Autoblography Part 11: Roller Rinks and Jesus

By Shamus Posted Tuesday Sep 13, 2011

Filed under: Personal 1043 comments

WARNING: In this post I openly discuss religion.

I’m not writing this with the expectation that you will convert to my beliefs. I didn’t embark on this series as a way of suddenly ambushing my readership with spiritual ideas. But if we’re going to get from point A to point C in my story, we must pass through B. Let’s just try to stay calm and get through it.

I know some people hate the subject. I know some people hate – or at least strongly oppose – Christians. I understand. This is a highly personal subject to me as well. Try to separate your notions of the faith from what you’re reading here. This took place in 1981 or 82, long before the subject of Christianity became quite the flame war / political battleground it is today.

Feel free to skip this entry if Jesus talk makes you uncomfortable. Feel free to read it and not comment. But whatever you do, don’t read it, get mad, and then rage out in the comments. That will not lead to edification for anyone. Also, please don’t do the passive-aggressive, “I respect your right to believe whatever drivel you like.” I know how you are, internet, and you’re not nearly as tolerant as you imagine when you do that.

I will be moderating the comment thread with an eye to preventing fires. Don’t post mad.

Mom, raised Lutheran, is now a kind of pagan hippie. She’s decided to not talk about religion with my brother and I, and instead allow her sons to, “Find the truth on their own.”

One Wednesday she takes us to Skate Castle (which still exists!) to enjoy some roller-skating. Actually, not “skating” so much as “slamming into walls and faceplanting”, in the case of my brother and I. But these are dues that must be paid if one is to rollerskate. Better to do this when one is four feet tall than to wait until mass and gravity are more dangerous adversaries.

People keep coming up to us and asking, “Are you here for church night?”

“No. I’m here for skating.”

“Oh, because tonight is church night.”

Whatever. I don’t know what to make of this, and neither do Mom and Pat. It’s Wednesday! Who ever heard of church on Wednesday? Maybe these folks just came from church? Maybe they are going to church after skating? I’m sure it doesn’t apply to me.

Halfway through the evening, the music stops. The lights go out in the rink. Everyone gathers in the concession area. “Church night” evidently means, “Pay for a full night of skating, get half a night of skating and half a night of some nutjob preacher.” He’s got a guitar and he plays some awful folksy gospel music, and stops every once in a while to read a bit of the Bible. He seems to be focusing on the whole “all the sinners get thrown into the lake of fire” bits, which doesn’t resonate with me so much as creep me out. I don’t like this guy.

Mom is not amused. She endures this business in silent rage, but when it becomes clear that this preaching isn’t just a short interruption, she storms out right in the middle of his talk. She tells the story again and again over the next couple of days, about the religious nuts who ruined our night of skating.

I am more circumspect. I have already decided that I believe in God, although I’m not particularly impressed by any of the churches I’ve visited in my life. I’ve been to some for weddings and funerals, and now I’ve been to “church” in a roller-rink. These feel wrong to me, or misguided. I’ve only met a few Christians in my life, and most of them I have mentally placed into the ever-growing file labeled “Jerks”. Despite all of this, I find value in a few concepts. There are ideas here that I accept, and some that I question. I don’t know how to investigate this on my own, and I sense Mom would be hostile to the idea, so I let it sit.

Late in the year a guy knocks on the door. I’m the only one home. We live in a bad neighborhood. It’s nighttime. I have no idea who he is. He’s a grown man. I’m a little kid. Both rules and reason say that I should give him the shove, but I let him in. He reads me a few verses from the Bible. John 3:16, and a bit of Romans. He talks about God, tells me about Jesus.

This. This is what I’ve been looking for. I’ve been snatching bits of understanding from my various encounters with the faith, like someone watching a game of baseball through a hole in the fence. The various unconnected ideas have drifted around in my head, and this guy gives me enough understanding to begin tying these concepts together and building something out of them. I have no idea what this will do, but I accept Jesus.

I don’t have it all worked out yet, and when he leaves I have more questions than answers. But it doesn’t matter. I don’t regret my decision.

I’m apprehensive about what Mom will say. Will she be angry? She’s been hostile to this business in the past. Things are already really tense around here, and I’m terrified to add any new conflicts to the mix. Still, I think I’m prepared to hold my ground on this one. I have no idea what this struggle will look like, or what the fallout will be. I brace for the worst. I’ve made this decision, and nobody can change it through force.

To my surprise, Mom isn’t upset at all. She doesn’t say much, but she seems to think it’s kind of nice that I’ve found something that makes me happy. My brother follows suit a few days later. A couple of weeks later we experience a shocking and unprecedented turn when Mom does as well. I don’t quite know what to make of this. Wow, Mom? Really?!?

There are repercussions for this. Mom’s friends largely abandon her. “Have a nice life,” says one as he and his wife (girlfriend, whatever) storm off in disgust. I’m relieved, since I thought most of these people were jackasses, but this rejection seems strange and incongruous. After all the awful crap you people say and do to each other every weekend, THIS is where you draw the line?

Mom goes through some trials as she transitions from the old life to the new. Things actually get worse for a couple of months as she experiences sweeping changes to her circle of friends, her lifestyle, and eventually her entire worldview. It’s like shifting without a clutch.

Mom cleans up, and things calm down. Soon enough we find ourselves attending two churches. On Sundays we go to an ultra-conservative Baptist church. That means fire and brimstone preaching every Sunday, warning people about the evils of fornication and riches. The congregation flinches under his booming assault of condemnation and warnings. I’m only ten years old, and the word “fornication” is new to my vocabulary. I’m not very savvy about the world of adults, but I’ve seen enough to realize that this guy’s message is ludicrous. Really? Is this the message these people need to hear? Fornication and riches? These people? (Gossip and pride, on the other hand…) They don’t like that Mom wears pants, and several times encourage her to wear dresses. They also think rock & roll is the devil’s music, and that Mom should stop smoking. Dancing, even at weddings and the like, is strictly forbidden to these people.

On Wednesdays, we go to church in an ultra-liberal charismatic church. (Note, dear reader, that “conservative” and “liberal” have very different meanings here than in American politics. There might be a tiny bit of overlap, but not enough to start extrapolating labels like “Democrats” and “Republicans”.) The service is held in a fire hall and the preacher is a young guy who talks about love and peace. They have upbeat, joyful music. People dance around and sing and have a grand time. They’re loud and often yell out in agreement when the preacher says something they like. Nobody cares how you dress or what you listen to, as long as you love the Lord and are good to your neighbor. Their behavior unsettles me a little, but they seem like nice enough people.

It’s culture shock, moving between these two groups. I begin comparing them to the fancy “High Church” (large, ornate, highly ceremonial) places I visited when I was younger.

If I had only attended one of these places, I probably would have concluded, “This place is what being a Christian is all about”. But these three points form a plane, and by moving around on that plane I can view Christianity from a lot of different angles and extrapolate a lot of other kinds of churches. I’m able to separate Christian ideas (which I embrace) from Christian culture (which I will soon grow to despise) and lay the groundwork for a lot of the thinking I’ll be doing over the next thirty years. I suppose if I had to choose between the two I’d side with the Wednesday-night folks over the Sunday-morning ones, but I’m not ready to throw my lot in with either one just yet.

The Dark Year is over.


From The Archives:

1,043 thoughts on “Autoblography Part 11: Roller Rinks and Jesus

  1. Raynoo says:

    Always nice ot read about someone’s faith when he talks about it with intelligence :)

    When you say “I'm not particularly impressed by any of the churches I've visited in my life” you mean as buildings or as subdivisions of religion ?

    Because if that’s buildings, even as an atheist some churches in Italy/France/Spain (old catholic europe) are really impressive to me !!!
    But maybe when you’re a kid it’s just dark cold buildings withs lotsa benches where you have to keep quiet.

    1. Shamus says:

      The distinction would have been lost on me at 10. Or at least, I never bothered making it. A “church” was both the building and the people in it.

      But yes, some buildings – particularly Catholic churches – are magnificent works of artistry.

      1. Raynoo says:

        Next trip is goind to be Turkey I think (oddly my holidays trip follow the plot of Assassin’s Creed, sad…) because apparently Mosquees (is that how you write it ?) are even more impressive. Light, aerial and less oppressing.

        Some nice Muslim influenced churches ins Spain too (even repurposed mosques I think).

        And yes, that was a silly question, I forgot you were writing as if you were the narrator of you 10 years old self…

        Also, what were these churches opinions on this whole metric/imperial debate ? :)

        1. Shamus says:

          The cubit is the One True Unit of measure! ;-)

          1. Nathon says:

            Right. What’s a cubit? [/cosby]

            1. ZzzzSleep says:

              More important is the question:
              “How long can you tread water?”

              1. noahpocalypse says:

                I dunno. Several minutes, I guess. Why? ;)

            2. Ander the Halfling Rogue says:

              Length from elbow to tips of fingers.

              1. Jakale says:

                Who does that arm belong to? Last I checked arms were proportionate to other body part sizes and people fluctuate quite a bit there.

                1. X2-Eliah says:

                  Who mentioned anything about humans? Could as well be length of a gorilla’s elbows to fingers, or who-knows-what’s.

                  Anyway, my stance is that if you will use a measuring system, just make sure it has a unified number base, not base 12 to base 6 to base 9 to base 13.5 to base whatever.. At least with metric you know it’s always base 10.

                  1. noahpocalypse says:

                    Huh. You could probably make some sort of asinine, infuriating, and downright esoteric encryption formula using a base 42.5 system along with all the symbols on the keyboard. Heh heh heh…

                2. Shamus says:

                  Normally, the arm belongs to “whoever is doing the building”. It’s not like they used a lot of advanced carpentry that required precision between various workmen.

                  When they DID need precision, they apparently had some sort of “standard” measure. There was the “Temple Cubit” (distance) and the “Temple Shekel” (weight) that were used when precision was required.

                  I don’t think either measure survived the fall of Jerusalem.

                  1. Peter H. Coffin says:

                    Not having a temple anymore to refer to tends to put a little bit of a damper on that…

                    1. Ander the Halfling Rogue says:

                      People tend to say that a cubit is approx. 18 inches. Is that accurate? I don’t know. My personal cubit is a little more than that.

                    2. Cuthalion says:

                      18 to about 20, if I recall correctly. “Royal cubits” and “Egyptian cubits” were a bit longer than the standard cubit. Presumably because the royalty and the Egyptians were taller.

                  2. Mephane says:

                    Wait, you are talking about a real, historical unit of measure? I thought by cubit you meant the unit of currency in Battlestar Galactica… seriously.

                    1. Shamus says:

                      The cubit is (was) real. From elbow to fingertip. And hope that if another carpenter comes along to help, he’s the same height you are. :)

                  3. Raynoo says:

                    Cubit as in cubitus then ? I thought this was some sort of volume (as in cube)…

                    Don’t know where the word shekel comes from though…

                    1. Cuthalion says:

                      Cubit was a unit of length, equal to roughly 18″ or 0.5 meters.

                      The shekel was a unit of weight used primarily for metals (weapons, money, etc.). I’m not sure what its equivalent was, and I think it changed significantly depending on the time and who was in charge, while the cubit was based on the length of the forearm and thus had less variance.

                    2. speaker says:

                      sh.q.l is just the Semitic* root for weight. so the closest to a translation (albeit not really one) for shekel would be “an article of weight”.

                      *Hebrew and other ancient near-eastern languages.

                  4. I’m jumping in really late here, but which fall of Jerusalem are you referring to?

            3. Dys says:

              God, how many people can have heard and remember that album?
              My father had it on vinyl when I was a kid, what a wonderful memory, thankyou. :)

              1. s* says:

                We still have that album on vinyl, though also somehow acquired it on CD because is so fantastic. Comic genius, that man.

          2. lazlo says:

            I love cubits, I use them all the time. They are fabulous because they convey not only a unit of measure, but by choosing to measure in cubits, you also convey information about the level of precision required. When I was a kid, if my dad asked for a 36″ board, I knew I needed to get out a measure and square, mark and cut, preferably leaving half of my mark on the inside of the saw kerf. If he said he wanted a 2 cubit board, then I knew that a board with a mostly square cut somewhere around thirtyish or maybe forty inches was fine.

            I find it kind of amusing that some of the same people who are so very harsh about the US mostly having one language that’s widely used will turn around and be harsh about the US *not* having one single set of measurement standards.

            1. Falcon says:

              That’s interesting, I’ve never heard of that particular knock against America. So is this a European view, south American or other?

              I ask because I find these mirrors of perspective interesting. Also the one language thing isn’t particularly true anymore.

              1. Dazdya says:

                In Europe, there are plenty of reasons to dislike America, and this is among them. Keep in mind, it’s against the British too.

                We on the European mainland have been blessed by Napoleon Bonaparte. They guy had some really good ideas, such as adopting the metric system, but he didn’t have the time to turn into a tyrant. This has the effect that all the things he left (metric system, everyone having official last names, etc) are quite benevolent. He’s my favourite dictator.

                1. Entropy says:

                  He did have the unfortunate habit of invading Europe.

                  1. krellen says:

                    Pff. Everyone did that.

                    1. Aldowyn says:

                      Awesome line, ty for that.

                      He kinda got stopped in the middle, yeah. Besides, tons of dictators are heroes in their home country.

