“I don’t believe in that God either?”

“I don’t believe in that God either?”

One phrase I’ve come across with liberal religious people (most recently in a ‘common read’ book I was reading that had a bit about interfaith cooperation) is “I don’t believe in that God either.” You know, that judgemental God that hates gays and sends people to hell. The one that thinks women are not worth as much as men and commanded genocide in the Old Testament.

As an atheist I have a problem with this, because it always feels to me like the intent is to take all the oomph out of the atheist position, as if our objections were trivial. “I don’t believe in God.” “Well, tell me about the god you don’t believe in and I probably don’t believe in that God either!”

I don’t mind at all if someone believes in a thing they call ‘God’ so long as they do believe in a “live and let live” way. That is, if you are not trying to push your beliefs on me — verbally or by voting for politicians who want to erode the rights of the non-religious — I don’t mind if you believe something that you label ‘God’ or not. But this attempt at asserting common ground is misleading. I don’t believe in a God who is always kind and loving to everyone regardless of their religious belief either. Or one that created the universe. Or is one with the universe. Or created consciousness in the human mind (or in other animals or even plants). Or that used evolution and the big bang to create the world. I don’t believe in any of those gods either (though I accept the underlying natural processes as far as I understand them.) I simply don’t believe in supernatural forces and I don’t think we should apply the ‘God’ label to natural forces or objects.

“Tell me about the God you don’t believe in and I probably don’t believe in him either” is not a good way for the liberal religious to find common ground with atheists. I find it very off-putting. We can get along with each other while admitting and accepting that sometimes we just don’t agree about theology or what labels we should use. What matters is sharing the same basic set of values, regardless of your personal theology.

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A less blasphemous Sunday Blasphemy?

A less blasphemous Sunday Blasphemy?

Logo for Unitarian Universalism

I’m having some different thoughts about religion lately. I think some of this thinking been triggered by my interest in the local Unitarian Universalist church. First Unitarian Church has no full-time minister at the moment, so the services are being led by a transition team instead of having a sermon by the same person every week. One person who I remember from the last time I used to attend regularly talked about how she is a Christian but she doesn’t believe in things like original sin, the resurrection, or other things that I’d always been taught one has to believe to be a Christian. She believes in the teachings of Jesus. She still holds the Bible as sacred scripture but that doesn’t mean to her that it is all historically true story, or that it all holds a specific moral either. Perhaps a story being sacred doesn’t have to mean that it is true, or even that it is good?

My first major problem with the religion of my youth was that it required me to believe things that were in contradiction with proven scientific knowledge (especially evolution and human origins), unjust (especially the devaluation of women in the Bible), or just plain ridiculous (talking snakes and donkeys). I seriously struggled to make sense of the idea that Jesus dying on the cross 2000 years before I was born “paid” for my “sins.” I accepted it because trusted adults told me it was true and that I must believe it, but it never really made sense to me.

I still reject Christianity because even if you strip it down bare to the teachings of Jesus I still think Jesus is overrated. He said some good things, but he also said some ridiculous things and some very judgmental things. If he existed at all, he was just another person who tried to change his local world and that is it. If he existed at all.

I think I am starting to get a grasp on what liberal religion is and what it means though. It’s not what I’ve thought it was from my lingering fundamentalist-trained perspective on what religious belief means. If a religion connects one to a spiritual tradition but doesn’t require beliefs that are ridiculous or contrary to scientific knowledge, one that inspires positive and helpful action and helps one cope with the world… I can respect those beliefs.

Is this blasphemy? I know some people who would say it is: both conservative Christians and maybe some atheists too.

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Skepticism and Seeking …

Skepticism and Seeking …

I’m finding myself getting less hard-core skeptical than I used to be. On Monday, I’m helping a friend practice her tarot reading skills by getting her to do a reading for me (she asked for volunteers on Facebook.) Am I worried because it’s woo and has no basis in scientific fact? I used to be afraid of anything ‘woo’ but now I am honestly convinced it is fine as long as you remember that it is not scientific fact. The problems happen when people think woo can replace science, or that it is science. That’s when you have people dying of things like treatable cancers because they were bamboozled into some bullshit ‘natural’ remedy.

