Columns Jeffrey Weiss: My Way to the Egress Opinion

This way to the egress

(RNS) A few weeks ago, I woke up from brain surgery that yanked out most of a cancer I’d never heard of. And suddenly, people of more faiths than I can name were blessing me.

On Facebook, believe it or not.

People who may not agree about eternity, politics or the state of digital life – with each other or me – were making me feel better.

I’ll take a small bit of credit. And I’ll offer some moral and even spiritual advice for how almost everybody who will eventually run into bad news should live digitally from now on.

Jeffrey Weiss, photographed at his home in Dallas on Tuesday, December 27, 2016. (Louis DeLuca/The Dallas Morning News)

Jeffrey Weiss, photographed at his home in Dallas on Tuesday (Dec. 27, 2016). (Louis DeLuca/The Dallas Morning News)

Here’s the summary of my news: I’ll turn 62 shortly. In early fall of 2016, I started occasionally forgetting some words. Comprehension didn’t drop, so I thought maybe it was simple geezerishness.

I’d been a professional journalist since 1981, so words were pretty day-to-day important.  (In fact, I’d covered religion, ethics and values for almost 15 years, ending a few years back.)

Over time, the word gap got a little worse. But nothing else really bad was noticeable. Maybe it was hormonal? Maybe something else minor?

On Dec. 10, I suddenly lost a tiny spot of eyesight in my right eye. A small stroke?

Hauled by my wife on a fast trip to a hospital ER, I underwent a CT scan and MRI that identified the problem: I had a special kind of cancer called glioblastoma. A tumor the size of a freakin’ chicken egg, on the far left side of my brain.

Surgery happened two days later. And when I woke up, I actually felt better than I had in weeks. Almost all the words were back. But I couldn’t think about doing some regular things. The very idea of turning on the TV or even listening to music made me feel squeamish. Talking to people by voice in groups? Not fun.

So I grabbed my iPhone, opened up Facebook and put in several silent and individual paragraphs summarizing what had happened to me.

Pretty quickly, the comments started and hit the hundreds. Some simple good wishes, some jokes, some detailed information from incredibly smart friends who knew about glioblastoma.

And prayers. Jewish kinds. Varieties of Christian. Muslim. At least one I think is Buddhist. And un-labelable.

Here’s a sad truth about too much of the digital world and Facebook in particular: Too many people stay away from those they disagree with. They’ll insult others to make what they think is the valid point. Not me.

I decided years ago that I wanted to demonstrate that it is possible to disagree digitally in a passionate and even funny way about almost anything – but stay civil. I only insult my friends, and only for a joke.

I’ve reached out to people whose faith and plan for how that faith should affect the real world is incredibly far from me. Some of them are among my absolute favorite Facebook friends.

I’ve been that way for a long time. So when the universe smashed my brain and I went onto Facebook, I had invested in variety for a long time. Had I been as consistently nasty as too many are, then it would have been pretty darned hard to suddenly seek out broad help at a time of terrible need.

Here’s where I am now: Radiation and chemotherapy will start very soon. Chances are pretty good I’ll celebrate my 63rd birthday in January of 2018. Chances are not so good I’ll be alive for my 64th. But who knows?

While nobody is immortal in this world, I’ll admit that I hadn’t focused much on that fact – until now.

Count me as sorta agnostic Jewish in outlook because of how I was raised and what I’ve read over the decades. (I think atheism is as fundamentalist as any other hard-position religion. Absolutely no God? Prove it.)

So I’m not much worried about hell. I am curious about how I should think about the possibilities of the Great Perhaps. And I do know some interesting things about many religions already.

For a while, as long as my brain stays working together, I plan on doing some exploration and writing about it. Maybe I’ll come up with ideas for others? If any reader has any suggestions for what I should dig into, I’d love a suggestion.

Facebook will be me while I stroll toward the egress. Feel free to send me a message. I’ll reply happily.

(Jeffrey Weiss is a longtime reporter who covered religion, faith and morality issues for more than a decade. In December, he was diagnosed with a brain cancer. He’s exploring how a likely end of life should affect his thinking about beliefs and behavior)

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Jeffrey Weiss

62 Comments

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  • “I think atheism is as fundamentalist as any other hard-position religion. Absolutely no God? Prove it.”

    When it comes to personal gods it is easy to show logically the folly of that belief. Most do – even religious people scoff at other gods except their own. Where many atheists become agnostic is regarding the idea of an intelligent designer. That can neither be proven nor refuted.

    Our irrational side cannot accept death and clings to the hope of an afterlife whether or not religion is involved.

