The Case Has Not Been Made

The Case Has Not Been Made August 15, 2019

Editor’s Note: While we’re railing about God, here’s another former pastor who struggled long and hard with this idea. He’s been “out” for a while, but this was written when he was still a Methodist minister. Like the previous contributor, Bob Ripley, this Clergy Project member is seminary trained, so has studied the theological arguments about the concept of God as well as the findings of the 19thCentury archeologists, who found little evidence of biblical stories. So the idea that there’s “something” up there must be hard for some good people to shake.  /Linda LaScola, Editor

=======================

By David Mercer

I don’t think I’m going to be arguing a lot against the case for god’s existence. If people want to say that there is an almighty, loving god who is in charge of everything, that’s fine, but they need to make their case.  Until they do, what’s to debate?

Shouting belligerently doesn’t make it true no matter how many people are shouting.  Neither does being calm and intellectual.  And while I appreciate sincerity, it doesn’t make something true, either.

Making it a matter of faith can be a good strategy in the short run, but eventually there needs to be a revelation.  And therein is my problem. I’ve never had the revelation.

I’ll go ahead and confess something here, especially since people describe atheists and agnostics as being angry.  It’s true that I’m angry. If there is a god, then he, she, or it, has let me down personally.

First, I resent the promise that a holy spirit is present to guide and comfort me.

If it’s there, it has done a piss poor job.  I’ve spent most of my life with searing loneliness, as well as plenty of confusion and sadness. I’ve tried to pretend the spirit is there, and I’ve held onto faith, but after half a century of searching, I haven’t seen it or felt it or believed anyone who told me they did.  I’m angry because I would like for it to have been true.

And then there’s prayer.

I’ve been talking, listening, and pleading, but there’s no one on the other end of the line. I wish there were, I wish there was a god who was really interested in conversing with me, who had some input for me. I wouldn’t mind if he didn’t always give me what I asked for, if I could actually hear from him. I’ll add that if he’s there but not answering, that’s fine, but I’m going silent, too

I can’t see that god is actually directing anything.  It’s ok with me if people want to believe there’s a grand designer, but they haven’t proved it.  If people want this taught in school, perhaps they should include it in sociology classes where they study cultures that insist on believing things that are not so, but not in biology or physics–those sciences deal in measurement, equations, and facts.

The claims of god’s power are not true. I’ve never seen a miracle. Oh, I’ve seen amazing things, and I’ve been glad things happened the way I wanted them to, but nothing truly miraculous.  And just because an old book said it used to happen is not proof.  Neither does someone telling that he once saw one prove it to me.

There is no god of grace. Christianity and other major religious teach values of love and service. I think we all need to work for peace, mercy and healing, but god hasn’t done his part. If grace is so important, why haven’t we seen more of it from on high? And as many have asked, if god is so powerful, as well as loving, then why hasn’t he done something about the starving, the sick, and oppressed?

Bring me real evidence, not anecdotes or flawed statistics. Make your case and if you have something of substance, we’ll talk.

**Editor’s Question** How did YOU come to terms with the idea of God?**

>>>Editor’s Comment<<< 12:30 PM 8-15-19  Somehow, the comment section for this post has been turned off.  It’s an error – not something you or anyone did intentionally.  I’m working with the Patheos tech team now to get it fixed. Sorry about this.  Please write your response in word processing and enter it here later when it’s fixed.  Please hang in there!

==================

David Mercer, aka “Stan Bennett,” was the “Stan” who was featured in the CNN documentaryAtheists: Inside the World of Non-believers and the Canadian documentary, Losing Our Religion.  David was a pastor for thirty-five years in Texas and Oklahoma until he quit and moved to Orlando, Florida, where he met and married his wife, Sylvia.  David is now fully out of the closet as an agnostic.  He is a life coach, a teacher, and a storyteller. He is the author of the blog Deep Calls.  You can also find him on his Author Page on Facebook. This post is reposted, with permission from a private blog that the author kept when he was still in the ministry.

>>>>Photo Credits: By Dnalor 01 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0 at, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32470774   ; “Duerer-Prayer”. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Duerer-Prayer.jpg#/media/File:Duerer-Prayer.jpg

 

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  • A friend who was raised evangelical once told me that these folks commonly ask each other, “How’s your walk with the Lord going today?” I was raised by a devout mother who prayed, read the Bible, went to church every Sunday—the whole routine—but she never asked that question. God was not a cosmic buddy you could “walk with.” I confess that, for me, God was something to figure out with my mind, so…as Linda asked, How did I come to terms with the idea of God?

