and sorrow: the one I wanted to possess forever is gone… even if she is still here.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05333871014217027441 red_horizon0127

    Have you ever loved a woman so much that there was nothing more satisfying than just being with her? God wants to be with me; I am with the one I love: this is Christianity summed up. It is a matter of being and love. As long as we insist on argumentation, pure rationalism, predictability, and control as the path to Christ, we will never, ever find Him. Period. Much better to look at the wafer in the monstrance and say, "I want to be loved." Those are words that can unlock eternity.So the goal of the time spent in the adoration chapel is to just be with Him — or it, as you may believe — and remain open to whatever may happen. There is nothing to analyze or prove here. Just stay where you are and remain open. If after several months nothing has happened – fine. No big deal. If you still have some faith and are willing to find Him, you certainly will in time, in the manner of God's choosing; and if you have lost faith, well… in that case, you will probably be content with that outcome.This afternoon, after writing my suggestion to Leah, I took a detour on the way home from work and visited the adoration chapel myself. Figured I'd better swallow my own pill. So I sat there for a half hour in front of the Eucharist, whom of course I believe is Jesus. I had a bad week – I've made a lot of mistakes – and usually I would deal with this problem by trying to force out some kind of apology to Christ. I didn't this time. In fact, I didn't say much of anything. Instead, I just sat there with Him, being my tired, worn out, confused self, and knowing that He loved me. I just stayed with the fact that He loved me and let everything else fall to the side. I felt completely possessed by His love and knew that I wanted to be. I hope you and Leah will have this experience too.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05333871014217027441 red_horizon0127

    "Conversion is not moralism – it is not that I have to produce something, no. I have to surrender to this Presence that is calling me now. I have to follow the burning in my heart and recognize the One who is setting it on fire, that is, convert once again to the Love that is bending over me today." – Fr. Julian Carron, current head of CL

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    @David:Thanks for the comments. The one differentiation between our perspectives is that (contrary to what a lot of theists use as an argument), I believe one can prove love to quite a reasonable degree. I could quite easily devise an experiment involving myself, videos, recordings, and the opinions of friends with respect to whether 1) my wife exists and 2) whether she loves me.Were I to doubt her love yet the inspection of video/audio evidence and direct observation by a large group of those who both do and do not know us brought about the consensus that she did love me… I would distrust my own intuitions. Or have to decide that my environment is one huge conspiracy theory.With prayer and even sitting in the presence of the eucharist… it's not really about controlling Jesus or what I feel — it's that the fundamental nature of a dynamic relationship is absolutely not present. No clear mutual dialog or discussion. No way to verify that the "relationship" is not in my head.And I say this from having an extremely strong previous "personal relationship" with god. I've "received words", gotten insights from scripture, etc. But today it seems quite likely that it was all me. "Feeling love" would not convince me. We all want a perpetual father. I think that those who pray probably "hear insights" in the form of what their subconscious perfect version of themselves would do.Anyway, feeling anything in the presence of the eucharist wouldn't do it for me.I'd need to hear a tangible voice in my head presenting why the fall scenario should be believed or why Paul never said anything specific about the guy he wrote so many letters about that couldn't possibly have come from my own mind… something like that.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    @ebonmuse:Great points. Reminds me of our email exchange in which you made the fantastic point that one does not need a doctorate in Theology to enter the faith, only to leave.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05333871014217027441 red_horizon0127

    Hi, Hendy – I hear you. All good points. Well, sorry, brother – that's all I've got for you. I've put your blog in my Google Reader and look forward to hearing more about your journey. I wish you the best.David

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    @David: thanks. I haven't read the book, by the way (forgot to answer). I'll perhaps add it to the reading list. My blog will be my current "cumulative case" for the next many weeks mixed in with hopefully tackling some more of my book list. See you around.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05333871014217027441 red_horizon0127

    Open question for the atheist folks here. This is not offered in the spirit of argument. I'm curious to know how atheists would approach this question. And yes, I know – atheism is not an organized religion, and there are no "official" answers to questions about atheism. I would not be surprised to get conflicting answers to this question. No problem.I think the question I most need answered, on a personal level, is this: Why is life worth living? I mean, I need a damned good reason, if you know what I'm saying. We are all aware that life is a tough place. Why would we be unintelligent about the most fundamental choice we can possibly make – the choice to keep going? Now, what sustains me right now is the belief that the highest goods in life – truth, beauty, justice, love, etc. – have an objective basis, namely, the supernatural order – God. So it is that when I recognize beauty, for example, I believe that I am seeing some echo, or mirror image, say, of an eternal reality. Beauty has objective substance and meaning. It's something outside myself. It's real. I don't know whether this makes sense, but there is something vital and sustaining about the thought that when I recognize beauty, I really am seeing something beautiful.Now let's take my pretty picture and remove God from it. What happens to beauty? What happens to love? What happens to all those things that I had considered "eternal goods"? Suppose there is no God and some happy little man from planet Earth falls in love. What is his love? Is it possible, in a world without God, to speak of a love that is anything more than, say, neurochemical activity? Why is a love like this worthwhile? How can knowing that your love is something merely animal fail to sterilize and paralyze that love? If you really think about what that kind of love is… what is left?This is a question that implicates all of human existence. If my love has no objective substance, if beauty has no objective substance, if justice has no objective substance – then what is life except something transitory, thin, vain? In that case the only intelligent choice mankind can make is mass suicide. My impulse is to declare life beautiful, as frail and passing as it is. But in a purely material world life is not beautiful. It just is. Beauty has objective meaning or it does not exist at all.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16496144988509668275 Leah