  • “If any reader has any suggestions for what I should dig into, I’d love a suggestion.”
    Hello, brother Jeffrey Weiss!
    I am a Romanian, and I wrote, in Romanian, two articles about Jews. In those articles I used also information taken from English sources.You can find the links to them at the bottom of the page. My suggestion is for you to dig into the good necessary relation between Jews and Christians, since on the 3rd of December 2015, for the first time in 2000 years, A Favorable Statement on Christianity was published by Orthodox Rabbis. Here follows the link for “Orthodox Rabbinic Statement on Christianity”:
    http://cjcuc.com/site/2015/12/03/orthodox-rabbinic-statement-on-christianity/

    Here follows the link for my first article about the Jews in Romanian:
    http://protopopiatavrig.blogspot.ro/2016/01/dialog-de-pace-fara-precedent-intre.html

    The link for my second article about two Romanian Jews who became Christians (one of them had been an atheist; the other one had been an agnostic) follows here:
    http://protopopiatavrig.blogspot.ro/2016/02/dialog-de-pace-fara-precedent-intre.html

    (In my articles, one has to go to the bottom of the page in order to click the links!)

    Hallelujah!

  • “I think atheism is as fundamentalist as any other hard-position religion. Absolutely no God? Prove it.”

    Jeff, writing with clarity, thoughtfulness, and civility as always. I thank you for that.

    I thought by now you would have learned what “Atheist” means. Atheism is no more *inherently* an absolutist position than any other non-belief or belief. We just have a special word for it. It is no more “fundamentalist” or absolutist than merely believing in a god is fundamentalist or absolutist.

    I assume you don’t believe in 3 headed goats. That isn’t absolutist because one day (you might say) I can see a 3 headed goat and you would then cease to “NOT believe in 3 headed goats.” Well that’s no different than atheism. One day a different argument and/or experience may convince an atheist a god exists. The reverse is true as well and a theist may change beliefs about god to non-belief (atheism) or to a different god or gods. This happens all the time.

    Further, agnosticism is about knowledge and atheism is about belief. Just as one can be an Agnostic Jew, one can be an agnostic atheist.

  • “I think atheism is as fundamentalist as any other hard-position religion. Absolutely no God? Prove it.”

    Erm… no. Why? Because atheism is NOT the idea that there is “absolutely no god”. One would think a professional journalist would be capable of cracking open a dictionary:

    “a·the·ism
    noun
    disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods.”

    There is no “absolute” there. Do you believe in the Tooth Fairy? I doubt it. Is your disbelief absolutist? Of course not! If the Tooth Fairy made herself known tomorrow, you would start to believe in her. You would not continue in disbelief despite the evidence. It’s the same with atheism – if irrefutable proof for a god shows up, atheists would simply stop being atheists.

  • Yes, indeed, you are right, brother Geffrey Weiss, in asserting that “atheism is as fundamentalist as any other hard-position religion.” But even more:
    “The historical reality is that atheistic fanatics have killed far more people than Islamic extremists and the Inquisition combined. By this I do not mean to say that all atheists are completely bloodthirsty fanatics – that is not the case – but only to draw attention to the fact that one of the most devastating forms of fanaticism, Bolshevism, was in fact atheistic. Therefore, to think that hatred, fanaticism, and persecution to be the products of religion – and, moreover, to recommend atheism as a remedy for all these calamities – would mean declaring the entire history of twentieth-century Russia (and not just Russia) to be non-existent.” ( from “On Atheistic Fanaticism”, by SERGEY KHUDIEV | 20 JUNE 2012
    http://www.pravmir.com/on-atheistic-fanaticism/ )

  • Bolshevism was anti-theistic, not atheistic. But anyway, you’re missing the point (and/or creating a straw man): there is no tenet of atheism (or of antitheism) that says “Thou shalt engage in mass murder”. So what happened in Russia in the 20th Century has nothing to do with atheism.

    Where we DO find teachings advocating murder and even mass murder and genocide is in Christianity (as well as in other religions), and Christians through the ages (such as Torquemada, Leopold II of Belgium, Hitler and the so-called “Army of Jesus” during the Rwandan Genocide) have been quite happy to obey teachings such as…

    Deuteronomy 13:6-11
    “If your brother, the son of your mother, or your son or your daughter or the wife you embrace or your friend who is as your own soul entices you secretly, saying, ‘Let us go and serve other gods,’ which neither you nor your fathers have known, some of the gods of the peoples who are around you, whether near you or far off from you, from the one end of the earth to the other, you shall not yield to him or listen to him, nor shall your eye pity him, nor shall you spare him, nor shall you conceal him. But you shall kill him. Your hand shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people. You shall stone him to death with stones, because he sought to draw you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

    Deuteronomy 17:2-20
    “If there is found among you, within any of your towns that the Lord your God is giving you, a man or woman who does what is evil in the sight of the Lord your God, in transgressing his covenant, and has gone and served other gods and worshiped them, or the sun or the moon or any of the host of heaven, which I have forbidden, and it is told you and you hear of it, then you shall inquire diligently, and if it is true and certain that such an abomination has been done in Israel, then you shall bring out to your gates that man or woman who has done this evil thing, and you shall stone that man or woman to death with stones. On the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses the one who is to die shall be put to death; a person shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness.

    2 Chronicles 15:13
    “But that whoever would not seek the Lord, the God of Israel, should be put to death, whether young or old, man or woman.”

    And for anyone who thinks these horrific texts only occur in the Old Testament, and that they no longer apply…

    Matthew 5:17-18
    “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.”

    Luke 16:17
    “And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail.”

