Why I Am an Atheist, by Shem the Penman

Why I Am an Atheist, by Shem the Penman January 5, 2018

No one asked, but since I’m new to the Nonreligious channel I thought I’d give the rundown of the reasons I’m an atheist, and the things that have nothing to do with my atheism.

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The World We Create Creates Us

I’m an atheist because I was born into a secular society in an age where religion is a side matter, something that doesn’t enter into people’s everyday lives. I was raised Catholic, but in a liberal state where nobody cares about religion. I’m not a joiner, and so I felt very awkward going to Mass or taking part in group activities in an overtly religious setting.

At least I can say it taught me that religion isn’t necessarily about beliefs, it’s about belonging to a community. I don’t think the vast majority of believers think the literal truth of religious claims is even relevant. They identify as religious the same way they identify as English speakers or Yankees fans. I belonged to an atheist Meetup group for a while, but even that was too much groupthink for me. I went through a New Atheist phase before settling into being a normal atheist.

What the Hell is God?

I never quite understood what people meant when they talked about God, even though they seemed to know pretty well what they meant. The whole big-guy-in-the-sky just seemed like a character from the Far Side cartoons, something you teach to children in lieu of anything more sophisticated. However, even more cerebral definitions felt lacking. Concepts like the Ground of All Being and the Hidden God don’t make any more sense, they just make the concept palatable to people who are vaguely embarrassed by the big-guy-in-the-sky idea. Not me, though.

I’m a great reader, but theology is one thing I can’t stand. I saw an ad for God, Faith and Reason by Michael Savage online the other day, and I realized that I would rather undergo any of a broad category of violations rather than tuck into such a book. The more secular and philosophical a book is (like something by Paul Tillich), the more likely I am to enjoy it; but it’s also more likely to have nothing much to do with The Big G.

Still, I love the literary aspect of myth. Mythology is how our ancestors made sense of the world, after all, and these stories are laden with symbolism and psychological complexity. They tell us a lot about history and how our forebears approached the challenges of their day. Whether or not you believe in gods or the supernatural, you’d have to be an idiot not to appreciate ancient folklore, Dante, The Odyssey or Paradise Lost. The same goes for sacred music like the intricate cantatas of J. S. Bach or the masses of Josquin: you don’t need to be religious to acknowledge the artistic genius of these composers.

It’s Not About the Evidence

I’m an atheist because I can’t make sense of the world except from a mindset that doesn’t include gods or the supernatural. It’s not that there’s no evidence for God, whatever that means. A lot of atheists like to say they’d believe in God if they were presented evidence thereof, and that’s up to them. In the circumscribed context of a science experiment or a jury trial, evidence would be very persuasive to me. But I can’t imagine anyone showing me information that would change the entire basis on which I experience and interpret phenomena. That’s how open-minded I’m not, and I’m fine with that.

Religion and Politics

I’m a fairly lefty guy, and I’m with everybody who hates the way religion is used to justify terrorism, homophobia, or misogyny. But it’s the violence, the oppression, and the discrimination that offend me, not the religion. This odious “religious freedom” phenomenon, where people demand official sanction for discriminatory policies, says a lot more about right-wing desperation, hypocrisy and irresponsibility than about religion. It’s not as if we just want them to have rational, evidence-based reasons to discriminate. If a religious person were to say that homosexuality is okay because “we’re all God’s children,” or abortion is okay because “Jesus said not to judge,” I’d agree though I don’t really get what they mean. Wouldn’t you?

Skepticism and Driven to Abstraction

My blog looks at culture and history from a nonreligious viewpoint. We all have beliefs about the world, and skeptics should want to examine our beliefs as closely as we examine those of others. If I object to a religious person peddling easy answers, I should make sure mine aren’t just as self-serving.

So this isn’t the place for God-is-God-ain’t debates, or bashing the low-hanging fruit. There are only about a million other places online where you can do that to your heart’s content. Here I like talking about the way our society thinks about history, knowledge, and itself. We’re going to talk about books, technology, progress, science, culture, and whatever else strikes my fancy. Suggestions are welcome.

How about you? What’s the source of your nonreligious mindset?


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  • Kevin K

    There was a discussion in these parts a while back about what kinds of evidence would be compelling enough to make atheists believe in the supernatural. My point then was that the answer “nothing” is perfectly acceptable — because if there were compelling evidence of the supernatural, it would already be in evidence. Theists have had 5000 years or so to provide that evidence and have failed spectacularly.

