Apostasy: an open thread

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Russell Saunders

Russell Saunders is the ridiculously flimsy pseudonym of a pediatrician in New England. He has a husband, three sons, daughter, cat and dog, though not in that order. He enjoys reading, running and cooking. He can be contacted at blindeddoc using his Gmail account. Twitter types can follow him @russellsaunder1.

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146 Responses

  1. Avatar mark boggs says:

    One of the hardest things for me when I gave up religion was the feeling that I had, singlehandedly with my decision in non-belief, relegated everybody who had died into “not heaven.” Even as I struggled with what I believed, I always felt like my Grandma and Grandpa Clark were in heaven because, well…dammit, they deserved it. They were outstandingly modest people who lived decent lives, plain and simple. If anyone deserved the reward of heaven after the monotony and suffering of this life, it was them.

    But it was disturbing to contemplate their post-life fate after I had come to my conclusions about the hereafter.

    Oh, the other thing I’ve changed my mind about is the idea that because the government has the power to try to make things “better” that they should.Report

  2. Avatar Murali says:

    I am ashamed to say that there was a time when I was doing my A’ levels that I was socially conservative, thought central planning was the bomb and that communism was a wonderful system which had never been properly tried. I also thought that the global economy was zero sum, and that the only way someone could make a profit was by shortchanging someone else. (And I didnt have to read Marx to arrive at that notion. It came to me all on its own)

    But that is excusable, I was in the american equivalent of highschool. (8 – 9 years ago)

    There was a time much more recently (my second year of university which was 3.5 years ago) when I went through an Ayn Rand, Nietzsche, Dawkins materialist/nihilist phase. In retrospect, that was rather depressing. I got over it though.

    Basically I just drifted away. There didnt seem to be a point for others with religious issues where they struggled with it etc etc.

    The materialism bit may have been the most relevant here. That I remember struggling with it. I am a Hindu and was a Hindu as well before I flirted with materialism.Report

  3. I used to be far more smitten with a New Atheist-styled atheism. That was years ago, and I’m not an especially old person at the time being; but within time and without much torment I came to the conclusion that it’s not religion to blame for humanity’s failings and that it’s no skin off my teeth if someone gets their existential solace from places other than I.Report

  4. Avatar ppnl says:

    So, I’m curious — what may you once have believed, truly and sincerely, that you have since repudiated?

    The thing is for me nothing really comes to mind. I don’t really believe in belief. People should stop talking about belief and just start addressing the state of the argument. Belief is what happens when you start caring more about being right than about understanding. It usually involves social commitments more than logic and reason.Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to ppnl says:

      I don’t really believe in belief. People should stop talking about belief and just start addressing the state of the argument. Belief is what happens when you start caring more about being right than about understanding. It usually involves social commitments more than logic and reason.

      I don’t mean to attribute a position to you that you don’t actually hold, but this sounds an awful lot like what you get in the Dawkins-Myers version of “New Atheism.” I’ve always found the position to be naive in the extreme, but perhaps you hold a different position that just sounds very similar. In order to separate them, potentially, I’ll just ask, what do you mean by “belief?”

      By any definition of belief that I know, either in common, philosophical, or scientific parlance, belief just means holding something to be true, mentally. In psychology and philosophy, any mental proposition that is held to be true is a belief (we talk about representations: beliefs are representations that are about what is the case). In that way, beliefs are ubiquitous.

      But to a psychologist, so is faith, even if it’s not always the sort of faith that the religious profess, and I suspect you mean beliefs based on faith. I wonder, then, why you think they’re usually about being right more than understanding, and what, precisely, you mean by that.Report

    • Avatar Anderson in reply to ppnl says:

      I’ve never known someone who operated only out of pure reason and logic, though I know many who claim to. It seems that irrationality, bias, and a desire to avoid cognitive dissonance have a place in all humans, making, in my opinion, “not believing in belief” impossible. In fact, “not believing in belief” is a belief.

      Perhaps we should try to inform and challenge our passions/beliefs with reason, rather than denying that our inherent irrationality exists…As Hume said, “reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions.”Report

      • Avatar ppnl in reply to Anderson says:

        Chris,

        By any definition of belief that I know, either in common, philosophical, or scientific parlance, belief just means holding something to be true, mentally.

        But if you separate the question of what you hold to be provisionally true from why you hold it to be true then any useful meaning of “believe” is lost. Then asking someone what they believe is just asking them to free associate an ad hoc justification of their prior emotional and social commitments.

        But to a psychologist, so is faith…

        And that is what happens to the word “belief” when you separate it from the reasons for belief. Belief in god is put in the same category as the belief that the sun will rise in the east tomorrow. All meaning is lost.

        And yes I do consider myself a “new atheist”.Report

        • Avatar Chris in reply to ppnl says:

          Except that creates a distinction that is impossible to track in reality. Beliefs have different levels of justification, most of them unavailable to us. It’s true that some beliefs are more outrageous than others, and we can judge them by the standards of reason, but even those standards are not unequivocal, as the premises matter, and those premises are often built beyond our level of awareness. Beliefs are inevitable, and everything you think about the world is one, true and justified or not, and it’s better to simply try our best to evaluate individual ones than to get rid of them altogether. Doing the latter simply leaves you with a world-view that has no practical application.Report

          • Avatar ppnl in reply to Chris says:

            Except that creates a distinction that is impossible to track in reality.

            I disagree. It is not impossible but it can be very very hard.

            Someone who believes in evolution thinks they have logical reasons for believing it. Someone who does not also thinks they have logical reasons for that position. One side or the other or maybe both are not separating their passions for what they want to be true from their logic and reason. To say that you cannot track the difference between reason and passion is to say that you cannot track reality at all.

            When you ask “what do you believe” you are not separating the logic from the passion. There may be no logical component to your belief at all and as long as you know that then it’s fine with me. But you should know.

            Beliefs have different levels of justification, most of them unavailable to us.

            As long as you know that your belief is logically unjustified then fine. I’m likely to find your argument unpersuasive but hey its your mind. I’m happy with that as the state of the argument.Report

            • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to ppnl says:

              What is a “point”, in mathematics?

              Do you *know* what it is, or do you just believe you know what it is?Report

              • Avatar ppnl in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

                What is a “point”, in mathematics?

                I tend to the formalist position. Math is the manipulation of meaningless symbols according to pointless rules. It is only given meaning in a given application.

                Math is also cool. That is the difference between logic and passion.

                Do you *know* what it is, or do you just believe you know what it is?

                I cannot fully defend the formalist position. I see many objections to it that I am not comfortable with the answers to. It is just the state of the argument and it is useful even if it turns out to be wrong. That utility drives me to accept it provisionally. But “believe” it? I don’t like that word.Report

        • Avatar Steve S. in reply to ppnl says:

          Indeed, and to narrow down “believe” to definition 1a in the dictionary is to divorce it from the rather profound meaning it has in a majority Christian culture.

          If you hang out in a forum like, for example, alt.atheism for a bit you’ll inevitably run into some variation of the following: “Atheists are believers every bit as much as Christians are!” I find this dumbfounding and can only respond, “um, really? The way you came about your deity belief is the same by which I decided that Guinness is better than Schlitz? What a pointless, utterly impoverished religion you must believe in.” Having familiarity with the use of the terms “belief” and “faith” in the Christian religion I can state with some confidence that Paul, who never shuts up about these things, meant something a little bit more than “hold to be true.”Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Steve S. says:

            Eh, I see that as a vocabulary problem.