    And there’s plenty of stuff in the New Testament that can be used as an excuse to murder in God’s name…

    Luke 19:27
    “But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.”

    Mark 16:16
    “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.”

    Revelation 21:8.
    “But the… unbelieving… shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.”

  • That argument is not well thought out. There is nothing about atheism that supports the actions of guys like Stalin. Likewise, most of the horrendous acts perpetrated by Christianity were not supported by scripture.

  • “Where many atheists become agnostic is regarding the idea of an intelligent designer. That can neither be proven nor refuted.”

    It doesn’t need to be refuted. It is a claim made without evidence, and any claim made without evidence is not a serious claim and may be dismissed out of hand. That’s why it’s perfectly reasonable to dismiss claims of Leprechauns, fairies, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. We don’t withhold judgment on any other unsubstantiated claim, so why should we do so for gods.

  • Thank you for this essay. This is a good reminder for me: “I decided years ago that I wanted to demonstrate that it is possible to disagree digitally in a passionate and even funny way about almost anything – but stay civil. I only insult my friends, and only for a joke.”

    I also find a lot of good on Facebook. I primarily work from home, so it’s my water cooler, and it’s become a great source of support and information in a wide variety of areas. The good is there if one is open to it.

  • Brother Ian Cooper,
    Irrespective of your quotations, our Holy Father in Heaven is loving, and Jesus is loving too. I could find many quotations to support my assertion.

    But, let`s notice a good article: “Christianity:Burden or Blessing to Mankind?”, by Noel Hornor, published on November 22, 2008. “But the facts show that Christianity has had the most beneficial influence on humanity of any religion or philosophy in history!”

    “Today some 2 billion people in 260 countries profess Christianity. This vast array of religious groups with their varied and conflicting beliefs claim more adherents than any other religion in the world. Of course, the degree of understanding, dedication and emulation of the Christian way of life varies among adherents, but most all who claim to be Christian have—to some degree—had their lives positively impacted by biblical teaching.

    Even some atheists have noted that some of the more decent influences on our society, such as compassion, are ideas that spring from the legacy of Christ. The classical philosophers viewed compassion and humility as signs of weakness, but these Christian traits are essential for a humane society.”

    https://www.ucg.org/the-good-news/christianity-burden-or-blessing-to-mankind

  • “I think atheism is as fundamentalist as any other hard-position religion. Absolutely no God? Prove it.”

    Who needs a golden calf when you can make up cheap stuff out of wholes cloth? Gawdamighty, I love the straw man idols of the religious.

    There is a difference, sir, between atheism and anti-theism. For someone who claims to love words, surely you must know the difference.

    “I have no belief in a god” is not same statement as “I believe there is no god” is not the same statement as “there is no god.” And NONE of these statements is the same as what I am pretty sure is actually the case for the vast majority of people, believers or not:

    It doesn’t matter whether there is a god. It makes no functional difference, except for how they spend their sundays. Or Saturdays. Or fridays. You can see it on these very pages, as the True Christians (TM) fling their theo-poo at those they deem their mOral, spiritual, human, and religious inferiors, as the values-and-morals crowd vote for Grabby McPussy, and on and on and on and on.

    You can substitute True Muslim, True Jew, True Hindu, or True Buddhist for Christian, if you are feeling democratic and generous.

  • That’s because Buddhist, Jews, muslims, Hindus and even atheists lack the compassion that only Christians have,

  • At least the tooth fairy used to leave a quarter under my pillow 60 years ago. All god ever left were badly written tracts on cheap paper.

  • Glory to our Holy Father in Heaven, every moment, by us too!
    Brother Geffrey Weiss, here is a recent wish from a Jew who had been considered to be an atheist: “Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah”. “Zuckerberg answered a commenter who wondered why he made the greeting and asked him, <>

    Zuckerberg responded with a definitive <> adding, <> ”
    http://www.christiantoday.com/article/facebooks.mark.zuckerberg.denies.hes.an.atheist.now.i.believe.religion.is.very.important/103457.htm

  • Speaking for myself, Ben, rather than having no belief in God, I have belief in no God —
    i.e., my personal belief is that there is no God. I consider that an active belief, not a lack.
    (And it’s why I’ve made a habit of specifying “other-believer” rather than “nonbeliever”.)

  • Would that “Islamic extremists and the Inquisition combined” were the only instances of “theistic fanatics” killing people. Neither theists nor atheists have a monopoly on immorality. In regard to good and bad, love and hate, kindness and cruelty, desire to heal and desire to hurt, we have more in common than some of us across the entire spectrum of beliefs would care to admit.

    And I beg to differ on Mr. Weiss’s assertion that “atheism is as fundamentalist as any other hard-position religion.” For example, I personally believe there is no God, but I recognize that’s just my personal belief. The idea of imposing my belief on others is as unacceptable to me as the idea of others imposing their beliefs on me. I love the idea that many theists experience great peace, comfort, and hope from their beliefs; I would never try to take those benefits away from others.

    I think that beliefs, whether theistic or atheistic, tend to magnify whatever is in the human heart, for better and for worse.