    However, if a god or a god-powerful alien showed up tomorrow, my standards for believing it to be a supernatural being would have to include a demonstration of its omni-properties (power, sentience, benevolence). The middle power of omniscience, I think, is the one that is least able to be faked by a god-powerful alien. So, a declaration by this being that from now on and forever more, no weapon would work if the ultimate point was to harm a human. Guns would work just fine if aimed at paper — but misfire consistently if the bullet — intentionally or not would have struck a human. Knives wouldn’t pierce flesh, fists would become soft as pillows. The entire business of war would fall away in an instant.

    Or, to carry forward the discussion from Bob Seidensticker’s blog from a couple of days ago (which has generated 1600!!! comments), a verifiably reproducible demonstration that prayer and prayer alone can magically regrow an amputated limb (preferably instantaneously), but only for believers. Non-believers get squadoosh. That would be pretty compelling, although it certainly doesn’t rule out god-powerful aliens.

  • Like I said, if people want to take the “no evidence” approach, that’s totally up to them. As I always say, “Evidence is whatever supports what I believe, not what you believe.” Sure, if the world were completely different than the way it is, you and I might feel justified in professing religious faith. But if that’s not just raising the bar impossibly high, then I don’t know what is.

  • Kevin K

    I think that an impossibly high bar could easily be stepped over if the thing being discussed were real. Like the dragon in my garage.

    It comes down to what the definition of “evidence” is. Presuppositionists say “look at the universe — its existence demonstrates the existence of god”. But that’s not evidence of anything other than the existence of a universe.

    Evidence — to me — is something that can objectively, reliably, and verifiably point only in one direction. That’s where the high bar is. Because all of the “evidence” theists bring don’t point in a single direction. None of it rules out “all natural”, nor does it rule out “god-powerful aliens”.

    For example, when I think of Aquinas’ Five Ways, where he uses the word “God”, I can easily substitute the words “George, the universe-building alien” and not lose a scintilla of meaning. George is an 8th grader at Zbmrshth Middle School, and our universe is his Science Fair project. He got a B-.

  • suchandsuch

    Hi, Shem.

    I don’t think the vast majority of believers think the literal truth of religious claims is even relevant.

    This may well be true of the vast majority of believers you’ve encountered. It seems to be true of many American believers, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t apply to the vast majority.

    I was raised Catholic, too, at least for the first half of my childhood. The “literal truth” of religious claims didn’t seem to be a major theme, from what I recall. When my family switched to an Evangelical church, accepting the “literal truth” became identical to what it meant to be a “believer.” That’s all anecdotal, but it certainly influences the way I see the religious public. Perhaps your own experiences have made fundamentalism seem like less of a force than the data indicates.

    According to a July, 2017 Gallup poll, Creationist beliefs among U.S. adults reached a new low: 38%. The “new low” is something to celebrate, but 38% is a dreadfully high number. Belief in Creationism is a sure sign of someone who regards the literal truth of religious claims as relevant. And that 38% represents the whole U.S. public. Among Protestants, the number is 50%, and among all people who attend church weekly, the number is 65%.

    Of course, it’s perfectly understandable if you’d rather not devote your blog to debunking fundamentalism. I’d only ask that you don’t downplay its significance to the rest of society.

  • ButILikeCaves

    Long time Episcopalian, really involved from Middle School through my children’s adulthood.
    Then I just stopped BSing myself. I squared up with the fact I could never, and never really did, believe is such fanciful stuff.
    While I enjoyed “being in the club”, I cannot continue to lie about believing.

    And as a scientist, yeah I am an “evidence guy”.

  • It comes down to what the definition of “evidence” is.

    No, it comes down to how we experience and interpret phenomena. I think the belief-nonbelief thing is more of a personality difference than a rational approach to claims. I can’t imagine myself changing the basis of how I experience the world, and I’m fine with that.