            They’re probably trying to say something to the effect of “Atheists are just as freakin’ evangelical as anybody who ever went to Ted Haggard’s church. Bringing it up for no reason, pointing out, before a meal, that they aren’t praying, starting conversations with strangers on a bus, and turning every discussion into a discussion about the morality of atheism and how it’s soooo much better than the morality of theism.”Report

            • Avatar Steve S. in reply to Jaybird says:

              “They’re probably trying to say something to the effect of ‘Atheists are just as freakin’ evangelical as anybody'”

              No, they’re trying to say that atheism is a belief just like Christianity is. Lots of examples in the Google archive.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Steve S. says:

                I suppose it hinges on your definition of “a belief just like Christianity is”.

                Since I see Christianity primarily as social signaling, I see a lot of overlap between the two.

                Granted, I suspect Christians don’t see it that way.Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke in reply to Jaybird says:

                Socio-politically speaking, Christianity as “signalling” works just fine. Locke’s Letter Concerning Toleration elegantly and conclusively observes that your government can’t get you into heaven, so soteriology was happily removed from the socio-political equation.

                Samuel Adams, a Calvinist’s Calvinist, 1772:

                “In regard to religion, mutual toleration in the different professions thereof is what all good and candid minds in all ages have ever practised, and, both by precept and example, inculcated on mankind. And it is now generally agreed among Christians that this spirit of toleration, in the fullest extent consistent with the being of civil society, is the chief characteristical mark of the Church. Insomuch that Mr. Locke has asserted and proved, beyond the possibility of contradiction on any solid ground, that such toleration ought to be extended to all whose doctrines are not subversive of society.”

                The “subversive of society” part referred to papists, but it does give some pause in 2011…Report

              • Avatar Steve S. in reply to Jaybird says:

                Since there is no such thing as an atheist absent a specific claim about objective truth, I tend to think that those who say this to atheists are talking about objective truth rather than social signaling.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Steve S. says:

                Since there is no such thing as an atheist absent a specific claim about objective truth

                Hogwash.

                There are 47 different flavors of atheism.Report

              • Avatar Steve S. in reply to Jaybird says:

                What is the meaning of “atheism” absent a truth claim about a deity?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                There are two ways to parse “atheism”.

                a-theism (which means without godism) and athe-ism (which would mean withoutgod ism). The second is more of an anti-theism (though, in practice, it tends more toward an anti-religion of the particular person’s religion in which they happened to have been raised).

                For every instance of it being an absence of theism (a “not collecting stamps”, if you will), there are two instances of people making hobbies of talking about how stupid stamp collecting is and how glad they are that stamp collecting doesn’t occupy their time anymore.Report

              • Avatar Steve S. in reply to Jaybird says:

                I’m not sure what point you’re making.

                Of course there are atheists who are actively hostile to religion and those that are not (though I suspect you simply made up your statistical sample). What’s that got to do with atheism qua atheism? Either way you parse the word there’s a deity in it. Is someone who believes a deity-based religion, but makes a hobby of denouncing some other deity-based religion also an atheist?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                The problem comes that atheism, in practice, is not a lack of something but a something in and of itself. It’s an identifier and, for many, it indicates “group membership”.

                It’s not a “I’m not a theist either” but an “I’m an atheist too!”

                The “I’m an atheist!” as opposed to “I’m not a theist” that gives the game away. There is a positive affirmation in there… in practice.Report

              • Avatar Steve S. in reply to Jaybird says:

                “The problem comes that atheism, in practice, is not a lack of something but a something in and of itself. It’s an identifier and, for many, it indicates ‘group membership’.”

                Who cares what it is for “many”. What is atheism qua atheism? Christianity is for “many”, as you say, a social signifier, but what is Christianity qua Christianity? And where do you get your stats? And who are you to tell individual Christians and atheists that their beliefs or non-beliefs are really just social signals?Report

              • Avatar Fish in reply to Jaybird says:

                The Romans did refer to early Christians as atheists, actually. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AtheismReport

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                What is atheism qua atheism?

                It seems to me that there are 47 flavors of atheism. I don’t feel like I am the equivalent of the Atheist Pope to say which ones are and which ones are not heretical.

                Are you that equivalent?

                When you speak of “atheism qua atheism”, do you speak ex cathedra?

                what is Christianity qua Christianity?

                There are more flavors of Christianity by a couple orders of magnitude.

                I certainly know that I don’t have the competence to say who is and who is not “really” a Christian. (I suspect that the Pope doesn’t either… but I think he has some claims to being an authority on Catholicism.)

                And who are you to tell individual Christians and atheists that their beliefs or non-beliefs are really just social signals?

                It seems to me that if Christians really were following their Christ as if He really existed, the world would be somewhat different.

                Atheists, on the other hand, would act more like they merely weren’t collecting stamps rather than making a hobby out of not collecting them.

                I say this as someone with eyes that can see, ears that can hear, and a brain that can reach conclusions about the data inputs it gets.

                (For the record, I am cool being wrong… I just don’t see most atheists as being counter-evidence to this claim. Nor most Christians, for that matter.)Report

              • Avatar ppnl in reply to Jaybird says:

                jaybird,

                Atheists, on the other hand, would act more like they merely weren’t collecting stamps rather than making a hobby out of not collecting them.

                I really can’t parse what this means.

                It seems to me that the different varieties of religious doubt can be categorized by their epistemological choices.

                For example if we take a mathy model of epistemology then we can treat the god theorem as unproven. In the mathy model an unproven theorem is just that. All you can say is that it is unproven. It is a sin to talk about the probability of an unproven theorem being true. And worse a proposition can be true and yet there exists no proof that it is true. Godel and god.

                In a more sciencey model of epistemology you look for evidence. If Russel’s teapot exists then in principle you can find it. Not finding it does not prove that it does not exist but a theory without observable consequences is of no value in the sciencey model.

                In a Bayesian sciencey model it makes no sense to even look for Russel’s teapot unless you have some prior reason to think that it exists.

                Anyway it is the epistemological choice itself rather than a position on the god question that is important. Atheism is merely a minor side effect of that choice.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                I really can’t parse what this means.

                It ties into an old atheist joke, of sorts.

                “If atheism is a religion, then not collecting stamps is a hobby!”

                (I’ve also seen baseball cards used as the example.)

                That’s kinda funny. Not collecting baseball cards is not a hobby. It’s the absence of a hobby.

                Except, of course, many atheists do not treat atheism as merely the absense of theism but as an opportunity to discuss theism. Talk about it with strangers on the bus! Point out to gramma at Thanksgiving dinner that you disapprove of the prayer! Here? Have you heard the good news? Read this book! It’s by Richard Dawkins!

                This flavor of atheism treats atheism not as the absence of a thing but a thing in itself.

                It’s not a “I’m not a theist either” but “I’m an atheist too”.

                That’s what I mean.Report

              • Avatar ppnl in reply to Jaybird says:

                “If atheism is a religion, then not collecting stamps is a hobby!”

