Sunday, September 30, 2007

"Blue Boat Home"

My wife and I really enjoyed our UU services today. We are coming up on our 1 year anniversary of attending the UU fellowship. I really like our minister; she is very honest with herself and encourages us to be as well through her sermons. I relate well with her as she is an atheist and spiritual, naturalistic humanist like myself.

Today, she spoke about solidarity and gave me a lot of food for thought. I love having my mind stimulated that way and to be able to share that with a whole community. And I was moved to tears as we sang "Blue Boat Home" which goes to the tune of the LDS hymn "In Humility, Our Savior".

You can hear a sample here. I copied the words below:

"Though below me, I feel no motion
Standing on these mountains and plains
Far away from the rolling ocean
Still my dry land heart can say
I've been sailing all my life now
Never harbor or port have I known
The wide universe is the ocean I travel
And the earth is my blue boat home

Sun, my sail, and moon my rudder
As I ply the starry sea
Leaning over the edge in wonder
Casting questions into the deep
Drifting here with my ship's companions
All we kindred pilgrim souls
Making our way by the lights of the heavens
In our beautiful blue boat home

I give thanks to the waves upholding me
Hail the great winds urging me on
Greet the infinite sea before me
Sing the sky my sailor's song
I was born upon the fathoms
Never harbor or port have I known
The wide universe is the ocean I travel
And the earth is my blue boat home

Thursday, September 27, 2007

My Doctrinal Issues With Christianity

Note: These are my doctrinal issues with Christianity. I am not preaching that they should be yours.

There are a number of different ways to challenge the validity of Christianity from:
- literature analyses that show when certain verses were written which erode claims that they were eyewitness accounts or contradict the notion that certain passages came directly from god to his prophets
- to historical reviews that show how the books were selected to be included in the Bible and how Christian doctrines evolved from the Christian fathers to today
- from comparative analyses between the different sects (Coptic, Armenian, Eastern Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant) who all seem to be able to justify their differing beliefs
- from archaeological evidence that shows the development of Jewish and Christian myths over time by borrowing from neighboring myths
- to everything from DNA evidence to fossil records to cosmic radiation, etc, that shows things such as the creation of the world, the Fall of Adam and Eve and a worldwide flood did not happen as the Bible claims.

But, the angle I would like to focus on in this thread is my doctrinal issues with Christianity. Below is a list of issues that I have (now not all Christians believe in all these doctrines, but each belief that I list is held by someone who claims to be Christian):

1) Supposedly, a person must accept Christ or they go to hell. It seems very unfair that a god would send the great majority of the humans to hell for not accepting Christ when most have never heard of Christ because they lived before his time or lived in areas of the world in which Christ was never preached. And then there are the many people who may have heard of Christ, but did not accept him because they were too indoctrinated into their own religion to give the message of Christ a fair chance. (At least Mormonism had a response to this through the teaching in spirit prison, but Christians believe one must accept Christ in this life).

2) Catholics (used to?) believe that little children who were not baptized went to limbo. I don't know what other Christians think happens to children who are too young to accept Christ. But, that Catholic idea is horribly unfair. (At least Mormons say that all little children get a free ticket to heaven).

3) I think it is rather sick and twisted that instead of just forgiving humans for sinning when they repent, god sent his son to suffer excruciating pain and be put to death in a rather gruesome way. The Christian god is all-powerful, so he did not have to set up that gory experience, but did anyway. (The Mormon god is not all powerful, so he had to have someone suffer to pain for sins in order to save his other children from suffering, because the universe demands justice).

4) The whole idea of eternal torment in hell is messed up. We humans give limited sentences proportional to the crime, but God supposedly makes us suffer in hell forever. One would think that after 100 billion years in hell, we would have paid for every sin we ever committed during our 75 years on earth, but nope, we will suffer forever! We humans give punishments, among other reasons, to help people learn not to do the bad thing again. But, there is no point to making us sufferer after death, the test is over, we failed and we can't retake it. We have no opportunity to grow or demonstrate improved behavior. Although the threat of suffering after death might serve a purpose during earth life, once mortality is over, suffering serves no purpose and is gratuitous (one no longer can improve one's situation by changing and one is already separated from those one could harm, so why have suffering in hell?) At least in Mormonism, "eternal punishment" is not endless, it is only called eternal because god's name is eternal.

5) How unjust is it that Gandi and Hitler get the exact same afterlife because neither accepted Jesus as their savior? Accepting Jesus is a "get out of hell free" card. Christians believe even murderers can go to heaven just like Mother Teresa if they just accept Christ. At least with Mormonism, there are differing degrees of glory and murder is not covered by Christ's atonement and must be paid for by the sufferer personally.