  • Hi Shem! I grew up in evangelical Christianity where we were taught to believe in the innerancy of the Bible. We were taught that the Creation story, Noah’s Flood, Jonah and the Whale, the Virgin Birth, Resurrection of Christ, etc., were all historically true and real. People in my family and with whom I went to Christian school STILL believe that (others do not). Growing up, I had questions about the inconsistencies in these beliefs but didn’t have the wherewithal to pursue these doubts, and besides, we were taught that doubts were Satan’s way of luring us away from God and the Truth. There was a lot of fear involved in leaving the faith. In college I took a religious studies course that really chipped away at my beliefs, and I switched over to liberal Christianity for awhile – basically believing in God but not accepting the Bible as literal and true, just as a collection of allegories and statements to help people live better lives. After about 15 years of this, it dawned on me while visiting Chichen Itza that Christianity was just one of many blood-sacrifice religions in the world, no different from all the others. At that point, I took a decade-long “break from religion” until I finally admitted that it was over, that I was indeed an atheist. My husband is also an atheist, and our children haven’t been raised with religion so they consider themselves non-religious. My 15-year-old son when asked what religion he is generally replies “we aren’t doing religion right now”. BUT, I haven’t “come out” as an atheist to family members yet because I don’t want to damage my relationship with them. They would be horrified, would probably mount an aggressive campaign to bring us back into the fold, may even cut us off from the family which I do not want. I live in an area where there is a diversity of religion, and my friends are a collection of “cultural” Jews, Catholics, Muslims, Hindus, some active Christians, many inactive. I’d say that most believe in a God of some sort, but many don’t believe that the deity has direct influence on their lives, or may only when asked. I live far from my religious family members, so it’s easy to not have to participate in religion very often. If they ever ask me directly I will tell them that I am an atheist, but no one has asked. But I’m sure that if I lived in the community with my family, I would be exposed very quickly.

    Being an atheist has made me free. Free from fear of hell, free from fear of displeasing a god through sins known or unknown, free from legalism, free from the cognitive dissonance of believing stories that are implausible or outright ridiculous. I miss the community that is offered by religion, but I don’t miss the rest of it. I appreciate the art, music, architecture, etc., that have been spawned from religion. I do not miss the ugly side of how religious people can treat others. And I learned that one makes a choice about how to treat others and that using religion as an excuse or reason regarding how to treat others is unnecessary. I am more charitable to people as an atheist than I ever was while religious, because now I realize that it’s people who help people, not a deity. It’s an interesting distinction.

    My family and I are perfectly happy to live without a deity. I like that my children are learning that they alone are responsible for the consequences of their actions and that they are responsible to themselves, to their community, to society, to make good decisions about how their actions affect themselves and others. They are living life now, not living for promise of an afterlife. They are taught that actions have consequences, but actions aren’t labeled as sins, they are viewed in light of consequences. If after I die, I find out that there is an afterlife and a deity or deities of some sort and that I must suffer eternal torment for my unbelief, so be it as I carefully weighed the evidence, the consequences, etc., during my life and determined that even if the evangelical Christian god is the “real” one, I would not want to serve such a deity. If one or more of other cultures’ gods are real, then I chose incorrectly and so be it. If there is/are deities that humans have yet to name or characterize, then so be it. But I doubt it. Personally, I think humans created religions in order to understand what they did not yet understand and to give humans a way to develop codes of conduct for their societies.

  • Belief in Creationism is a sure sign of someone who regards the literal truth of religious claims as relevant.

    I’m a Stephen Jay Gould fan and I deplore creationism. But (and we talked about this before on Disqus, if remember correctly) I think anti-evolution sentiment, like most conspiracy theories, is just a way for people to retain the illusion of control by rejecting a dominant social narrative. Unlike anti-vaxx and global warming denial, I don’t consider creationism a horrific threat to our society’s health and safety. Evolution-creation debates are little more than factoid wars that are a lot more about conformity of opinion and authority than they are about science.

  • Hello there! Welcome to the blog and thanks for contributing.

  • suchandsuch

    In this case, I’m merely using creationism as an indicator of whether a believer thinks the literal truth of religious claims is relevant. If half of all Protestants and 65% of all weekly churchgoers are creationists, then (for those people), religious claims aren’t metaphors or other non-factual bits of culture. They’re literal truths.

  • otrame

    I usually say that I read the Bible and became an atheist. That’s true. But I have recently realized that the fundamental reason I became an atheist is that I had a truly wonderful father. My dad was human and had his faults, but I KNEW he would never send me to hell. And if the god of the Bible was Our Father, how could he?

