Monthly Archives: December 2009

Free Will

I stumbled across this tidbit this morning:

Any thoughts?

— the chaplain


Posted by on December 15, 2009 in religion


Losing Religion

I haven’t finished reading William Lobdell’s Losing My Religion yet (my Kindle tells me I’m 75% of the way through it), but I wanted to share his description of what letting go of God was like for him. Much of his experience resonates with the process I went through.

I saw now that belief in God, no matter how grounded in logic and reason, requires a leap of faith.  Either you have the gift of faith or you don’t.  It’s not a choice.  I used to think that you simply made a decision: to believe in Jesus or not.  Collect the facts and then decide for yourself.  But it’s not that simple.  Faith is something that is triggered deep within your soul – influenced by upbringing, family, friends, experiences and desires….

Christians often talk to those who have fallen away from the faith as if they had made a choice to turn away from God.  But, as deeply as I missed my faith, as hard as I tried to keep it, my head could not command my gut….  Faith can’t be willed into existence….

At first, experiencing doubts about my faith, I acted like one of those frightened beachgoers who swim madly against the current, trying to get back to what I thought was the safety of Christianity.  But the current of truth had me and wasn’t going to let go of me.  When I decided to stop fighting it, I felt relief – even serenity.

While I agree with Lobdell that religious belief requires a “leap of faith” that takes one outside of (believers may prefer the term “beyond”) the realm of logic and reason, I don’t agree that faith is a “gift.” The language of “gift” brings one back around to the question of who gives the gift? God? My current thinking is that some people may be more predisposed to exercise faith than others are. In that case, faith is a manifestation of a personality trait rather than a “gift.”

I agree with Lobdell that faith is “influenced by upbringing, family, friends, experiences and desires,” but, since I have no reason to believe in an immaterial “soul,” I disagree that faith is “triggered deep within your soul.” It may be triggered within one’s psyche, but that’s a different thing from a soul as religious believers commonly use the term. Initially, I didn’t like Lobdells’ use of the word, “trigger,” but, since he converted to Christianity as an adult, I can see how that metaphor may accurately describe his conversion. In the case of one born and raised in Christian faith, as I was, I see my former faith as something that was cultivated rather than triggered. The important thing that I take away by comparing Lobdell’s experience with my own is that everyone’s experience is unique. The “trigger” metaphor captures his experience, the “cultivation” metaphor captures mine; there is no one-size-fits-all experience for either believers or nonbelievers. People who deconvert from religion have many similar experiences, and they also have experiences that are unique to each of them. Finding the points where experiences converge and diverge are part of what fascinates me about deconversion stories.

Lobdell’s description of a commonly held Christian understanding of deconversion as a choice resonates with me. When I was a Christian, I held the same belief. I never in my life dreamed that I would lose my faith in God and I certainly didn’t choose to do so. The peak of my deconversion process was more painful to me than the deacon’s was to him. My impression is that Lobdell’s deconversion was much more painful to him than mine was to me. Many Christians don’t seem to understand that losing faith hurts. A lot. It hurts like hell. Many deconverts struggle, usually in silent isolation, to retain their beliefs. Lobdell’s image of swimmers struggling against rip tides to get back to the serene shores of Christianity is an excellent metaphor.

I’m intrigued by Lobdell’s statement that his head could not command his gut. That tells me that, somewhere in the back of his mind, he had lost faith long before he was able to confront that fact and say it. I think my experience was similar. Looking back, I think I spent a long time labelling my inchoate unbelief as doubt. But, once I unpacked my doubts, lined them up on a shelf and examined them closely, I realize that I didn’t – and couldn’t – believe in God. “But the current of truth had me.” I know believers will disagree with this; they will say that people like Lobdell and me were deceived, or followed our rebellious wills and passions, and other things like that. On the other hand, nonbelievers may understand Lobdell’s experience.

Lobdell’s experience of relief and serenity upon giving up his struggle mirrors my own experience. Once I accepted my atheism, I saw exciting new possibilities ahead of me. I know that many believers can’t believe that arriving at the end of the faith-to-no-faith journey can possibly bring one to a destination of peace, contentment and joie de vivre. All I can say is that it does. The deconversion process is painful, but the endpoint is worth the struggle. That is something about which Lobdell, I and other deconverts agree.

— the chaplain


Posted by on December 12, 2009 in atheism, deconversion, literature


Holiday Irony

Earlier this week, a Christian boss reminded all of his employees that “Merry Christmas” is the only holiday greeting they are allowed to give to customers throughout this holiday season.

Later that day, the company held its Christmas party at a local catering establishment. I imagine the boss was less than pleased when he saw the placard outside the room that had been reserved for the event:

[Company Name]
Holiday Party

— the chaplain


Posted by on December 10, 2009 in humor


Gold + Platinum Rule

It’s not unusual for atheists to blog about ethics. This may strike theists as a bit odd, since more than a few of them declare that one can’t possibly be moral without a religious foundation in one’s life. Contrary to such expectations, however, many atheists do live morally exemplary lives without submitting to higher powers, threats and the like. In fact, atheists often discuss and compare ethical ideas, and refine our understandings of those ideas, in hopes of ensuring that we will live in ways that will enrich our own lives, the lives of our families and friends, and the conditions of our communities and nations and, ultimately, the world.