6) Why would god choose this little Middle Eastern tribe that did not really come of age until 3,000 years ago to be his special people to receive his essential instructions and messages for all the rest of us. And why, throughout the Old Testament does he instruct this tribe to start wars of aggression and often tell them that they are his favorite people. Sounds an awful lot like this tribe just invented him to stroke their egos and justify their actions just like so many other tribes did before and after them?

7) God supposedly is entirely responsible for creating us; he gave us ever attribute we were born with. Now, some say that he did not give us our fallen natures, that we inherited that as a result of the Fall of Adam and Eve. But, he set up the Fall, and he created Adam and Eve with the capacity to be beguiled, surely god knew when he gave them the capacity to be beguiled that Satan would beguile them and they would eat. It is bad thinking to think they had a choice. They ate the fruit because they were tricked; they were tricked because god did not sufficently equip them so that they would not be tricked by Satan. It is god's fault that they were tricked, since he could have prepared them but did not. And it is god's fault that we have fallen natures and weaknesses. If we don't ask god to help us overcome our weaknesses, it is because we did not have enough faith or we are mistrustful or we have a rebellious spirit. God could have given us enough faith but did not, he could have made us more trusting or given us the experiences to make us more trusting but did not, he could have given us a less rebellious spirit, but did not. We do what we do because of what we are, and we are what we are because god made us that way. Sometimes, we are what we are due to how our parents raised us or due to what others have done to us. Those people are the way they are because of what came before them and on and on until one gets back to the creation of Adam and Eve, which is all god's fault. At each moment of decision, when we could go this way or that, there is a reason why we go the way we go. Whether it is because we were more tempted or inclined to go that way or for some other reason, god could have made the way less tempting, just enough for us to choose the other way, god could have made us more inclined to go the other way, but he didn't. So, how is it right for him to judge us for what we do when we do what we do because of the inclinations, strengths, weaknesses, etc, he gave us. If he wanted a different result, he could have made us stronger and our lives would have played out differently.

8) We did not choose to be made or to go through this earth-test, why can't god be merciful and wipe us out of existence when we die if we were bound for hell? Non-existence is preferrable to eternal torment. Why bring us into existence to live for 75 years and then torture us forever if we did not do what god wanted in those first 75 years? And even if we do exactly what god wants, our reward is to praise god forever. Doesn't this seem narcissitic to you? It is as if I created a bunch of robots to eternally worship me and tell me how great I am. If the robots worship me for the first 75 minutes of their lives, I reward them by allowing them to worship me forever, if not, then I send them to robot hell to be tortured forever. WTF?

9) God is supposed to be all powerful and all loving, yet he lets needless suffering occur. If a human is around and they see a child being torn apart by a bulldog, they will risk their own lives to save the child, but god sees all, watches the child suffer and does nothing even though he has all power. Now, what higher purpose is served by letting the child be ripped to shreds? What can she learn in 5 minutes of mauling that she could not have learned in 1 minute of mauling? How are those extra 4 minutes going to make her a better person or a stronger person? It is not. Even if what we think of as needless suffering somehow makes us better, to what end does becoming a stronger person serve after we die? If we go to heaven, we will be singing praises to god forever. Will the suffering we went through make us a better singer? How will all the attributes we aquire during this life make a difference or have any real meaning, if we all just end up kissing god's butt for all eternity regardless of whether we learned humility or not? At least with Mormonism, one was really preparing for something, one could imagine how humility and wisdom could be useful as a god or goddess and eternal parent/trainer.

10) I have a big problem with two of Christ's teachings, which he taught repeatedly: intolerance of unbelievers, and leaving one's unbelieving family. To see scriptural examples, please read my post here .

11) The god of the Old Testament is horrible. Even if he were real, I would not want anything to do with him. In my opinion no one should try to be like him or develop his attributes. For more on this browse the skeptics annotated bible , some of their interpretations are a bit off, but they demonstrate more than enough real problems to be worth while. Pay particular attention to the injustice, cruelty and violence, and intolerance highlights.

12) The Hebrew God appears to be a racist because lineage is awfully important to him. Only those who are descended from Levi can hold the priesthood and officiate in the temple. Throughout the Old Testament, only those descended from Israel are God's Chosen People. When Jesus comes, he tells his disciples to preach only to the Israelites at first and says that it is not appropriate to give the children's bread (gospel) to the dogs (Gentiles). He makes exception for the Samaritans because they are half-Hebrew. It does not matter that supposedly now the gospel can be preached to all, for those people at those times the Hebrew God was a respecter of persons according to their lineage, or race.

13) There are many more, but I can't remember them all right now. Please feel free to add your own to this thread.

One can experience a lot of cognitive dissonance engaging in mental gymnastics trying to make Christian theology work. It was a big relief to me when I learned of all the evidence that shows that Biblical theology is likely to be just as made up as ancient Egyptian, Greek, or Hindu theology.