But things that are recognized correctly as metaphor and symbolism and ritual? I am up for that. I think.

After I realized that the church of my parents was unacceptable to me, I went searching for other churches. I visited a few Catholic services, Baptist, and a church of unnamed denomination near my home where they spoke in tongues. I slipped out during the opening prayer because I was freaked out, and never went back. I went to a Buddhist meditation circle on Sunday mornings for a while, though by that point I identified solely as an atheist. I enjoyed that and learned a lot and gained new perspectives, but after a while that was not for me either. I had doubts about it after I went to a New Year’s meditation retreat that I found though that group. While I enjoyed the still and quiet and reflection, I did not enjoy trying to sit still in a cross-legged position for an hour or so at a time. One of the organizers read a teaching that was something about a man who was tempted by a prostitute. It ended up saying that he should visualize her body as it would end up eventually — as a rotting corpse — and that seriously bothered me. It was a morbid denial of pleasure — a denial of everything physical or temporary really. And that seems very odd because the style of Buddhism I was used to emphasizes living in the present. I even read books on how one could practice secular Buddhism, but after a relatively brief period of being sure I had found THE WAY I decided it was not for me.

I’ve written previously in my blog about my experiences with yoga as well.

I also tried out the Unitarian church in downtown Louisville for a couple of years. At the time I went there, I was mostly looking for a community where I could own my atheism without being judged or preached at. There were one or two people who, when I told them I was an atheist, felt the need to explain to me what they believed and why. I hung out with the pagan group that meets at the church for a while, but after a while the talk about things like astrology clashed too strongly with my scientific skeptical mind. There was just too much of superstition and claims that clashed with scientific fact for me to stomach.

As my post opener implies, I am rethinking some of my previous attitudes. Can there be a place for things like astrology and tarot as long as one recognizes the difference between scientific fact and symbolism and imagery? I’m putting the “seeker” hat back on for a time to see what I can find out. I’ll be looking back into the Unitarian Universalist church to see if it may be a better fit for this point in my life.

It helps that they have childcare too.

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Sunday Blasphemy: God is a Concept

Sunday Blasphemy: God is a Concept

I live in the United States. One of the major issues up for debate today is the idea of building a wall along our southern border. The person recently in power (who I did not vote for) thinks it will keep America safer if we close up our borders and don’t let foreigners in except under extreme scrutiny.

All this fuss over political borders … did you ever realize that national borders are not even real?  If you go to the place marked on a map for the border of a country or a state, you won’t find anything there really. Maybe a sign, or a fence. But the border itself  exists only in the minds of people. And those borders only have force if the people who believe in them are powerful enough to force everyone else to observe them. That still doesn’t make them real, not in any material sense. A border is still nothing more than a concept in the minds of humans.

God is like this too. God doesn’t exist in any real, scientific, objective sense. But when enough people believe in gods – especially a particular conception of God – that concept can have a fair bit of power. I think this is the real reason why we have a concept of ‘blasphemy.’ A concept is powerful in affecting the world, but only so long as a critical mass of minds believe in it. Just like a national border is only powerful so long as enough people believe in it and have the ability to enforce it.

Of course, a border wall is totally ineffective against things like airplanes, and boats, and maybe even ropes, but that is beside the point. The Berlin Wall came down – and so will any border wall eventually. Similarly if God were a real being – truly the all powerful, all knowing creator of the universe, why would he care if someone didn’t believe in him? Would you care if an ant disbelieved in your existence? He would rise above such an offense. But in reality it is only the people who believe in God care about God’s feelings.

Unlike borders, and gods, people are real. And people are basically the same everywhere you go, regardless of their origin country or religion. I think it is people we should be concerned with protecting much more so than borders and religious ideas.

EDIT: I just found this on the concept of borders. It’s Aeroméxico’s response to the idea of a border wall, and it is brilliant. https://www.truthexaminer.com/2017/01/mexican-airline-aeromexico-responds-to-trumps-border-wall-with-spine-tingling-commercial-watch-here/

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