                But such a limited atheism is hardly worthy of a title. It makes it sound like a random choice. For example I could flip a coin to decide what to believe in. I flip tails, sorry god is out. I flip heads and unicorns exist! Who knew!?! Flip tails and darn! UFOs are fake.

                Coherent atheism is an epistemological choice that goes beyond the god question. It is a method of deciding what I can claim to know. It applies to UFOs and unicorns just as it does god.

                Is it atheism a religion? Well it is an expression of my freedom of conscience. What you hold to be true and the rules you use to decide have consequences to both yourself and society. Do I really want to expand the definition of religion to cover this? Not really, I see it as a pointless word game played by people with perverse motives.

                The sorry state of religion derives directly from their poor choices of epistemology. Mostly that epistemology is unexamined and thus incoherent. To the extent that it is coherent it is coherent nonsense.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                The problem is that there are 47 different kinds of atheism.

                To say that this atheism is “authentic!” and that atheism is just, you know, “unworthy of the title” takes a degree of authority that I am pretty sure that *I* don’t have, so I’m kinda wondering how you got it.

                Since I see religion as an anthropological phenomenon that does an excellent job of creating and maintaining social cohesion by providing a method of social signalling between strangers and distant relatives (among other things, of course).

                The atheism that you see as worthy of the name seems to have a lot of overlap in the Venn diagram.

                (You need to get some more Voegelin-quality words, though, if you really want to hammer on the knowledge available to you that is unavailable to those saddled with coherent nonsense, though.)Report

              • Avatar Fish in reply to Jaybird says:

                Atheism (a-theism), from my insignificant viewpoint, has a particular weakness in that it defines itself based upon what it isn’t. It isn’t belief. I suppose there’s no real way around this unless one starts referring to oneself as a “free-thinker” or a “bright” or perhaps a “non-theist.” In conversation, I’ve had a much better time using devices such as Russel’s Teapot or the Invisible Pink Unicorn to try to show how…(the word I want to use is “ridiculous,” but I want to use it in such a way so as not to antagonize)…it is to insist that I account for the existence of a god simply because one posits a god’s existence.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                Fish, that’s a good point.

                When I argue the whole theism thing, one of the things I ask for is a definition of “God”. (Hey, you never know, maybe I do believe in God!)

                I rarely get a definition as much as requests to acknowledge that I don’t *KNOW* that there isn’t a teapot there.

                A shrug seems to me to be a better response than questioning what kind of person would posit that a teapot would be blue china and contain peppermint tea (sociopaths)… but that’s me.Report

              • Avatar Steve S. in reply to Jaybird says:

                “It seems to me that there are 47 flavors of atheism.”

                Why are you wasting our time with this triviality? You glide from firm knowledge of what motivates atheists and even what percentage of them are “evangelical” to this ridiculous cop-out. Pick one.

                “There are more flavors of Christianity by a couple orders of magnitude.”

                You already said it’s a social signal. Is it a social signal or is it an individual pursuit? Pick one.

                “It seems to me that…”

                The rest of your response is pure gibberish.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                Assume Free Will.

                I am not wasting your time.

                *YOU* are wasting your time.

                Is it a social signal or is it an individual pursuit?

                Why can’t it be both? Why can’t it be one-per-person yet people have enough similarities between themselves locally that there is enough overlap to make a useful Venn diagram?

                That certainly seems more fruitful and useful than picking and choosing which people who happen to not believe in a deity deserve the title of “atheist”.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                (And since irony is, like, my favorite thing, I’d like to point out that we’re arguing atheistic theology.)Report

              • Avatar RTod in reply to Jaybird says:

                Steve S. – I feel like you are touching on something that seems important, but I can’t quite parse out what the point you are trying to make is. Can I ask you to re-make it?Report

              • Avatar Steve S. in reply to Jaybird says:

                “Atheism (a-theism), from my insignificant viewpoint, has a particular weakness in that it defines itself based upon what it isn’t.”

                The concept was invented by theists who made a proposition and insisted that everybody take a position on it.Report

              • Avatar Steve S. in reply to Jaybird says:

                “I can’t quite parse out what the point you are trying to make is. Can I ask you to re-make it?”

                Going back to the top, ppnl said he doesn’t believe in belief.

                Chris called this “naive in the extreme” because belief means “hold to be true”.

                I said that Christians mean something more than “hold to be true” when they talk about belief because otherwise their religion would be grossly impoverished.

                Jaybird then makes sweeping statements about the true nature of Christianity and atheism — social signaling, “flavors” — while I try to stay on topic.

                HTH.Report

              • Avatar ppnl in reply to Jaybird says:

                To say that this atheism is “authentic!” and that atheism is just, you know, “unworthy of the title” takes a degree of authority that I am pretty sure that *I* don’t have, so I’m kinda wondering how you got it.

                Well ok but if someone does not believe in god because of the results of a coin flip then they are as much an atheist as anyone? Seems silly to me.

                The thing is what you decide you know and how you claim to know things are profoundly important questions with consequences for both you and society. It makes sense then to classify things according to epistemological choices. The reason I object to the word “belief” is that it separates the what from the why.

                If your epistemology is a coin flip then I’m going to reject any commonality with you. Your why, the important part of the what/why question, is nonsense. The fact that you don’t believe in magic fruit and talking snakes cannot make up for our differences.

                Since I see religion as an anthropological phenomenon that does an excellent job of creating and maintaining social cohesion by providing a method of social signalling between strangers and distant relatives (among other things, of course).

                Well I agree. But the problem is that is the only thing religion is. It isn’t an attempt to understand the universe on its own terms at all.

                And thats why atheists are so disliked. In rejecting god we appear to be rejecting those social signals. In fact the social signaling isn’t relevant to the question at hand.

                If you reduce everything to social signaling then you reduce to postmodernism. Reality really does exist out there you know.

                The atheism that you see as worthy of the name seems to have a lot of overlap in the Venn diagram.

                With religion? I can live with that. Religion was an attempt to give meaning to the universe. Science does not deal with the meaning of the universe. It only deals with the facts of the universe. I said I don’t really think it is reasonable to expand the definition of religion to include atheism. It is as reasonable to expand the definition of astrology to include astronomy. Historically connected and an overlap in what is watched. Other than that…Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                If I define belief as little more than “a privately held proposition”, am I wrong in doing so?

                Some beliefs are justified. Some beliefs are less justified but still somewhat justified. Some beliefs are not justified much at all. You’ve got folks who are wrong for the right reasons and others who are right for the wrong reasons. Still more who are wrong for the wrong reasons (and how frustrating is *THAT*?).

                Moreover, there’s the possibility that there is a huge difference between what a thing says it is and what it really is.

                If a thing says that it is something that, if you think about it, really monsterous but, in practice for the vast majority, banal then what is our responsibility in the face of this banality?

                Where does this responsibility come from? I have a feeling that it’s not bestowed upon us from without.

                When it comes to astrology, there is a part of me that wonders if the ancients weren’t, in part, onto something but completely missed what they were trying to hammer down.

                I’ll explain: the babies born in January spent the first months of their lives swaddled up. Their mothers ate salted meats and dried foods to get the nutrients to breastfeed them. It wasn’t until they were months old before they spent time outdoors or saw the sun on their face for any extended period of time. Babies born in July were less swaddled up. Their mothers ate fruits and fresh vegetables and fresh meat before breastfeeding. By the time they were months old, it was wintertime.