  • I see no reason — or justification — or benefit — for generalized assertions such as Mr. Horner’s or Mr. Khudiev’s, that diminish, disparage, demean, or denounce the personal, private, and proprietary beliefs of entire populations of strangers, or to promulgate a staged “competition” between such beliefs, as if some (or one) is “demonstrably” more correct, more worthy, or otherwise “better” than others. It seems to me that respecting each others personal, spiritual, existential boundaries is far more productive, beneficial, humane, — and neighborly — than wasting one’s time (and life) sidling up to strangers and declaring, “Mine’s bigger than yours.”

  • Many if not most atheists delight in wishing others “Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah”, whether to share in the holiday spirit, to express respect or even support for others’ religious beliefs, or simply to wish other people well. I find it hurtful that some believers would turn around and negate both the greeting and the spirit in which it is intended with the otherizing and alienating challenge of “Why did you say that?” — when “Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah to you, too”, or even a simple “Thanks!”, is all that is called for, and is so much more appropriate, respectful,… and obvious.

  • My personal belief is that there is no god, and it wouldnt matter if there were. That’s why I am an it-doesn’t-matterist. But I don’t make it a categorical. Like eveRey atheist i know, I’d give worlds to see some real evidence of a real god. I’d even settle for a leprechaun.

  • In practical terms I suppose I’m an it-doesn’t-matterist, too, since having certain knowledge of the existence of deity wouldn’t change my values, choices, and overriding concerns regarding how people treat each other.

    The only kind of God I could imagine believing in would be decidedly unbiblical: one whom humanity’s inhumanity drove away long ago; one who nevertheless hopes (knows?) we will eventually decide to treat each other, our beliefs, and our personal boundaries with mutual respect; one who won’t come back until we make that decision as a global people who embrace collaboration among equals and reject cultural, spiritual, and political “competition”; and one who naturally, easily, lovingly understands, and would never abandon, people who don’t believe in this God, who has been absent for ages — with perfectly good reason.

    Of course, if it turns out that God exists as described in Joshua 6-8 and Matthew 10, then he and I wouldn’t have much in common anyway.

  • “Without wishing to forget or belittle the suffering of members of other religions, Christians are the most persecuted religious group in the world,” recently said Massimo Introvigne, director of Center for Studies of New Religions. In 2016, every six minutes a Christian was killed.

    “Of the 90,000 deaths, 70 per cent, or 63,000, were killed in tribal conflicts in Africa.” ….”many of these Christians were slain after they refused for reasons of conscience to take up arms.
    “http://www.christiantoday.com/article/one.christian.died.for.their.faith.every.six.minutes.in.2016/103495.htm

  • As a philosophical construct I have no quibble with atheism objectively speaking, though I do not embrace that particular view; however, I profoundly disagree, based on what I believe is a sound logical analysis, that atheism is not also a religious construct.

  • I think MOST people are it doesn’t matterists in how they conduct their lives and relations with others, except that it matters to them deeply to not appear to be so, at least in public. You need only look at some of our regular posters here, who could say, if they had the slightest interest in honesty and self reflection: “since having certain knowledge of the existence of deity wouldn’t change my values, choices, and overriding concerns regarding how people treat each other.”
    Some people would call that hypocrisy. Others (and they know who they are) would call it a result of our “sinful and fallen natures.” I also tend to think of it as that people use their bibles to be whomever they actually are: good people become better people, bad people become worse people, and the vast majority read their bibles to enable to do whatever it is they want, good or bad.
    I know I would call it simply a matter of being human, a matter of not knowing what they would prefer not to know.

  • Atheism is simply a lack of belief. You are an atheist about the gaelic gods, for example.
    Anti-theism, on the other hand, is certainty, and that IS a religious belief.

  • As I said below, Edward:

    “I think atheism is as fundamentalist as any other hard-position religion. Absolutely no God? Prove it.”

    Who needs a golden calf when you can make up cheap stuff out of wholes cloth? Gawdamighty, I love the straw man idols of the religious.

    There is a difference, sir, between atheism and anti-theism. For someone who claims to love words, surely you must know the difference.

    “I have no belief in a god” is not same statement as “I believe there is no god” is not the same statement as “there is no god.” And NONE of these statements is the same as what I am pretty sure is actually the case for the vast majority of people, believers or not:

    It doesn’t matter whether there is a god. It makes no functional difference, except for how they spend their sundays. Or Saturdays. Or fridays. You can see it on these very pages, as the True Christians (TM) fling their theo-poo at those they deem their moral, spiritual, human, and religious inferiors, as the values-and-morals crowd vote for Grabby McPussy, and on and on and on and on.

    You can substitute True Muslim, True Jew, True Hindu, or True Buddhist for Christian, if you are feeling democratic and generous.