    Ultimately, the problem of suffering scuttled the idea of God for me, as much as anything else. As Mercer said, “…if god is so powerful, as well as loving, then why hasn’t he done something about the starving, the sick, and oppressed?” When I was growing up in the 1950s, the Holocaust had not faded from memory, nor were there ‘deniers’ (well, not that I recall). No amount of theologizing could rescue God, although it took me a while to absorb the full impact of that.

    Nor could I come to terms with the idea of God when I finally learned about epistemology. How do preachers and theologians KNOW what they claim about God? … or as Mercer says, “It’s ok with me if people want to believe there’s a grand designer, but they haven’t proved it.” They can’t even come up with the evidence, and once you understand evolution, we know how ‘design’ happens. Without a grand designer.

    So I came terms with the idea of God by letting go of it. It served no purpose. There wasn’t a Lord to have a walk with.

  • ctcss

    David (Stan), I realize that this post is from quite a while back, is obviously sincere and heartfelt, not to mention being a wee bit combative, given your circumstances at the time. And while I certainly feel for your plight at that time in your life, I am still not sure who you were having conversations with in your hour(s) of need.

    You and I come from very different sects of Christianity and many groups and people don’t even consider my sect to be properly Christian at all since we are not at all mainstream in our views, so you and I would probably not see eye to eye in many ways. But was it true for you that there were no experienced, kind, deep-thinking, honest, and helpful people either in your family, or at your seminary, or in your larger church organization that you could bounce your thoughts, doubts, and discouragements against without being unfairly judged, and who would be there for you as often as might be needed? (i.e. mentors, teachers, close friends, people who had weathered multiple storms, gained dominion over them, and felt that those experiences along with a growth in understanding had made them feel closer to God because of it, etc.) Serious religious questions would seem to demand a support structure of some sort, at least IMO.

    Granted, some of your complaints seem theology-specific such as regarding the physical world as somehow needing to be reflective of God’s nature. Jesus certainly didn’t seem to regard it a such, and said that the world needed to be overcome, not acceeded to. Thus, he certainly didn’t seem to think that things were hunky dory down here, nor did he apear to spend his time chastising God about it. Rather, he seemed to spend his time helping his students understand more about God so that they would be better able to overcome the world’s difficulties with God’s help. In my religion, I was never taught to regard the material world as reflective of God, so we would probably find ourselves in disagreement over that notion. No big deal. To each their own.

    Likewise, biology and physics are fine for what they are used for, but measurement, equations, and facts about the physical world are of small comfort when sometimes the facts they might express pretty much hold up a sign saying “You’re doomed!” (The world can be quite nasty in both micro and macro ways to fragile creatures such as us. See above.) Personally, I have no problem engaging in such subject areas in the right context, but I would not expect them to teach me anything about God, nor would I place them as being more important than God, nor as a logical or necessary replacement for God. To me, the physical sciences and theological study and practice speak to very different areas of knowledge and utility. So we might also differ about the assignment of value to these differing areas of thought. Once again, no big deal.

    And quite frankly, there are a lot more areas where you and I might find little common ground. That’s to be expected when our theologies differ so much.

    So my main question is what I mentioned in the second paragraph. In the earlier decades of my life, I sought out my mom to ask questions of since she had a lot of experience dealing with life’s problems by relying on God’s help. And there were also teachers and mentors who also had experience relying on God who were available to talk to and who could offer advice and who were also available to help me when things got tough. (My wife has also been steadfast in her help and support.) None of this meant that my life was a walk in the park because, well, life can throw a lot of curveballs and yes, we all have discouragement, doubts, and fears that need to be dealt with and overcome. Not to mention overcoming one’s own less-than-wise or less-than-stellar decisions.

    However, I don’t think I ever felt completely alone and without recourse or without access to helpful resources. And considering that a serious approach to religion would would most likely require numerous instances of help over time, I was very glad to have access to help when I felt up against it.

    So, was there nothing supportive like that in your religious life? Or even hinted at by those of your peers or mentors? If so, that’s rough. (Also puzzling since I would expect a church organization would realize that it might be needed quite a bit.) And if not, what kind of help was offered?

    Thanks.

  • I’m glad you’ve had support in your family and religious community. My wife wasn’t able to give that to me.

    I can count on one hand with fingers left over the people I could confide in during those years. One was my brother. Another was my counselor. And two others were my good friends. I was very lucky to have them.