                Odds are, this would result, over time, in noticeable personality traits. Babies who were swaddled for months after birth were less jumpy than those who were allowed to let it all hang out for a few months. Nutrition probably resulted in certain traits blooming or being hindered.

                It was based on the time of the year, sure… but it had nothing to do with the stars. It had to do with strawberries.

                To say that “astrology is entirely bullcrap!” may miss a correlation that our ancestors made despite themselves. One that we can learn much from.

                The same with theism.Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Jaybird says:

                ppnl said, upthread:

                > For example if we take a mathy
                > model of epistemology then we
                > can treat the god theorem as
                > unproven. In the mathy model
                > an unproven theorem is just
                > that. All you can say is that it
                > is unproven.

                No.

                Er, wait, let me be more clear.

                If you were going to presuppose that the question of a deity was part of a structure, all signs point to this being not a theorem at all. It is, rather, an axiom.

                You have two main different frameworks of reality, deism and athiesm, just like you have competing set frameworks (ZFC and primitive set theory), and two competing geometries (Euclidean and non-Euclidean).

                Okay, in practice, before some pedant comes in and points out that there’s more than one, that’s not relevant to the point so shut up.

                In the deistic framework, “there exists an entity that can ignore the laws of the universe” is an axiom. There are other axioms. Put them together depending upon your particular flavor of the framework, and you get theologies that have conclusions (theories) about the nature of this entity. However, the entity itself is axiomatically known to exist.

                In the atheistic framework, the corresponding axiom is, “there exists no entity that can violate the laws of the universe” (or, as they say in the beginning of The Search for Spock: “Nothing Unreal exists.”) The entity is axiomatically defined as not possible.

                This is the point I was trying to make ‘way back on another thread when I wound up mangling my own words and coming out sounding like I was rejecting modus ponens, not my most brilliant moment on this blog.Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Jaybird says:

                > not my most brilliant moment
                > on this blog.

                Seriously, I’ve had friends email me that bit and laugh at me, justifiably.

                The Internet is an unforgiving medium.Report

            • Avatar Chris in reply to Jaybird says:

              I think Steve’s right. There often a claim that atheism takes just as much faith, and you sometimes see it as even more faith (can’t prove a negative, or some old wive’s tale like that), than Christianity. They also call atheism a religion for this reason.

              That’s not to say that people don’t sometimes or even often mean also that atheists behave like religious folks, but the claim is usually specifically about the beliefs themselves.Report

              • Avatar ppnl in reply to Chris says:

                In one sense I’m an agnostic in that I don’t know if there is a god. And I don’t even know if it can be known if there is a god. There would seem to be epistemological difficulties. This makes me seem agnostic-ish.

                But here is the thing. I don’t think the question has standing to even be asked. I could make up all kinds of things that logical may be true but which may or may not be knowable. Russel’s tea pot for example. I reject all of these things until They have standing to be asked.

                So in a sense I am a hyper-atheist in that an atheist will try to logically disprove god (Whatever that means. ) while I don’t think the question is even worth asking.

                Add to that my general contempt for the details of the practice of religion and most agnostics will not have me.Report

      • Avatar ppnl in reply to Anderson says:

        Anderson,

        I’ve never known someone who operated only out of pure reason and logic,…

        Always being logical is neither possible nor desirable. However separating your logical justifications from your passions is important. That is also probably not always possible but it is desirable.Report

        • Avatar Chris in reply to ppnl says:

          Always being logical is neither possible nor desirable. However separating your logical justifications from your passions is important.

          Except, it turns out, without your passions, your logical justifications aren’t particularly logical, or practical for that matter.Report

          • Avatar ppnl in reply to Chris says:

            Except, it turns out, without your passions, your logical justifications aren’t particularly logical, or practical for that matter.

            Logical justifications are always logical. It’s just that without passion they aren’t appealing.

            There is no purely logical reason for me to draw my next breath. But logic tells me what will happen if I don’t and my passion will drive me to bend heaven and earth to obtain my next breath.Report

            • Avatar Russell Saunders in reply to ppnl says:

              But logic tells me what will happen if I don’t and my passion will drive me to bend heaven and earth to obtain my next breath.

              Well, that and your central nervous system.Report

            • Avatar Chris in reply to ppnl says:

              You fail to understand how the passions guide reasoning, if you think that the passions merely make it interesting. In fact, I’m not sure you really understand how reason works: the premises turn out to be as important as the process, in the end, because by itself rational does not equal true, it just means rational.Report

  5. Avatar Steve S. says:

    “what may you once have believed, truly and sincerely, that you have since repudiated?”

    I was raised in a protestant mainline denomination, belief in the doctrines peeled away in layers as I matured. Not sure “repudiated” is the right word, I just don’t believe it anymore.

    “Was the process of changing your perspective something that informs your perspectives now?”

    I would say not, if I’m understanding the question.

    “Do you feel better for it, or was it a loss you still regret?”

    My feelings are irrelevant, I simply don’t believe it anymore.Report

  6. I used to be one of those annoying doctrinaire “Marxians” who had never read Marx. Workers were always right, even when what they did contradicted what other workers did. And everyone was a worker. Now I’m just annoying..

    I should also say that I used to consider myself an evangelical Christian, and when I became an agnostic c. 1997, that represented what I thought at the time to be a decisive rejection, on the assumption that agnosticism was, from the evangelical point of view,”just as bad as” atheism.

    I have since rejected some of my agnosticism and now have a lot of sympathy for what I take to be “mere Christianity,” even though I am still nominally agnostic.

    For what it’s worth (not much, perhaps?), I should say my concept of hell is different from the one that recovering Christians seem to reject. I see it as self-imposed suffering, not really as a punishment for sin or disbelief; I see it more on the level of a non-recovering alcoholic who chooses to continue suffering in his or her alcoholism than on the level of a cosmic judge who damns others. Under this view, I see Christianity as one way (among several ways) to choose not to suffer, and in that sense to be “saved” from hell.Report

    • Was the process of changing your perspective something that informs your perspectives now? Do you feel better for it, or was it a loss you still regret?

      I totally skipped these questions.

      When it came to my doctrinaire but illiterate “Marxianism,” the process of changing my perspective involved realizing that things are so much more complicated that they can’t be reducible to the aphorisms I professed faith in. I still benefit from that perspective. Marxianism is not a loss I still regret.

      When it came to my evangelical faith, the process that led to my ultimate rejection of it has, I hope, made me more open minded, even toward evangelical Christians. I do sometimes regret the loss of certainty and something that I felt as fulfilling and life-sustaining–maybe it would be properly called “mystical union with god” in other circles.Report

  7. Avatar Kyle Cupp says:

    Hmm. I change my mind about stuff constantly, but the changes of my beliefs have been perhaps too subtle to qualify as apostasy. I’m still a big-C Catholic, though I’ve developed a bit of a subversive, anti-authoritarian sensibility that has replotted and maybe diverted the course of my faith.Report

  8. Avatar Zac says:

    I was raised Catholic, but left the church in my adolescence. I suppose you could call me an atheist, although I don’t like that label because it is a term entirely devoid of content (after all, I don’t label myself as a non-astrologer either; people know astrology is bullshit and make the reasonable assumption that I don’t believe in it). Since I was an adolescent, I was in retrospect rather more evangelical and obnoxious about it than I’d like to admit. These days, I hew much closer to Elias’ view, though any injection of religiosity into the public square still makes my blood boil.