    First of all, I think Ebonmuse is dead on that it's hard for atheists ever to make a 'satisfactory' effort to try prayer or Christianity generally, since every non-acceptance is usually met with "You didn't try correctly/hard enough."I'm picking and choosing from the suggestions I've been given so I can make sure I reserve time for my senior essay, sewing, and other pursuits.That said, I did want to respond to David's suggestion. I'm not going to try spending long amounts of time in an Adoration chapel because I really hate being trapped somewhere and bored. It's happened to me while taking standardized tests and not being allowed to leave when I was finished or in Intro Psych, and I find it really distressing and stressful. I'm pretty sure the stillness (lacking a connection to God or an actual impulse to Adoration) would have the same effect on me.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    @David: re. "hopelessness and nihilism." I think how one thinks about these questions is often relative. I could be equally depressed after watching the Chronicles of Narnia or Lord of the Rings by saying, "But in light of those amazing worlds I have freaking diddly. I want magic rings and places and talking animals! What the hell is worth living for without them?"Hopefully the analogy makes even minute sense. You are only considering life with respect to a hypothesis. If your hypothesis is false, I don't see the cause for hopelessness — you've already been enduring whatever actually is and shouldn't worry about it in comparison to what never was.

  • The Masked Chicken

    Just a test to see if I can post. If so, more comments, later.

  • thomas tucker

    Hendy- in fact, you can't prove that someone loves you. There are people, in fact, who were convinced that someone loved them, only to find out later that they did not. I know a woman whose husband just told her that he wanted a divorce after three children and tweny years of mairriage, and he told her that he had NEVER loved her. At some point, there is an element of faith in your belief that someone loves you.Secondly, even if God appeared before you in all His majesty, it would not be enough to convince you that God exists. You would always be able to convince yourself afterwards that it was a hallucination.

  • David

    @ Leah – You're right: probably the suggestion to spend time in the adoration chapel is not going to be helpful for you. I stand corrected and apologize for advancing what probably amounts to a somewhat frustrating proposal. I had hoped to be helpful but I think I've had just the opposite effect.I also agree with Ebonmuse that the common advice to just keep praying does not make sense. This is bound to be a needlessly frustrating experience for atheists. Zac is probably correct: the guidance to begin by praying may very well be several steps ahead of the position where the atheist actually finds himself. In any event, one knows when it's time to pray, simply because he finds that he wants to pray. Until then, it is perhaps better not to worry about it.

  • David

    @ Hendy – "But in light of those amazing worlds I have freaking diddly. I want magic rings and places and talking animals! What the hell is worth living for without them?" Haha – I know the feeling, though for me it came whilst watching Inception. I would like to dive into a world where my subconscious is on full display – maybe I would understand some things about myself better and could thus live more sanely. Alas, life is a little more complicated than this.As for your final question – "What the hell is worth living for without them?" – Isn't this question painful precisely because it does not have an answer that is not only adequate – that is, able to sustain my life – but also certain and reliable? It seems to me that your experience of seeing these movies serves not to negate the question of meaning – "Why is life worth living?" – but to bring it out more clearly. "If your hypothesis is false, I don't see the cause for hopelessness — you've already been enduring whatever actually is and shouldn't worry about it in comparison to what never was."True. But in some sense, if my hypothesis was wrong, then I've been enduring reality as a fool, that is, someone who doesn't really see what's there. Coming to grips with the truth means accustoming one's self to the new vision.Could it not be that the vision is one of total nihilistic despair? Is it not possible that "accustoming one's self to the new vision" means absorbing the absolute, unending meaninglessness of everything? I don't spend a lot of time dwelling on that possibility – I would go insane!

  • David

    I'm not much of a philosopher, and all this gets really tricky to me. But here's how I see it: absolute, metaphysical certainty is not possible, at least as far as we know. In this case, it is not possible to be absolutely certain, in terms I can argue convincingly to others, that God exists. I may have what amounts to a kind of subjective certainty, a certainty arising from my own experience, and this may be enough for me; but I cannot, in short, prove that God exists to others. On the other hand, I do not think it is possible to be a certain atheist, either. The best the atheist can do is say, "Look, I don't see any compelling reason to believe God exists. Therefore I do not affirm his existence." But is it possible today to be certain that God does not exist? How does one claim to know such a thing? Is atheism not subject to the same objective uncertainty as theism?Seems the best anyone can do is consider the evidence, stake out a position, and hope for the best. It is not possible to avoid taking a position – we do it one way or another, and in fact have to do it if we are to continue living. I have staked out a theistic, specifically Christian position. As long as I accept this position as my starting point, my world is imbued with meaning and purpose. If I go back to my starting point and demand rigorous metaphysical certainty everything is lost, my whole life turns to vapor before my eyes. The certainty I seek is not possible on the level of belief, regardless of the position taken.Of course, the atheist stakes out a different claim: he takes the position that God does not exist, and lives his life from that starting point. This is his metaphysical turf, so to speak. Here is what I fail to understand: given this starting point, what meaning and purpose can the atheist possibly find in life?