    I don’t think that was a conscious thought, at the time. It was more that my image of god as creator compared unfavorably with the image of my dad, who actually had created me (with the cooperation of my mom.

  • And I’m questioning whether that’s a valid description of why people affirm the validity of creationism, or any weird conspiracy theory. If your attitude is that all these stupid people just need to stop believing the stupid things they believe and start believing the true things you believe, hey, good luck with that.

  • suchandsuch

    I don’t think they’re stupid. You don’t have to be stupid to be wrong.

    I’m not sure if we’re talking past each other or not. Do you think if someone is “retain(ing) the illusion of control by rejecting a dominant social narrative,” they don’t think the positions that they’ve embraced are “literal truths?”

  • You don’t have to be stupid to be wrong.

    So how do you go about making these wrong people believe the right things, pray tell?

  • suchandsuch

    I’ll rephrase: I do not think everyone with whom I disagree is stupid.

    In any case, my disagreement with you seems to be about whether creationists believe the “literal truth” of religious claims. It’s altogether possible that I simply don’t understand your position. Do you think if someone is “retain(ing) the illusion of control by rejecting a dominant social narrative,” they don’t think the positions that they’ve embraced are “literal truths?”

  • Unlike you, I don’t claim to know what people truly believe. I’m just saying that the reason they profess belief in creationism (or the conspiracy theory of your choice) is that they feel powerless and are maintaining some semblance of control over their society by rejecting a dominant narrative.

    The attitude that people believe the wrong things, and we just need to make them reject these wrong beliefs and believe in the right things, is sort of a weird belief in and of itself.

  • suchandsuch

    Unlike you, I don’t claim to know what people truly believe.

    Precisely like you, I have thoughts about what other people think. You wrote:

    I don’t think the vast majority of believers think the literal truth of religious claims is even relevant.

    You might have a good reason to think that, but I’m not sure that I understand your reasoning. I think that creationism is a pretty good indicator that a person does believe the literal truth of a religious claim. Your reply that they “feel powerless and are maintaining some semblance of control over their society by rejecting a dominant narrative” does not — from what I understand — contradict my perception that they believe the religious claim is literally true. Perhaps they think it’s literally true, and that coincides with (or is cause or result of) their rejection of the dominant narrative.

    The two things aren’t mutually exclusive, are they?

  • I think that creationism is a pretty good indicator that a person does believe the literal truth of a religious claim.

    And I think we should agree to disagree,

    Have a nice weekend.

  • Roger Shepherd

    Hi Shem,

    I prefer to adopt the posture of a ‘non-theist’ in the sense that if someone asks me to accept the existence of a deity I merely ask them to justify their existential claim.

    Imagine going home one day and seeing a stranger sitting on your doorstep. This stranger tells you not to open your door because there is a tiger inside. This is an existential claim which can be fairly easily verified or refuted.

    Suppose instead that the stranger tells you that he is from Melbourne and he knows for a fact that your house is occupied by exceedingly venomous, almost microscopic, Australian spiders. This is also an existential claim and you can challenge him to prove it. He might demur by telling you that they can sometimes be awfully difficult to detect so that a negative result of testing is inconclusive. At what point do you decide to open the door, go in and have a good night’s sleep?

    In other words, is there a sure fire litmus test for all existential claims? Clearly not and that is how they get away with it.

  • Imagine going home one day and seeing a stranger sitting on your doorstep. This stranger tells you not to open your door because there is a tiger inside. This is an existential claim which can be fairly easily verified or refuted.

    Okay. I guess I see the phenomenon of religion as having a lot more to do with identity, community, and authority than about the existence of a deity being. Like I mentioned to Kevin below, I think we make ourselves out to be a lot more open-minded than we are if we demand evidence for something that’s not really a scientific matter; we’re just know ahead of time what they’ll offer as justification, we’ll say, “that’s not evidence!”, and we’ll wait for the next sucker to bait.

    There’s no God. Let’s move on.

  • If beliefs lead to plans for specific future actions, and internally justify a course of action in situ, and are offered as public justifications for past actions, then it’s not weird at all. And religious beliefs are used in these three ways by religious people. If a religious belief ever becomes an offered answer to the question “why do you want to/why are you about to/why did you do that?”, when “that” is morally or materially relevant to any other person on earth, then it is relevant what the contents of that belief are, and what–if anything–justifies its assumed truth value.

  • Sam Harris called and says he wants his rhetoric back!