                      Oh, and I think Charlemagne might have had a little bit of a similar impact, way back in the dark ages.

                    2. Sekundaari says:

                      Yeah, it’s not like Napoleon was the only one of the rulers invading Europe. And could you really blame them? With all the peer pressure from other rulers doing it, with nobody really paying attention to the health risks for their subjects, with how cool their ancient, medieval and later idols looked when they relaxed and invaded Europe.

                      And once you’ve fought the First Coalition, you figure you might as well invade some more and fight a Second one. Soon you’re escaping from exile to fight the Seventh Coalition. It’s really addictive.

                    3. noahpocalypse says:

                      My name is noahpocalypse, and I approve of this statement.

                2. Raynoo says:

                  I believe “You’re my favourite fascist dictator” is a line from red Dwarf when they get to meet Napolean.

                  Coincidence ? On the internet ?

            2. Zukhramm says:

              I have thought about it, and I have read the Wikipedia page and I still do not see how just using unit would give implications about precision that were not available before.

              1. Turgid Bolk says:

                A cubit can vary by the person measuring it, it’s not really a standard length. Thus when asking for cubits, one implies a lower level of precision required. This may be more of a family convention than universal understanding, however.

                A similar example: “give me 3 handfuls of rice” instead of “give me 1 kilogram of rice.”

                1. Ravens Cry says:

                  Or a pinch of salt/spice/herb of choice, or a squirt of a condiment.

    2. As a child we attended Roman Catholic mass in downtown Washington D.C., some really cool building there
      I still remember being amazed at my surroundings
      “Wow, this is a REALLY big room !”
      Later in life I became very interested in architecture and found a lot of artistic inspiration from houses of worship
      Regardless of the faith, the buildings all seem impressive to me because a tremendous amount of thought went into their construction
      Even Stonehenge is just a bunch of rocks, but arranged with definite purpose

      And just think, most cathedrals were designed with forced-perspective, so they could appear more massive and imposing
      There are a few which were even designed to create a sense of vertigo (feeling like the whole building is about to fall on you)

      1. Zukhramm says:

        On the other hand there seems to be some churches made to look as boring as possible. Right now I love close to two of the ugliest churches I’ve ever seen.

        Here’s one of them. Looks like a museum or a library to me.

        Then there’s one of the churches from my home town. It’s not very big or grand at all, but I like it.

        1. Dragomok says:

          I live near a brick church which has a roof that closely resembles a gingercake with frosting, has a platform with a statue of John Paul II and…

          Just take a look at these Google Images.

          Interesting fact: it’s actually two churches in one: the second one (used during winters) is located in the basement of the building.

        2. Aldowyn says:

          There’s a couple of churches where I live that literally used to be malls. And we’re the most metropolitan city in the state…

          The church in downtown is renaissance style, and it looks pretty awesome. It’s like half the height of the skyscrapers, too.

          Lastly.. that first pic looks like a school to me, but I’m used to sprawling schools.

        3. NihilCredo says:

          Modern churches are often like that. Sometimes it’s shitty architectural fashion, sometimes it’s just because they can no longer afford a huge-ass cathedral – or, more positively, because over the centuries they’ve grown/been beaten humble enough to realise that domes and altarpieces are not exactly the most Gospel-friendly use of their cash.

          Not counting some that were just cheap white boxes (usually belonging to minor denominations), the ugliest church I’ve been in must have been this. I suppose nerds might like the Triforce though :)

          (Right now I live in Uppsala so even though I’m a militant atheist I take the chance to get inside the cathedral any time I can)

          1. ehlijen says:

            Old churches in europe are built sturdy because they were meant to be refuges in case the town got attacked and they were built pretty because a town’s wealth was often measured in how pretty their church was.

            In a time when there was no police and little to no luxury goods as well as having most of the community actually follow the same faith, that was a wise investment.

            These days, I’d be suprised if you can find architects that can still get them built like that for a still remotely sane cost.

          2. uberfail says:

            I once saw a church that was just an Iron warehouse/barn …

          3. wineinthewater says:

            I know this is very, very, very, very old, but….

            or, more positively, because over the centuries they've grown/been beaten humble enough to realise that domes and altarpieces are not exactly the most Gospel-friendly use of their cash.

            Depends on your perspective I suppose. In the Gospel, Jesus specifically chastises Judas for criticizing the woman who dedicates something precious to Him. He wore a seamless garment, an expensive thing in that time and place. He ate the last supper in an upper room large enough to host 13 and already prepared for the Passover, so a rich man’s house considering what a second story meant in that time and place. The Gospel takes an exclusively positive view on dedicating expensive things to God.

            But further than that, consider what a beautiful church is. It is an act of charity. Beautiful churches were, and sometimes still are, the only way that the poor could access beautiful art. The art was educational, teaching lessons about the Bible and the faith to a largely illiterate population and enhancing it even for a literate one. The beauty was a refuge from a frequently ugly and fallen world. They also make a statement about priorities. If the place of worship is not the most important place, then is what is being worshipped really what is most important. There’s a reason that there are so many stories of people who encounter a beautiful church and that is their first step toward faith. A beautiful church is a proclamation of faith.

            But more than that, a beautiful church is economical in ways. Disposable churches are expensive. How many times do you have to build a plain disposable church to reach the lifespan of Chartres? A beautiful, quality church is a gift to the future, they don’t have to keep rebuilding a place to go that is just going to wear out in one generation .. or less.

            There is always the risk of making a beautiful church for self-aggrandizement instead of the Glory of God, or neglecting the other important Works of Mercy. But on a whole, beautiful churches are a good and holy thing.

      2. Chris B Chikin says:

        Not just churches – that practice dates back to at least the ancient Greeks. The columns of the Parthenon are narrower at the top than at the bottom and it’s sides slope towards the middle in order to create a false sense of perspective and make the building look taller.

        1. Halceon says:

          I’ve heard that it’s actually crooked in such a way to make it appear as a perfect rectangle when looking at its side from a little way off.

      3. Raynoo says:

        I wasn’t saying that you can only find nice churches only in Europe, it’s just that I can only give my opinion on stuff I’ve seen !

        My village has a 13th century church that has nearly everything needed to defend itself from an attack. Pretty cool.

  2. X2-Eliah says:

    It’s nice that you had the chance / were allowed to decide on religion for yourself… That’s basically how the thing ought to be, imo.

    1. DanMan says:

      Yes, very much this. I have seen so many people driven from religion simply by how adamant that you MUST follow it. I don’t know as much about others, but being a Christian because you are told to be really defeats the purpose.

      1. ENC says:

        Not of how Christianity got started :D.

        It’s sad that I see so many kids being told what to think (apart from other things they do that should be picked up on) in regards to thinks like, NO GAY MARRIAGE, BECOME JEHOVA’S WITNESS, etc, without fully believing/grasping the concept. I had doorknockers once who were 2 teenage girls trying to tell me about the the impending doom and they cared more about the 1yo golden retriever next to me than giving me the actual message.

        Which is why I’m glad my mum too didn’t force me anywhere so I didn’t go anywhere (religion generally isn’t something you partake in unless you know someone else in it, and it’s not something that’s included in politics AT ALL or you’d get shot down for being theological unless you’re in the Australian Christian Lobby which is a small minority party anyway).

        1. Retsam says:

          Except, isn’t everyone really in favor of telling kids what to think? People like to say that they’re in favor of letting kids make up their own mind, but in my experience, 9 times out of 10, they’re more concerned with making sure that the kids are told to think what -they- believe is right. I’ve never actually heard anyone tell a kid “make up your own mind on whether or not homosexuality is okay”. I’ve only ever heard “homosexuality is wrong” or “people who think homosexuality is wrong are wrong”.

          A true neutral stance would be “It’s up to you whether or not you believe homosexuality is wrong, but regardless of what you believe, you need to treat others with love and respect”. Any other stance, I believe, just promotes intolerance; whether it’s intolerance of homosexuals or intolerance of Christians.

          1. Robyrt says:

            Telling kids what to think is fine – all of us who have exposure to children do it frequently. This is because many of the things integral to being a functioning member of society and a good person are neither automatic nor obvious. How do you hold a fork? Why is it bad to punch someone? Et cetera.

            1. Aldowyn says:

              Obviously there’s a limit here. Perhaps what we should say is telling kids what to think about society/culture and controversial topics is wrong.

              1. Syal says:

                It’s better to say that we should expose them to all sides of the debate; your opinions have a way of showing up even when you try to hide them, and kids can pick up on things you don’t even know you’re doing.

          2. Nick-B says:

            Love and respect others? YOU CAN’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO! *slams door*

            1. TSED says:


            2. decius says:

              Make up my own mind!

              YOU CAN’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO! I’ll let other people decide what I think if I… if… if they tell me I want to!

          3. Dys says:

            So, this is the ethics of cultural and social conditioning.
            A child growing up without human influence does not develop ANY cultural norms. Notably about taboos like nudity, theft etc. So, reduced to absurdity, ‘letting children decide for themselves’ is not a productive idea.

            In this case, what should a child be taught? Once you have asked that question, the answer will inevitably be coloured by your own beliefs about the world. Personally I think there are objective answers which can be arrived at rationally. I’m certain other people would disagree. Ultimately then, children will be taught whatever their parents want them to be taught. They will also suffer the consequences.

      2. Kdansky says:

        There is just a small issue: Imagine we would try to apply this principle (“discover the truth for yourself”) to everything. We’d still be fretting about fire and shelter. It works much better as an idea than in reality, where it’s always better to build on what the other people already figured out. And if you don’t apply it to everything, how come we make arbitrary exceptions for some thing but not for others?

        Secondly, you cannot decide “the truth”. Some truths are obvious, and no deciding against it will make your blood green and the clouds purple. Others are not so obvious.

        I claim people have not thought this through at all.

        1. X2-Eliah says:

          Discovering fire and shelter is hardly a matter of deep personal & mental fulfillment unique to each and every one, that by its very nature cannot be enforced…

          Furthermore, the mere fact that ‘I cannot decide the ‘Truth” means so can’t you. If so, then under what right can anyone claim to have a right to impose their view onto others… Somehow willing self-deceit seems more preferable to imposed deceit of others.. Assuming nobody can ever figure out the truth.

        2. Chris B Chikin says:

          The fire analogy’s a bad one. We know how to make it and the facts are well documented; there is no real debate to give the other side of.

          On the other hand, the jury’s still out on whether or not God exists. Until a definitive answer is reached, both sides of the debate should be taught.

          A better analogy would be with cold fusion. You wouldn’t tell someone “This is how we make cold fusion happen; accept no other explanations,” when we don’t actually have any idea how to make it work yet. While the investigation/debate is still ongoing, there is no good reason to blinker yourself to any one of the possible answers.

          1. Peter H. Coffin says:

            On the other hand, the jury's still out on whether or not God exists. Until a definitive answer is reached, both sides of the debate should be taught.

            The jury’s still out on whether The Greys exist, whether the moon landing ever happened, how many gunmen there were in Dallas back in the day, how effective homeopathy is, and whether the Earth was transported here from Kolob 6000 years ago by the evil Xenu. How many people have to believe something before it reaches the “both sides” threshold? Should it vary from place to place? And how big a “district of belief” should we use?

            1. Aldowyn says:

              I find that a legal term is applicable here.

              Until an answer is proven without reasonable doubt, teach both sides of the argument.

            2. NonEuclideanCat says:

              Except, the jury isn’t actually out on any of those things besides whether or not there is intelligent life outside of our planet.

              Please try to keep Kettle Logic and Appeals to Ridicule out of serious discussion. It just slows things down.

              1. Dys says:

                I think the point is, there are people who believe there was no moon landing. How is that belief different from any other, how is it ‘not true’ by any definition which allows religions to be ‘maybe true’?

                1. NonEuclideanCat says:

                  Your argument is essentially “why can people say that some supernatural ideas are correct when we’ve objectively proven that some non-supernatural ideas are not correct”.

                  Do you see the holes in this argument?

          2. Kdansky says:

            There is no debate whether the God from the old/new testament exists either. He’s as real as Xenu, the Greek gods, the Roman gods, the Hindu gods, and all the other 10’000 gods that have been created by humanity already.

            Each of those gods can claim equal reality, so to speak. In the end, we all do not believe in 10’000 gods (or thereabouts), and some of us make one exception (why?). Christians are 99.99+% atheists too, they just don’t realize it. Or rather, they don’t want to confront this issue.

            1. Dys says:

              Just had an amusing thought…

              The exact same arguments are used on both sides of this question, ad infinitum.

              I bet you could program them into two chatbots, and they could have every online discussion ever on the subject of religion, just between themselves.

              Then the rest of us could get on with making obscene jokes and funny cat pictures.

              1. Cuthalion says:

                I want to steal your epiphany.

        3. There’s an easy way to do this–when kids ask you things, tell them what *you* think, and phrase it that way: “this is what I think”. It fills two purposes: 1.) it gives them the beginning framework they need to begin thinking about the topic, and 2.) when they reach the age where they no longer think you are all-powerful and all-knowing, they have the tools they need to decide whether what you think has merit or not.

          This also insulates them against just uncritically picking up whatever random crap they get exposed to in their long journey to adulthood.