    Politically, I’ve always been a fairly liberal guy with a small handful of what you could call right-wing views (I’m pro-nuclear power and while I absolutely agree that AGW is real, I think humanity does not have the collective problem-solving ability to prevent its worst effects, and so we are better off figuring out ways to adapt to the inevitable rather than follow the eco-left’s quixotic attempts to undo what cannot be undone. I’m also strongly against cultural relativism, although I’m not sure if that’s a right-wing thing or not). The 2008 economic disaster has somewhat radicalized me economically, and while I’ve always been sympathetic to social-democrat policies of the Scandinavian variety, I now firmly believe that we need to return to Eisenhower-era top marginal tax rates, and that accumulation of vast amounts of wealth is a moral obscenity.Report

    • Avatar Zac in reply to Zac says:

      I feel pretty good about both of these changes; I’ve always largely felt that regret is a wasted emotion. Likewise, there wasn’t much of a process in terms of the changes; both catalyzed relatively quickly. In my experience, this is how most people change their beliefs; it’s a tectonic shift, not a slow accretion. But then I’m relatively young and foolish, so what do I know? That’s why I come here; because most of you are much, much smarter and wiser than me, and I like to learn from the best.Report

  9. Quite a panoply of “recovering” Christians, still-lefty-but-not-as-Marxist-as-I-used-to-bes, “recovering” Christians, and a Hindu and a Catholic.

    Yeah, this one was for you, Rufus. 😉Report

  10. Avatar J.L. Wall says:

    I stumbled my way *toward* religion, though it was toward what I like to think is simply a slightly more coherent version of what I grew up with, without ever really falling away — Judaism and yiddishkeit are funny like that. The process itself — yes, I’d say it still informs my decisions, mostly because it has also been a process of refining the questions I ask and learning which ones I doubt I’ll ever find satisfactory answers to.

    But if we’re looking in terms of apostasy — well, I’ll give myself a pass for being a Marxist at age 14 because I was 14 — then it has to be the collapse of my belief — maybe it was a kind of faith — in the goodness and the abilities of government. The libertarian instinct that shock let loose has since been moderated by a somewhat communitarian one, but I still miss the days when I could look at currently innocuous centralized power and authority without alarm or even just a faint twinge of worry. This had nothing to do with economics or the effectiveness of government and everything to do with revelations of prisoner abuse (and torture) during the Bush Administration. (If it isn’t too self-indulgent, and anyone’s interested, I went into it in more detail here: http://phaidimoilogoi.wordpress.com/2008/10/30/where-im-coming-from/ )

    The shorter version of this whole comment is: I used to be an optimist. Then I began to realize just how little we can actually know, and how dangerous this can be, and became a (hopeful) pessimist.Report

  11. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    You know, one of my first memories was my parents bitching about Carter and how bad he was. Then I remember them bitching about Reagan and how bad he was. As for religion, they tried raising us as Catholics but pretty quickly admitted that neither of them was at all clear on whether or not there’s a God and stopped trying. They still go back and forth. My father’s best explanation and his most recent was the great, “I might be able to go to church if I could find one near me that did it in Latin because I hate the english mass. Also, I don’t believe that lust is a sin.”

    Anyway, I’m struggling to think of anything I ever believed with much vigor. I used to live in a left-wing commune when I was about 19, but they sort of disliked me because I argued with them constantly on just about everything. It was the PC early 90s and I liked horror movies and rock’n’roll and girls a lot more than I liked what they saw as political consciousness.Report

  12. Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

    My Sunday School teacher, this morning, had us go over Romans 1:18 thru 32.Report

    • Ah, yes. A passage that handily comprises the exact beliefs I’ve come to reject with the greatest gusto.Report

      • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to Russell Saunders says:

        …my point, Russell. As St. Augustine illustrated, it’s either ‘amor Dei,’ or ‘amor sui.’Report

        • Avatar Chris in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

          It must be nice to have such an “Either/Or” world view, and in particular to be able to place it in an ancient source, even if it doesn’t actually appear in that source (sure, Augustine had the two cities, but he never paints it as an either/or).Report

          • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to Chris says:

            The ground of that worldview that has fallen under your criticism is love in freedom. The surrender of self/moi to the love of, and the will of God…the great love.Report

        • what about “amor omni”, “amor familiae”, or “amor vero”?Report

        • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

          This all-or-nothingness is ironic, given that Pauline Christianity began with the abandonment of the inconvenient parts of Judaism, e.g. circumcision, the dietary laws, and monotheism.Report

        • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

          Gentlemen, your comments, as brillilant as they are, prove my point. But, it is a ‘point’ I have no desire to ‘win.’
          Paul tells us, as the result of a pneumatic revelation, that “God’s invisible qualities” have been both “seen” and “understood.”
          Plato and Aristotle might concur. God is a mystery but He has revealed much to man, though there is that ‘knowledge’, the knowledge that God retains for Himself, that the rebellious/demonic gnostic seeks for himself.
          The ground of this mystical or pneumatic knowledge is ‘faith.’ Sadly, my friends, you have rejected, in the most positivistic, scientistic, modern terms an acknowledgement of that phenomenon that Husserl, Hediegger(sp), and surely Stein refute, predicated on the foundational explications related to Phenomenology.
          In the end, Dylan was right, you do, indeed, have to serve ‘somebody.’Report

          • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

            In other words, Christianity has a monopoly on truth, and any holes or flaws in it represent questions that shouldn’t be asked. Big yawn, Bob.Report

          • Avatar Chris in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

            Bob, when you veer into incoherence, I find you much less interesting (saying “invisible qualities” are “seen” is sort of amusing, but only sort of in this context). By the way, you’ll find me much closer to Husserl than you, and about as far from scientism as you. But since you can only trade in your either/or’s, you’ll never be able to see that (I suppose it’s an invisible quality for you).

            I would find it interesting if you could show, through what I and others have said, that what we are actually trading in is love of self, since we’ve abandoned faith and “love in freedom” of God. You’re not going to do that, because you don’t actually have a reason for your either/or, just some barely comprehended Voegelin and your own “infantile illusion” that is clearly more feeling than reason, and more vague sense than clear representation. It’s why you have to deal in either/or’s in the first place: nuance is beyond you at this level, but you need the certainty and the righteousness that comes with placing yourself on the right side of a divide that you have created and now consider the objective state of affairs. Not being a Voegelin scholar, or even someone who’s spent much time or attention on him, I can’t say what he would think of your condescending, self-righteous appropriation of some of the words he used in his writings, but I’m pretty sure “amor dei” would not be how he’d describe its origins. It’s quite clear that you’re operating strictly out of ego.