    Most of the ideas I have that internally justify my actions aren’t ones I could prove scientifically any more than a religious person could. I didn’t run tests to decide that people deserve compassion. My belief that women are entitled to bodily autonomy hasn’t passed peer review, but I believe it anyway and it inspires my viewpoints about sexual harassment and reproductive choice. As I mentioned in the OP, I don’t really care whether religious people present justification for their beliefs, as long as I agree with the beliefs. Would you object if a fundie were to say that marriage equality is okay because “we’re all God’s children”? Nope, because it’s not the justification that matters, it’s the act. And I don’t care about their justification for oppression and discrimination either, because it’s the oppression and discrimination that offend me.

  • That was a very intricate way of saying the only thing that matters about a disease are its symptoms. Pay no mind to what caused the symptoms, just treat them and hope the cause takes care of itself.

    That doesn’t strike me as an effective approach. It might work from time to time, but generally it is far more effective to ascertain the cause and address that directly. Then the symptoms take care of themselves.

  • Obviously, deciding what other people are and aren’t allowed to believe has never caused social problems of any kind.

    Each to his own disease, huh?

  • The fact is, the only way to criticize religious belief is to “bash the low-hanging fruit” because literally all of it is low-hanging fruit. Just because the guy pushing the rhetoric that “God” is the “Ground Of All Being” doesn’t happen to believe that the universe and the earth were created in six days around 6,000 years ago doesn’t mean that a religious believer pushing poetic metaphor transference of baggage of barbaric primitiive fabrications about deities from thousands of years ago is pushing anything more sophisticated. Vacuous garbage is vacuous garbage.

    Just saying.

  • “raising the bar impossibly high”

    Nice. Thank you for acknowledging the point that the world we live in (i.e., reality) isn’t the world that god-believers profess (i.e., fabricate). You know, a world in which actual evidence of an actual god actually exists. Which is precisely why the requirement of good evidentiary standards raises the bar impossibly high for god-believers.

  • “I think the belief-nonbelief thing is more of a personality difference than a rational approach to claims.”

    Except for those for whom it is based on a rational approach to claims. I was raised in a fundamentalist Christian denomination by fundamentalist Christian parents (my father was a preacher; now retired).

    It was after rationally analyzing the beliefs I was raised with that I came to realize how nonsensical they were. This experience (of rational analysis) is probably how the vast majority of atheists who were former Christians (or other religious stripe) came to reject their own religious beliefs.

  • That’s simply not correct. Creationists say what they believe explicitly. (I was a creationist myself, and I defended creationism because I believe it. The notion that I professed belief in creationism because I “felt powerless and was maintaining some semblance of control over society” is merely patently absurd.)

    Creationists profess belief in creationism because *it’s what they read in their Bible* – and they believe that what the Bible teaches came from God, an omnipotent, omniscient God. It’s this belief in divine inspiration that motivates their belief, not some kind of irrelevant sociological supposition. (Which is not to deny that creationist themselves promote their own sociological conspiracy theory rhetoric against science, scientists, and those who promote science.)

    The idea about creationists not really believing what they explicitly say they believe is very much like the rhetoric a lot of Christian apologists use about atheists not really disbelieving in God (i.e., not really being atheists) but just speaking against God from a rebellious heart. It’s nonsensical.

  • Joe Cogan

    Thank you. Whenever someone tries to foist such nonsense on me, like “God is the Ground Of All Being”, I usually reply along the lines of “that sounds nice, but what does that even mean?”. So far, the number of coherent replies I’ve received is zero.

  • Neko

    This is what Paul Tillich, the guy who came up with the idea of God as “the ground of all being,” said about it:

    https://religiousnaturalism.org/god-as-ground-of-being-paul-tillich/

  • Neko

    Hello Shem! I’m glad to see you’ve started a blog. I remember you from back in the day.

    I’m a cradle ex-Catholic and cultural Catholic. I’m not a religious believer, though some years ago, for reasons I won’t bore you with, I decided to become more open to religion. I’ve been atheist most of my life; for a while I was a practicing Catholic as well! A strange experience, but one I don’t regret.

    Looking forward to reading your blog!