          1. Terran says:

            It also ( In my opinion/experience) is a humbler stance which will often result in a better parent-child relationship. Letting a kid know the difference between what you know and what you believe (and letting them know that you don’t know everything) can pay huge dividends over time.

            1. Dys says:

              The problem there of course, is telling the difference between what you ‘know’ and what you ‘believe’.

              I think anyone who can make that distinction accurately is already ahead of the game in the child rearing stakes.

          2. Jon Ericson says:

            Exactly. It always confuses me that people believe either parents should be all-powerful shapers of their children’s minds or that children ought to be allowed to develop their own belief system independently. Have these people never been children? Where do they suppose adults come from? Whether we like it or not, our children will eventually be their own people. And they will be influenced by our beliefs whether positively or negatively.

            1. Aldowyn says:

              The biggest thing is just don’t push your beliefs. Tone matters more than the words themselves, usually. Above all, don’t get upset with them if they disagree.

    2. Chris says:

      Despite what parents may force kids to attend all religion, deep in the heart,
      , is individual choice.

  3. Allan says:

    Just out of curiousity, why did you (and your mother, obviously) continue to attend the very conservative church if it obviously made both of you uncomfortable? I get that you got a balanced and ultimately beneficial experience from it, was that the goal or an unintended side effect?

    1. Dan says:

      Can’t reply for Shamus, obviously, but finding a good church is actually really really hard. Sometimes you stay in a church because people preach that you “Have to go to church every week” and it becomes a schedule. People are very loathe to change churches.

      Like any community, it can be very hard to acclimate to a new group of people. It’s almost like changing schools. Even if you hated the previous school and the new one is great, it’s quite daunting. Especially as people relatively new to the faith.

      1. superkp says:

        It is really hard. When I was in highschool I went to one that sounded very much like Shamus’ wednesday church. It was good: presented the bible AS the bible presented itself, emphasized community, etc etc.

        But it turned out to have its bad parts, and these ran deep. The youth pastor (who was AWESOME, and really taught the bible the way the bible ought to be taught, and gave kids what they NEEDED, instead of what they wanted or what he thought they needed) was eventually fired because the ‘church council’ or whatever they called themselves gave him an ultimatum that had to do with a minimum amount of growth in less than a month after he got back from a missions trip to africa.

        Luckily, I had moved away before that crap started. Have a wonderful church now.

        1. Aldowyn says:

          It is a LOT like moving to a new school or a new neighborhood.

          It’s even worse as a kid (well, maybe not worse, but just as bad), because of sunday school. And if you don’t go consistently… that’s worse. At one point we were going to my grandparent’s church every other weekend, which was an hour and a half away. We did this for… most of a summer? I never liked going to sunday school, anyway – NEVER did it consistently.

          We’ve found a lot of good churches, but it’s hard for us to attend consistently, and sometimes we just … stop, for a while, and then it’s just… I guess too awkward for us to go back, so we try a new one. Is complicated.

      2. Eärlindor says:

        …but finding a good church is actually really really hard.

        It definitely can be. Heck, moving from church to church is my life story (though for a couple of those churches it wasn’t that they were bad, but rather we were called to move on).

      3. Dys says:

        Grammar police alert!

        Loathe – to feel intense aversion

        Loath – unwilling

        Thankyou for your time.

        1. noahpocalypse says:

          Huh. I’ll have to remember that.

    2. Shamus says:

      The guy who visited us came from that church. We did leave, but it took time.

      1. SolkaTruesilver says:

        Wait. So the church you attended before was the Wednesday-church, and the Church you started attendimg (because of the door-to-door missionnary) was the Sunday-conservative-church?

        1. Shamus says:

          For clarity: The “Sunday Church” was Calvary Baptist Church, an independent baptist church. (As opposed to Southern Baptist.) There are many, many independent churches that go by that name.

          We attended CB first, then we attended the firehall church later. Mom recently explained to me that we only attended the firehall church for about a month and a half, although it seemed like a longer and more important thing in my mind, since it had such an impact on my thinking.

          The firehall church was run by a distant family relation, who invited us when they heard about our conversion.

          We eventually left both churches, and began attending the relatively moderate Whitestown Road Baptist. That was my home church until 2005 or so. My Mom is still there. I left it in 2005-ish when we moved away from formal churches. (“Corporate Churches”, as they are called by some, although the term seems to be derogatory, so I avoid using it.)

          1. Robyrt says:

            Thanks for the clarification. This stuff is tough to keep straight in my mind, because I grew up in a Presbyterian church in a firehall, which was culturally casual but theologically conservative. (At one point, the idea was floated that hymns would be chosen based on the bingo machine on the back of the room; the musicians put a kibosh on that one.)

          2. Falcon says:

            I really feel for your experiences at Calvary Baptist. I grew up in a similar type of church, a missionary baptist church (a more conservative form of southern baptist).

            Churches like that need to go the way of the Dodo.

            I am currently and still a Christian. I, however, have seen firsthand what that kind of church does to kids and teens. Most of the people in my youth group from the time left the church/ abandoned the tenets of the faith. They really are a toxic form of hypocrisy.

            They have supplanted ‘the reason’ with ‘the rules’.

            Contempt of anyone who doesn’t fit their particular mold, outright hostility towards anyone who dares question their particular dogmas, and a complete lack of understanding of the concept of love. It shames me as a Christian to see so many of my supposed ‘brothers and sisters’ acting as if they had never read the very book they proclaimed. Do they not remember how Jesus treated the leper? The prostitute? The cheating tax collector? Last I checked it was with kindness and understanding. He never once said ‘clean up your act and then I’ll show you love’.

            The pharisees though…

            The one group Jesus is ever shown to get angry with, to verbally attack, is the ‘I follow all these rules so I am better than you’ group of Jewish religious leaders.

            People who act like modern day pharisees give us a bad reputation. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, and they are by far the squeakiest wheel of our faith.

            Sorry for the rant, but this hits far to close to home for me. Seeing how the 10(?) year old Shamus saw the flaws, having not grown up in that kind of church, just reminds me how much of a problem that is.

            1. lionday says:

              Yeah… I’m glad i don’t go to a church with that mind set. We’ll I’m sure that a few of the church goers are probably like that, but as a whole there great.
              We have a nice mellow rock service for teens (Which i love).
              Its a baptist (which i believe has the best doctrine but usually the worst people).

          3. Hal says:

            I would love to know why you moved in 2005, and where you moved to, although that might be a bit beyond the scope of the discussion here.

          4. NihilCredo says:

            Interesting. Did you “shop around” before quitting organised churches altogether? It appears you always stayed within Baptist churches, but obviously the Christian religion is much bigger than that. (And for that matter, did you ever explore other religions at all, either as a teenager or as an adult?)

            I have no idea at all of where precisely in the USA you lived, so maybe Baptism just had a ‘local monopoly’ on religion?

            1. Shamus says:

              We did shop around at a few churches, but I kept feeling like they were an ill fit. I was getting the feeling that something is WRONG here.

              I won’t elaborate, lest I threadjack my own post with a bunch of complaining about various churches.

              I’ve actually had this itch for a while now to write about the problems I see in the church, in much the same way that I rail against DRM in the videogame industry. Not on this blog, of course. Every time I think to write about it, I get the feeling of, “Not yet.”

              1. Scott Schulz says:

                I’d love to read that critique. Be sure to link from here to any such work, if you publish it elsewhere. There’s value to be had in a reasoned critique of religious institutions as distinct from the religious beliefs of a sect’s adherents. I encourage you to continue to listen to that inner voice until the time is right: it sounds like some insight may be coming to fruition within you.

                1. Knight of Fools says:

                  I’m going to second that. I’m a firm member of the church I attend, but reading about other people’s opinions and beliefs is very satisfying when they do it without preaching. From what I’ve seen, Shamus is good at talking about something he feels strongly about without preaching it, a skill few writers possess.

                  Of course, Shamus’ (Shamus’s?) writing is so gripping that I’d read it even if he preached with a fervor to make an extremist look placent.

                  However, there are very few places one can freely write about religious views that aren’t connected to any particular church (Not that I’ve come across, anyways). I doubt he’d be able to find anywhere satisfying as his own blog.

                  1. noahpocalypse says:


              2. Cado says:

                Shamus, if you’ve never seen this blog before I think you’ll resonate with a lot of what this man has to say:

                1. Scott Schulz says:

                  I’ve got a publishing relationship with the editor of Pagan portal over at Patheos. We could probably hook Shamus up with the editor of Evangelical portal for a church critique if he’s interested publishing there. Patheos would be a good fit, I think, and large number of eyeballs. Let know if and when the time comes if I can help.

                  Another possibility is Ship of Fools which does reviews of specific churches as well as more general critiques of Chrisitanity with a humorous bent. The Editors are Anglican, but the community is widely ecumenical.

    3. Mom says:

      We did not stay in the conservative church very long,perhaps 6 months. The decision on where to go rested with me because I was the driver(-:.
      As Shamus said, it took me a while to sort everything out.Actually I am still doing that.I was talking to many varieties of Christians and finally sought out a trusted christian from my past, who had lived as an unapologetic Christian all her life and who had witnessed in a loving way to me when I was in my twenties. She was at the church I am a member of to this day. She is, however, no longer there.
      At this point, though I would like to say the conservative(a convenient but very inadequate descriptor) was not a terrible church and its “strictness” was beneficial to me at the time. I also remember getting Godly parenting advice, which I needed very much.

  4. Mormegil says:

    I’ve been waiting for this one. I’m an atheist but I went to a catholic school so I’d be lying if I said that christian thought didn’t have an influence on me. I was curious to see where your religion came into this story since you’ve mentioned it tangentially before.

    These stories are great and it’s interesting to see the parallels and differences with the life of a fellow nerd. Even though I suspect we’d disagree on some important issues (I actually like Miranda in ME2) you seem like someone who I could sit across the table from with an rpg. I suspect many other readers feel the same way.

    1. Raygereio says:

      I just can’t stop laughing over how you classified liking/disliking ME2 Miranda as an important issue. ^_O

      1. Klay F. says:

        Well, of course. Anyone who actually likes Miranda is clearly deviant and must be purged. XD

        1. DanMan says:

          Heresy! Burn the Witch!

          1. ehlijen says:

            I take the fact that in response to an article about religion, Miranda is all people get up in pitchforks about as a good sign :D

            1. Raygereio says:

              We’re nerds; we know what’s really important in life. ^_O

              1. ehlijen says:

                Possibly. But given that we’re basically talking about cyberbooty, is that a good thing? :S

                1. Raygereio says:

                  We’re nerds; the stereotype demands that we talk about the cyber version because we ain’t getting the real one.

              2. Atarlost says:

                Yes, and the important thing is that the SRD doesn’t give stats for pitchforks. We can’t riot properly until someone finds suitable stats.

                And no, they’re not in the AD&D player’s handbook either. Can someone check 2nd or 4th?

                1. krellen says:

                  A pitchfork would be functionally identical to a short spear.

                  1. ehlijen says:

                    Or possibly a Trident?

          2. Raka says:

            DanMan startled the Witch

            1. xXDarkWolfXx says:

              The witch incapacitated DanMan

              1. DanMan says:

                Uh guys? Health pack? Please!

          3. That guy says:

            I just want to congratulate everyone for not quoting Monty Python in a response to this post.

            I’m sure some of you had to pummel your burning passions into submission.

            1. Boison says:

              Isn’t referencing the quoting of monty python almost as bad as committing the crime itself, or does that only apply to quoting Monty Python ironically?

              I am taken back to a particular DMotR strip of the arrival at Edoras.

              1. noahpocalypse says:


          4. noahpocalypse says:

            She’s a witch I tells ya! Burn her, burn her!

        2. swenson says:

          I’ll fetch the pitchforks and torches then, shall I?

          Then again, I’m not exactly one to talk, as I genuinely liked (and continue to like) Kaidan.

          1. LassLisa says:

            Me too! Yay, not alone in the world.

          2. glassdirigible says:

            I’ll admit that I never really gave Kaidan a chance but really, what did you like in him? He always just seemed bland to me.

            1. krellen says:

              Did you actually talk to him, listen to his story? Kaidan is in constant pain – migraines, specifically – from his outdated Biotic implants, and furthermore he killed his instructor (accidentally) when he allowed his Biotic power to get out of control. His reservation and soft-spoken nature are easy to understand based on the foundation of those facts.

              1. Aldowyn says:

                As opposed to Ash, who’s just racist. I get the military tradition, but… racism? It works WELL with Pressly (especially with the added bonus in the ME2 normandy crash site), but in a main character? No thanks.

                Jacob is the bland one. Generic “daddy issues” are his main plot point >.>

                1. swenson says:

                  Agreed on Jacob, but surprisingly, Ash has grown on me. Hated her on my first playthrough (didn’t stop me from getting very upset after a certain part, though… guess I liked her more than I thought), but I finally actually went through her whole dialogue tree in a different playthrough and found that if she just liked aliens more, I’d probably really like her.

                  By the end of the game I think she’s grown to be more accepting of aliens. It’s just that if you never get past her initial comments (like I didn’t at first), you never see that.

                2. Raygereio says:

                  I get really tired of the “OMG Ashley a RACIST!” thing. Did you even talk to her and know what racism is? For starters at no point does she express the notion that other races of man are inferior. We should be talking about speciesm when aliens are involved.
                  That said; Ashley (and Pressley btw) is xenophobic / prejudiced.