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    "I think the question I most need answered, on a personal level, is this: Why is life worth living? I mean, I need a damned good reason, if you know what I'm saying. We are all aware that life is a tough place. Why would we be unintelligent about the most fundamental choice we can possibly make – the choice to keep going?"Hello David – I think Hendy's answer was a good one, but I'd like to add one of my own.So, what makes an atheist's life worth living? Well, you mentioned higher goods like truth, beauty, justice, love, etc., and I think those are all perfectly good, valid and important reasons. You shouldn't find it hard to imagine the atheist perspective: just start with all those good things, remove the belief in God, and presto, there's your answer!I don't mean to be glib, but that's really the answer. You seem to think that belief in God is the only way to ground those things. Obviously, I don't agree. I think truth, love and all the rest are just as important even if God doesn't exist, because they matter to us. They encourage our flourishing, fill our lives with happiness, make it possible for us to achieve our desires, and enable us to learn and grow to our full potential."How can knowing that your love is something merely animal fail to sterilize and paralyze that love? If you really think about what that kind of love is… what is left?"Ah, I've heard this one before. Science will clip an angel's wings, empty the haunted air and the gnomed mine, and unweave the rainbow, right?I find it bizarre to claim that understanding the cause of some phenomenon somehow makes it less real or less valuable. Regardless of whether love is an ethereal stirring in a supernatural soul, or the result of a series of neurotransmitter releases in the brain, it has the same effects. No amount of knowledge about the cause will change those effects. If anything, knowing the true cause of a phenomenon adds more and deeper levels to our appreciation of it. Do you appreciate a painting less if you have detailed knowledge of the artist's techniques that went into painting it? Do mountains become less awe-inspiring when you learn about erosion and plate tectonics? Did Newton really destroy the beauty of the rainbow, as Keats accused him of doing, when he discovered the principles of refraction of light? Likewise, I know that the whole vast, complex, gloriously messy history of biological evolution is why I experience the sensation of love; but that doesn't make it any less real or take away its power to move me.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    @thomas tucker:I disagree re. love. There are certainly masters of deception out there (con artists). I'd love to interview the mentioned woman, husband, and their closer friends to see what everyone thought. A good friend of mine got married to a woman who he thought loved him only to find out she'd been cheating on him the entire time. They got divorced… but guess what? No one in his family thought highly of the woman and his friends all knew what she was doing. Hence my recommendation to introduce evidence like video recordings, daily diary entries, and audio recordings of conversation to objective witnesses and survey near friends.If all of those pass the test… sure, we've got a pathological deceiver on our hands. I'm fine with my test not being able to explain that.Re. what will and will not cause me to believe, my answer is simple: god can provide exactly what I need at any moment. If it's not his majestic appearance, he knows what it is.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    @David: I hear you. I think we'll just differ on this one. I'm emphasizing that if the god hypothesis never existed, there would be no perceived loss of anything — you'd have just lived according to "what is." You're emphasizing that since such a hypothesis does exist, without it we lose all sorts of extremely lofty and powerful senses of meaning.I agree with Ebonmuse — the meaning is still there. We live on a human scale… why not judge the world according to that scale?CommonSenseAtheism has been covering this topic of ultimate meaning and nihilism recently a la the arguments of William Lane Craig. Maybe check out those posts and the comments for some alternative perspectives?

  • The Masked Chicken

    Your boyfriend got it wrong. Prayer does not consist in speaking much, but in loving much. If you want to learn to pray, do whatever moves you to love. The rub is that one must know the difference between love and selfishness. Also, prayer is never begun by speaking, but by listening. God always speaks, first, although one seldom realizes it. No wonder you found the attempt at prayer frustrating. There is no right way to pray, but every child knows the right way to love. Prayer is no different. Prayer is like problem solving: a problem doesn't become a problem until it's your problem. So it is with prayer – and love.The Chickenp.s. iPads are really not a useful comment box tool.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05333871014217027441 red_horizon0127

    Ebonmuse, Hendy – Thanks very much for your replies. I appreciate the opportunity to hear a different take on things, though as Hendy said, it does not appear we will come to agreement today. That's okay. Hendy – thanks for the recommendation – CSA has also been added to Google Reader. Thank you both.David

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    @Masked Chicken: "whatever moves me to love" typically involves:- sharing deep personal interests- feeling compassion- intimate knowledge of personality- physical contact- a dynamic series' of interactionIn scanning this list, I'm positive you or David or whoever else can paint me a picture of exactly how all of these are possible with a hypothetical Jesus… But at present, I have none of this with Jesus. Most of your recommendations will involve 1) reading a book about Jesus, but this contributes to a good deal of my doubt in the first place and I don't trust it to tell me who or what Jesus actually was and 2) any recommendations to simply "listen" to what he says will not be clear with respect to where these "senses" are coming from.When you hear god speak, what does he say? Is it differentiable from your own thoughts? How can you be sure as to the source of what you "hear"?Also, your argument can be expressed in this logical form:p1) prayer is loving muchp2) there is no right way to prayp3) every child knows the right way to loveC) every child know the right way to pray (p1 + p3 roughly translate to this as long as the "right way to love" = "loving much")You've thus said that there both is and is not a right way to pray.Also, a problem is absolutely a problem even if it's not your problem.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    @all: one last comment and then I think I'll bow out… I think a huge problem in this discussion involves the emphasis on having some sort of relationship (on your end) compared to the fact that most of us do not believe for reasons grounded in other non-subjective realms.So, at least for me (I'll let Leah/Ebon or any other speak for themselves), the issue is really one of contradiction. There are many avenues toward evaluating god's existence:- cosmology- archeology- history- philosophy- biblical criticism- psychology/souls- personal experience/prayer/miraclesPrayer is only one component, and I just can't see a way forward with it by itself. No matter what I experience emotionally or think I hear or think god "told me" via a scripture verse I read/heard at a coincidental (or providential) time… when that fades I'll still be left with doubts in the other areas.The contradiction will remain and it just won't compute that my personal experience must be true even though I have serious objections in the other areas. I need those other areas resolved first before I think I'd even be open to interpreting prayer/personal experience as valid evidence of a supernatural being.So, no matter how many ways posts attempt to paint this practice (as speaking, listening, loving much, kumbaying, actually hearing a voice, etc.)… it won't really matter. I still think it's unbelievably implausible for Christianity to be true given other objections.Does that make sense? I'm hoping this illuminates some of the road block. Again, I can't speak for the others, but I think this is a big reason why prayer doesn't strike me as an attractive option in the least. What if I thought something happened in an adoration chapel? It wouldn't answer any of my other questions and my threshold of belief will simply remain unmet.To close, I think we all have a threshold of belief but cannot identify where it lies. It's either been met or not (as shown by belief/non-belief), but I highly doubt any of us can predict where it is. These discussions, then, are kind of futile. If I believe on day, it'll probably be based on something I never would have thought would be convincing beforehand… just as my deconversion came from an unlikely source as well!