  • I don’t think that I can agree that “it makes no functional difference,” surely if there is a “god” (I bow to your phrasing and usage here), He must take an active interest in the actions of His creatures and be moved far beyond their thoughts and behaviors in excess of the limits of their prostrations on the 1st day of the week. The difference between atheism and anti-theism is only a matter of degree, but they both stem from a similar basic premise, the disinclination to embrace in an affirmative way the concept of “God.” As to “Proof,” well that’s always a challenge. Empirical evidence, which is the putatively objective standard, is often hard to come by, yet I have every confidence in the metaphysical proofs that I observe around me, which I would argue are reinforced by logical deductions framed by statistical measurements. Returning to the purely metaphysical, I am encouraged by the words of St. Paul, no mean philosopher and rhetorical polemicist, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

  • I wonder about atheism being simply a lack of belief, that would not seem to be the case as some define it in individual instances. I cite as a vivid example Aragon the Atheist/ Atheist Max, he often declares his atheism to be a “lack of belief,” but then argues vociferously in a determined way not only that he doesn’t believe in God but also that there is no God which voids the distinction that you have made in your arguments.

  • Max is an atheist. But he is also a fervent anti-theist. For myself, I am more of an it doesn’t matterist. But I often call myself an atheist, because I don’t need to explain it yet again. But for max, it really does matter.

    I’m not that emotionally invested in the subject, not as much as he is. My answer works for me. I’d would be happy to see some real evidence, but cannot accept wishful thinking.

    I’m thinking of at least three examples of Virgin Mary sightings, especially Fatima, where a number of “witnesses” saw the sun “dance”, but no one else in the world did, including the majority of the people at Fatima. There was also a church in the sierras that was having visitations, with people swearing they saw the VM.

    Until they didn’t.

  • Your response about how you think most people “work”, existentially speaking, is not what I expected at all. And it’s not just a surprise to me; it’s a disturbing one.

    What you describe sounds like a horrible internal conflict. If I were a believer — the kind you describe — I can’t imagine how stressed out I would be! On the one hand, having my behavior “self-sealed” according to how I just plain want to live, damn all else. On the other hand, being desperately afraid and defensive (likely to the point of hysteria and/or paranoia) that other people will discover my secret. And on the third hand, recognizing, as a matter of my believer’s faith, that God knows the shameful truth about me, and that the fate of my immortal soul is therefore just as “pre-sealed” as is the self-sealed behavior that I relentlessly seek to justify, and hide, and indulge, and that I am nevertheless wholeheartedly, hypocritically, profanely, damningly unwilling to change.

    Actually, as I write this, it occurs to me that it sounds an awfully lot like addiction.

    Does my assessment ring true (or even make sense) to you? As you know, I don’t have the breadth and depth of lifelong experiences around “normal” people that you and the vast majority of others have. Am I off-base in extrapolating all this?

  • “I don’t think that I can agree that ‘it makes no functional difference’ ” — Would you change your current values, your sense of morality, your personal code of conduct which you embrace to govern your behavior, if you hypothetically were to find out that “God doesn’t exist” — i.e., would you “function differently”?

    “they both stem from a similar basic premise, the disinclination to embrace in an affirmative way the concept of ‘God.’ ” — Yes, obviously.

    “only a matter of degree”? — Hardly. One doesn’t oppose religion. The other does.

    Atheism (e.g.): “I personally believe that there is no God.”
    Antitheism (e.g.): “There is no God, period, and anyone who disagrees is wrong and [add insult], and we must eliminate all religion from human existence.”

  • G Key answered what I would have answered, Edward.

    I disagree that it is a “disinclination to embrace in an affirmative way the concept of “God.”” I’d be very inclined to embrace it if I could actually see the evidence. But I haven’t seen any.

    I also have “a disinclination to embrace in an affirmative way the concept of” Zeus, unicorns, banshees, leprechauns, pookahs, chimeras, basilisks, dragons, hobbits, huldras, and trolls.” But you wouldn’t call that atheism, you’d call it common sense.
    The key word in my argument is “functional difference.” As G pointed out, if you were presented with proof positive that your concept of God was incorrect– Hail Zeus– you wouldn’t change anything except your religious habits.

  • Actually, I would argue faith is the least trustworthy approach. Let me relate a story.

    About 20 years ago, a pattern of lights suddenly began to appear on the walls of a small Catholic church in the sierras, every day at approximately the same itme. People could “see” in it a resemblance to the virgin Mary, much like both she and Jesus have both appeared on tacos and toast. The news began to spread. People came from miles around to witness the miracle of her appearance.

    I remember one lady in particular. “It IS the Virgin Mary, and her message is world peace.” An absolutely faith based response. The local bishop weighed in with THIS classic: “For those who believe, no explanation is necessary. for those who don’t believe, no explanation is possible.” Well, he certainly covered his butt with that one. And yet, ironically, it was far truer than he knew.

    A scientist was called in. He could not determine the source of the pattern of lights, but was fairly certain it was caused by refraction, possibly reflection, of sunlight somewhere in the church. He just couldn’t find it. but he did predict that the lights would not appear on any completely cloudy day.

    And he was right.

    As a professional photographer, who dealt everyday with the qualities and directions of light, it would have taken me roughly five minutes and a long stick to determine where the light was coming from. But they didn’t ask me. The miracle, of course, ceased to exist.

    you could also go with the miracle at Fatima, if you like. Thousands allegedly saw the sun dance. Thousands did not. People a few miles away did not. No one else in the world saw the sun dance. There were no disruptions of weather or anything else. Yet the faithful proclaim THROUGH FAITH that the virgin appeared.