              2. Catiff says:

                Actually, I have to say that liking Kaiden is both a choice and sort of demanded of me, as my daughter and her man named my third grandchild after him. He’s truely a lovely bit of genetics. :)
                Funnily enough, it was that event that made me buy ME1, just so I could know why they did so, and his backstory was one of the better ones I have read, including that of my literary major D&D player’s.

            2. ehlijen says:

              At least Kaidan’s background had scifi elements (the government program to study and advance biotic tech). Ash had a genre-free, generic military background story. They were both bland compared to the aliens, but I found his less bland.

              I actually had a problem with how much personal interstellar history all the human characters had given that humanity is supposed to have found mass effect tech less than a generation ago according to the opening blurb.

      2. Mormegil says:

        What can I say, I’m a shallow, shallow man :)

        And a sucker for an Australian accent (a real one) in a science fiction setting.

        1. Simon Buchan says:

          As a Kiwi, I am required by the New Zeleand National Patriotism Review Committe to hate all Australians with all the power my all-black heart can summon. Normally I’d complain about this obviously racist and hatefull policy, but they’re otherwise fine with me decrying this horrible, terrible country, which is a nice freedom I’d likely not get elsewhere :) (Decrying the country I’m in, not New Zealand, specifically – I assume lots of countries are OK with *that*)

          1. Mormegil says:

            I was going to say you’re just jealous because of New Zealand being even more under represented in science fiction than Australia. Then I remembered Jango Fett. I’ll slink away quietly now.

            1. uberfail says:

              Though we certainly win in the fantasy Genre.

        2. Aldowyn says:

          I don’t actually mind Miranda. Her storyline is kind of cliched, but I can still get it and understand her motivations. Even the Cerberus cheerleader part, though that is annoying sometimes. I think it’s just fashionable (especially here) to hate on anything related to Cerberus.

          Of course, it helps that I’m a fan of the actress… Chuck (the show) is pretty awesome.

          1. That guy says:

            Well, up until they gave Morgan any sort of role.

  5. Dan says:

    Wow. I read your intro knowing that I would need to leave a comment. I feel exactly the same way. I have strong Christian beliefs myself and I hide them on the Internet, not because I am ashamed of them, but rather because I do not feel like dealing with the hassle.

    People have said that you have shown courage to write some of your other entries and have sympathized with some of your earlier struggles. This is the first time I could really do the same. Thank you for having the courage to put something that is so personal on the Internet.

    1. Ander the Halfling Rogue says:

      I (a Christian) just wish it wasn’t considered such a big deal. I don’t even begin to condone some beliefs loudly protected on the internet, but has anyone ever had their mind changed by a flame war? I personally don’t have much experience with religion on the internet (this being the only blog I read :) ), but I saw nothing in this post that I’d think would anger people except the mention of Jesus. Is that alone usually enough to get people riled up?
      The fundamental/charasmatic debate would definitely get a war going in a certain group of people. However, there’s a distinct feeling of tolerance in the air around this blog, so I don’t see that starting here. I love Christian culture, but I don’t yell at you for not. Romans 14:5 says, “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.” If the Holy Spirit tells you its fine, not my job to say otherwise.

      1. NihilCredo says:

        The point of a flame war isn’t to change minds, it’s to prove your smug superiority in front of an audience and stroke your ego. (Somewhat more charitably, there are also people on the Internet who have genuinely suffered because of the worst aspects of religion, and who as a result lash and vent out whenever the issue appears. Their behaviour is no less justifiable, but more understandable.)

        Personally I’m one of the actively anti-religious people Shamus mentioned in the intro. I have done my best to support my religious friends’ doubts and questioning, and to help them quit their reliance on belief; never pushing, but trying to stimulate what was already there. And yet, I’d have to be drunken mad to try and do the same thing in a comment thread, with people of whom I know nothing but a nickname, and who know no more than that about me.

        As for this blog, I would estimate that the predominant civility is imputable about ¼ to the content and about ¾ to the appropriately tyrannical moderation.

        1. Dys says:

          I do wonder how many comments Shamus has to decline. Happy to say I don’t think I’ve felt the wrath til now, though this thread may do it.

          Incidentally, Shamus, I apologise for the work I must cause you with my scattershot approach to commentary. I tend to leave a comment for every dozen or so I read. :)

          Funny, I don’t consider myself garrulous in real life.

    2. Eärlindor says:

      I agree, it takes guts to talk about your religious beliefs, especially on the internet and when you have a wide readership.

      Being a man of the faith myself, thank you and well done.

    3. Cado says:

      I come from a background of religious conservatism and as such I came to hate Christianity in my adult life. I would still say I do, and I think humanity would have been better off if it had never existed and the ideals of the new testament had been presented within a different framework. I do, however, respect some of the people who have adopted Christianity, and as the faith isn’t going anywhere I hope saner heads prevail and more liberal forms of the religion take hold in the mainstream.

      Some ideas aren’t worth tolerating. No one would, say, tolerate racism in the modern world, and no one should. I feel the same should apply to anti-intellectualism and attempts to teach intelligent design in schools. (Not in science class, at least. Whereas evolution has a lot of explanatory power and serves as the basis for biology, intelligent design is a story which does nothing to alter or improve existing theoretical structures.) The point of vitriol-if it’s well applied-isn’t to change the opinions of people on the other side but expose the true nature of their beliefs to those outside their circle.

      It doesn’t matter if they try to defend themselves if no one believes their stance is defensible.

      On the internet? There’s no clear target, nobody has an agenda, it’s mostly a bunch of dicks who forget that there’s real people behind whatever they’re attacking, and there’s no room for nuance in their approach so all Christians get put into the same basket when there’s as many different kinds as there are people.

      Anti-intellectualism isn’t inherent to Christianity, it’s just an unfortunate aspect of what its most vocal conservative proponents (the ones who end up shaping the perceptions of the mainstream) have to say.

      In the end, whatever our individual opinions of a faith may be, it’s pretty rare that it can’t be turned into a positive force. Every person believes -something- that could be considered crazy and I think it’s better to accept that and consciously mythologize one’s life in certain ways than it is to outright deny or suppress it.

      Faith which adds richness to one’s life and transforms us into what we want to be is wonderful. It’s faith that pushes an agenda or gives people control over us that’s the problem.

    4. I’ve never had much of a problem with people knowing about my faith (Christian) on the internet. Most people that I’ve encountered are happy to live and let live, and are quite open to having an intelligent discussion about such things once we’ve been interacting for a while…..the few who try and start a flame war are fairly easy to ignore.
      Admittedly, a lot of this takes place in browser games that require teamwork and reliance on the community, so playing nice is in people’s best interests…….

  6. TheRocketeer says:

    I had always sort of wondered.

    1. TheRocketeer says:

      By the way, I can’t help but add that I only took your earlier summation of ‘pk’s’ in stride because I couldn’t disagree with a straight face.

      I find myself in a lot of interesting situations as one, bearing knowledge on many religions and theology in general, yet I rarely interject in conversations on the subject. I get the impression none of my co-workers even know I’m a Christian.

      But I Iong ago determined that only with great deliberation and a trusted audience should one engage in any discussion upon religion, politics, or Final Fantasy. It has spared me agitation.

      Thanks for being more open than me.

      1. superkp says:

        Doesn’t it strike you as odd that the tables were 100% flipped only 2-3 generations ago?

        Back then it seems, if you were atheist, you kept your mouth shut, because of the flak you get from religious people. Rather than religious people keeping their mouth shut for fear of being ridiculed (and fired).

        I don’t like these tables, personally, and they should not be flipped: they should be discarded. I want to know what my coworkers think about theological questions, especially if they don’t share mine.

        1. ccesarano says:

          Maybe it’s because of the people I hung out with, but around six years ago when hanging with my gamer friends, it was frequent to hear people bash my religion. I kept quiet for a while, but finally when I’d hear “God is this invisible sky bully!” I had enough, and said “Well, actually…” and brought forth my knowledge of God as an intelligent and rational being.

          Of course, I only got so far as “Well, actually…” before they disregarded everything I said.

          Which is when I learned the most valuable lesson of all: It doesn’t matter what you believe in, everyone is the same kind of ignorant asshole.

        2. krellen says:

          The internet is the only place that belongs to atheists, at least in the US. Throughout the public sphere outside the internet, atheism is still a thing of shame and derision.

          Case in point: name one openly atheist politician.
          I bet you can’t.

          1. Deoxy says:

            You obviously haven’t been to any major college campuses lately. One significant part of liberal leftist indoctrination is the complete and utter removal of Christianity. (Note that I did NOT say that A) all leftists are bad or indoctrinate, or B) all atheists are liberal left, or C) other permutations like that.)

            Christianity is generally viewed with utter disdain (the only group that “tolerant” groups don’t tolerate, as the most obvious example) by large chunks of the MSM, enormous chunks of Ivy league and non-private-Christian colleges, and other bastions of political correctness. Christianity is almost definitionally politically incorrect. Find me another majority group that allows itself to be treated that way.

            But of course, I can’t name you one openly atheist (national level) politician, as there are far too many Christians who won’t for vote for such a person, just as I can’t name an openly Muslim one. But both do exist at the state level (depending on the state). That’s not to say that Christians remotely “own” everything but the internet!

            1. krellen says:

              I work at a major college.

              And the Muslim in Congress made many headlines when he was elected (and sworn in on the Koran, not the Bible).

              I also find claims of Christian victimhood insulting. Christianity is hardly vilified or victimised, and cries of “Wolf” should be saved for people actually being attacked by wolves.

              1. acronix says:

                Quite sure victimhood of any kind depends heavily on the ideoloogical fashions of that one place and time. For example: in a pro-elf society dwarves would be victims, but in a pro-dwarf one elves would.

                Also: Wolf!

              2. Scott (Duneyrr) says:

                That’s ‘Christian victimhood in the US and Europe’ right? Because there are plenty of other parts of the world where people are killed or imprisoned because of Christian beliefs.

                1. krellen says:

                  Yes. I generally assume a Western audience here.

                  1. Scott (Duneyrr) says:

                    Sorry, I re-read my comment now and it seems very sarcastic which was not intended, since I was fairly sure you did mean to imply a western audience. Just wanted to make sure that it was understood as such.

              3. Deoxy says:

                I also find claims of Christian victimhood insulting. Christianity is hardly vilified or victimised…

                Luckily, I wasn’t drinking anything, or it would have gone up my nose when I read that.

                Really, find me another group (for one very easy, college-campus-y example) that has to worry about having their group de-chartered or otherwise removed from campus for having the temerity to require that their members actually be professing members of their religion.

                I can give plenty of others. Modern political correctness is oh so tolerant of groups that openly profess their desire to commit genocide (for just one example), but Christianity? Wow, that’s just ridiculous – can’t tolerate THOSE people.

                1. krellen says:

                  No one is allowed to be exclusionary like that. Black student unions have to allow white members. Muslim societies have to include Jews. The Jewish league must allow Christians. And Christian clubs must allow atheists.

            2. Shamus says:

              I can’t wait until we start electing non-Christians. The fact that politicians are:

              A) Philandering, dishonest, sleazy, duplicitous, uninformed, or brutish


              B) “Christians”

              …is a source of endless vexation to me.

              1. krellen says:

                With all the good, honest, hard-working and big-hearted Christians I know, I sincerely agree with this sentiment. You guys really need to stop letting the Jerks hijack your identity. :)

                1. Falcon says:

                  I’m more concerned with letting the jerks hijack our country personally.

                  1. krellen says:

                    Part and parcel of the same thing.

                2. Chuk says:

                  This. The public face of Christianity is not much like the “real” Christians that I know.

                  1. ehlijen says:

                    That’s cause the kind and tolerant members of any group aren’t the ones shouting loudly to get attention. The angry, intolerant ones are the ones that do that, or at least they do it more loudly than the rest.

                    The public face is always what stands out the most, ie volume and extremism.

                    1. ben says:

                      lol, And the public face of judaism is Jon Stewart…

                    2. swimon1 says:

                      It’s also because the “real” Christians are people you know and like. You’re far more forgiving towards people you like. If your best friend had an affair with someone what you would see was how sorry and regretful he was and the pain the whole thing caused him. If a politician has an affair most people seem to consider him (or her, I guess, but really what are the odds?) scum of the earth.

                      Don’t take this as a defense of politicians tho. They say things not because they believe it but because it will make them popular. They are, almost by definition, the worst kind of people. Just not for the reasons normally given.

                      But yeah I guess its kinda unfair towards christianity that they got all the politicians. Really all creeds should get representation so that they can all be deeply ashamed by that intellectually dishonest moron who claims to be their representative.

                    3. Shamus says:

                      “But yeah I guess its kinda unfair towards christianity that they got all the politicians. Really all creeds should get representation so that they can all be deeply ashamed by that intellectually dishonest moron who claims to be their representative.”

                      Awesome. Someone needs to use that as their campaign slogan.

              2. acronix says:

                Down here in the third world we have solved this problem. All our politics are philandering, dishonest, sleazy, duplicitious, uninformed or brutish, but the only mention of chirstianity (or religion) they do is to name God whenever the Church points at them with the “you are doing things wrong, pal” finger.