  • thomas tucker

    I think that is very true, and ultimately either belief or disbelief is an act of faith.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    @thomas tucker:Perhaps to some degree… though my investigation has led me to conclude that the "faith" required to live as though god does not exist (when such a conclusion can perhaps not be proven) is far less than the faith required to construct an elaborate explanation for the utter lack of evidence for theism as well as the many contradictions entailed by particular theisms.In other words, I find one a much further "leap" than the other. I also have few qualms with simply stating that I don't believe. Given that, I actually see little faith involved in that stance. I'm not convinced by any current religion — that's that.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02126910074871051638 Chris Sweet

    To Dave's point, it's true that the burden of proof does not rely on the believer alone. The atheist must also adhere to certain metaphysical presuppositions. The assumption that disbelief is the 0 point, the starting ground, and that belief must build upon that point through proofs and demonstrations, is a falsity. In fact, the "God hypothesis" as it was put is a poorly constructed idea. Historically, the belief in God or some sort of other metaphysical force at work in reality has not been an intellectual premise, some religious proposition, but an innate assumption, as innate as atheism. I encourage anyone who objects to read Mircea Eliade's "The Sacred and the Profane." It effectively overturns any Freudian, Durkheimian, or other account that religion is a phenomenon that can be reduced to some other human phenomenon. @Ebonmuse I would agree that the atheist can in relative terms find a certain amount of value and nobility in pursuits such as truth, beauty, goodness, justice, etc. The struggle that I think Dave is having is that for the believer, particularly of the Christian variety, God himself is defined as the objective source of these values, and further that they are virtues of his own existence. So one's holding these values to be "good" and worthy of being followed is bound in the theistic sense to the reality that it is God himself that makes these things worthy, because they are attributes of his own being. In metaphysical terms, this creates a very different approach and substantiation between the theist and atheist in pursuing these ends.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    @Chris Sweet: I'm not sure I see examining history for what a good number of people have considered an "innate assumption" to be a good approach at describing "what is."I agree — primitive cultures, left on their own, have been shown to develop supernatural belief systems. But why? Hasn't it been to explain various mysteries? Historically, these mysteries have been explained by science (age of the earth/universe, evolution, meteorology, etc.).For those that have not… I really do consider that an agnostic attitude seems to be the "0 point." The deviation from the simple stance of "we don't know yet" toward either a strong declaration of atheism or toward a complex system of theology requires evidence and argument.I happen to think that the move from agnostic to a form of practical atheism (living as if there is no theistic being without being able to prove it) is a far more gentle step than the leap to theism.

  • The Chicken

    Hendy,It is clear from your response to me that you have made some seriously incorrect assumptions and logical connections based on how you read my post. I just spent an hour responding only to have this iPad dump the whole thing before posting it. I will have retype and extend the response when I can get to a computer that isn't run amok with patronizing spelling and clunky copy and paste. :(I don't want to leave things unresponded to because you really do run the risk of giving a misread to what I said. More, I hope, later.The Chicken

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16496144988509668275 Leah

    @The Chicken: When I have to write a response on my iphone, I use simplenote, and then paste it into the webform to avoid rage. My sympathies.

  • The Masked Chicken

    Leah,Thanks.My original response to Hendy probably can't be duplicated, but I can approximate it. I am trying out Opera mini which, at least, doesn't have the annoying auto-complete of Safari. I haven't figured out how to copy and paste to the iPad notes, yet, from Safari. Will solve.More, later.

  • The Masked chicken

    I am at a regular computer, now, and although this post has grown cold, I thought I would respond to Hendy's points (by the way, I hate the cap on Word Press's combox amount of 4096 words).Hendy wrote:@Masked Chicken: "whatever moves me to love" typically involves:- sharing deep personal interests- feeling compassion- intimate knowledge of personality- physical contact- a dynamic series' of interactionWhat this tells me is that your understanding of love is not a theological one, but a merely natural/psychological one. Love, in theological terms, is a specific act of the will that wills the good. The will is informed by the intellect, whose specific teleology is to seek the truth. Thus, the will seeks the good as informed by the intellect. Since God, by definition, is the Summum Bonum, the highest good (and the highest truth), the greatest seeking of the will is to God. Thus, when one loves, it does not necessarily involve feelings or physical contact, but a realization that THIS is the good and one must pursue it. When one loves, one is pursuing the good and the truth and this, necessarily, means that one is pursuing God, whether he knows it or not. To pursue God, however, since God is a person in a theological sense (three persons, actually), is to pursue a relationship. Prayer is the outward movement of that inward striving. Thus, as one loves more deeply, it becomes expressed as prayer. Just as there are many different ways of saying, "I love you," however, just so, there are many different ways of praying, even though the love is the same love in each case. Thus, it is no contradiction to say that even though there are many different ways of prayer, there is only one love, since there is only one object within the love: God.More after the 4096 breakThe Chicken