    I’m not sure what church organizations you’re familiar with but my experience has been that a preacher can’t trust anyone in his church or denomination. I know I’m not the only minister, believing or not, that would say this. Yes, there should be support for the searchers and the doubters, but there isn’t.

    Most ministers who came to a point where they no longer believed had no support group, as you describe. We had to be extremely careful about telling people our secrets. Almost all preachers, believing or not, feel isolation and lack resources to talk to anyone within their religious community. I broached the subject of my unbelief with a few of my minister friends. They were alarmed and said things to shut the conversation down quickly. These days many people don’t respond at all. I think they want to wait until I come back to my senses.

    I did have an online community. The Clergy Project. David Hayward’s “The Lasting Supper” and select friends from the larger atheist community–and they were life saving. They were my audience when I was writing this blog. However, I realize I was directing many of my anguished thoughts toward my christian community, wishing they wouldn’t be so scared of my doubts. And they are scared… much too afraid to render any real support to a doubter.

    Now about your thoughts on Science vs Theology. You indicate that they are two separate things and that Science just doesn’t do enough to help us understand things. If there is an all powerful God, then spirituality would not nullify science–there would be a context where it all fit together rather than being opposed to each other. And i differ with you on the assumption that science alone says, “You’re doomed” when in fact, much of religion delivers that message.

    The intellectual debate about the existence of God is not my biggest issue. My breaking point is that God never revealed himself to me, personally. After all the promises of church and scripture, God simply wasn’t there. Fifty-plus years of searching for this God is enough for me.

  • ctcss

    **Editor’s Question** How did YOU come to terms with the idea of God?**

    I think this tends to boil down to one’s environment, one’s proclivities, and the experiences one has had. I was raised religiously and am still religious because I liked the ideas expressed in the theology I was raised in and felt that they made a lot of sense. I also felt comforted by the practice of those ideas, felt closer to God because of them, and also had very few troubling questions since my religion didn’t have any notions like hell, eternal punishment, or that God causes evil that will (mysteriously) be seen as good in some way in a far off future.

    I also found that I liked the Bible and was impressed by the teachings and practice of Jesus and thus was interested in growing in my understanding of them. And since I was not taught to view the Bible in a literalist or fundamentalist manner, I didn’t spend my time worrying over the scriptural narratives and texts as much as I spent my time working on grasping the meanings that are contained within them. Jesus, after all, only had the OT, and he didn’t spend his time being horrified or dismayed by it. Apparently he was rather inspired by what he saw in it. I rather liked that and found it to be encouraging, so basically, I wanted to understand God and the Bible as Jesus did.

    All of this boils down to my having a different take on this area of thought than many on this board probably because I have had a greater preponderance of positive experiences and responses to what I have encountered. Indeed, if I had grown up sharing more of the same experiences as are often spoken of here, I might very well also be expressing many of the same dour thoughts regarding religion often seen here. But I haven’t, so I’m not.

    Just my thoughts.

  • Linda LaScola

    This account of how ministers (don’t) talk to each other about serious matters of faith mirrors what I heard in my interviews with clergy — all kinds of clergy – both fundamentalist and liberal. Yes, they get together and talk, but never about religious doubts or anything very personal.

  • viaten

    This isn’t too far from what I went through when I was younger. How can I know directly that God is really there? I came to realize that my faith was just in my parents, catholic school teachers and nuns and priests. They seemed to be (or acted) pretty certain and I figured I would be like them when I got older and learned more. They seemed to have something I didn’t have… yet. Time passed. More doubts and questions. New age, Eastern religion/philosophy phase. More introspection and critical thought, and here I am, grateful I didn’t get pulled into religion, believing it, or going along with it and hoping it’s true which is what I seemed to be doing.

  • mason

    The “God” idea was something I recall vividly how I was bullied into it by family and Evangelical brown shirts disguised as Sunday School teachers. I could have just as easily been bullied and brainwashed into being a good Nazi youth.

    “How did YOU come to terms with the idea of God?” The day I took my first real honest cogent look at the barbaric Hebrew idea of son killing as for blood atonement, my belief in the ruthless immoral Jehovah & Son deity crumbled fast. I already knew Jehovah God was a totalitarian monster worse than Hitler, but had swallowed the Evangelical apologist party line that the deity’s ways are above our understanding, and it, all the atrocious behavior of “God”, would be explained in Heaven. This “God” idea, once seen honestly, became my philosophical enemy. Those are my terms; the Evangelical God is an evil twisted idea and is my avowed enemy. (Linda, I’m still unable to post a meme)

  • ElizabetB.