              3. Alex the Elder says:

                The characteristics in A) are minimum requirements (some, but not all of them) for being a politician. Anyone with too much respect for his fellow man gets weeded out if he tries for any office higher than city council – you’re competing against people who want NOTHING MORE IN LIFE than power and influence.

              4. Ander the Halfling Rogue says:

                Is there a note of giving up in there, Shamus? I’d prefer we just elect the airquote-less Christians. They (hopefully we) can be a good bunch as people go ( at least we have set, unchanging morals), but I’ll admit I haven’t seen very many around politics.

                1. Kdansky says:

                  >at least we have set, unchanging morals

                  You are being ironic, surely?

                  1. NonEuclideanCat says:

                    Theoretically, we actually do have that. But there’s a good reason Shamus used quotation marks; far too many people are Christian in name only. Unfortunately, they’re the ones who get the most media attention.

                    1. Kdansky says:

                      Really, you don’t have an unchanging list of morals. There have been billions of Christians during the last 2000 years, and they clearly had differences on pretty much any topic there ever was. You’re pretty much saying “I am the only real Christian on the planet”, which is clearly not true.

                      Secondly, I am pretty sure that most Christians are exactly as human as any one else, and frequently change their opinion.

                      As for the ten commandments: Read them. They are quite evil, really.

                    2. NonEuclideanCat says:

                      Read them. They are quite evil, really.

                      Don’t murder. Don’t steal. Don’t sleep with married women. Don’t commit perjury. Honor your parents.

                      Troll harder, you’re not doing a good job of it.

                      Really, you don't have an unchanging list of morals.

                      Actually, we do. Whether we follow it or not is irrelevant; it exists.

                      I am pretty sure that most Christians are exactly as human as any one else, and frequently change their opinion.

                      Correct on both accounts. Still irrelevant. A list of concrete laws and morals exists; it’s in the Bible, here and there. Regardless of the opinions or actions of any single Christian, it’s there.

                  2. Ander the Halfling Rogue says:

                    We have them (at least two of the Ten Commandments are directly pointed at things Shamus mentioned). Do we always follow them? Obviously not.

                    1. Dys says:

                      So.. if you have a rigidly defined moral code, please tell me, where does it come from?

                    2. Ander the Halfling Rogue says:

                      I’m no theologian, and if you really want to know, you have to keep a bit of an open mind with me here. (I’m NOT trying to convert you here and now. It’s just that the Christian life has concept you might not get.)
                      Short Answer: The Bible, which we believe comes from God. In it, there are lists of OT, ancient-Israel-specific rules, but there is rigid stuff that still applies to modern Christians.
                      Long, more specific answer: The Ten Commandments, for one. That alone, as I mentioned, contradicts some of the “requirements” for being in politics, according to Alex. Jesus and other NT writers kept the Commandments in play and even added to them (e.g. Jesus says don’t even lust after a woman, and hate is as bad as murder from God’s perspective).

                      Jesus does tend to focus on your general attitude as opposed to hard, fast lists like the OT has. And hear me out before you say “I knew it.” This includes the Beatitudes (the beginning of Matthew 5). Basically, it says “You’re blessed if you are humble.” Humility would prevent a whole lot of stuff a person might do otherwise. And the golden rule (love(neighbor)=love(self)) pretty well restricts what you can do. If nothing else, the top two commands according to Jesus (found in Matt. 22: 37-39)are all a Christian really needs: Love the Lord w/all your heart, soul, and mind; and the golden rule.
                      “But Ander,” you might say, “that’s not very rigid.” I disagree. They’re general, restrictive, and firm. If you could follow them, you’d be leaps and bounds closer perfection than the rest of us mortals. The idea of the Biblical commands is to set the bar so high that a human being can’t possibly reach it, and can’t get close without God. The point is to show that God is too righteous for us to even get near to Him. However, the Bible’s commands still give us something to shoot at, and God commands that we do try.

                      I left out the Holy Spirit because I figured that’d make your eyes roll. That means also not covering the “Would you pull a donkey from a pit on the Sabbath?” question, but you get the idea. We do have rules. Someone who doesn’t have principles that they won’t compromise on doesn’t follow the Bible.

              5. Kdansky says:

                I am a die-hard atheist and will take any chance (I am trying to make an exception for you right now ;) ) at ridiculing any belief.

                I’ll vote for a Christian, if that’s not the centre of his programme. If he is pro-education, pro-science, pro-for-the-greater-good, against ridiculously low taxes for rich people, against violence and not a horrible bigot who wants to burn black people and gays and so on, I have no issue with his religion. I will disagree with everyone (including myself) on a few points anyway, so it might as well be religion. But as soon as his religion becomes a corner-stone of his position, I cannot support him any more.

                If I lived in the US, I wouldn’t have known who to vote for since I am allowed to, which is already more than a decade.

                That is a huge problem.

                1. Atarlost says:

                  Yes, your problem is almost certainly that your definition of “absurdly low” taxes lines up fairly well with a typical American’s definition of “absurdly high” taxes.

                  If your ideological requirements include a minimum tax rate you’re not going to find many kindred spirits in a nation that started as a tax revolt.

                  1. Kdansky says:

                    I’d like to quote Warren Buffet: “My secretary pays a lower percentage of her income in taxes than I do.”

                    I think that’s too low.

                    1. krellen says:

                      I’m sure Warren Buffet said “higher”, not lower.

                    2. Deoxy says:

                      I'm sure Warren Buffet said “higher”, not lower.

                      He did, and there are many articles discussing whether or not that is really the case (summary: when you realize that all dividends are taxed as corporate profits first, then the remainder passed along to you to be taxed as your income as well, probably not), but it really boils down to this:

                      If he thinks that’s not right, he should A) be advocating against all the zillions of ways income can be sheltered by the rich, instead of just the nominal rate (that’s the real issue) and B) stop making such amazing use of those shelters himself.

                      But really, there is simple proof as to who pays how much, it’s publicly available from the IRS, and it sums up easily, nicely, simply, and truthfully like this:

                      The top X percent pay a higher percentage of their GROSS (not net) income in actual taxes (that the government actually gets) than those below them. This is true at any level of summary so far provided (top 20%, top 10%, top 1% that I know of off the top of my head).

                      That is, for any dollar they (as a group) take in, more of it goes to the government than for every dollar of someone who makes less than them. Warren Buffet himself may be an exception (see that bit about tax shelters), but as a group, the top 20% of earners pay well over half of all taxes already.

                    3. krellen says:

                      The top twenty percent have 80% of the income, so by all rights, they should be paying 80% of the taxes.

              6. ccesarano says:

                Yet I’ve spoken to endless Christians that refuse to vote for a non-Christian, because they want someone in office with “morals they can trust”.

                Of course, the only time I hear the people around me wagging fingers at “immoral politicians” is when the Democrats make the headlines. It’s all with blinders on, and is awfully infuriating (especially when you consider that Christians are supposed to be obedient to the law for the most part, rather than trying to rule the country. And when your country has “freedom of religion” stamped in its constitution, then you need to leave those sorts of biases out)

              7. Aldowyn says:

                Slightly tangential: Christianity is NOT American. A lot of people cite the phrase “under God” in the pledge of allegiance as proof, but here’s a fun fact: Added in the 50’s, in the middle of the ridiculously conservative time of the red scare. True, most of the country were christians, even devout christians, but the founding fathers agreed that America should be a country of free religion – thus the phrase in the 1st amendment and separation of church and state.

                1. Shamus says:

                  Yes, that is indeed the point I was making.

                  1. swimon1 says:

                    No disrespect to Aldowyn but that comment really made me laugh (Shamus’ comment that is). I think it’s the smiling picture of you that really sells the deadpan delivery ^^.

                    I guess this is even more tangential but I just had to say it since I’m still kinda giggling.

                2. Raynoo says:

                  You do have a mention to God (yes, I used a capital G cuz’ I’m nice and all) on your bank notes though right ?

                  Was that always there ?

                  1. krellen says:

                    No. It appeared on our coins during the Civil War and was put on our bills at the same time the phrase was added to the Pledge.

                  2. Cuthalion says:

                    In fact, President Theodore Roosevelt* actually opposed its use on currency, because he thought it irreverent and hypocritical. I tend to agree with him.

                    (The source is a newspaper article from a long time ago. I read it a few months back, but hopefully I remembered the right president. :P)

                    1. krellen says:

                      It certainly sounds like something TR would do. Wikipedia agrees with you that it was him.

          2. Peter H. Coffin says:

            Case in point: name one openly atheist politician.
            I bet you can't.

            Pete Stark, one of California’s Representatives. The only reason I know this is that the list is so short.

            1. Aldowyn says:

              Doesn’t Cali have like… 50 representatives? (Wiki-ed – BANG 53)

              1. Adam says:

                Is that a real name? It sounds villainous.

                For a politician, fairly appropriate.

          3. Abnaxis says:

            There’s actually a thing in sociology, I think it’s called the “Social Distance Scale.” Basically, the surveyor goes through a series of questions in the form “How comfortable are you having X as a Y.” X’s are various ethnopolitical groups like “Blacks” or “Jews” or “homosexuals” or “republicans”. Y’s are things like “schoolteacher” or “mayor” or “neighbor” or “coworker” or “in-law”. For each question, you pick from very/somewhat comfortable, very/somewhat uncomfortable, and neither comfortable nor uncomfortable.

            It’s been a long time since I heard about it, but either Muslims are the most intolerable group among the American general populace and atheists are a close second, or the other way around. I do remember the third worst off is homosexuals, by a significant margin. I should see if I can find that paper again…

            1. Abnaxis says:

              For reference, here’s the entry for the scale. I was talking about a variation of the test they list there.

              I can’t seem to find the article, however (at least, not for free). I’ll hunt around later tonight…

              1. Viktor says:


                At least, that’s what I’ve always heard referenced. Athiests are worse, Muslims are second.

          4. Jon Ericson says:

            When atheists obtain 50% or more of the voting population, you will see atheists politicians. I suggest that politicians are not the best bellwether of popular sentiment. They are, in market terms, lagging indicators. One commentator I read, Gregg Easterbrook, suggests using the beliefs of beauty queens as a barometer of where our culture is going. By this measure, we aren’t likely to see many atheist politicians any time soon, but fundamentalism is far less threatening than most of us suspect.

            (By the way, politics and religion in the same comment! Are we crazy or what? ;-)

            1. krellen says:

              Jews aren’t 50% of the voting population, yet we have Jewish politicians. Muslims aren’t 50% of the voting population, yet we have Muslim politicians. Mormons – who are considered by many denominations to be “not Christian” – aren’t 50% of the voting population, yet we have Mormon politicians. Blacks aren’t 50% of the voting population, yet we have Black politicians.

              (Incidentally, of all those groups, only Blacks are statistically significant compared to self-identified Atheists. The other groups are much smaller, by factors of 8 to 12.)

              1. Jon Ericson says:

                My 50% comment was overly flippant. Obviously, the majority attitude toward atheism has traditionally been harsher than toward other subdivisions of the populations. (But I will say that if atheists observed the tendency to congregate in one place as other groups have, we’d see more atheist districts and therefore more atheist politicians.)

                I guess I agree with you, but not with your reasoning. (It’s a small point, so I’ll drop it now.)

                1. Zukhramm says:

                  That is, assuming people do not vote based on the politics they want.

        3. Abnaxis says:

          Wait, who’s getting fired for being religious? I would be surprised if, in the US, there are a great many examples of people being fired for being Christian (unless they were using their faith as an excuse to cause conflict–making unwelcome religious advances to the non-believers on the company dime or whatnot).

          From my own experience, people in the majority almost universally assume you are part of their own group unless they don’t like you. Case in point, most of the people I know think I’m Christian, because I’m generally easy to get along with and I don’t ever bring it up. I’ve never seen anyone IRL assume that I’m atheist (I am).

          It makes for a slight bit of awkwardness on my part, when my boss or the head of HR starts going on about some church function or referring to a mutual acquaintance as a “good Christian,” and I just nod my head. But even then, I would not construe that as subjugation

          1. Peter H. Coffin says:


            “fired for being an atheist”: 42,000 hits
            “fired for being a christian”: 92 hits

            Okay, then…

            1. NihilCredo says:

              While in this particular instance it might be a decent reflection of reality, I’d like to state that to me it comes off as frankly obnoxious when people use compared Google hit counts as if they were at all a reliable indicator of the facts (and pretty sloppy too, particularly when putting the search phrase in quotes).

              1. Dys says:

                Is it not intrinsic to the way search terms are indexed that the more often a term appears online, across the breadth of the net, the more hits you will get for that term?

                In which case a comparison of google hits is an excellent measure of how often any term appears online.

                That is, I agree, biased by which terms are more likely to appear online, dependant on net usage demographics and such.

                1. NihilCredo says:

                  Yes, but the correlation between “how often does it appear online” and “how often does it happen in reality” is pretty awful.

                  To offer an obvious example, ‘RP for prez’ has 175.000 hits compared to 165k or so for Obama.

        4. Isy says:

          There has certainly been more pushback by atheists recently, but I wouldn’t call the tables turned by any means, more nudged askew a bit. Militant atheists remain a(just as obnoxious) minority to militant Christians.