  • The Masked Chicken

    Hendy also wrote:In scanning this list, I'm positive you or David or whoever else can paint me a picture of exactly how all of these are possible with a hypothetical Jesus… But at present, I have none of this with Jesus. Most of your recommendations will involve 1) reading a book about Jesus, but this contributes to a good deal of my doubt in the first place and I don't trust it to tell me who or what Jesus actually was and 2) any recommendations to simply "listen" to what he says will not be clear with respect to where these "senses" are coming from.When you hear god speak, what does he say? Is it differentiable from your own thoughts? How can you be sure as to the source of what you "hear"?What I wrote was:Also, prayer is never begun by speaking, but by listening. God always speaks, first, although one seldom realizes it.I never said anything about hearing. I talked about listening. God is pure spirit and he seldom manifests his speaking in either words or in audible sounds. In fact, hearing audible sounds is a sign that God probably isn't speaking or that one needs to seek medical help. Is it right for the hired servant to speak before the Master of the house speaks? Is it right for a child to speak before the parent speaks? Just so, God is the initiator of any good work and since prayer is a good work, God must initiate it. The listening is done with the heart, not the ears. As Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote:Voici mon secret. Il est très simple: on ne voit bien qu'avec le cœur. L'essentiel est invisible pour les yeux. Translation:Here is my secret. It is very simple: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.One could say the same thing for hearing. What one listens for is an invitation, a cry for love, even though it is a silent one. What married man has not stepped it a kitchen and heard the anguish in his wife's voice, even though she never spoke a word. Love hears beyond sounds and beyond words. You have only to test this to see that it is true. As Charles Ives wrote:"My God, what does sound have to do with music?"More, after the 4096 split.The Chicken

  • The Masked Chicken

    Idiotic Blogger (not Word Press): when you go over the 4096 limit it deletes the comment. This is useless, since it does not provide a word count and I do not save everything I write, not should I be forced to because someone decided that 2^12 words is enough!Third try on part 2:Hendy wrote:In scanning this list, I'm positive you or David or whoever else can paint me a picture of exactly how all of these are possible with a hypothetical Jesus… But at present, I have none of this with Jesus. Most of your recommendations will involve 1) reading a book about Jesus, but this contributes to a good deal of my doubt in the first place and I don't trust it to tell me who or what Jesus actually was and 2) any recommendations to simply "listen" to what he says will not be clear with respect to where these "senses" are coming from.When you hear god speak, what does he say? Is it differentiable from your own thoughts? How can you be sure as to the source of what you "hear"?What I wrote was:Also, prayer is never begun by speaking, but by listening. God always speaks, first, although one seldom realizes it.I said nothing about hearing anything. People who hear the voice of God must be approached with caution as, most often, they need medical help.I said, one must begin by listening. What servant would dare speak before his Master? What son would dare speak before his Father? God, if he is the Good, must initiate anything that is good and that includes prayer. That listening is a crying into the void of the heart. It is heart speaking to heart. Who ever said words were involved? What husband, upon entering into the kitchen, will not know that his wife is upset, even though she says not a word? Such is the power of love to call us to action. Love speaks, but it seldom uses words. Why then, should one expect God? Any relationship, if there is true love, requires less and less speech as the love grows deeper and deeper. God, being an infinite love, needs no words. His very presence is his speaking. Being pure spirit, however, we natural beings have a hard time recognizing his call. We confuse it with so many others, but as love grows, so does the hearing. Just as a mother has ears for only that baby's cry which is her own, just so, as love for God grows, so does hearing him, alone. In the beginning, however, one must needs have a guide if the love is not strong nor the heart wise.Charles Ives once wrote:My God, what does sound have to do with music?"Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote:Voici mon secret. Il est très simple: on ne voit bien qu'avec le cœur. L'essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.Translation: Here is my secret. It is very simple: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.So it is with hearing.The Chicken

  • The Masked Chicken

    Sorry about the double post. Blogger does post larger than 4096, but it takes time to do so. Not realizing this, I posted my hearing post, twice.Last post:Hendy wrote: Also, your argument can be expressed in this logical form: p1) prayer is loving much p2) there is no right way to pray p3) every child knows the right way to love C) every child know the right way to pray (p1 + p3 roughly translate to this as long as the "right way to love" = "loving much") You've thus said that there both is and is not a right way to pray. Also, a problem is absolutely a problem even if it's not your problem.This is logic-chopping. As I showed, there may be many different expressions of love (hence) prayer, but one love. I said that prayer consists in loving much. Consists. Love is the groundwork of prayer, but it is not, properly speaking, prayer. There may be one color red (say, arguendo), but many different red objects. Just so, there is one love (all roads point to God), but many different ways of expressing it. So, P1 in the above is an incorrect formulation of what I said. I did not say prayer is loving much, but that prayer consists in loving much. That one word makes a great deal of difference, logically. Your formulation admits the fallacy of the converse accident; mine, does not.Finally, as a theoretician in the hard sciences (and the arts – I have graduate standing in both) as well as an expert in problem-solving theory (part of my doctoral exam), I will say that your last statement is wrong. If problems exist, "out there," independent of the person, then so do the answers. now if the answers are also out there, then, by definition, the problems are already also solved, out there, independent of the person. It is only when the problem and the solution become detached from each other, as they do when they become indivualized to a person, that they truly become a problem. In fact, the quote in my original post is from George Polya, the grandfather of the modern problem-solving movement, from his book, How to Solve It. College student, especially undergrads, do not really learn how to solve problems. They learn how to emulate already solved problems. In a word, they mostly learn procedures. This is good as a prerequisite for problem-solving, but it is not, strictly speaking problem-solving until one cannot look up the answer and one really wants to know. Try looking at God as a problem to solve instead of a procedure to follow. That seems like a novel approach for someone looking for God.The Chicken