  • Joe Cogan

    That doesn’t answer the question, it merely generates more. What is a “Power of Being”? It sounds uncomfortably like neo-Platonic nonsense about “essences”. And why call it “God”, when “the universe” is a perfectly acceptable alternative term that also has the advantages of demonstrably existing, and not being burdened with the mumbo-jumbo surrounding the other?

  • Neko

    Why call it God. I suppose it’s fair to call a reference to ultimate reality “God.”

    Btw I don’t know what he’s talking about.

  • Joe Cogan

    Neither do I, and neither, I suspect, does Tillich. Cheers!

  • Neko

    Haha! Cheers!

  • Welcome aboard!

  • It seems to me that arguing about The Big G is just looking at the finger instead of what it’s pointing to. People profess religious faith because of things like community, identity, politics and authority. Reducing the entire problematic historical and cultural construct of religion down to literal belief in the literal existence of a literal deity is what makes these debates so dreary.

  • Neko

    Thank you!

  • Neko

    Yes. I get the impression that what many people arguing against theism mean by God is Yahweh.

    You’re right, of course, about the various reasons people profess a religion, though belief in dogma is among them.

  • It’s good to know that even people raised in a religious tradition share my “religion’s got cooties” attitude (as I like to phrase it). Though, like you, I am fascinated by mythology. The Torah contains the mythology of my people. It’s no different, yet the Iliad and the Odyssey aren’t weighed down by our current cultural biases.

    And, here-here when it comes to putting skeptics’ feet to the critical thinking fire. Too many “skeptics” have their own impenetrable blinders, convinced that, as self-indentified critical thinkers, they don’t have to examine their own biases.

  • Too many “skeptics” have their own impenetrable blinders, convinced that, as self-indentified critical thinkers, they don’t have to examine their own biases.

    “What do you mean I’m biased? I’m using science words!”

  • You’re the Donald Trump of science — you’ve got the best science words! 😉

  • Not that I’d want to, but I couldn’t argue with your reasons for being an atheist. It’s not evident of the sort of self-deception of “logic and reason” I see too many fall into without really understanding the limitations of strict logos and what it can and can’t tell us.

    Honestly, you all but acknowledged there’s that high wall that people use a God concept to get a leg over and decided it wasn’t for you.

    And in the past I’ve seen you open to philosophical approaches to aspects of divinity that describe our reality as useful in a given problem domain.

    I mean if anything you’re one of those few minds that has the gift of being able to really get this stuff, but you’re like “nah, bro”. I know a handful of others like this too.

    I must respect that. It confuses me. I have someone close to me who did cocaine for years. She doesn’t use it anymore but even now she tells me “I don’t understand how someone can use this and just put it down. Like, they must not be getting good coke. I know better, but it’s just impossible to comprehend that someone can take it or leave it.”

    I feel a little like she does about coke here, except about God, mysticism and divinity (forget religion). =)

  • It’s not evident of the sort of self-deception of “logic and reason” I see too many fall into without really understanding the limitations of strict logos and what it can and can’t tell us.

    I appreciate that. This Patheos gig should be really interesting, because I’m not blogging about aren’t-fundies-dumb and religion-isn’t-science. As you said, it’s hard for people to acknowledge that our grasp of science —and logic and reason— can often just be a way to validate our biases.

    A lot of people who blog here come from backgrounds where they were subject to physical and mental abuse in religious households or communities. It’s perfectly understandable that such people associate religion with cruelty. I wouldn’t expect them to be tolerant of religious rhetoric any more than I’d expect someone who was tortured while “Sugar Shack” was playing on the radio to bop to the song later in life. In contrast, I grew up in a Catholic family in Massachusetts whose commitment to religion was extremely casual. In fact, I have a relative who became some sort of born again holy roller and everyone avoids her like she’s got the Ebola. I spent Christmas Eve with my cousins, and the subject of religion never came up. They all know I’m an atheist, and guess what? It’s not a big deal.

    The other main source of resentment against religion hereabouts is also pretty understandable: the sickening hypocrisy of evangelical Christians in the USA who dress up their right-wing cynicism in pious rhetoric. At least back in the 60s, Christians and Jews were visible in the civil rights marches and antiwar movements. Nowadays, there’s no more Social Gospel, and the Catholics have long since turned their backs on social engagement and liberation theology. Every time you hear someone fulminating against gays, abortion, or transgender rights today, it’s almost certainly going to be some religious kook who makes it seem like he’s speaking for The Big J. However, even this aspect of religion in the USA says more about politics than religious belief. Religion has just become the linguistic context of American nationalism, a complex of ingroup-outgroup markers that allow for quick identification of who thinks like a true American and who doesn’t. I always say we’re fixated on the finger instead of what it’s pointing to; for decades we’ve been having God-is-God-ain’t debates, and we didn’t realize until it was too late that our country was ripe for corporate takeover by a business-friendly fascist.