          (My beliefs lean more towards the atheists, but I grew up with Christians, and I know many are good people. For so called bastions of reason, the militant atheists are determined to use the same hateful and screaming rhetoric as the people they claim to be better than.

          Which is not to ignore the point, that the tables should be ignored anyway)

          1. guiguiBob says:

            What I think is happening is US is catching up to the rest of the more atheist countries. Atheist aren’t a minority anymore or as much so the message is louder. The christians message is getting messed in all those denominations debates and all that diversity and all the other religions around the world getting their message out there(Atheist message being pretty much: there is no proof of a higher power. simple and easy)

            Also Atheists have realized that to reach more people they need to build a sense of community that wasn’t present a few decades ago. The internet is making it possible for those communities to exist over long distances. (They also do this to christians but they had churches so it doesn’t chage the game as much for them)

            As for the hateful atheists…

            1. Aldowyn says:

              I’ve heard that there are more atheists than christians in Europe. I might be wrong, but I wouldn’t be altogether surprised.

              1. ehlijen says:

                Officially true in Germany I’d expect (at least other than Bavaria). But if so, most likely for tax reasons.

              2. guiguiBob says:

                You don’t have to cross the Atlantic, here in Quebec, Canada, you’d have trouble to find anybody below 60 in churches. In the 50’s the catholic church held the strings to political power, having control of education, censorship, french language higher studies, made deals with elected officials, clearly stated that if you didn’t vote the good side you were going to hell : “Le ciel est bleu et l’enfer est rouge” (Sky is blue and hell is red) Blue and Red being party colors.

                Then with women liberation movments and secularisation of education, they lost their power and now they have trouble reaching people with their values.

                Honestly I have no ideas of our Province PM religious affiliation and don’t care either.

              3. Von Krieger says:

                I actually heard this factoid mentioned by the rather hateful preacher that my mom adored. I looked at the CIA Factbook. The only country that might possibly be considered European that had anything approaching a non-Christian majority was Turkey, which is Islamic and pretty much expected.

                I think there might have been all of one or two countries that dipped below even 40% Christian. Unless you start splitting hairs over what does and does not constitute a Christian. Like there is one country where the majority religious denomination is Calvinist. Or Catholic. Which some folks, including the aforementioned preacher, decry as not being Real True Christians (TM).

                1. Rockbird says:

                  I know at least one. Living there helps with the remembering :D

                  “Norris and Inglehart (2004) found that 54% of Swedes do not believe in
                  God. According to Bondeson (2003), 74% of Swedes said that they did not believe
                  in “a personal God.” According to Greeley (2003), 46% of Swedes do not believe
                  in God, although only 17% self-identify as “atheist.” According to Froese (2001),
                  69% of Swedes are either atheist or agnostic. According to Gustafsoon and
                  Pettersson (2000), 82% of Swedes do not believe in a “personal God.” According
                  to Davie (1999), 85% of Swedes do not believe in God.”

            2. Blake says:

              “Atheists have realized that to reach more people…” you sound as though we seek to convert?

              Here where I live (in Australia) Atheists have certainly started standing up more, not to convince people their beliefs are wrong, but to state that we exist to all the politians who talk like christians make up 99% of what’s out there.

              I know very few religious people my age or younger (I’m soon to be 25), and outside of one of my siblings and one of my parents there’s none I regularly converse with.

              Evem our prime minister is atheist but before the elections the Murdoch media treated it like the worst thing in the world.

              I suppose my voice only gets louder because the more I hear the few extreme fire and brimstone “the Queensland floods were due to the gays” type people trying to talk as though they speak for everyone, the more I need to say “you don’t speak for me”.

              1. guiguiBob says:

                Nah Atheist aren’t an organized group seeking to convert people. What I meant, not writing in my own language is that deconverting from religion can lead to several problems, isolation, depression and even suicide amongst others. So reaching those people is important and with internet it can be done.

                Well converting from a religion to another I figure could be the same if religious group didn’t have those structures built in. And even then I imagine it must be pretty hard.

              2. Atarlost says:

                Yes, many atheists seek to convert. At least one has admitted to it in this very comment thread.

                Not sure why. Christians believe that Jesus saves. There’s actual perceived benefit to proselytes. Atheists believe that atheism doesn’t actually do anything. Converting others to atheism is pointless because even if there is no god the absence of god isn’t going to do anything for its nonworshipers. You can argue the opportunity costs against Pascal’s Wager, but there’s really no point to spreading atheism. It comes off as spite. People who can’t stand that others take comfort in something they personally don’t.

                1. Simon Buchan says:

                  Pascal’s wager is dumb. To an atheist, the chance that you would be rewarded for praising a (specific?) god is pretty close the to chance you would be punished for the same thing. Who knows how gods think?

                  The reasons why an Atheist would argue for Atheism are various – attempting to gain respectability and increase tolerance of their beleifs, attempting to reduce the intolerance towards minorities they perceive from religions, or simply the fact that an Atheist generally holds truth to be more important than feeling good about yourself – in other words, they beleive even if you aren’t happier not beleiving in God that you are at least abstractly better off. So pretty much the exact same reasons that religous people do.

                  PS: I’m using the third person despite being an Atheist myself to make clear that I’m not attempting to convert people (at least without ‘provocation’ – say a Christian trying to convert me).

                2. Steve says:

                  This is true. There is no benefit to spreading atheism, because faith has never lead anyone to make irrational decisions that harmed themselves or others.

                  1. Raynoo says:

                    I’d be more likely to say that ignorance and intolerance lead to irrational decisions.

                    Therefore I don’t think you can’t say that all believers are ignorant and intolerant and you can’t say that all atheists are tolerant and well informed on anything.

                    Good and bad people comes in all sizes and flavours.

                    Also : I don’t think you can say that for example crusades were only a religious thing. Had the middle east been poor and weak and the Church not afraid of having all the riches they had stolen from the people stolen back, maybe things would have been different.
                    In the end the people probably didn’t care knowing that 1000 miles away people worshipped another god (or the same god but a different way).

                    1. Steve says:

                      I agree. Those are the only two things that ever lead to irrational decisions.

                      Okay, I’ll cut that out. As you perhaps guessed, I don’t actually agree. Believing in things that aren’t true will inherently lead you to make decisions that may appear rational from the inside but irrational to an objective observer.

                      Also, you seem to be projecting a lot of arguments onto me. I never mentioned the crusades, nor did I make any statements about the “goodness” of either believers or atheists.

                3. Raynoo says:

                  Agreed, I don’t see the point in trying to prove a believer that he’s wrong. Faith is private.

                  Only exception would be on the subjects like creationism but I don’t care that they think evolution is wrong, I just want people to stop comparing faith and science.

                  Also, not using a capital A when writing atheist is the proper way to write it as atheism is not a thing, it’s more an absence of thing.

                4. Dys says:

                  I do not like it when people believe pretty lies to the detriment of the entire human race. That is why I think people should try to avoid believing things which are not true.

                  It is extraordinarily difficult to do. Human brains are built to believe things, to make patterns from chaos, but still I think we should try.

                  For me, believing in the existence of a supreme being is analogous to believing one can fly. It’s perfectly harmless until it leads one to step off a rooftop.

                  1. Raynoo says:

                    You could consider religion a tool in that the way it is used changes everything.

                    You can use it to maintain people in fear and ignorance (dark ages, we’re loolking at you), or you can use it to help people cope with the unavoidable thing that is death, it also has lessons about plenty of things (though you can apparently find everything AND its contrary in holy books).

                    Science (atheism answer to fear and religion) is ALSO a tool. You COULD use science as a mean to create a superior race but you would not have me say that science is bad for mankind.

                    Also as House would say : everyone lies. Always, all the time. So just make sure people understand that not everything is true because it’s written and not everything is to be taken litteraly.

                    And finally, as a scientist, the only DECENT position would be agnosticism (someone once explained me how atheism is close to faith while agnosticism is science).
                    Do YOU have any proof that there is no god ? Not a god that would be exactly one of the most erm “famous” ones, just a superior being.

                    Its existence cannot be proved NOR disproved, so it is a matter of faith.

                    1. Entropy says:

                      agnosticism and atheism aren’t mutually exclusive. agnostics say ‘I don’t know whether a god exists’. Atheists say, ‘I don’t believe in a god’ Knowledge and belief are entirely seperate things.

                      Very few atheists would claim they ‘know’ no god exists. Usually, the conclusion is that current evidence is insufficient to prove a God exists, so the assumption is that it does not, until sufficient evidence does arrive.

    2. TheRocketeer says:

      I just had to open my mouth.

  7. Mrs. Peel says:

    Thanks for sharing, Shamus. I’m really enjoying this series. (I particularly liked the one where you talked about your mom working with paint – I’ve always said, “Shamus could write about watching paint dry and make it fascinating,” and you did!)

    I didn’t become a Christian until I was almost 19, and it took a while for me to find a good church home. Your image of the plane is a great way of conceptualizing the differences between churches, and I had to travel around that plane quite a bit to find someplace where I was comfortable. Hope you eventually found a good home…church isn’t required for salvation, of course, and a collection of humans is naturally subject to human failings; but if you find a good fit, it can really add a lot to your spiritual life. In my experience, anyway.

  8. goatcathead says:

    I don't have it all worked out yet, and when he leaves I have more questions than answers. bBut it doesn't matter. I don't regret my decision.
    You made a mistake in the word ‘but’

  9. Silfir says:

    You spend one entry of your autobiography discussing one of the central themes of your formative years that will continue to persist until today? What is this tomfoolery? For shame!

  10. Chuck Henebry says:

    I like your thoughts on how diverse “christian” worship really is. Non-christians rarely have a sense of this cultural diversity. Rarely, though, do you find a soul who’s experienced first-hand not just two but three radically different forms of church.

    I wish you were more vivid in rendering the lived experience of conversion and the other events you discuss here. You outline major events, but leave us wondering what, for instance, the man who visited you read and said to you. What made his outreach appealing to you? What prior thoughts did it gibe with? If the big story here is how we get “from point A to point C … pass[ing] through B,” what preliminary understanding did you have of God at point A? What did you think life was all about during that year of terrible suffering? And how did that stranger’s talk of God change your understanding, and in what way, so as to move you to this new “place of grace,” B?

    1. Peter H. Coffin says:

      As a non-Christian, I think a good number of non-Christians really do have a strong understanding of this diversity. But it’s a diversity of pie: there’s cherry and blueberry (which are kind of alike but with a different emphasis), apple and Dutch apple (which start from the same emphasis and head off in different directions), strawberry with rhubarb, strawberry without rhubarb. There’s pies that try to include everything like mincemeat, and pies that focus on doing one thing really well (custard pies). There’s also pies that some people that say they “like pie” don’t really consider as pies at all: meat pies, cheesecakes, pizzas. Pie selection is kind of regional: certain parts of the US sees more peach pies than apple, or you’re assured that outside of right around wherever it is, you’re never going to find as authentic a pecan pie. There’s even pie evangelists, who offer people looking for sherbert a slice of frozen margarita pie because it’s almost the same thing, right? And unification folks, that assert that pie, and cakes, and even baklava and cookies are all sweetened wheat-based dessert and the whole world is really one. Except for poor idiots eating ice cream and pineapple parfaits and thinking they know anything about dessert…. Someday, they’ll understand pie.

      1. SolkaTruesilver says:

        Religious talk makes me hungry

      2. Scott (Duneyrr) says:

        This analogy is really good.

      3. Rayen says:

        concerning religion, this is possibly the greatest thing i’ve ever read…

      4. Aldowyn says:

        I got totally and awesomely sidetracked. Got it at first, then got lost. Finding a map… I think I figured out where we are.

        Christian diversity is complicated.

        ANYWAYS… I’ve always wondered if Islam has as many different styles as Christianity, or at least close. I’m inclined to believe it DOES, it’s just not NEARLY as obvious to us westerners because, well, there aren’t that many muslims, and most of them aren’t really conservative and pushy about it.

        1. krellen says:

          It has, at the very least, a significant three-way divide similar to Christianity’s Catholic/Protestant/Orthodox split in the Sunni/Shi’a/Sufi split. Shi’a is a small enough group that there’s probably not a lot of orthodoxy disagreements, but I do not a lot of Muslims follow the teaching of one Ayatollah over another, and there are differences enough that Iraqi Shi’a and Iranian Shi’a are different enough as to not be the same thing.

          To my understanding, Sufi is deliberately non-conformist and each Sufi teacher is likely to be fairly unique. Sunni, the “orthodox”, mainstream branch, is by far the largest, and thus almost certainly has divides within it (however, unity is far more explicitly an aspect of Islam, and so the divides may be smaller and far less visible from the outside.)

          1. Aldowyn says:

            From what I recall, Sunni and Shi’a (or Shiite, whatever), are the two main branches. They divided over who they thought should lead the .. church (there’s gotta be a better word) after Muhammed died – his descendants, or other appointed rulers. I forget which ones are which and which ones are the radicals.

            Sufis, on the other hand, were itinerant missionaries, basically. They’re the reason for the large Islamic foothold in India, so I imagine India isn’t so much Sunni/Shi’a

            1. krellen says:

              Pakistan, on the other hand, is heavily Sunni.