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    @The Chicken:I had a response to all your posts and was told that "my request could not be completed." So… I'm going to ditch the effort and simply summarize like so:- I used your words for the love logical argument… verbatim. "Prayer = loving much" and "prayer consists in loving much" strike me as relatively equivalent. If you want to hinge your statements on nuances, please be more clear. The best I can figure is that "consists" implies that there are other parts as well… but you didn't specify which ones, so I went with what you said.- I believe you are a theoretician as your answers strike me as demonstrating your ability to theorize just about anything. I can't see where you get your evidence and data, however, and suggest that you would disagree with plenty of other orthodox/accepted Christian teachers… how would you promote your theories above theirs?- Listening/hearing… I did not imply a physical sound. My questions still hold even if we're talking about "hearing" with one's "heart" whatever god wishes to "speak/transmit/telekinetically impart." What is the result of "listening" and how do you distinguish what you "hear" as from god vs. yourself?- You asked what "moved one to love." You then responded to my answer along the lines of "what it means to love." These are different. You only love god because you are moved to due to "having an intimate knowledge of personality." This was one of my criteria. Without that, you would be ignorant of reasons to love him and would not. I responded to your actual question — with those criteria in place… sure, I can agree that actually demonstrating love could be defined as an "act of the will" and would not imply feelings — I'm moved to love due to my reasons and then follow up with acting so as to being about their betterment.- I think a problem is still a problem if it's not your problem. It can be someone else's problem and still exists even though it's not mine. It could also have an unapplied solution and I'd still consider it a problem. Discussing whether college students solve via novelty/creativity or via regurgitation does not change my belief in the existence of problems which are also not mine.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    Oh… and my general impression is that your explanations and "theories" are incredibly confusing and make little sense. I find that reading theology and then trying to distill out actual content often produces this effect and wonder if such writings filled with lofty concepts, nuanced definitions and phrases (that can be wriggled out of later) and overall vague, nebulous explanations about "essences" and how to do things are actually not meant to be analyzed at all. In fact, I think they're probably meant to be used as applause lights.

  • Michael Haycock

    I'm a little late on the uptake here, but I just had a few thoughts.First, any attempt to "know" (Spanish conocer) God without prayer is futile. God dictates the terms of knowing Him; we cannot impose our own conditions based on our preferences (hence the condemnation of "sign-seekers"). We cannot choose the time, place, and manner of divine epiphanies; we must follow the instructions God gives us as best we can to achieve that.Corollary to that is that an acceptance of divine prescription often requires a sacrifice of human predilections and comforts. I would venture to say that an unwillingness to go through the discomfort of stillness and prayerful meditation is one thing that would stand in your way toward investigating claims about the Christian God. In the LDS faith, it's emphasized that the Lord often communicates in a "still, small voice" – one that is overlooked or unheard if our lives are chock-full of tumult and busyness. Moments of introspection, of quiet pondering, are necessary for one to grow closer to God. Allowing adequately for those moments is a challenge I still face.(An aside: Speaking to the seemingly contradictory aspects of prayer as "wish request" and "reconciliation of one's will with God's", I'd recommend Soren Kierkegaard's "Fear and Trembling." It's a very interesting investigation of faith and especially the interaction between man's hopes and God's plans that is indicated by those two characterizations of prayer.)In the end, the knowledge that convinces us of divine truth does not come from apologists or even from reading of scripture; it is from application of such things to one's life. Prayer is an integral part of that – I daresay a cornerstone without which the entire structure collapses.(PS. Look at examples of prayer to see the variety of ways one can express oneself – the quality of prayer has a greater effect than quantity on the experience thereof.)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    Having read the whole NT several times, I have a hard time finding a scriptural basis for Jesus' unanimously condemning signs. Perhaps to the universally derided pharisees/sadducees, but not to everyone else. Even if he spends a moment in chastisement… he always ends by doing the sign, even preceding it with the statement, "So that you will believe…"In fact, my reading of the story of Lazarus is that he appears to have been happy he was delayed because it was more impressive for Lazarus to be raised from the dead than merely healed.John 11 synopsis:- They tell Jesus that Laz is sick- Jesus decides to dawdle for 2 more days- He finds out Laz is dead- He then says, "Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe."I read that as Jesus being happy to do a sign so that others will believe. This is the same approach I find throughout. Even if he chastises… he still does the requested sign. Jesus wanted to do signs for people to believe.The current condemnation of "sign seeking" seems to be an ex post facto declaration due to a current shortage of miracles.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05333871014217027441 red_horizon0127

    LOL – Hendy, a current shortage of miracles? No such thing, brother. For one thing, the Vatican does canonize a new saint unless at least two miracles have been attributed to the would-be saint's intercession – a miracle being, in Catholic doctrine, either a clear suspension of the laws of physics (insofar as we understand them) or a phenomenon science cannot explain. Check out Lourdes, Fatima, and Guadalupe for a few well-known examples. But miracles are going on all the time. Believe me, there's no shortage of them.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10845051786114528609 Julie Robison