    Great questions, as always!
    The “all-powerful” one is going mainstream these days…. as in Oord’s book, “God Can’t” — and process people explaining that the word “Almighty” does not appear in Hebrew — but was introduced when Jerome translated “El Shaddai” (something like God of the Mountain Peaks). They say “omnipotence” does not appear in the bible ….but definitely it caught on!!!

    The idea of “god” has been a long untangling experience for me — untangling what I think from all the ideas worldwide. I think of “god” as a word symbolizing what one considers the good, beautiful, and true — which varies from person to person. Each person is responsible for constructing their own content.

    For some, the “true” is that there is no personal entity, no separate being whom we relate to — and some of these think of themselves as atheist and no longer use the word “god,” while others continue to use it as a symbol and see themselves as “Christian atheists,” etc. So interesting! For me, I’m still exploring : )

  • Linda LaScola

    You say, “I think of “god” as a word symbolizing what one considers the good, beautiful, and true — which varies from person to person.”

    OK, but why have a very loaded word that means a “supernatural being who answers prayers and who I will live forever in heaven with if I worship him” to many people, to symbolize that. Why not just say those words, or choose another word that’s not already well established?

  • Linda LaScola

    The “gif” feature should be fixed now. I see buttons below

  • Linda LaScola

    Interesting — I’m somewhere in between — nothing particularly negative and nothing particularly positive about my religious experience growing up. I enjoyed going to church, but not because of the religion. I liked the Latin and the chants and the incense and hanging out with my Dad (Mom didn’t go).

    As I got older, the dogma stuff didn’t make any sense.

    Maybe if I had prayed as a kid and had my prayers “answered” I would have been more of a believer.

  • Linda LaScola

    I sometimes think that the holocaust is what did religion in in Europe. As far as I can tell, their was no overt movement to end religious belief after WWII, but that’s when people just started to drift away.

    Maybe that’s more or less what’s happening now here in the US.

    More educated people, more information available, more people willing to speak up about not being religious, resulting in less religious belief and less organized religion.

  • ctcss

    To me, the idea that any word has become “loaded” suggests that humans really need to examine themselves and decide whether they want to become (or to be satisfied with being) non-thinking Pavlovian entities and just react, or do they want to perform a bit more thinking and determine what it is that they think is being said because of past experiences, or what is actually being said and evaluate it on its own terms?

    Put another way, do people read the Bible, or are they actually reading themselves?

  • I’m pretty sure that two devastating world wars undermined “god-is-good’ theology.

  • ElizabetB.

    Yes, that was my question about process theologians until I read Gordon Kaufman [tip from Mark Rutledge : ) ]. Kaufman says there’s just not another word that can carry the meaning of ‘ultimate meaning’ (as I understand it) —
    “Our symbol, ‘God,’ heavy with the mythic overtones of our religious traditions, suggests a kind of being – an all-powerful sovereign, creator, and king of the universe – which no longer seems intelligible in our world, and which, moreover, may today deeply offend our moral sensibilities. To worship such a God, or to attempt to understand human existence in relationship to such a God, may thus seem to require a fundamental compromise of our moral and intellectual integrity (if we do not close our eyes to the self-deception in which we are engaged). Yet we have no other symbol in our western traditions which directs us so definitely toward an ultimate point of reference in terms of which all being and life, meaning and value, can be understood. Notions like ‘Nature’ or ‘Universe’ suggest an all-comprehensive inclusiveness; but it is not clear how human freedom and moral responsibility, human consciousness of meaning, human culture, the human quest for an understanding of our world and of our place within our world – in short, all those features of our lives that we value most – are to be interpreted in terms of such concepts, since their impersonal and abstract character has no intrinsic or necessary connection with these specifically human concerns….”

  • ElizabetB.

    I’d add that I don’t use “god” in my thoughts; when others use the word, or if I’m talking with people who expect me to use it, “the energy of good” is what I am thinking of. Quantum physics has gotten so weird, with entanglements and things being many places and in many different states at the same time, that I think it could be that when I relate to (or inside) reality as a whole, it’s what I used to think of as encountering a separate personal-type entity called God. There’s evidently an “energy of bad” too — and we can throw our weight in either direction…..

  • ThaneOfDrones

    Yet we have no other symbol in our western traditions which directs us
    so definitely toward an ultimate point of reference in terms of which
    all being and life, meaning and value, can be understood.