              And the Shi’a are the ones that supported the family of the Prophet. The ‘a part is short for “Ali”, as Shi’a were the “party of Ali”.

      5. decius says:

        Ah, the pastryfarian church.

      6. Dys says:

        See, if people started world spanning holy wars over PIE, maybe I’d understand.

    2. Mari says:

      Really? Most people I know have spent at least several years “church hopping” and experiencing the varied church cultures. I personally did about 8 years of religion hopping where I started with the Christian churches and then hopped right on over to every religion I could find that didn’t require years of “education” or whatever to join. Then I moved on to the more mainstream cults before ending up right back in the Christian church. It was a highly educational almost-decade once I was able to divorce the emotional tumult from the whole experience.

    3. Abnaxis says:

      “Non-christians rarely have a sense of this cultural diversity”

      I would like to respectfully disagree here. I think everyone–Christian and non-Christian alike–knows about as much about religious diversity as they care to learn. A Baptist who grew up spiritually content in a Baptist church and never saw a reason to explore any denominations that aren’t their particular flavor of Baptist is going to know just as little about diversity when compared to an atheist who is satisfied with being atheist and sees no reason to investigate Christian denominations because he is satisfied with being atheist.

      Though I will admit, there is a dearth of atheist theologians. I have always wondered what ideas would be advanced if an atheist formally studied theology…

      1. Alex the Elder says:

        Well, I’m an agnostic amateur theologian, if that counts. :-) I’ve spent time throughout my life studying religions from Christianity to Buddhism to Shinto to indigenous animism to ADF Druidry, from within and without, both on my own and in formal classes, and came to the conclusion that all of them had good points (in terms of what their tenets actually say, anyway), but none of them seemed internally consistent for me to want to sign my identity over to them. :-)

        1. Aldowyn says:

          Religion shouldn’t be about whether you believe in the tenets. It should be about whether you actually do BELIEVE in what the religion is about.

          Talking about the values of different religions is morality, which is an entirely different thing. It’s a better idea to just take those ideas from different religions and put them together to form your own morality.

          I may have misinterpreted somewhere, and if I did I apologize.

          1. Taellosse says:

            I think you may be confusing “tenets” with “ethics.” I believe in the context in which it was used, “tenets” would be a synonym for “dogma” or even, broadly, “theology.” I think Alex as suggesting that the metaphysics and philosophies of the various faiths he’s studied are not sufficiently internally consistent for his tastes.

            1. Aldowyn says:

              Hmm. I was thinking tenets as in ethics, because it didn’t make sense with it as dogma. Lemme re-read.

              Eh. I suppose it could go either way. And obviously he said they weren’t sufficiently internally consistent, considering he said that exactly.

      2. krellen says:

        Do I have to go to school, or can I just read and think about all the religious texts I can get my hands on? Because if the latter, I’m already pretty far along that path.

        1. Abnaxis says:

          Do you have to go to school to study religion or to consider yourself a theologian? Of course not.

          Do you have to go to school to study in order to publish articles and share your insight with the academic community at large? Yes, unfortunately. They won’t take you serious otherwise (though if you admit to being an atheist, they still might not take you seriously).

          I am sure there are plenty of atheists who have studied theology on their own dime. I am one of them. But I am genuinely curious the effect on the discipline would be if an atheist chose to study theology formally, as a profession.

          1. Tuck says:

            I think you’ll find there are quite a lot of atheist theologians. Friends of my family in formal theology studies have remarked upon the large percentage of atheists studying alongside them.

            There have even been/are atheist church leaders.

          2. PAK says:

            Note: re-reading the below sounds like I may be evangelizing. I don’t intend it as such. I am drawing attention to things I happen to know as a result of my chosen church affiliation.

            You describe any number of Unitarian Universalist ministers. (Nontheism being quite common in the movement.) An extensive seminary program is required to achieve UU ministry, due to the necessity of having working knowledge of several extant world wisdom traditions. The publishing arm of the church is Beacon Press, and a number of theological writings by UU ministers are available.

            EDIT: partially ninja’d.

          3. Abnaxis says:

            I fail at English.

            I acknowledge that, just as there are many flavors of Christianity, there are many flavors of “atheism.” I know the word literally means “one who does not believe in a god.”

            However, in my mind the default “atheist” is “one who does not formally or informally associate themselves with any religious dogma.” I probably do that because it describes me (see above response to #5), and also because “atheist” is a lot easier to type than “non-religious person.”

            I realize this a a very narrow view of a much more varied term (bad, bad Abnaxis) but that was my intent. So when I say “I am genuinely curious the effect on the discipline would be if an atheist chose to study theology formally, as a profession,” what I really mean is “I am genuinely curious the effect on the discipline would be if a person with no religious affiliation chose to study theology formally, as a profession.” It’s just the latter is more wordy, and gets cumbersome after a while.

            In my mind, theology is the practice of critically analyzing religious texts, examining the details of their historical evolution, and evaluating their merits as philosophical constructs and sociological motivators.

            Actual faith in a religion is not a prerequisite for this activity, but it invariably skews the conclusions drawn by theologians in a certain direction. Non-religious people would be no different in this regard, but a non-religious theologian would nonetheless be unique in that non-religious people as a whole are underrepresented among theologians, meaning the hypothetical non-religious theologian would have great potential to change the discipline at large in a significant way, owing his unprecedented, unique perception of the field.

            ((Sorry if this comes across as snappy. I’m trying to be accurate with my terms))

            1. PAK says:

              No, not snappy at all. Great clarification. :)

            2. shrikezero says:

              I end up using agnostic in a similar way.

              My exposure to religion has been not unlike sliding around a frozen lake on a circular sled. Now attach that ice metaphor to a variation of Shamus’s plane (Judaic) and toss in some questionable social skills and voila. My family gave me a push in a hazily defined direction, but mostly I just got dizzy and meandered in a lazy curve across the ice.

              So it is far simpler to call myself agnostic. Any discussion of my personal religious beliefs is going to be convoluted at best.

            3. Dys says:

              The point which snags in my mind is that theology is often confused with something called christian theology (though I’m certain any of the major religions could be substituted).

              Theology in the pure sense is the study of religion. In this sense I can absolutely imagine someone with no religious beliefs or affiliations having an interest in one of the greatest cultural forces.

              Theology in the vernacular is the attempt to prop up irrational beliefs with semi-rational philosophical arguments. In that sense I rather doubt anyone who did not have a vested interest in the stability and apparent coherence of the faith would have any part to play.

      3. swimon1 says:

        Oh you’re just begging for a wonderfalls clip ^^ (OMG Lee Pace is soooo dreamy^^)

  11. Nyctef says:

    Heh, and then you have Anglican churches with a nice and polite service and then tea and biscuits at the end, which is what I grew up with :)

    Anyway, I don’t think I’m particularly religious (I like to think I can live up to Christian/whatever ideals without necessarily being a Christian) but I absolutely believe in ‘the Church’, seeing how much good charity and community work they do. Hope that makes sense :)

    1. Dave says:

      Yeah, I’ve also attended the Anglican services that weren’t terribly nice, and reminded me of the “different” baptist services I’d experienced.

      It’s funny how you can get overlap in service type when the churches are doing what they think they need to do to draw in parishioners.

      I love the post-church snacks though. :)

      1. Aldowyn says:

        That sounds SO English. Just saying. (Obviously that would makes sense)

        1. krellen says:

          Cake or Death?

          1. Dys says:

            We’re gonna run out of cake at this rate…

  12. Zaxares says:

    I’ve found that most religions have the same central tenet – Be nice to people. The problem is that in many cases religion has been hijacked by jerks and crooks as either a vehicle or justification for their crimes.

    Religion, just like anything else in the world, can be a source of great things, but it can be, and often is, taken to extremes, which is when the problems start.

    1. DanMan says:

      That’s the problem when you’re talking about things people believe will save them from eternal torment: People can convince them of things that aren’t true sometimes fairly easily.

      I am very much Christian and love what churches and Christian communities can do. I see Muslim and Hindu communities working hard at bettering the world around them. Then I see idiots and power-hungry jerks telling people complete lies because he can? I guess? It really saddens me.

      1. toasty says:

        Not to paint other religions in a bad light, but Islam and Hinduism have just as many problems as Christianity. I’m not a fan of Islam, having grown up in a Muslim majority country.

        Shamus: really enjoying this series, so glad that you’re writing it. I’d be interested in knowing why you left “corporate” churches in 2005. I haven’t regularly attended Church since I started college last year, mainly becasue I don’t feel like taking the time to find a church.

        1. krellen says:

          I believe the message DanMan was trying to convey was exactly that: Hinduism and Islam aren’t much different from Christianity. They have problems, and they do great things as well.

          1. DanMan says:

            Yes, exactly. I, myself, am Christian, but the point I was trying to make was about religion at large. All groups of people, be it political, religious or for fun have problems. That’s just the nature of people. I was trying to say that Christianity isn’t the only religion that is doing nice things in the world

        2. Falcon says:

          I would be very interesting hearing more. As an American, who has both read the Koran as well as numerous Muslim scholarly works, I can see some of those problems. The big one for me is how the teachings of some modern leaders (ayatollahs and such) are given the same weight and importance as their holy scriptures. This has led to terrible abuses. It’s the same problem christainity had with the papacy during the middle ages. That said I’m still a relative outsider. So some balance from you would be nice (much of the thread fatalities the failings of the Christian church) :)

    2. Meredith says:

      I often try to remind people that all major religions come down to ‘be nice to each other’. It doesn’t work very often. It really makes me sad to look back across human history and see how many wars were started in the name of religious differences when the whole point of religion is to bring people together.

      1. Aldowyn says:

        Suddenly reminds me of Starship Troopers (heh). Heinlein essentially claimed that he believed that all wars were caused by some sort of population pressure – including the Crusades, probably the most famous religious war.

        Now, I have no clue if he actually studied this, or if that was just his opinion from what he’d seen, but… interesting idea.

    3. Raka says:

      I’d actually change “in many cases religion has been hijacked by jerks and crooks” to “in all cases religions are composed of people”. Not that all people are jerks and crooks, of course. But we’re all capable of it, and in a group of any decent size you’ll find at least one who’s actively practicing. And they will be noticeable and memorable.

    4. Grampy_Bone says:

      It’s not “be nice to everyone,” it’s “Be nice to people.*” (*who are part of your same group.)

      FYI the new testament wasn’t meant for gentiles. *sigh*

      Religion is ALL ABOUT in-group morality, out-group hostility.

      1. Shamus says:

        As someone who is, right now, working his way through Paul’s letters to the GENTILE churches, wherin he admonishes them to be “nice” to people outside the faith, and refuse to associate with people INSIDE the faith who fail to live by the teachings of Christ, I will say that you seem to have skipped a few pages.

        1. Shamus says:

          I apologize for the snarky tone I used. I don’t know what I was thinking. I guess it was just that I stopped reading the section in question and happened on this, and for some reason just HAD to say something.

          Nice moderation, Shamus. Reeeal nice.

        2. Scott (Duneyrr) says:

          Shamus, are you really calling every book after the Gospel of John ‘a few pages’? :P

          1. acronix says:

            Maybe his edition has very, very large pages.

          2. TheRocketeer says:

            Luke’s gospel is very gentile-oriented; It’s my father’s favorite book.

        3. Kdansky says:

          I’ll be snarky: Count how many pages have a story where “open friendship to other religions” is supported, and compare them with “open hostility to other religion” pages. I’ll doubt it will be better than 1:100

          Edit: I wrote this before your snark-apology. :P Feel free to delete.

          1. Raka says:

            Hopefully this will not continue the snark-escalation, but I respectfully disagree. The New Testament is overwhelmingly open and friendly towards other peoples and religions, and I can’t actually think of a single example (outside certain interpretations of Revelation) of hostility. And I say this as a non-Christian who generally finds Paul frustrating, to put it mildly. But “hostile to outsiders” really doesn’t seem to be among his post-Saul flaws.

            Here’s a more light-hearted approach to the issue of NT inclusiveness:

            1. krellen says:

              Something many people (Christians and non-Christians alike) fail to understand is that the Old Testament is included in the Bible not so much as further instruction, but as historical grounding so that one can understand the tradition from which Jesus sprang. Basically the Old Testament is there to describe what the coming of the Messiah shall be, so that one can read the Gospel and understand that he is, in fact, the promised Messiah.

              Then most of the rest of the New Testament are Paul’s suggestions about how the faith should conduct itself.

              1. Shamus says:

                It’s gratifying to see people outside the faith understand this. The Old Testament is history, genealogy, a system of laws for a specific nation, a system of arbitration of disputes, building instructions for the temple, a guide to hygiene and manners, music (now poetry) , and “Instruction in Wisdom”. It would be like if there was single book that had the constitution, a record of the Lewis & Clark Expedition, the collected works of Walt Whitman, the family tree of George Washington, the layout of The Mall in DC, and the directions for running a session of congress. If we called the book, “The Book Of AMERICA”, it wouldn’t mean you need to chop down a cherry tree in order to be a citizen.

                Once in a while some smart alec staggers into the debate and says, “Christians don’t stone people for adultery like it commands in Leviticus, therefore they are all hypocrites LOLOLOL”. It’s the equivalent of the guy who says, “It’s snowing in January… SO MUCH FOR GLOBAL WARMING!” At best they are woefully uninformed. In many cases, they are probably deliberate trolls.