Spanish Inquisitor wrote a post recently in which he posited that “the only source of morality that we need is the Golden Rule.” My nitpick with his position is that he seems to prefer the rule in its positive formulation – as he put it, “Treat others as you think you ought to be treated.” Coming from an evangelical Christian background, my experience of this formulation of the rule is that it is used to justify aggressive proselytization. The thinking goes something like this: If I were damned to go to hell, I’d want someone to warn me and get me out of my predicament; therefore, since non-Christians are damned to go to hell, we’ve got to warn them and help them escape their doom. So, when Christians knock on your door on Saturday mornings, flood mailboxes and public washrooms with their literature, broadcast their beliefs over TV and radio airwaves, and preach on street corners and city parks, they honestly believe they’re doing you a favor. After all, they are behaving in accordance with a positive formulation of the Golden Rule.

The positive formulation of this rule is not the only one available. Phillychief wrote about several variants of the Golden Rule some time ago, and came down mostly in favor of a negative formulation of the rule, essentially something along the lines of “don’t do to others that which you wouldn’t want done to you.” I like this formulation better than the positive one because it takes a step toward preventing people from imposing their preferences on others. If Jesus hadn’t “improved” on this rule (the negative variant already existed in the rabbinic tradition with which he was presumably familiar), then evangelicals would have a much harder time justifying their intrusions into the lives of those who believe differently than they do.

But, I don’t think that not imposing my preferences on others goes quite far enough as a foundation for ethical behavior. That Other Guy, commenting at SI’s blog (see link above) suggested that, instead of opting for either version of the Golden Rule, people should adopt the The Platinum Rule®: treat others as they want to be treated. At first glance, I really liked that idea. Accordingly, when I started writing this post, I was going to suggest a two-part rule (not necessarily in order of primacy)

1. do not treat others in ways that you would not want to be treated
2. treat others as they want to be treated

and leave it at that. But, I can’t do that. What if others want to be treated in ways that are harmful to them? For example, if an addicted friend wanted you to give him money to buy cocaine, would you give it to him? Why or why not? This dilemma raises a question: in situations in which these two guidelines conflict, which one takes precedence, and why? Or, is there another rule that should apply? If so, would that actually be the primary rule, so that these would become #2 and 3? At the moment, I like the idea of keeping both of these rules in mind as starting points for dealing with ethical decisions. I think that they will probably be sufficient for many situations. But, since this “Gold + Platinum Rule” doesn’t quite satisfy me, I’ll continue refining my thinking on the matter. What I’m pretty sure about right now, though, is that one rule will never be sufficient for all conditions.

— the chaplain

NB: The Platinum Rule® is a registered trademark of Dr. Tony Alessandra. Used with permission. All other rights are reserved in all media.

After some deliberation and discussion, I’m revising my statement of a minimal starting point for ethical deliberation. The main change from the original post is that I’m scrapping the Platinum Rule®. As noted in the original post, “I’ll continue refining my thinking on the matter.” Please note, also, as stated in the original post, I know that “one rule will never be sufficient for all conditions.”

Here’s what I have now:
1. All humans are morally equal – they all have common rights and responsibilities toward each other.

2.a. Do not do to others that which you do not want done to you.
2.b. Do not deprive others of that which you, yourself, find necessary.

3. Morally acceptable solutions to conflicting interests between individuals or groups should
a) respect the inherent equality of all persons/groups involved, and
b) minimize infringement on the interests and pursuits of all involved.


Posted by on December 6, 2009 in atheism, ethics, humanism, religion


Tree, Cradle, Cross

A few days ago, in discussing different perspectives on the Christmas season, I posted a comment that included this statement:

Make no mistake about it – over the next month, allusions to the cross will be nearly as plentiful as allusions to the cradle in many fundogelical churches.

I didn’t need any reinforcement of that idea, but I got it anyway. When the deacon came home from his company Christmas party, his grab bag included this little Christmas tree ornament:

There’s something morbid about a religion that ceaselessly compels people – even in a season that’s supposed to exemplify joy, hope, love and peace – to contemplate suffering and death.

— the chaplain


Posted by on December 4, 2009 in religion


Skeptic’s Fortune Cookie

Not caring for the lunch being offered in the company dining room today, I ventured out to a local Chinese restaurant to treat myself to something a bit nicer (Kung Pao Chicken, if you really must know). As I finished my meal, I cracked open my fortune cookie and found – nothing!

Somewhat astonished, I said to myself, “I didn’t get a fortune!”

Then I smiled and thought, “That’s actually quite appropriate for a skeptic.”

— the chaplain


Posted by on December 2, 2009 in humor


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