Now there are Christians who take the cafeteria approach to Christianity, just as NOM's do with Mormonism, and reject concepts like hell or an all powerful God and kind of build their own version of Christianity. I am fine with that as long as they don't claim that this new version that they just invented is absolute truth.

I could never go from Mormonism to Christianity. As demonstrated above, Christianity reintroduces problems that Mormonism had solutions for, furthermore, I know too much about Christian origins to ever believe it is real.

In pointing out the theology of Mormonism above, I was not trying to encourage a readoption of those views, hopefully, we all know by now the evidence against Mormon doctrine being true. Joseph Smith and Sydney Rigdon borrowed from the great thinkers such as Swedenborg and Campbell and Luther and others and presented as revelations the possible solutions to Christian theological problems that these authors wrote about.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Do couples face one partner's disbelief similarly to how they face other problems that arise?

A thread on Nom on "Best Practices for Achieving and Maintaining a Happy Marriage " prompted me to write the following and I wanted to get your answers to my question at the bottom of this post:

We are focusing a lot on what disbelief by one partner does to the relationship. Clearly, it can have different outcomes on the relationship for we know of some couples that end up disbelieving together, some that divorce, some that feel prolonged tension but work out some way to continue, some who never talk about it, some who respect each other's right to believe as they wish, etc.

I think one of the major factors that affect which route a couple will take when one becomes a disbeliever is the quality of the relationship before the paradigm shift. (Disclaimer: I am not saying it is the only factor, there are many, but I feel this is a very important one). Did each partner admire qualities in the other spouse, or did they think their partner was inferior to them? Was there equality in the power structure of the relationship or was there a dominant spouse? How well did each partner understand each other before the disbelief; were there secret inner conflicts that the partners did not feel comfortable or safe sharing with their partner? Did the couple view themselves as a team facing the challenges that arose together or as opponents wherein the problems resided in the other person? Was there a history of mistrust? How was the sex life; did one partner feel like they had to perform for the other or never got their own needs listened to and addressed?

There are probably many more questions I could ask, but the point I am getting at is I wonder if disbelief is treated the same as other difficulties in the relationship. Is it used as more ammo or evidence of inferiority? Is it used as one more thing that we just can't understand each other about? Etc.

My wife and I left the church together. Looking back, I think we handled the crises of my disbelief the same way that we handle other crises. We have an exceptional relationship and admire each other and do not quelch each other's individuality. We feel free to talk with each other about anything, even our own fears and weaknesses that we are embarrassed about and would rather not even think about ourselves. But, we know the other person will not use that information against us and we don't have to struggle with it alone. We have each other's back, even as we face our own personal struggles. We love each other so much and are truly grateful for what we do and provide for each other. We listen to each other's needs and try to meet them as best we can. These are the things that make our marriage great. I was very picky when choosing a spouse. I knew what I wanted and it took me until I was 27-years-old to find it, but I am very grateful that I did not marry the people I could have earlier, but waited until I found Lilly of the Field.

I did not know what her reaction to my disbelief might be and was a little scared to tell her. But, I knew that she would rather know than not and that we always shared everything so I told her. I invited her to read and study on her own about the BoA and the rest and she did and came to the same conclusion I did. She felt a desire to still attend for a little while, but I did not. So, we respected each other's choices in regards to attendance. Eventually, she could just not take LDS services anymore, so we started looking for a new community together and found the UU's.

This is kind of a personal question, but for those of you who are having difficulty with your spouses over your disbelief how was your relationship before, and for those of you who did not have as much marital trouble over your disbelief, how was your relationship before?

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Purposeless Suffering

Otterson recently created a thread called "Opposition in All Things". Below are his remarks and my response.

(Begin Otterson's remarks) "I am not complaining,” my father wrote to my mother from war-ravaged Europe during the closing days of World War 2, when he finally reached the safety of American lines after three years as a POW. “I would not appreciate comfort if there were no hardship. We cannot appreciate joy without sorrow, health if we have never felt pain, or peace until after a war. All things must have their opposites, and we can learn from both."

My father was well-versed with Christian teaching, but as far as I know never read extensively of Buddhist thought, or classical Chinese or Greek philosophy, all of which address the idea of the essential conflict of opposites as do many other cultures. In Latter-day Saint scripture – which I am confident my father never encountered - it's expressed this way:

"For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so … righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad..." (2 Ne. 2: 11).

Should God have intervened to stop World War II? Then what about smaller wars? Regional conflicts, perhaps? How about family strife in which a mother or children might be abused? What evil is too big, and which is too small, to warrant divine intervention? What about disease and natural disasters? Should God have made a world without opposites, a world in which there is no striving, no suffering, therefore no overcoming, no learning, and no growth? Should he intervene in arguments, eliminate the common cold or even stop someone falling off a ladder? Are we wise enough to attempt to draw that line?