    You as an ex-catholic can surely understand that,.

  • Yes it does. It should make sense to you as well, because it is what you said in response to Edward, above. Here’s what you asked him: “”I don’t think that I can agree that ‘it makes no functional difference’ ” — Would you change your current values, your sense of morality, your personal code of conduct which you embrace to govern your behavior, if you hypothetically were to find out that “God doesn’t exist” — i.e., would you “function differently”?
    All of the stuff in your second paragraph can be boiled down to two simple statements: People see themselves as either generally OK or not OK– no one is always one or the other– and will do whatever they need to do to justify and affirm the basic position. People will do what they want to do, and will seek to find “evidence” that it is the right thing to do, and discount the evidence that it is the wrong thing.
    The perfect example to me are the homosexual hating homosexuals who infest and hide out in organized religion. Talk about an addiction, a state of ongoing stress. They know who they are, but they are desperate to hide that from everyone, especially themselves. Projection, Deflection and blame casting is their first line of defense to prevent god, the church, and the congregation from finding out. They exercise their own demons by attacking me and pretending to exorcise mine. Ted Haggard is the classic example of it, but so is every other preacher caught in sexual scandal, admitting to porn addiction, and so on.

  • I should clarify that my question to Edward was sincere, not implicative. While awaiting your reply, Ben (Thank you!), I thought it would be a good opportunity to hear a Christian’s perspective to the question, regarding his own behavior. (I had noticed that, in his earlier response, he focused on his God rather than himself.)

  • I know your question was sincere. And he seems to be a very sincere man. We disagree probably half the time, but still manage to be respectful to each other.

  • I’ve long seen the internal conflict in people holding positions of power, especially (or most obviously) in disgraced religious leaders (Haggard, Bakker, Rajneesh), but always assumed they were simply due to “absolute power corrupts absolutely”.

    Now you’ve got me considering the dismaying notion that the same dynamics — even without the “power” aspect — also apply to the hate-mongering trolls “who infest and hide out in” RNS, aggressively using “Projection, Deflection and blame casting” in “attacking…and pretending to exorcise” (or at least excoriate) other-believers. Of course, the externally-directed hysteria and paranoia are palpable; I just haven’t perceived or inferred the internally-directed desperation.

    It’s hard for me to imagine — and virtually impossible for me to empathize with — willfully self-inflicted pain afflicting the willful inflictors of pain.

  • I’ve got to go to the gym right now, and then cook Das Husband’s dinner for him. But I will answer later. I have more to say– natch. ?

  • I don’t dispute the force of your argument, yet I don’t frame my faith around so called demonstrations of the miraculous. I do not discount their potentiality, but prefer to treat them with great scrutiny. I find faith more viably evidenced in the wonder of creation, the clarity and succinctness of Christ’s instructions, and the measure by which His followers genuinely care for their fellow creatures.

  • Because I believe that by nature human beings both instinctively and by training appreciate the difference between right and wrong, hypothetically speaking, a “proof” that God doesn’t exist would not likely change my present practice, but that cannot be guaranteed by anyone because when parameters change responses do as well. As to the matter of degree; I pointed out to Ben that Aragon the Atheist/Atheist Max is inconsistent on this very question, pingponging between both positions without making the distinction you describe. Hence my observation which is apparent in the postings of others as well.

  • Thank you for your answer to my question, Edward.

    Regarding the atheist/antitheist distinction, I should have specified that I was thinking of dictionary definitions such as these (from Wiktionary) —

    atheist:
    “(narrowly) A person who believes that no deities exist (especially, one who has no other religious belief).”
    “(broadly) A person who rejects belief that any deities exist (whether or not that person believes that deities do not exist).”
    “(loosely) A person who has no belief in any deities, such as a person who has no concept of deities.”

    antitheist:
    “An active opponent of the belief in the existence of a god or gods.”

    — and that my point was that the former is not about how that person treats others’ beliefs, whereas the latter is all about how that person treats others’ beliefs. Since I care more about how people treat each other than about anything else, this distinction is of vital importance to me.

    But, yes, I think it’s unfortunately common that people conflate the two, which is why I think it’s important to clarify the difference — especially considering that theists who are understandably hostile (as am I) to antitheists will be similarly hostile to atheists (even respectful ones) if they don’t realize the difference.

  • Hey, G.

    Sorry it took so long for me to get back to you on this. Das Husband has things he wanted me to do, and they ended up taking most of the evening.

    I’m a little surprised that you found my observation to be a bit surprising and disturbing. I don’t think it is simply a matter of power corrupting people, though I think that that is true. I think power can corrupt anyone, even me or even you.

    But then, I define corruption differently than most people. I define it as “becoming that which you hate”, which throws it into an entirely different light. That kind of corruption goes even further than hypocrisy, which is the kinder, gentler version of it.