    Why do we need a word for something that does not exist?
    “Ultimate meaning” is just another instance of absolutism which pervades the worst religions. Meaning must be ultimate, rewards must be infinite, the afterlife must be eternal; or they have no meaning at all. I refute this position thusly:
    If I ever debate William Lane Craig or any other of the absolutist apologists, I will ask him to open his wallet and count the money therein. Is the amount infinite? Is the value of that money eternal? No, of course not. Therefore, since WLC and his ilk insist on absolutism, that money can have no value at all for him.

    Therefore I will ask him to give the money to me. I know how to value something that is not absolute. That money will not feed me for eternity. It will not even feed me for a lifetime. But probably it will buy me lunch for today, and finite value is better than no value at all.

    p.s. If God is a person or persons, why is His meaning any more ‘ultimate’ than mine?

  • ThaneOfDrones

    As for today in the U.S. I think the Internet plays a role. There may not be enough out atheists in your small town to form a group, but with the whole world available on your computer and the crutch of anonymity, you can find like-minded folks to share your situation with. And then you start to realise just how many of you there are. And those who are religious, or being raised religious, have a place to take their questions and perhaps their religiosity wanes in doing so.

  • Linda LaScola

    I wouldn’t have put it this way, but I basically agree with this. To say, as Kaufman does, that “We have no other symbol…” (therefore we must use God) seems like a cop-out and an excuse to use the word god

  • ElizabetB.

    Thanks, Thane! I’m not familiar with Craig tho think I did see a video…. I suspect that Kaufman might be often on your team in a debate : ) He does not think of the word “God” as a symbol for a person or as personal but as a word for that “serendipitous creativity” that preceded all that we are aware of and that we see at play all around us. When he talks about “ultimate,” I think he means the limits of our understanding so far, and he was very interested in the sciences and math and took them as evidence that must be incorporated. I think the most “authoritarian” streak I see in him is his view that the love and nonviolence that he learned growing up in a Mennonite household are the best values.

    To go back to the question of why use an over-arching symbol, he writes:
    “To our modern sensibility the natural order seems essentially impersonal and without purpose; what it would mean, therefore, to orient human existence and the quest for meaning in life simply in relationship to the Universe or to Nature is very obscure. It is not that interpretations of these symbols which make room for our specifically human concerns could not be devised; such moves are always possible. But the usefulness of abstract notions of this sort for interpreting human and humane concerns stands in sharp contrast with the richness of the symbol ‘God,’ which has built in to it from the ground up, so to speak, indissoluble connections with the themes of human freedom, responsibility, and meaning. If it is human orientation in life and in the world with which we are concerned, the symbol ‘God’ presents itself – despite the serious problems connected with it – as the most powerful and significant in our (western) languages and traditions.”

    So that’s a Process response : )

  • ElizabetB.

    That’s interesting…. I don’t remember reading his seriously considering doing philosophy without using the symbol… will be interesting to see if that’s around somewhere! Thanks for the thread!!

  • carolyntclark

    I unquestioningly accepted my early “idea” of God as presented to me by my Catholic family, parochial school, friends. There was never a consideration of not believing. I didn’t know of another option. Even those in the wrong churches believed. My Catholic God had all the omni’s, created all, cared for and controlled all. He was good and loving. Religion was so important that I wanted to serve 100%, 24 / 7. and I did….18 years a nun.
    Until….??? the neural synapses matured, and I was stunned by the misery and suffering of so many. The realization dawned.
    Discovering the absurd beginnings of Christianity was astonishing….deluded men, incapable of contemplating the physical universe, arrogantly set about to describe the divine. Imagination and fabrication credited to holy inspiration and revelation.
    “The Case Has Not Been Made” but it’s been good enough to capture non-thinkers and wishful-thinkers for 2000 years.

  • carolyntclark

    How does a word (God) that for tens of thousands of years is the title of numerous super-beings, fierce powerful entities, become a word that symbolizes
    good, beautiful and true ?

  • carolyntclark

    “GOD”… “ultimate point of reference in terms of which all being and life, meaning and value, can be understood.”
    Gods like Thor, Zeus, the God of Moses who thrashes the heads of babies on rocks and sends a flood to drown all of his creatures ?

  • ElizabetB.

    I think he doesn’t start with the content of the symbol, but works out what content would make for the flourishing of humans and the whole ecosphere. He says the “ultimate point of reference” keeps one humble, recognizing that we don’t know everything yet…. It’s a constructive project rather than a deductive one. Puts him at odds with theologians who think you have to keep the babies’ heads language, etc, and puts him open to input from secular philosophies, other religions, the sciences, everything…. A tad ambitious! As I mentioned, I think he comes out at nonviolence, love, personal responsibility, and a view that the sort of essential stuff at work is “serendipitous creativity.”

