A chat with Josh – Part 1

Hi everyone!  Welcome to my little corner of the web!

Josh’s blog looks so much nicer that mine that I might need to bite the bullet and migrate it to a bit more modern platform/template.  Sigh . . . I love computers (I’m an engineer) but man I hate messing with the frilly pretty witty stuff.  Plus like every good engineer I’m fundamentally lazy. So for now – black and grey it is.   I bit the bullet – hope everyone enjoys some nice CSS now!

First of all let me say that I’m honored to be part of this conversation.  While I do have many deeply held and what I feel are eminently reasonable beliefs (who doesn’t?) it’s always interesting and stimulating to compare what you believe to someone else and exchange honest and respectful discourse.  That’s what ideas are all about – you have to share them to grow them.  And it’s the marketplace of ideas that sharpens both the wit and the powers of conviction for everyone involved.  

I’m going to start this from a slightly different direction and eventually get back to Abraham and Isaac.  Josh I will hit a few of your ideas through this doc but I’m seriously trying to avoid a tit for tat recital – I respect you and your honestly held beliefs.  I promise that I’ll get to a response to your post Josh . . . it is well written and worthy of my response.  I will hit your other points in further posts as well but first I want to lay a bit of groundwork for further discussions.  This is burning in my heart tonight.

Let me say as well that I expect no one involved in this conversation to suddenly drop their Bible and run to their copy of Origin of the Species (everyone has one . . . right?!?!?!) or vice versa.  

Why is this true?  This is a fundamental question that I think needs to be asked first.

No discussion on the internet or reasoned argument ever changed anyones actual deeply held beliefs. The only thing that can change a deeply held internal belief is a change within the person – what I grew up to understand as a conversion process.  This is a core tenet of Christianity (and Islam and Hinduism and etc!) and it’s a shrewd insight into human biology and brain structure.  People don’t willingly give up things that define them – they have to change their own internal mental organization.That is incredibly difficult for most folks because the structures in the brain that belief (or any repeated thought) creates.  It’s literally a physical rewiring of the brain to change beliefs – which is why that a little over 90% of folks who grow up in a faith maintain it into adulthood.  Deeply rooted beliefs are deeply rooted indeed.

Everyone believes that the beliefs that they hold are true.  The capacity for human belief is almost unbelievable – you can see this from the amazing (and frankly astounding) variety of beliefs that people around the world hold.  There are folks that still think the Earth is flat despite nearly 700 years of proof to the contrary.  There are folks that believe in gods that manifest as monkeys, that a prophet once traveled between two cities on a miniature flying horse with the face of a woman and the tail of a peacock, that sacred underwear protects believers from spiritual contamination and, according to some adherents, from fire and speeding bullets, that putting a dirty milk glass and a plate from a roast beef sandwich in the same dishwasher can contaminate your soul, or even that a talking donkey once scolded a prophet.  There exists a bewildering array of belief on our planet – and at a large scale (meaning from community to community) nearly no one agrees with anyone else.  

You’ll find entire communities of people living nearby each other that are firmly convinced of the others damnation due to a faulty belief that both sides think is blindingly obvious.  An observant Jew will state that it’s quite obvious from the Torah that devotion to God (and therefore the hereafter) is dependent upon observing the Law to the best of ones abilities – to which a Christian states that Jesus was the *fulfillment* of the Law if they would just read the rest of the darn book.  A Muslim (a quickly growing population here) would state that it’s obvious from nature and from Scripture that there are 5 pillars of faith that lead to mercy from Allah and peace – to which a Buddhist laughs and says that it’s all about denial of self and the separation from desire that brings peace and enlightenment.  These aren’t minor disagreements – they are foundational beliefs that shape the very world these people live within.  And they are all fundamentally, irrevocably, and irreconcilably different.

As a complete aside it’s interesting to me how religion separates people.  Religions as a rule never bring people together – they create separation between people who share literally every other characteristic of humanity. We all eat, breathe, love, grieve, hope, and dream – but this divide has probably killed more people in history than the plague and Cholera combined.  Even in our peaceful (and completely watered down by the Reformation and humanism) version of Christianity that we celebrate here in the US it’s rare for even churches of nearly indistinguishable belief to really spend time together en mass.  It’s about *us – the saved* and *them – the field ripe for harvest*.  We don’t kill people for it in most of the civilized world but there’s still a sense of each group feeling that they are “in the know” and that others are missing something critical.  And I know someone is going to throw out Communism under Stalin, Pol Pot, and Mao here as an example of how it’s not just religion but I hate to tell ya those folks were just a religious as any other zealots in history.  I’ll hit this in a minute.