    This is what I think happens with a lot of people, with or without power. I think it happens for the same reasons that I think That 90% of our problems exist: 90% of the people are 90% unconscious 90% of the time, especially about 90% of the religious, moral, ontological,and knowledge-gathering structures inside of our heads.

    But especially about the religious and moral structures.

    Here’s a simpler version of the problem: Helen bunker hunt was a rabid fundamentalist and the mother of the hunt brothers. You can google them and the silver crisis of the ’80’s. if I recall, they were involved in a lot of questionable shenanigans back then. When asked about the inerrancy of the Bible, she replied (not an exact quote): “of course it is inerrant! It has to be! Once you start questioning it, where do you stop?” Where indeed? She defined her entire way of looking at the world, clearly stating that there would be NOTHING that would change the way she perceived the world. I am sure that if you ask her about the biblical statement that insects have four legs, she would have professed either not to know that insects had six legs, or not to know that the statement was in the Bible. Anything else would challenge her image of herself, the position she holds in life, the OK or the Not OK. As I said earlier, these are fundamental to our perceptions.

    Here is a more complex version of that simple example. It is obvious that in the last 500 years, especially the last 60 years or so, science has assaulted the long and deeply held beliefs that many people live for. That’s why we have people claiming that evolution is a fraud, that Adam and Eve were real people who existed in a non-mythical garden. Without Adam and Eve, there is no Original Sin, and thus, there is no need for the sacrifice of Jesus. Their entire self identity is wrapped up in those beliefs to an extent that those of us who don’t share them simply cannot understand. Our identities may be wrapped up in other structures, which may or not stand the test of reality.

    Science has revealed a number of things that contradict this cherished belief. The very existence of people who have believed other stories for far longer than either the Christian or the Jewish stories is simply ignored by them. Another contradiction: There is the very real probability that our universe is a product of natural forces, not supernatural ones. They have to deny that evolution is responsible for our existence, though as the Catholics have demonstrated with their support of evolution, it is no great problem to believe six contradictory things before breakfast. It is a religious belief that denies that evolution in favor of creationism or intelligent design, that denies climate change threatens human survival (though this is also incentivized by money), that denies the evidence that life in all of its diversity is also a product of natural forces, that morality has nothing to do with godliness, and that there is not someone watching our every move that causes us to be moral.

    This latter belief is frightening because it means we don’t matter, that what we do doesn’t matter. They need the ultimate confirmation that it matters, that life has meaning. They simply cannot accept that life has no meaning except that which we apply to it. They cannot see that to say it has no meaning is not to say that it has no value,

    All of these things together, or more accurately, denying their power, bring to the hyper-religious the petrifying fear of the finality of death or non-being. There is no god protecting them, no god insuring that they follow all of the rules, no rewards, no afterlife, no eternity, no whatever it is we call self. And most importantly, none of the benefits of the megalomania that assures them that they are god’s BFFFF, especially and more accurately, that they have POWER, that they MATTER. All of that is gone, as is the simple gratitude for existing in our wonderful world.

    I suspect that the majority of people who believe in some god have a gnawing doubt at some time in their lives. Some would follow that doubt to its rightful conclusion. Most quickly pull back, because the alternative is simply too frightening. They don’t matter, they never mattered. And, As I said, it is too much simply to be grateful for having existed, too much to be moral because it simply too much to accept good is better than evil because it’s nicer.

    It reminds me of nothing so much as children in grade school frantically waving their hands to get the teacher to call on them, even if they don’t know the answer. They are recognized as existing, as having importance, of mattering.

    The homosexual hating homosexuals hide out in the church for a lot of reasons. It’s great camouflage, in nothing else. But it also means that they matter, even if their whole mattering is based on lies and deception. (and I am not talking about religious belief here). God, the Big Teacher in the Sky, cares about them, and provides them with at least some of the control they can’t exert over themselves. And if they fall– as they will– well, god will forgive them, because he always does, enabling them to sin and repent and re-sin and repent…

    Without challenging a single mental structure, a single thought, a single belief. They still get to matter, because they are STILL God’s BFFF.

    So it is not really a function of power at all, but a function of mattering, of affirming the basic psychological position: I am OK, or for worse and far more often, I am definitely not OK. The church is a great place for closeted sinners to hide out: they get to be bad people, important enough for God to care about, and that will confirm that they matter and that they deserve punishment for not being OK.

    It’s a two-fer.

  • I was thinking last night that the internal conflict of willfully defying yet defending one’s own morality, and willingly accepting the resulting self-inflicted existential pain, could make sense if these dynamics were subconscious rather than consciously “willful”.

    After reading your new reply, I further realized that the subconscious aspect would also explain why I didn’t perceive desperation behind the hyperaggressive tirades of trolls. After all, they wouldn’t show it if they didn’t know it.

    And, thanks to the corrupt therapist who “treated” me for 31 years, I am painfully aware of the “OK” and “not-OK” positions. (She regularly [ab]used the terms to suit her ends.) Your definition of corruption fits her to a T.

    I had always thought that people such as Helen Bunker Hunt and hate-mongering trolls were simply (if often hostilely) defending their beliefs, not themselves. I appreciate your incisive explanation that “Anything else would challenge her image of herself.”