  • ElizabetB.

    Carolyn, you are making me think Humpty Dumpty : ) “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” (always loved that)

    As an old English major, I’ve always been impressed with how the content of words changes drastically. KJV era, “prevent” meant to go ahead of someone else — “go before” — maybe to get things ready. But horrifically, now we are debating what “an American” is. Is it a white person who came from western Europe? Can it be a refugee from Somalia, or should she be “sent back”? Can it be a president who does not respect the rule of law and repudiates the ideals of the Constitution?

    Wouldn’t it be interesting to take a snapshot of the pictures in the heads of every person in a church service when the word “God” is uttered? I’ll bet the variety would be stunning!

    So when I have to use or hear the word for some reason, I think “goodness, truth, beauty,” “the energy of love,” etc, and I agitate and argue for those meanings, because I think that if there were a god, or an energy, or whatever, it should be like that. If the word is going to be used, might as well have it do some good. I would never encourage someone who wasn’t already using it to start.

    Really great question!!!

  • Linda LaScola

    It’s captured thinkers too, because some of them want an afterlife so much that they suspend disbelief. Others like the idea of a supreme being and some just strongly feel that there is something there — maybe not the god of the Bible — but something

  • Linda LaScola

    Yeah — probably a lot of fervent, unanswered prayers for peace got people thinking that there must not be anyone listening.

  • carolyntclark

    all true. I think “wishful-thinkers” might cover most of them.

  • carolyntclark

    I took an anthropology course last Fall. The prof used his own coined word to encompass all the gods created by man.
    “ASHB” pronounced Ashbies = Any Super-Human Beings.

  • ElizabetB.

    It occurs to me now that one can define themselves into there being god — it’s hard to dispute that there’s “serendipitous creativity” : )

  • mason

    Once I realized we are truly made from stardust, that our stardust atoms continue on in the ever recycling Universe after “we” die, I found a great peace, contentment, and sense of real honesty that I never had living the Evangelical God delusion. IMHO it’s human ego and greed fed by ancient theism that wants an “eternal life as an entity.” https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/7df3fd069e929a56ccb422a9c7c2dd2f170de4a2d9f4b4082f9704d384386f93.jpg

  • mason

    Especially when the Judaeo-Christian biblical God is clearly a totalitarian cruel psychopathic religious fascist narcissistic monster. (Did I miss any important adjectives?)
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/65726d11c8cd3dd3be167e62649ba4f5476615bbfa5da6fb282b5a15d9803558.jpg ? 🙂

  • carolyntclark

    this always reminds me of dear Roger whose stardust has rejoined the eternal cycle .

  • A person who is born into a culture that accepts Jehovah as a given may never think to question it. A deep thinker born into this culture may spend their entire life thinking about how it all works, coming up with hypotheses and analogies, sharing those thoughts with others in their their capacity as a teacher or a writer. Over time, these deep thoughts become canon, or at the very least standard explanations.

    There is questioning in a sense, but it results in coming up with streams of “logic” trying to fill in the gaps rather than questioning the premise. The religion has had 2000 years to patch the holes, and the answers that have become “pat” are good enough for most people.

    I was 52 years old before I ran into a “wait, what?” moment while reading the Bible, realizing that there was a hole that hadn’t actually been filled. After that, all of the attempts at hole-plugging and tying together became obvious, but something had to cause me to start looking.

    I guess what I’m suggesting is that maybe it isn’t because they want an afterlife that much. Maybe they’re just trying to make sense of something they think they know to be true, and they end up spending their lives doing it.

  • ctcss

    David, thanks for the thoughtful reply. Here are some follow ups regarding it.

    there should be support for the searchers and the doubters, but there isn’t.

    But why? Was this ever a topic for discussion in seminary? And were there any religious or church conferences where this question and and its companion need were the topic of discussion? And if not, why not?

    a few of my minister friends … were alarmed and said things to shut the conversation down quickly.

    Were they afraid of something? And if so, what? Religion is supposed to be about asking and answering questions and working to meet needs, isn’t it? Jesus certainly seemed to be involved in this with his disciples. That’s why I think it’s so neat to read those narratives. However difficult it must have been for those simple and sincere students to start to wrap their heads around what God and His kingdom were all about, they persisted in their (sometimes very dense) questions and Jesus patiently persisted in giving them answers and useful demonstrations. He wanted them to be able to understand what he was teaching them. He never seemed to be saying “forget about those questions of yours, just take everything that I say to you on blind faith”. And it is because of what Jesus appeared to be doing with his own students that I took it that understanding is rather important to the successful practice of one’s religion. Otherwise, why would he have spent so much time explaining things to them?