If you ask a true adherent of any of these belief systems (leaving aside the lukewarm – all faiths have them) they will give you an impassioned and logically internally consistent series of reasons that they are right and everyone else is wrong.  They can cite scripture, history, miracles in most cases, touches from their god, a feeling that there god is “close” to them, even visions and fulfilled prophecy.  Every true believer of any belief system can give you many sincere and seemingly logical reasons to believe – and some do a better job than others.  And they nearly all directly contradict one another.

Wait – if there is just one reality that we all live in and it’s objectively real then how is this true?

The agent is a little something called *faith*.

Faith is a fascinatingly human thing.  While anyone of faith will give reason and objective facts that support their system of belief in the end faith requires a step past the logical and empirical into something beyond.  As Hebrew 11:1 states – “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”.  This is what separates every belief system in the world although we experience the same objective reality – we have chosen to interpret that world through a lens to help make sense of the chaos that we see.  “Inshallah” or God’s Will helps explain the seeming meaninglessness and makes folks see patterns in the world.  The lens that they chose (or that was chosen for them by birth) brings the world into focus in a comforting and understandable way.  Faith lets you look into the past and see patterns and look to the future with hope – and every faith sees the same events completely differently.  But that’s their *faith*.

Stalin by this measure was an extremely religious man- as was Pol Pot and Chairman Mao or the leader of any other psychotic mass murdering political system that you can imagine.  They believed in a utopian future and viewed the world through a lens of faith called Marxist-Leninism (or something close to it for Pol Pot).  This lens convinced them that the greater good demanded the sacrifice of millions – because they truly believed in a paradise to come.  It was just as much of an article of faith to them as the resurrection is to a Christian.  If you don’t believe this then you have some reading to do – I recommend “Three Who Made a Revolution” by Bertram Wolfe as a good place to start. 

That’s the problem with faith – it’s ultimately divorced from objective reality.  It has to be or we’d all believe the same things!  Faith is *informed* and *molded* by objective reality – but it is not contained by it.  But if I cannot rely on objective reality then what guidepost can I use to determine truth?  If I can’t prove it via the scientific method or direct observation then I have to rely on faith – and as we can see in the world that can bring a person to a literally unlimited number of beliefs that are all internally logically consistent.  And for those that areabout to say that “science is just faith too” my answer is that you have a very limited understanding of what science actually is – true science contains very few actual statements of fact that no one believes will ever be overturned.  And that my long suffering and long reading friends is my ultimate point here for now.

This is where I found myself on an evening long ago.  I was searching for the truth and had been for literally years.  If you are seeking the truth then you need to collect evidence.  What’s critical is for you to make the decision of what evidences you are willing to accept – whether you feel that things that you cannot objectively prove count in this search.  This my friends led me to where I stand today.

I realized that the moment you give up objective reality (defined as things that we can observe directly or deduce via the scientific method) we immediately run into an ideological swamp full of alligators and venomous reptiles. This is the root of the same ball of mud with fundamentally the same primates all believing in vastly different universes, gods, futures, pasts, and afterlives.  

For me the question was this – can the universe be understood by any other means than an acceptance of the limitations of objective reality?  In other words – should I build my lens for viewing the universe on anything that doesn’t have material and therefore absolutely provable existence?  

For me the answer is a resounding no.  Because the moment I step off of the path of materialism and objective reality I lose the ability to correctly judge the actual truth.  Everything past that point is an opinion and not a fact.  And I don’t feel that the truth is based on opinion.  Otherwise *everyone of every faith* is right.  And that can’t be true . . . as Ayn Rand said “Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong.”  I’m not an Objectivist but I can see truth here.

When I approached the world from this view it suddenly made sense.  The war between my intellect and my faith instantly quieted.  No more finding ways to fit the creationism I was taught and scientific evidences of evolution into the same box.  No more looking for “God’s hand” in horror.  No more trying to somehow find wisdom in a book that was obviously written in part by folks from the bronze age that felt that it was totally cool (and god approved!) to go slaughter your neighbors (except for the young women).  No more trying to fit square pegs into round holes.

You can call it atheism if you will – I simply think of it as an acceptance of reality.  And man let me tell you all – it’s a beautiful place to live.

The world makes so much more sense to me – because the conflict between my mind and my heart has ceased.  I don’t have to judge (and warp) my view of the world through the lens of a faith that frankly has no more objective proof of it’s existence than any other faith that the world can offer.

So – that’s where I stand today.  More to come later!  Little things like “where do you get morality with no god” and “how can you judge with no moral yardstick.  Also I’ll directly response to Josh’s well stated ideas.

One thing though Josh – you seemed to say in your post that since it was acceptable in that time period to commit genocide and widespread rape then it was ok since everyone was doing it.  When did that stop being ok?  Was it ok for the Nazis in occupied Poland?  If you’re gonna give the Jews a pass then you need to give Hitler one as well 😉

I’ll post more later – right now it’s 1:30AM I’ve got to hit the sack.



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