    Re “[the idea of no God] means we don’t matter, that what we do doesn’t matter”, this sentiment came up several months ago in a very challenging and rewarding dialog I had with a genuinely curious and wonderfully civil Christian who asked, “You seem to value humanity a whole lot, but where does this intrinsic value come from? if naturalism is true, we are nothing, from nothing, and will end up nothing. We are simply highly evolved apes doomed to perish along with the rest of the universe.” My response was, “Yes, I most certainly do value humanity a great deal. As an atheist, I believe we’re all we’ve got, and that alone makes us valuable. Spiritual/existential beliefs are not the determining factor when it comes to how individuals value humanity. From my observations, I’d say that, religious or not, most people in our society care about others, but some don’t; most people respect others’ beliefs, but some don’t; and many people (I can’t say most) consider others their equals, and some don’t. And Yes, I believe that we, as living persons, ‘will end up nothing’, but I don’t believe that we ‘are nothing’ or come ‘from nothing’, even in the sense of your question. We each leave behind what we have done in our lives and with our lives, for better and/or for worse, alone and/or with others.”

    And re “homosexual hating homosexuals” and other “closeted sinners” hiding out “in the church…[because]…it also means that they matter”, I can understand what you’re saying, though I never personally connected religion and mattering, even when I went to church regularly.

    But re “It reminds me of nothing so much as children in grade school frantically waving their hands to get the teacher to call on them, even if they don’t know the answer”, that’s news to me — I always thought all those other kids knew the answers, too!

  • The German nation, the Italian nation, the Spanish nation. Where were you during World War II.

    And please spare me the nonsense that Hitler and the nazi movement were atheists. Germany was a Christian nation before WWII, during WWII, and after WWII.

  • I soon found when I was a child that most did not know the answers. What mattered was mattering.

    Religion is indeed about mattering, as every single believer who made the argument your correspondent made has shown me, over and over and over again. “I’m important. My sins are Important. God thinks I’m important. Look what god did for me!”

    I’ve been convinced about the validity of the ok/not ok dichotomy/model for over forty years, ever since I first read the book. Like evolution does in biology, it explains so much about how our brains work. Everything I have ever read in religion, philosophy, psychology, sociology, sexuality, and morality has pointed me in that direction.

    I am also convinced that the same dichotomy/model plays out in religion, especially Christianity. Those who are obsessed with sin and sex especially, original sin and “brokenness” are in the not ok camp. Or they are making a lot of money and accruing a lot of power out of ” ministering” to those who are. (Also a form of “mattering”). Those who concentrate on “love is the greatest commandment” are in the OK camp,

  • I was born 12 years later.

    Christian nations? Any people or nation may be manipulated by their leaders in doing what is wrong, as the Jews were by their leaders to ask Jesus`s crucifixion.

  • Thanks, Ben. I really enjoy reading your well-thought comments. This is another conversation I’m saving for future reference!

  • Always my pleasure.

    I sure wish you lived in Oakland, or at least nearby. I have a feeling we would be great friends.

    I’m going to rewrite this conversation. I’ve got another place to post it– the article on having a hole in your heart if you don’t believe in god.

  • I wish so, too, Ben. That’s a good idea to add this to the “hole in your heart” article. I’ll mosey over to that page later this afternoon.

  • I did want to reply to you in another context. I Googled St. Peter Damian as you suggested to someone else in one of your posts and found the information to be quite compelling. While I can easily applaud the case made by him, I am disheartened that what he knew and exposed did not receive the appropriate and necessary response that should have been the natural outcome from his revelations. As a member of Christian faith I am often appalled by the egregious lapses of so called ministers of the faith.

  • This is just one the reasons why I so vehemently disagree with the position of SOME posters here that that RCC has a homosexual problem. They don’t, and never have. This is a Catholic problem. Innocent kids have been sacrificed on that particular altar for a long long time.

  • I’m not quite sure that I see how you parse this. Clearly the RCC has as poor a record on this issue as any denomination, but it is not unique to that Church as you well know, so I am not sure that I understand it as a Catholic problem. I accede to your point that it is not a homosexual problem so much as a pedophilia problem. In that context, the true and stalwart ministers of that or any other Christian sect need to demand of their ministers and overseers prompt and open action when such instances of abuse arise.

  • I call it a catholic problem, Edward, because it is been a problem for at least 1000 years. It’s not just the molestation, but the institutionalized coverups of the molestations which have apparently been a part of the catholic church culture for at least 1000 years.

    The problem extends far beyond near molestation. If my memory serves me correctly, the last boy castrated for the musical pleasure of the pope was mutilated at the end of the 1800s. It was a common practice for some hundreds of years.

    And then there is the further evidence of the disregard for the sanctity of life. For centuries, the RCC had its own armies and use them both to sway the course of European politics and to protect the papal states in central Italy. I have trouble finding anywhere in the “great commission” and instruction from Jesus is saying that having your own Army and killing your enemies is a good thing.

  • All very valid insights, and of course the concept of creating castrati for the purposes of choral singing was one of the weirder elements of RCC practice.

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