    I realize I was directing many of my anguished thoughts toward my christian community, wishing they wouldn’t be so scared of my doubts. And they are scared… much too afraid to render any real support to a doubter.

    Once again, why? After all, education is all about asking questions and trying to understand the subject matter. Why should that concept be scary? We all have questions. And maybe sometimes they are difficult. But considering how little humans understand of even the physical world, why should questions about the spiritual side of things throw people into a tizzy? After all, learning is all about researching and exploring and working to master things , right?

    Now about your thoughts on Science vs Theology. You indicate that they are two separate things and that Science just doesn’t do enough to help us understand things

    No, I was trying to point out that physical science is not really suited to helping one to understand God. For instance, God isn’t material, has no dimensions or edges, and is timeless and changeless. Science, however, is only useful for examining that which is limited and finite, and can be quantified and measured for change. However, the infinite and eternal cannot be quantified or measured! Thus science is not a useful tool to apply to that subject. Heck, the scientific method is not even capable of helping one determine whether or not one is a brain in a vat!

    If there is an all powerful God, then spirituality would not nullify science–there would be a context where it all fit together rather than being opposed to each other.

    Sorry, I must disagree with you on this. Matter in no way matches up with God. God (at least the concept I was taught) is infinite and eternal, cannot cause harm, expresses intelligence and wisdom, is loving, and expresses His kingdom in an orderly, harmonious way. Matter, on the other hand, is limited and temporal, mindless, indifferent, is governed by chance, and can quite readily cause harm through an absence or presence, a quantity or a quality. I would hardly wish to seek after a God who behaved as matter does. So yes, God’s kingdom, being entirely spiritual (i.e. it reflects God’s nature) is not one that fits together with matter. Put in a biblical way, “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” And in another instance “…but now he hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven. And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.”

    So, no, I don’t think of God as being in harmony with, or aligned with, matter. Rather, Spirit is opposed to matter, and overrides it. It would need to, otherwise matter would have to be considered as God (i.e., the only actual power). I have no interest in bowing down to something expressing mindlessness, indifference, and harm as its defining nature.

    I’m afraid we will need to agree to disagree about this.

    And i differ with you on the assumption that science alone says, “You’re doomed” when in fact, much of religion delivers that message.

    Perhaps the religious doctrine you were taught delivers that message. I was taught something rather different about God. Which may be why we came to different conclusions regarding the utility and worth of religion. After all, who would want to seek comfort from something foretelling one’s doom? I certainly wouldn’t. But I have no problem desiring to seek help and comfort from (the concepts I was taught regarding) God.

    After all the promises of church and scripture, God simply wasn’t there. Fifty-plus years of searching for this God is enough for me.

    I understand and sympathize. And I agree, discouragement might very well come about in such a case. But consider how much daunting effort humans have put into efforts in the everyday physical world and have not given up. Edison had thousands of failures in his effort to try to make a practical light bulb before he finally found a solution that worked. So, at what point should he have thrown up his hands and simply abandoned his search after encountering yet another failure? (I believe he was said to have stated to his helpers, “Well, that’s just another way NOT to do it” before going on to the next attempt.) And the Wright brothers certainly worked hard to discover how to create powered flight. And how many millennia had mankind been fascinated by the idea of flying, but were unable to do so?

    Sometimes things that seem worthwhile and intriguing take not just years but multiple lifetimes to uncover and make practical! So, at what point should humanity just give up trying to find out answers to any number of problems that they encounter in the physical world? How would progress ever occur if they did?

    So if the physical world deserves that kind of persistent and long term effort by humans, why should not the spiritual deserve just as much effort? After all, intriguing ideas and concepts are what drive one’s efforts before one ever arrives at a practical and satisfying answer that one can implement. However, it is highly unlikely that answers will come to light if humanity abandons its searches (any kind of search) prematurely.

    No slam on you is intended here. You certainly put in a lot of sincere and persistent effort, but unfortunately didn’t have enough helpful support along the way and ran into too many discouraging road blocks. But even in your case, long after you had ceased your own search, someone else might see the effort you made, and perhaps find ways around the problems that plagued you and find their own way forward. After all, its not like the Bible narratives contain nothing but successes. There are lots of negative examples and instances as well. But that’s one of the reasons I enjoy studying it. One can learn from negative examples as well as positive ones. And what I have encountered in my own life intrigues me enough that giving up is simply not an option that I can honestly consider, at least not so far, and I am in my late 60s, so I have also been at this quite a while as well.