            And seriously, you should actually read Augustine, instead of reading someone who read him. You might find his thought much more… rich than your second-hand version has led you to believe, and therefore much more rewarding.Report

            • Are you talking about the Invisible Pink Unicorn?Report

            • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to Chris says:

              Chris, you are at your best when defending whatever point of alienation you happen to be experiencing. It’s a beautiful thing, in that it’s so stereotypically (M)modern. Sometimes I read you as moving within the tension of existence (existential consciousness) where you have the possiblity of experiencing not only reality but the truth of stuff, and sometimes I think you’ve hypostatized the transcendent pole, and sometimes I think you’ve obliterated the transcendent.
              I really don’t know and I can’t tell by reading you.
              But, because you hesitate to reveal you own positions it’s impossible for me to go any further in an analysis of your own pathological derailment other than to speculate that your existence is predicated on the great fear incorporated into the idea of pershing/imperishing. If it’s any consolation, your condition is probably rather typical theses days.Report

              • Avatar ppnl in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

                Hypostatize the transcendent pole? I want that on a t-shirt.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to ppnl says:

                It sounds distinctly sexual.Report

              • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to ppnl says:

                Try “Hypostatizing the Immanent” it has a harmonious ring to it.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

                incorporated into the idea of pershing

                The fear of World War I army generals? Weird.

                Anyway, I appreciate the vague psychoanalysis, but I still ask you: what about what anyone has said here requires “amor sui”?

                Did you read the Kaufmann piece that Jaybird linked, by the way? It’s actually a shorter version of one of the works that I gave to my parents, man years ago, to help them understand my conversion from Catholicism to atheism (over a period of years). I find little love of self in that essay, or the book. I wonder where you see it. My suspicion, and I’d be happy if you disconfirmed it, is that you’ve convinced yourself that if it is not love of God it is love of Self, of logical/metaphysical necessity. It’s that position that I was criticizing you for (that and the whole Pauline “see the unseen” thing, but that’s just because I find that silly not simply as a statement, but as a way of dismissing nonbelievers as having rejected something rather than as having not actually seen it), and I continue to suspect whether you are the least bit capable of defending it. Particularly if you think you can actually find it in Augustine’s two cities.Report

              • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to Chris says:

                Thanks Chris, but why did you leave the Holy Roman Catholic Church?Report

              • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to Chris says:

                Chris, try this: http://www9.georgetown.edu/faculty/jod/augustine/civ.html

                Read the whole thing but don’t miss the outline at the bottom at “Book XIV, Point D.”

                Voegelin’s reference to St. Augustine’s analysis of the “Amor Dei” and the “Amor sui” is as the “organizing volitional centers of the soul.” He further claims that while Augustine created the symbol of the amor Dei it was Hobbs who rejected the term and embraced the ‘amor sui’ which he interpreted as the ‘self-conceit’ or the ‘pride of the individual.’ Pride, you old Catholic, ‘goeth before the fall.’
                I be here to hep.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

                Bob, you should read Augustine.

                Also, I see there is nothing behind your words. You can’t argue them, or show how they apply specifically in the situation at hand. You simply use them to condescend and condemn, and when pressed, call your interlocutor disordered, and look the other way. Even your love of God turns out to be little more than love of self.Report

              • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to Chris says:

                “…ouch, ouch, ouch!”

                Did you check out the link?
                Like I said, dude, it’s either amor Dei or amor sui.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris says:

                Bob, where does your link say that? Where does Augustine say that? Point me to a passage.

                Yes, he has two cities. No, that’s not what they mean. Don’t worry, I won’t ask again, if you don’t answer this time. I know it is pointless to ask, when you clearly don’t know, and your purpose here is condemnation and condescension rather than, well, anything else. Like I said, love of self.Report

        • Amigo, I am hard-pressed to think of an activity more pointless than debating theology with the likes of you, a prospect that appeals about as much as setting my own eyebrows on fire. You and your Sunday school teacher are welcome to your beliefs, with my best wishes. Suffice it to say that, of all the things I love besides and beyond myself, your god ain’t even close.Report

    • Avatar Barry in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

      Bob, that’s a case of the pot calling the kettle black.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

      Bob, Romans is an argument.

      Romans 1 begins with “Whereas it may be true that X, Y, and Z…”

      The letter evolves into “it’s also true that P! And Q! And R!”

      Given that Paul did *NOT* carve his letter up into chapters and verses when he wrote it, I’d suggest you get a new Sunday School teacher. Unless, of course, he spends time on Romans 2 next week and hammers P, Q, and R to the same extent he hammered X, Y, and Z this one.

      To be honest, it seems more likely that he’ll say something to the effect of “and that’s our study of the Bible. We’ll start over at the beginning in Leviticus 20 next week!”Report

      • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Jaybird says:

        > Romans 1 begins with “Whereas it may be true that X,
        > Y, and Z…”
        >
        > The letter evolves into “it’s also true that P! And Q!
        > And R!”

        And that, right there, is why I affectionately call Paul a nut.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

          Well, he moves on to say “therefore, we must A, B, and C.”

          The problem with how I see Romans read is that everybody reads chapter 1 and then talks about X, Y, and Z ad nauseum. See? It’s in the Bible!, they point out.

          I keep saying that, no, the point is A, B, and C and, seriously, you need to watch your Ps and Qs! and they keep talking about X, Y, and Z.

          Paul’s argument was that they should be on the other side of the alphabet entirely and they’re stuck on X, Y, and Z.Report

        • Avatar NoPublic in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

          Which would be lovely if Paul wasn’t the basis for modern Xtianity. Sad, really, that so much of the actual namesake’s teaching is lost underneath the dross that is Pauline meandering.Report

      • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to Jaybird says:

        Actually, I waited to reply until the SS teacher got home from work, simply because I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what your were saying.
        So she tells me you were referring to the ‘homosexual’ comments in the ‘letter.’ BTW, this is our third week on Romans with several more to go, and we just finished Luke. So, now I understand why the vituperative nature of the ‘comments’.
        What I was trying to tell you is that my little insight in reading these verses was that Paul was following Voegelin (er, visa-versaa)in describing and condeming the ‘egophanic’ rebellion in man (and not just modern man) that EV symbolized.
        In reading those little notes you Protestants put with your Bibles I came across this delightful analysis, referring to Romans 1:23-32,
        ” …First, people reject God; next, they make up their own ideas of what a god should be and do; then they fall into sin-sexual sin, greed, hatred, envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice, gossip. Finally, they grow to hate God and encourage others to do so. God does not cause this steady progression toward evil. Rather, when people when people reject Him, He allows them to live as they choose. God gives them over or permits them to experience the natural consequences of their sin. Once caught in the downward spiral, no one can pull himself or herself out. Sinners must trust Christ alone to put them on the path to escape.”Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

          And whose job is it to judge these sinners?

          Is it the job of the Christians or is it the job of God?

          If it’s the job of God, what is the job of the Christians?

          Is it to point out Romans 1:18-32 over and over and over and over again?Report

          • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to Jaybird says:

            Paul, I think, is explicating, in a pneumatic sense and in much the same manner as Cicero in the Tusculan Disputations in the sense of Nous, the dangers inherent in sin and the resultant disorder caused by sin.
            In this day and age, is there another way of reminding man of sin, and it’s relationship to God as that which deprives man of the love of God?
            We are all sinners.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

              There are dangers in sin.

              There are sins of the flesh.
              There are sins such as pride.

              It is far, far too easy for those with the sins of pride to stand in judgment of those who engage in the sins of the flesh.