    There is nothing wrong with signs themselves- it's the demand for them, the way the Pharisees would say IF Jesus would only give them a sign, THEN they would believe, but when he performed miracles on the Sabbath, they were ready to stone him. I think the point is that IF you pray THEN something will happen. Prayer is not the finger flick that makes the row of dominos fall into place. Prayer is a way to communicate not only with God, but the saints, who can help us get closer to God, like spiritual mentors, because that's how they spent their earthly life, figuring out how best to love, worship and serve God.I think it is important to remember that people do not and cannot place limits on God's means and methods of reaching different people, and to note that any kind of conversion does not come only from arguments. Plenty of people need signs: even the apostle Thomas had to put his fingers in the wounds of Jesus. We Catholics keep ourselves surrounded by physical signs of Christ: making the sign of the cross to remind us of the Trinity, the holy water we use upon entering and leaving Church is a physical reminder of our Baptismal promises, pictures and statutes, etc. All of these are signs, as well as the history of miracles in the Church– it might interest you to look into stigmatas. The most recent case was St. Padre Pio, a priest. Talk about a physical sign!The physical goes hand-in-hand with the spiritual. I think the conversation got a little carried away into the theoretical. Prayer is different for different people. Even two Catholics are going to pray differently, but it is important to keep in mind the common recipient of prayer and that is God. Maybe consider prayer as a physical sign of faith unto itself!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    @David: I'm a simpleton like the disciples. I need to see. That's all. I'm willing to show up any time and any place in which a miracle is going to occur. Gather believers that meet any decided set of holiness requirements, have them pray for something that is deemed to be impossible to be against god's will and then give me a jingle.@Julie: Some thing Padre Pio was using carbolic acid to give himself the stigmata. It doesn't seem like we got the chance for a controlled experiment — like 6mos under continuous surveillance. Why did his wounds fade as his health deteriorated?In the end… what defines a miracle? Something unexplainable? Re. Lourdes, I have no idea that amazing things have happened. I'd love to post a medical bureau at every hospital in the world to see what "miracles" occur all the time. I also wouldn't be surprised if we have no understanding of the real bounds of the placebo effect. What does Lourdes reveal to the world? That if 200 million people visit over 140 years, 67 declared miracles will occur? Even if the requirements were less stringent and more were allowed… what's the rate of amazing occurrence?Is it different from that of other faith traditions or the human population in general?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10845051786114528609 Julie Robison

    For 50 years Padre Pio was using carbolic acid to give himself the 5 wounds of Christ? Interesting theory, I've never heard that before. He'd be a serious masochist if that were the case, and I think the very idea of a man-made cause to his wounds belittles his suffering. He was, in fact, under surveillance of the Church, and in public for a sizeable amount of that time too. He was under such investigation, in fact, that he wasn't allowed to hold mass publicly for a while. Padre Pio is not the only stigmatic in Church history either. There are a decent number. I think his wounds faded because he was no longer alive and God no longer needed him to suffer for the sake of the Kingdom. I mean, why would they stay? Isn't it a miracle that the body was so fully restored without blemish or scar?Padre Pio's funeral mass was attended by over 100,000 people. I can't imagine that many people being inspired and drawn to mourn a man who would self-inflict himself. He could also bilocate, for sake of discussion of miracles, which is proven out of eye-witnesses. I do not know of any scienfic proof which could suffice to fully prove that, but perhaps that is an essence of a miracle. Biblocation is found in other religious faiths as well, including Judiasm, Hinduism and Buddihism. The God of all calls and works through all.The most recent/ public miracle is the Roman Catholic nun in France who has been completely cured of Parkinson's after she and her order began praying in 2005 to Pope John Paul II to intercede on her behalf. She is now completely cured and there are certainly plenty of medical records to prove that and now John Paul II is going to be beatified in May 2011. :) The Vatican is very cautious before declaring anything "a miracle." Miracles are not just big shows- they can be small graces, too. I like that the word "miracle" derives from the Latin verb miror, meaning "to wonder, amaze, marvel at." To wonder at something is not to say it is unexplainable, but more that the event seemingly goes against the accepted laws of nature and the course of events, with the only possible human explanation is that there was direct divine involvement. Lots of things happen that are not expected- that may make them a mystery more than a miracle, but there is still usually an involvement with God, his angels and his saints.In terms of Lourdes, I wouldn't try to quantify miracles. Our time is not God's time.I am not sure what you mean is it different than other faith traditions… widely, all attribute miracles to God. Specifically, I can only speak from a Catholic point of view, and that is that miracles are regularly investigated, discussed, monitered and recorded. Miracles are not superstitious and it is possible to see quantifiable signs from God (stigmatas, St. Bernadette's extensive knowledge of the Immaculate Conception despite her poor performance in her Catechism classes, healing of the sick at Lourdes, the incorruptible saints, etc.). Miracles are a mystery and a gift, and the Catholic Church (at the very least) has a very long history of them.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16496144988509668275 Leah

    Wow, I've never heard bilocation claims before. Can you put up a link, Julie?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    @Leah:- Here's an EWTN monologue.- Another discussing his various abilities, including bilocation even levitation.Funny enough, I found this in the EWTN material:"Padre Pio I would like to see the wounds on your feet and side!" And completely taken aback and mortified, he looked at me with two imploring tearful eyes, like those of a child and said: "But! But you don't really mean that?" I immediately felt sorry and said: "No! no! Padre don't worry: I didn't mean it!"Julie: we're obviously not going to agree via this blog. I don't doubt that many amazing things have occurred. I agree that they have.Despite your shunning of quantifiability… it's quite necessary. Miracle, to me, implies rarity, divergence from the typical, something out of the ordinary. How do we assess this? By comparing it, statistically, to what is known to occur. (Quantifying them.)Thus, I would be quite interested to know what "miraculous" reports fill the various medical centers throughout the whole world and whether they would also be filled with 67 or more amazing instances of healing per 200 million visitors.For every miracle report, I sense a bit of further questioning arise: why at a given place like Lourdes, for example? Why various forms of illness rather than sending bread from heaven to the starving, or regrowing a limb? Why not Pauline-like appearances to non-believers or those struggling with doubt (surely you will reply that Paul already believed and was open and that I am not…).For each of those 67 miracles, there are many more who tragically died trying to visit a site of devotion to their god (LINK).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11174257204278139704 Charles