    All the best.

  • ctcss

    Linda, did you ever ask them why? It seems like this would be something that would be important to know.

  • ctcss

    But what would cover the remainder? Seriously, thinkers can do more than simply be characterized as wishful thinkers.

  • ctcss

    And do you see a problem when someone decides they feel the need to explore an area that they see intriguing possibilities in, while others do not? Put another way, in the Bible there are far more instances of so-and-so-begat-so-and-so than there are instances of and-so-and-so-walked-with-God. The path not taken does not necessarily indicate a path not worth taking.

    Just my thoughts.

  • Linda LaScola

    interesting thoughts, Lerk — It probably varies a lot — like so many other things in life. Some want an afterlife, others are just trying to make sense of things and still others have different motives.

  • Linda LaScola

    The problem with your perspective, from an atheist’s point of view, is that you assume there IS something out there, and if you just look hard enough and have good help along the way, you WILL find it.

    Whereas an atheist says something like — I gave it my all — I see no signs of it and many signs against it and there are a lot of good, decent, thoughtful people like me who have done the same and come to the same conclusion I have.

    Addendum — I also don’t think it works well to compare searching for a way to make artifical light or a flying machine to searching for God. Those were inventors using science, not clergy or regular people hoping that if they read enough or prayed enough, they’d find God.

  • Linda LaScola

    they didn’t trust each other with intimate info.

  • No, I wasn’t being critical at all. Just hypothesizing as to how deep theology comes about. It simply seems to be the religious meme adapting to survive. We humans want to make sense of things!

  • ctcss

    The problem with your perspective, from an atheist’s point of view, is that you assume there IS something out there, and if you just look hard enough and have good help along the way, you WILL find it.

    Linda, while I agree that I personally am assuming that (what I refer to as) God is out there, and thus I am interested in pursuing a better understanding of that, your second assumption is incorrect. Religion, at least as I was introduced to it, is a non-trivial undertaking. And in my own experience talking to various people about it, either on line or IRL, not everyone comes to the same conclusion about God or about religion. Just looking hard enough and having help along the way does not guarantee that someone will find their answer. In David’s case, I wasn’t trying to tell him that he had done things wrong. (I wasn’t present in his life to make any such judgement call, even assuming I could do such a thing.)

    No, I was simply making the observation that when a person is struggling to understand a difficult subject, it is often much easier to come to grips with it if one is assisted by those who have more experience with it. That’s why we hire teachers in school. A good teacher can make a world of difference in a student’s progress. However, even with a good teacher, a student still may not “get” a subject, or do well enough in it so that they can at least scrape by. But the odds are certainly better if they do have access to a good teacher or a mentor than if they do not.

    And please note, I am not casting any aspersions on David’s intelligence or ability. I am in no position to make such a judgement. But it is quite obvious that when he most needed it, no one was there from his religious background to help shed some light on his problem or at the very least, to have his back in a tough situation. I, on the other hand, had a great deal of support in my own situation. Thus the very likely reason for our differing experiences.

    None of that is proof positive that God exists or does not exist. But gaining confidence by having a number of positive experiences, as well as being introduced to helpful explanations most likely makes a great deal of difference in whether or not one feels like the pathway they are on is worth further investigation and exploration. It still doesn’t guarantee that everything will eventually pan out in the end, but that’s why people explore. They want to find out the answer one way or the other. That’s why I am still doing it.

    Whereas an atheist says something like — I gave it my all — I see no signs of it and many signs against it and there are a lot of good, decent, thoughtful people like me who have done the same and come to the same conclusion I have.

    This is most definitely an honest and sincere statement but, as in all human endeavors, it is a limited one. It is one thing to state that a person has not found any useful knowledge or answers on pathway X. It is another thing altogether to say that they have explored ALL pathways and have found nothing. Humanly, such searching would be impossible to do since time and resources would limit what one could do. Even exploring a single pathway could take the resources of one’s entire lifetime, just as marrying a person would take all of one’s resources in that regard.

    In my case, I have married one person whom I felt was a worthy choice and am exploring our life together until the end. Likewise, I have joined with a religion that I felt was a worthy choice and am exploring it until the end. As such, I am in no position to wander all over exploring other spouses and other religious pathways. However, if either my spouse or my religion proves unworthy along the way, I may have to re-evaluate my choice and to go elsewhere. But until such time, my current choices are consuming all of my resources and are defining the parameters of my exploration.

  • Maura Hart

    yeah i know the feeling