A world without hardship is thus a world in which there is no choice, where everyone is forced to do good. Yet inseparable from the idea of opposites is the principle of moral agency. Men and women will be judged for their choices between good and evil. They will also be judged when they curtail someone else's agency. Mormon doctrine teaches that men and women came to this earth endowed with that agency, knowing while still in pre-embodied spirit form that the world in which they would be tested would be at once beautiful and horrifying. We still chose to come.

Joseph Smith, who organized The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1830, penned this revelation in 1839 while a prisoner in miserable conditions in Liberty Jail, Missouri:

"And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good. The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?" (D&C 122: 7-8).

Of course, logic can only take us so far. Faced with a child dying of cancer, or innocent lives taken in senseless wars, we can be forgiven for wondering if there isn't a better way. It's at such times we would do well to remember the voluntary sacrifice of Jesus Christ in Gethsemane and on the cross at Golgotha. Having taken on Himself the sins of every person who ever lived, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – He doesn't know about pain and suffering. And the Atonement was not for sins alone, but for "the pains and the sicknesses of his people" (Alma 7:11).

Mortal life is not the entire existence of humankind, but rather an essential learning and proving experience. Our Father in Heaven is not a capricious God, inflicting pain and misery on the human race. He is a loving Heavenly Father who has the eternal perspective of what his children can become, and who loves us enough to allow us to endure opposition for a season. (End of Otterson's comments).


Are you happy? Do you feel peace and joy? If so, do you think you could experience even greater happiness if you endured the worst things imaginable? I don't think that you would know greater happiness if you had previously suffered the worst things that can happen during this life.

Do you think that there is pointless suffering? I do. I think some excruciating pain does not teach the sufferer anything, in this life or the next if there is one. I don't think they needed to suffer those things to grow or appreciate happiness more.

If there were an all-loving and omnipotent god, if he had a heart at all he would put an end to such needless suffering. Examples: what did the Philistine children learn when the Israelites brutally killed them as the Hebrew God commanded them to? How could the 3-yr-old benefit from the slow, debilitating death they suffer due to cancer? What does the 9-yr-old girl in Darfur learn by being repeatedly raped by the soldiers that murdered her whole family in front of her eyes? An all-powerful god that allows his innocent children to suffer these things does not give a **** about them. THERE IS NO GREATER PURPOSE THAT CAN JUSTIFY THESE ACTIONS. This will not make sense later in heaven. I refuse to shelve such issues until some god, who in all likelihood does not exist, explains why he allowed these things to happen when he could have stopped them.

I am sure all the theist apologists will try to encourage the shelving of the issue or offer some lame excuse for why a god would permit this, but these feeble attempts strike me as intellectualizing (the ego-defense mechanism people employ to avoid facing the full emotional impact). Imagine watching your child be raped and filleted alive and you standing by doing nothing and rationalizing that it is for her own good, that it will make her a stronger and happier person and prepare her better for whatever. Nonsense. Nothing can make it right. Ever.

I forgot to add to excuses that are often given to justify god's lack of divine aid. One is so that god will be more justified in sending the bad guy to hell. That was the lame excuse Alma gave to Amulek as to why neither they no god could intervene in saving women and children from being burned to death. I'm sorry, but King Noah had already done plenty to qualify him to hell even before burning those innocents alive. But, more importantly, how sick is it to ignore the anguished cries of your suffering children just so you can more fully punish someone else. I mean, where are your priorities? Why does punishing one dude take precedence over ending the unjust, excrutiating pain of many others?

This naturally flows into the next lame excuse: "Well, their suffering will be for just a small moment and then they will spend forever in eternal bliss". According to Mormon doctrine, there are people who will go to the highest degree of the CK whether or not they have endured horrific suffering. The suffering isn't necessary to gain all that the Father hath. So, if it isn't necessary, there is no reason to go through it, even if it is for a small moment, so why not spare them that? Futhermore, imagine telling that to a child who is being mauled by a pitbull. "The pain you feel is just a small moment compared to your whole life including the eternities, so I am just going to let you continue to be attacked knowing that you will never have to suffer a dog attack in the future. You will be forever grateful that you never have to go through this experience again. And one day you will thank me for not saving you from this dog." That in essence is what some people think god is saying to us. All of us would save the child from the dog. Now, if we, being human, know how to treat someone in need, why the heck can't god who is supposed to be perfect and all-loving intervene when his help is most needed?

Oh, I forgot, he only intervenes on trivial stuff like helping us find our car keys or do well on tests. The heavens are closed when real suffering happens. Someone will cite some seemingly miraculous event in which someone recovered from cancer. The rub is in the capriciousness of it all. Why spare this person and not another? If pain really was this universal great teacher, why does he not love those he heals as much as he loves those he allows to continue to suffer? "The ways of God are mysterious," someone answers. "BS", I answer back. No divine help has ever been present. Good things and bad things happen. It is just a part of life.