    I usually try and take the position that miracles are unimpressive. I need more substance. Think about the vast numbers of things you do every day that would be mind-blowing and miraculous to someone from only a few hundred years ago. So you can make any number of claims and they may or may not be 'miraculous' and they may or may not be frauds, and they may or may not be explainable by some process we are yet to understand.I find choice B and choice C to be so vastly more likely than choice A as to render choice A not worthwhile for discussion in most cases. However, many many faiths make miraculous claims, so who am I to judge your faith over some other?, therefore if I were even to accept the miracle, I couldn't use it as proof of your set of beliefs over another. I would need something on the order of proof for catholic miracles and at least demonstrable evidence that other claims to miracles fail testing. Now I know a Catholic may just accept the possibility of a miracle outside traditional Catholic sources, and just claim it is also Christ working which further muddies the water.basically what it comes down to is that a miraculous claim is not a scientific claim other than if we were to falsify it, however not falsifying it does not lend a scientific level of clarity to it. In the 1980s Fleischmann & Pons may or may not have found 'Cold Fusion' – the non-duplicability of their experiment doesn't mean it was a miracle if they did, it just means we misunderstood HOW they did it. This is actually a good analogy example since most reasonable people would simply accept that they were wrong and/or faking it, not claim that their results were supernatural and the rest of the scientific world's weren't.So I say they only rational view to hold is that the possible existence of miracles cannot possibly weigh on ones rational evaluation of the religion. It may effect your 'faithful' evaluation of it, but this is precisely why even when the church deems something 'worthy of belief' they aren't compelling all the faithful to believe it. They are hedging their bets if you will :). Recently I have been reading a book called 'Myth & Ritual in Christianity' by Alan Watts. Now Watts is basically an atheistic theosophist if you are familiar with his talks/writings (although I am sure he would deny as such, to the point that the intro of this particular book goes out of its way to point out the flaws in theosophy, as sure sign that the author realizes he is already too close for comfort) – Either way early on it seems the main thrust of his point about Christian Myth is that the churches insistence on confusing things that are mythological and things that are scientifically discernible is a major fault throughout theology, or at leas the understanding of theology. It is an interesting conjecture, even if it is from someone not exactly placing himself on the scientific side of the argument. It seems to me this duality is at the center of much of the debate, with neither side acknowledging it. You have rational types looking to disprove the faith side, or looking to discredit it as a valid for of proof, and the faith types basically ignoring the demand for scientific legitimacy. The more I think about the more I see that there are simply un-scientific ideas, whether they do harm or good, and whether choosing to follow them is beneficial is the real debate. On a side note it is preposterous (esp in light of history) to think it is MORE LIKELY that a man had miraculous, supernatural, wounds – than to think that thousands believed he did all the while he faked it. However I will remind you that since the claim is miraculous the likely-hood of it happening is hardly enough to convince a believer against it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    Oh, and re. the attendees at Pio's funeral… surely:- 1.5 billion wouldn't follow some crazy cave dweller who faked a story about riding a flying donkey- Some crazy kook wouldn't be able to attract 1 million for his 80th birthday party- Surely a mere 17th century false prophet wouldn't have been able to maintain 100,000 followers in the present day- And how is Uri Geller still making a living if he's really been debunked and shown to be a fraud?Humans are gullible. I have no doubt of Pio's charismatic personality and obvious following. I do doubt that he was inflicted with an injury by god to reveal a miracle to the world. I would love for it to happen again and for the individual to demonstrate it's continuation for 6mos in a laboratory setting. Times have changed and word of mouth, heresay, and the fact that someone had enough money to pay a scribe to get a story into written word doesn't carry the weight that it used to.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16496144988509668275 Leah

    Ok, I've read through some of the Pio eyewitness accounts linked above, and the evidence for bilocation is that a woman was able to 'see' him at meetings while he was elsewhere, but no one else could see him there. In other cases, no one saw or touched him, but they knew he had bilocated because they could smell roses or tobacco, his signature scents. This is not compelling evidence.If we're debunking the idea that a large number of adherents is evidence that a leader is not faking, I can't help but link to the New Yorker article about the unwilling messiah (an economist who is worshiped against his will by an international sect.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10845051786114528609 Julie Robison

    Hendy- When I said one should not quantify miracles at Lourdes, I merely meant not to turn them into "X number" – that is not their purpose or essence. Numbers are absolutely important. It takes two miracles to make a saint!Also, in general and from a Catholic point of view, there is no disconnect between science and religion, or reason and faith. Which makes understand perposterous things all the easier, even when it's hard in this absurd world of ours.Leah- the biblocation is only known through witnesses (http://www.padrepio.catholicwebservices.com/english/Bilo.htm). I hadn't meant to make it a point of discussion, more another example of a type of miracle with no earthly explaination. Here's the Vatican's little bit on Pio: http://www.vatican.va/news_services/liturgy/saints/ns_lit_doc_20020616_padre-pio_en.htmlThey do not mention his biblocation directly, which I find interesting.Also Leah, I liked the New Yorker article. Is it bad that is made me giggle quite a bit? :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12456857058875070697 Tacroy

    I just wanted to point out that, medically speaking, prayer doesn't actually do anything. (Here's the abstract of the study mentioned in that article). This means that either God doesn't answer prayers in general, or He refrains from answering prayers if the recipient is in a medical study :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    @Tacroy: Obviously god's not going to get in a test tube for the likes of you, silly.I've actually be told by a believer, straight face and all, that even if the study had shown a positive result, they wouldn't use that as evidence for god since you can't "test" god like that.Ahhh, I see — evidence of miracles only serves as such if you're not watching!

  • Charles

    RE: what would you need to see to become a Christian.I don't know what it would take for me to believe, but I think a good starting point would be to show that souls exist and reductionism is false.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09239576472889126413 MCPlanck

    I don't know what it would take for me to believe, either, but God does.The fact that God has not chosen to reveal that sight to me (even though it would be the easiest thing in the world for him to do so) strongly implies that He doesn't want me to believe.Which therefore implies that all of you Christians trying to convert me are going against God's will.So… stop, already,:D

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