              When you judge you take God’s job from him: one of the most prideful things you can do. Is it because you think God will mess it up?

              Brother, I say to you: focus on the love part. Not on the sin part. Your weaker brothers have poisoned public discussion of sin. They, for some reason, seem to think that you and yours only mean “homosexuality” anymore.

              Christians have failed Christianity spectacularly in the past few decades. The fact that the non-Christians don’t see fruit worth partaking of is not the fault of the non-Christians.Report

              • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to Jaybird says:

                I dunno, I like this, particularly the last paragraph but it is the modern/atheists, in their ongoing demand for the acceptence of certain behavior, and with a decided regularity protest any acknowledgement that that behavior may be ‘wrong’
                and have a deleterious effect on mind, body, spirit define the modern version of the revolt against God of which Paul speaks. In my own Christian community I don’t see condemnation of the sinner so much as an awareness of the sin, which is, I understand, how it should be.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

                They don’t understand why it’s a sin, Bob.

                From their perspective, they see Christians treating two guys who want to live monogamously being treated the exact same way as someone who visits or works in or runs a gay brothel. There is no distinction made between these two things while, at the same time, other sins (pride, for example) are overlooked if not embraced.

                Romans 1 is read over and over again and Romans 2 and 3 are ignored as if they were footnotes.

                I understand it may not look this way from your perspective. You probably just feel like you’re taking the role of Christ and saying “Go! And sin no more!”

                From here, it looks like you’ve got rocks in your hands.Report

              • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to Jaybird says:

                Are you judging?
                As I said, I found Paul’s ‘letter’ as I quoted above interesting because it mirrors Cicero and because it indicates not only the result of sin, but that sin can not go on forever.
                For whatever reason you’re stuck on the homosexual thing. But, it is listed as one sin among many engaged in by man. As I said, it’s probably because of the sensitive nature of the question, in terms of society, where the Left-librul-libertarian yearns for the ‘full inclusion’ and respectability of homosexuality and many of the Judeo-Christian community continue to resist predicated on Biblical teaching.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

                Of course I am judging.

                I don’t believe that there is a God and in His absence it becomes incumbent upon me to try to cultivate the virtues that I see and trim back the sins that I see using the tools that I have available to me.

                Moreover: I do not mind being judged in return. I ought to be. I need to be. I want to become a better judge.

                For whatever reason you’re stuck on the homosexual thing.

                It is because, in this area, Christians have done the most harm in the shortest period of time since the couple of decades where half of them got divorced in order to find themselves after falling out of love.Report

        • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

          next, they make up their own ideas of what a god should be and do

          Like, instead of being a Voice, he’s this guy, and instead of it being forbidden to make idols of him, there’s implausibly blue-eyed pictures of him in every room.Report

          • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to Mike Schilling says:

            Mike dude, you’re in a conversation with Paul. Are you on the road to …..?Report

            • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

              Hell? I see no evidence Paul had good intentions.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                Not Hell. Damascus.

                But as the late Antony Flew once told me, well before the dementia set in, he could never understand how someone with a mind like Paul’s could read the gospels and pronounce them good news.

                And yes, I am certain he suffered from dementia. I have written evidence of that from him as well.Report

              • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                I never spoke with Dr. Flew, but I did with his biographer. However, my correspondence/book review with the biographer of Howard Zinn is suppposedly being prepared as a chapter in a new book set to be published next year. Happily, I’ll link ynz to it.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

                Very interesting, and I would definitely like to read that.

                My dealings with Flew were limited to a couple of written exchanges. In the first, he was witty and clever, including the quip I mentioned above. In the second, about half a year later, he was incoherent. He talked about his final book, in which as you know he supposedly found God. He also talked about a project he hoped Cato would publish, but it was so incoherent that I couldn’t even form an idea of what he had in mind. It was heartbreaking.Report

              • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                I never associated Flew’s movement toward deism as a consequence of his illness, which I thought occured later in his life. My appreciation for him lie in the fact that he was a classical philosopher who in the end discovered the ground of existence. And, yes it was heartbreaking, as all diseases of the mind are.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                I don’t know anything about the causality or the chain of events that brought him to change his mind about God. It’s been debated publicly though whether he was quite right at the very end. I’m confident that he wasn’t.

                What this had to do with his last book is a question to be answered perhaps by someone else. If anyone is writing a biography of Flew, I’d be happy to provide my evidence, which with proper dating might help answer the question.Report

  13. I used to believe adults actually knew stuff, so I took it that when they were talking about God, I just didn’t have any clue what they were actually talking about (by virtue of being so young and ignorant and such). Once I became an adult, I realized how stupid other adults actually were (maybe those two events must go together.) and learned to be skeptical of any assertions.

    What turned me off to the mainstream Christian god was the idea of a bearded old man in the sky watching me, judging me, and if he disapproves of my actions I have to be tortured in Hell for all eternity. Not only do I not believe that this god exists, but if he does exist, I am morally obligated to hate him.

    I was led to believe that this would all change once I had kids (probably part of the whole “can’t be moral without religion” bullshit trope), but now that I have children, I hate this god even more.

    I do accept and even gravitate to a Spinozan pantheism as I’ve made clear on almost all the atheism threads around here. I try to blend this conception of God with an existentialist/classical view that the soul must be created by living a virtuous life: the simplest conception of how I view spirituality is that all life comprises god just as cells comprise the human. I’m curious if there are some strains of Christianity that embrace such an idea (Quakerism and Unitarianism seem promising) but it seems more parsimonious that I’m just ad adherent of a certain sexed-up atheism.Report

    • What turned me off to the mainstream Christian god was the idea of a bearded old man in the sky watching me, judging me, and if he disapproves of my actions I have to be tortured in Hell for all eternity. Not only do I not believe that this god exists, but if he does exist, I am morally obligated to hate him.

      Just so.Report

    • I’m curious if there are some strains of Christianity that embrace such an idea (Quakerism and Unitarianism seem promising) but it seems more parsimonious that I’m just ad adherent of a certain sexed-up atheism.

      I know too little of theology and of different Christian denominations, but it seems to me that Christianity almost essentially implies a supernatural god, that is, a god that exist beyond nature and not simply in and coterminus with nature, which is what I understand Spinoza to argue. (Disclosure: all I have read of Spinoza is a 3-5 page excerpt in an intro to philosophy class almost 20 years ago, so I’m certainly speaking without much experties.)

      Whether some Christians–Unitarians, e.g.–believe in something approaching pantheism, I don’t know. But I do find it hard to reconcile what I understand to be pantheism with what I understand to be essential Christianity. Your mileage may (and probably does) vary.Report

      • I’m thinking more of an “emergent” God than a “supernatural” God, if that distinction is at all significant.Report

      • Avatar Boegiboe in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

        Take this quote from the Kaufman essay Jaybird linked below:
        “And it is less than honest to give one’s own religion the benefit of every possible doubt while imposing unsympathetic readings on other religions. Yet this is what practically all religious people do.”

        Unitarian Universalism’s central religious lesson is never to do this. It is an article of UU faith that all faiths have some insight into truth. Therein lies true salvation.Report

  14. I don’t even know where to begin. My views have changed a lot over the years, from center-left to libertarian to center-right to… my current predicament. Perhaps the biggest change went from believing that abortion had no substantial moral ramifications to believing that it is morally wrong (most of the time). Most of my changing views have been gradual shifts, but that happened all at once when I was confronted with the possibility of unwanted fatherhood.