    All the same, I think people like Sam Harris and Chris Hitchens are terrible role models for nonbelief, since they’ve espoused a lot of the same sexist, racist, anti-intellectual right-wing drivel that religious people do, except with science-words instead of Scripture quotes. Simply becoming nonreligious doesn’t make all our biases disappear.

    Great to see you again! Hope you’ll contribute more here.

  • recklessly sensible as ever, Shem. I wish I could respond as thoughtfully here as you have, but the early hour and my lack of caffienation precludes it, if other limitations of mine don’t.

    good morning/day, neighbor.

  • Torah is pretty amazing, and I’m not just talking about the book.

    the fact that i stumbled onto some major aspects of lurianic kabbalah independently (before i knew much about any of this) demanded i give it a closer look.

    and woah.

    anyway, I’m not jewish, just a weirdo with some odd hobbies and a bit too curious for my own good.

    following this rabbit hole struck me beautifully mad before i even got it isaac luria’s work.

    everything is precisely as useful as we make it.

    it’s been a trip. had me seriously considering a conversion (not that i will and am malakoi anyway, so Deut 23:1 and 22:5 kind of leave me hanging outside of any assembly i’d likely want to be a part of)

    i do practice a form of abrahamic mysticism now, and it’s in no small part from what i learned from the jewish mystics

  • Meh. Mysticism mystifies me. I was raised without religion, and I’m satisfied to live in a WYSIWYG universe.

  • i like to explore the nooks and crannies. all of them, including human attempts at approaching the divine.

    good for me too, because i’d have never found the utter practically in these texts otherwise.

    Isaiah 53 was the torah proof for Jesus Christ but also MLK Jr.

    The sodom fable shows us why Dylan Roof, Kyle Huff, and Stephen Paddock happen, show us why, and what we can do to fix it. While all we’re doing is symptom chasing.

    They work because while history doesn’t repeat itself it tends to rhyme.

    Humans are a product of organic complexity, and patterns emerge from complexity itself.

    Many of those patterns are baked into the texts.

    It’s quite useful, whether you actually want to dabble in divinity, or just expand the tools we can use to examine society and human behavior in the aggregate.

  • al kimeea

    a former creationist two comments away might disavow you of your notion of religious truthiness, might

  • al kimeea

    It’s as if nasty things just happen. As if The Godwin Gang didn’t look to Marty Luther for justification, and Marty was looking even further back…

  • al kimeea

    When I was young I told my parents I wanted to know how things work. So they said study science. Then I went to school and met a kid while trying to arrange some pickup sporting event for Sunday morning. I was informed my family was going to burn in hell for not going to church. So I did, my non-religious parents (but officially Presbys, to go along to get along) didn’t stop me. At church, a nice lady told me The Bible has all of life’s answers. So I read it cover to cover. At 6 months into it, I stopped going to church. I would’ve gone back if it improved, but no.

  • al kimeea

    As I mentioned elsewhere, a lawyer told me “there’s no evidence for Einstein. None. It’s all conjecture.”

    Agree?

  • Rum Raisin

    Identity as politics. Race as religion. None of it makes sense to me. I just say “The more I know of humanity, the less I know of their gods, or even if they exist.” It’s impossible for me to tell what’s real when people keep saying the world is a magical place with angels, faeries, gods and monsters. I choose to believe in what I can see(or the science) and actions speak louder than that God Voice you hear in your head.

  • Sensible Bob

    As a former atheist, I must declare that I am currently agnostic. Why? Because as a human being, I realize just how limited my knowledge is.
    How can anyone know whether there is “great spirit”? Or not. It doesn’t seem logical to me, but if zillions of people have believed in something, who am I to question it?
    That being said, if there HAS to be a God, let’s go with the Flying Spaghetti Monster. More fun, better food, better heaven.

  • Brianna LaPoint

    I consider myself Buddhist these days. Raised Catholic and LMS, but dont believe it and havent for many years now.