    Perhaps the biggest thing that my changing views have taught me is humility. Andrew Sullivan raises the hairs on my skin, not because he changed his views, but because every time he does, he goes full speed in the other direction with grand disgust for the people he had previous agreed with.

    I’ve simply lost the ability to do that. Even on the abortion issue. Maybe especially so. Once I understand why someone believes what they do, it becomes harder for me to dismiss their point of view. And since, at one point or another, I’ve been on either side of most issues, I feel like I have been pretty thoroughly declawed.Report

  15. Avatar Jaybird says:

    I am yet another former Evangelical who converted to Atheism because, as Walter Kaufman put it, “I had what, but for its contents, few would hesitate to call a mystical experience”.

    After a detour through Superatheism, I find myself pleasantly enjoying post-post-theism and wondering how in the flying heck I ever had the energy to do half of the things I did.

    (Hey! Faith of a Heretic is available used for $30 after shipping! It’s a great read. If you haven’t read it, pick it up. It’s well worth the thirty bucks. If you don’t have the thirty bucks, just read the essay linked earlier. It’ll make you find the $30 somewhere.)

    I wouldn’t say that I’ve *REPUDIATED* it… well, when I was Superatheist I did. I’ve since lessened my stance on repudiation. I don’t have the strength.

    The process of changing is still ongoing. It’s certainly slowed since when I was 20, though.

    I don’t regret what I used to believe as much as I regret the joy I took in pushing buttons of people who weren’t doing anything to ask for it. (I don’t mind pushing the buttons of people who ask for it, of course… that’s even fun. I just regret being a jerky jerk to folks who were just trying to get along.) My relationship to what I used to believe is probably analogous to my relationship to what’s-her-name. It’s not that I hold ill will toward her (seriously), it’s just that it wasn’t what I thought it was at the time.

    Now, heaven would be nice. I’d like to do something similar to this for ever. I had a steak sandwich today, for example, that was lovely. I had a bottle of 1554 with it. I watched a match between Rey Mysterio Jr. and CM Punk that reminded me why I watch my stories. I had a fun conversation with Maribou. I played my game and I finished the laundry.

    There’s a song, I’m sure you know it, called “Heaven” by the Talking Heads.

    Heaven is a place where nothing really happens.

    Yeah, I could do that. I’m kind of sorry that I won’t. That’s what here’s for, I guess. I’ll try to enjoy it while I can.Report

  16. Avatar Francis says:

    Being raised Episcopalian, I didn’t have that much faith to lose. But finding out that an ever-growing number of people were going public with their own lack of faith was comforting. (no, i see no contradiction in that.)

    The older I get, the less libertarian I become. Virtually every large group will try to minimize its responsibilities and get tax breaks — be it oil companies, banks or farmers. No libetarian has ever adequately explained to me how they’re going to get the other guy out of politics. That, and I’ve seen the tremendous beneficial effect govt programs can have — from Medicaid to student loans to environmental cleanup.

    ps: does anyone else find it funny that Bob, who claims to be quite the anti-modernist, spends so much time using that ultra-modern invention called the Internet (which, by the way, was largely invented by people working for various governments).Report

  17. Avatar Pinky says:

    Everything I thought I knew about sexuality I have come to disbelieve. I grew up in the early-1970’s, when it was dogma that men and women were identical, sex should be free, and the main barriers to clear-headed thinking about sexual matters were oppression and fear. Once we grew out of our hang-ups, we’d be able to live our lives without guilt and unhappiness.

    That was a tough thing to shake. I mentally flagged the “exceptions” I experienced without realizing that most everything I experienced was an exception. I read things written before Freud, or before Freud’s thinking dominated the West, and I found that they described male-female interactions realistically. After straying from my Catholic upbringing, I returned and became more serious about it. Somewhere along the way, I don’t know when, I began to realize that everything I had thought was true about men and women was wrong.

    I can’t say that I’ve completely changed my thinking. I’m sure there are still some crazy, inconsistent thought bouncing around in my skull. But I can’t systematically go through my thinking process and remove the errors, in part because the old errors were based on being systematic. The truth about sexuality is so amazingly inconsistent and crazy that to understand it, you’d have to be a madman. And that’s kind of the point.Report

    • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Pinky says:

      People have other barriers to their sexuality, not just oppression and fear. *Everybody* has at least the barrier of, “I’m not into that” — I don’t know anybody who will do everything that anyone else will do. Exhibit A:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w_V6xwCixLk

      If you don’t know what he’s watching, just rest assured that he’s watching something you don’t want to watch. As evidence, just take the fact that it’s Ron Jeremy, and he’s not enjoying watching it. So.

      > I began to realize that everything I had thought was
      > true about men and women was wrong.

      Wrong? Or incomplete?

      Because I know people who live in communes and have since 1976 and live exactly the life you talk about in your first paragraph and they seem to be pretty leveled to me. I’m just not into that, myself.

      Sexuality sure ain’t an either/or proposition.Report

      • Avatar Pinky in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

        Pat, I’m not solely (or even mainly) talking about sex. Sexuality – I guess they call it “gender” sometimes – involves a lot more than that. And maybe that is the lesson I learned. Sex isn’t something that can be separated from all the things that complicate it, like fidelity and maleness/femaleness. I personally haven’t seen people who didn’t become “old-fashioned” as the years go by, except for one or two who have failed to mature in any other respect.Report

  18. Avatar Murali says:

    If the notion of an eternity in Hell (as punishment for some finite crimes) is obnoxious, what do you think of the notion of a finite time in Hell proportionate in duration and intensity to what sins one has commited in life and then returning to the world to be reborn.Report

    • Avatar tom van dyke in reply to Murali says:

      Mr Murali, you describe Christian “universalism,” “universal reconciliation,” apocatastasis, except without the necessity of the reincarnation part.

      It’s non-normative Christian theology, and rejected by most Protestants [see the Rob Bell controversy], but is not held as heretical by the Roman church, which afterall represents 2/3 of Christianity, people-wise.

      It’s actually very interesting to those interested in theology, to those who do not reject the possibility of theology out of hand, or at least those interested in theology-ology.Report

    • I would say the view that I, as an agnostic-who-leans-toward-(some version of)-Christian-like-theism, am coming around to is that the perpetuity of hell is the choice of the sinner. One chooses the suffering, and the more one chooses it, the harder it is to be open to “grace,” or the possibility of the end of suffering.

      Of course, that is not the question you asked. I do imagine that under my view, if someone has, for example, killed someone in cold blood, repentance would be harder to realize and the torment greater than it would be for someone who simply overtains on alcohol. On the other hand, someone might be so distressed at the realization of having killed someone, that distress might provide the opportunity for repentance more than would the slow process of committing oneself to a life of dependence on alcohol.

      D–n! I still haven’t answered your question.

      For what it’s worth, while I’m not theologian, I don’t think my views of hell and salvation are inconsistent with the assumptions from which most professing Christians derive their beliefs, even though the ultimate conclusions/beliefs they derive from these assumptions differ from mine.Report

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