                So far, this thread has been very free of stress and strife. Thank you all.

                1. NihilCredo says:

                  Well, to be fair there are a few strands of Christianity who are pretty hardcore inerrantists, so for them the ‘why don’t you stone adulterers?’ objection has value (not that the smart alecs are terribly likely to have encountered them outside of Fred Phelps’s rantings). Unfortunately those same strands also tend to be made by the kind of people who would gladly stone adulterers indeed :/

                2. Aldowyn says:

                  Well, all of the Old Testament is supposed to be (supposed to: I don’t really believe. I dunno. Get into that later) either instructions to Abraham’s descendants, or history (God, Deuteronomy. Pain.)

                  It is specifically said in the New Testament to basically IGNORE a lot of the old testament’s instructions, iirc.

                  My bible scholarship is very sad, I apologize.

                  1. Eärlindor says:

                    Well, Christ does say in the NT, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” It’s not totally done away with. You have some revisions and the like. My own knowledge is, unfortunately, not as strong as it could be, so I don’t know all the specifics. But I remember verse I mentioned above.

                    1. krellen says:

                      That line has many interpretations, including one that says “fulfilling” the Prophets and their Law means evolving to a new state that no longer needs them.

                    2. Eärlindor says:

                      I’m sorry, that doesn’t make any sense to me. So what you’re saying is that the Old Law (which Jesus said he wasn’t sent to abolish) is fulfilled in a way so it’s still done away with? 0.o

                    3. krellen says:

                      If my need is fulfilled, I no longer have that need. Thus, if a Law is fulfilled, perhaps we no longer have that Law.

                3. Dys says:

                  I fully endorse pointing out that a Christian does not follow every instruction in Leviticus to the letter, but only in one very specific circumstance.

                  That circumstance being right after someone has quoted 20:13. That being the ‘kill the gays’ part of the old testament.

                  Yes, nuance, yes, historical perspective. But only when those qualities are present in the other half of the dialogue.

                4. Alan De Smet says:

                  There are Christians who selectively pick and choose which parts of the Old Testament to treat as the Final Word on matters. Those specific people and sects do deserve mocking for their hypocrisy. But mocking Christians in general shows a profound lack of knowledge about the faith.

              2. Falcon says:

                I was going to say pretty much this, so thanks.

                And you are right about people missing that point. As a Christian I grew up in a church like that. It is easier, after all, to say do not, do not, do not, than to teach how to be a kind and loving example of Christ. Certain denominations LOVE the old testament because it is so very black and white rules rules rules. Granted they conveniently forget certain ones (growing up baptist they usually glossed over gluttony and gossip).

                It would be great if that wasn’t the case, but alas human nature ruins a perfectly good thing, story of our planet.

      2. Ander the Halfling Rogue says:

        Basic creed for a Christian attitude toward others can be found in 1 Peter 2:17– “Honour all. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.” “All” means “all.” (And I checked Strong’s Concordance on that.) This is not out of context. Peter was talking about not using your right to sin (that is, a Christian can sin without being condemned) as an excuse to sin. Instead of doing that, do 1 Peter 2:17.
        (Note that I removed the [men] at the end of the first sentence. It was marked as a word that was added for clarification and wasn’t in the original text.)

    5. Blake says:

      And this is where I think philosophy trumps religion.
      Religions have a philosophical basis, but they come with a whole book worth of things people can use an excuse for all sorts of madness (I’m reminded of this awesome piece of parody ).

      When a persons moral code is based off ‘being nice to people is good, making people sad is bad’, there isn’t much room for justification. When a persons moral code is based off ‘what this book says is good’, then even if the strongest theme of said book is ‘being good is important’, there’s still plenty of wriggle room to justifiably do or hate nearly anything.

      1. Or, worse, when the book is (supposedly?) based on unprovable and indemonstrable instructions from an invisible, undetectable entity who transcends human understanding, you can justify anything whether it’s in the book or not. “God told me to do it” is a universal blank check, because nobody can contest it. “This is the rational thing to do based on the data”, however, can be contested by ANYBODY, proven, disproven, debated, altered, tested, whatever.

  13. Matthew says:

    Nice, loving this series so far, very informative and consistently insightful. I’m glad you feel able to freely divulge your views and ideologies, and on the internet, no less, and give your opinion with no apparent concern for the judgement of others.

    I feel quite encouraged, both as a christian and a resident of the interwebs, that there are people like you in the world, and that, though I’m not sure how much ban-hammering was done, there are people who are able to comment on such an exposition without malice or ill-intent. Thanks!

  14. Conlaen says:

    I am not religious myself but, like yourself, I do like religious ideas, be they Christian, Islamic, Judaic, or any other really. The ideas of loving your fellow humans, of acceptance and togetherness.

    It’s probably the culture that has generally turned me away from religion. It often differs too much from the original ideas. Especially what you see in the media focusses too much on the nagative. So in the end, not feeling at ease with any of any of the religious cultures, I just follow my own heart. I find community not in those who worship the same god, but those who have the same hearts I guess.

    1. DanMan says:

      This is why I get so confused by people who are scathingly hateful towards religion. The New Testament shows Jesus calling out the two most important rules in the world:

      1. Love God with everything you have
      2. Love your neighbor as yourself

      Now, we can ignore the first one rather than debate the existance of God, but wouldn’t we be better off if everybody followed rule #2? THAT is what most religions should preach, since many of them have similar passages in their own texts.

      1. Yes, yes we would. Interestingly that can include atheists too.

      2. Isy says:

        Two answers. A disturbing number of Christians are jerks, who will tell you you’re going to hell if you don’t believe as they do, and will disown their own children for the same reasons. This isn’t to say other people aren’t jerks, but in a majority Christian country you hear a lot more about Christian ones.

        The other answer is “politics”, I think. Once a religion gets involved in politics, it becomes less about God and more about keeping political power, and it becomes associated with certain political affiliations. And when that church is seen as having power over people who do not agree with the church (not the love and happiness parts, the other parts), they resent it.

        “Religion in Politics ruins both”, I think some people said. How you keep it out of politics is a question for the ages, I think.

      3. Alex the Elder says:

        Depending on which part of the Bible is your favorite, you can find a lot more rules than that. Jesus said that it was basically those two. Moses before him and Paul after him said that there are rather a lot more than that.

        1. The point he was making was that all of the rules -stem- from those two, and if you follow those two you will follow all the others.

          For examples, if you love God, you will keep his commandments, you will worship him, etc.

          If you love your neighbor as yourself, then you won’t hurt them, lie to them, etc.

          Basically they’re the two overarching rules that cover everything.

          1. Alex the Elder says:

            So the first rule has kind of the same role that the Commerce Clause does in latter-day US jurisprudence?

        2. Falco Rusticula says:

          What the guy above me said. If you love your neighbour, you won’t kill him, steal from him, or sleep with his wife (unless said couple has a mutual clause allowing that, I guess). If you love God, then you work to serve him and refrain from insulting him. All other rules are elaborations on those core two.

          1. X2-Eliah says:

            Ummmmmmm. Why is love associated as implying servitude?

            1. Falcon says:

              Obviously you’re not married ;)

              1. decius says:

                May I remark that this comment, while apparently sarcastic, reinforces a negative stereotype? I wish only to avoid providing the tacit approval implied by not responding at all.

            2. Falco Rusticula says:

              Interesting question. And…I just realised I don’t really know how to put the answer, as I understand it, into words. Let’s try anyway.

              Love to some extent always does involve servitude, I think. Any relationship is an act of give and take -you change yourself in some ways to make the other person happier, and they in turn adapt to see you happy. Those things might be as simple as getting a cup of coffee for the friend in your office who doesn’t handle mornings well. Not to change yourself, if you’re really upsetting someone you care about, would be selfish.

              If you love God, that love is also intertwined with trust. God is the ultimate authority; he made the universe, with all its wonders, and he also has a plan for how it will all play out. So to love and trust God is to trust that his plan is something that will better the universe and humanity as a whole, and therefore it is an act of love to aid in that plan.

              Does that make any sense? I think I may have expressed it rather clumsily…

              1. Dys says:

                I think you’re confusing servitude with charity.
                There is an important distinction between the two.

                To believe that you must alter your behaviour to make others happy is nothing but conformity.

                To alter your behaviour by choice in order to make others happy is sacrifice.

      4. Grampy_Bone says:

        Religion is inherently divisive. They all have an “us vs them” mentality. If you’re not one of the faithful, then you are to be treated with casual disdain at best, or outright hostility and violence at worst. “Love thy neighbor” only applies to other members of the church. Everyone else is fair game.

        1. krellen says:

          That is explicitly not what Jesus preached.

        2. X2-Eliah says:

          Not so much religion as human pack/tribe mentality that’s stuck with us since the ape/post-garden times (pick your choice as preferred).

      5. Kacky Snorgle says:

        No, because rule #1 provides the reason to follow rule #2. It’s all very well to say that the world would be a better place if everybody loved each other; but the fact is that it’s entirely possible to “get ahead” in the world by trampling on others instead of helping them out. It’s the Prisoner’s Dilemma, if you will: it’d be great if we were *all* nice loving people, but as long as some of us *aren’t*, there’s an advantage in being one of the ones who isn’t. Why shouldn’t I pursue that advantage–why should I love my neighbor instead? Because I’ve first learned to love God, and thus to obey His instructions on how to treat my neighbor.

        Sure, it’s possible for an atheist to love his neighbor too. But it’s not possible for him to show why “love thy neighbor” is a rule we should all follow….

        1. krellen says:

          It’s eminently possible. History and nature have proven, time and time again, that the greatest long term gain and health of a society is achieved by groups that “love thy neighbour”. There may be short-term suffering for the gentle, and short-term gain for the brutal, but in the long term, gentleness has proven a far more beneficial trait.

          1. Kacky Snorgle says:

            So you’re saying I should love my neighbor because I should care about the long-term gain of society? I’m going to have to call circular reasoning on that one….

            I have yet to encounter a non-God-based approach to morality that doesn’t fall into essentially that same trap. Sure, on a daily basis, I do a certain number of “nice” things because I enjoy doing them and because I enjoy making other people happy. But the test comes when I *don’t* feel like being nice, when I do have a desire to be selfish or hurtful or whatnot. Why is it wrong to indulge such desires? Every answer to that question that I’ve heard can be reduced to either “it’s wrong because the Higher Power(s) say so”, or else “it’s wrong because it’s wrong”. (Or else “never mind why, just don’t misbehave or you’ll suffer the consequences” — which is effective in some cases but not really eligible as an argument.)

            1. Aldowyn says:

              You know that commercial where one person sees someone doing something nice, so they make an effort to do something nice, and it keeps going until someone does something for the first guy?

              Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. One good turn deserves another. All of those have messages that aren’t linked to religion but are still equally valid.

            2. Calatar says:

              You hurt yourself by hurting others. It’s that simple. When you live in a society, as humans (tend to) do, you depend on the people around you. The degree of dependence varies, but with every act of hostility, you endanger yourself by endangering how much help/resources/kindness people are willing to offer you.
              You have a choice to either be kind for other people’s sake, or to be kind for your own sake, but if you’re not, you are hurting yourself as well as society. There is some connection between individual and society, which is where I think you’re having difficulty. “Society” need not be all people in the world. “Society” can be a place as small as an apartment shared with a roommate. Think about how that dynamic works with 2 helpful, 1 initially helpful 1 not, 2 not helpful.

              There actually is more reason to be a good person than “God told me to be.” Given the wide range of acts gods have been said to endorse, I’d say it’s probably a dangerous argument as well. Not to mention that morality from that point of view becomes entirely dependent upon conviction in the existence of said divine entity, thus branding nonbelievers as immoral.

              1. DungeonHamster says:

                It might be worth noting here that Christianity brands everyone, believers included, as immoral. “No one is good except God alone,” after all. The grace of God is the only thing that saves anybody.

                It’s also worth noting, I think, that what other gods may or may not have endorsed has no bearing on whether the claim that one particular god’s orders are worth following, seeing as how by any religion (with a few exceptions) are false ones. What the god-kings of Egypt or Allah or any one of the Buddhas might claim is good has no bearing on whether or not the God of the Apostles is correct, and vice versa, since following any one of them requires rejecting the others.

                And as to there being other reasons to be good, I ask only how we know what good is in the first place apart from some divine authority? The best I’ve heard is Plato’s “because it’s in the closest accordance with our nature” shtick, but if it were actually in accordance with our present nature it seems to me wouldn’t be so hard to do.

              2. Anonymous says:

                You hurt yourself by hurting others. It's that simple. When you live in a society, as humans (tend to) do, you depend on the people around you. The degree of dependence varies, but with every act of hostility, you endanger yourself by endangering how much help/resources/kindness people are willing to offer you.
                You have a choice to either be kind for other people's sake, or to be kind for your own sake, but if you're not, you are hurting yourself as well as society. There is some connection between individual and society, which is where I think you're having difficulty. “Society” need not be all people in the world. “Society” can be a place as small as an apartment shared with a roommate. Think about how that dynamic works with 2 helpful, 1 initially helpful 1 not, 2 not helpful.

                That is mostly just in relationships that are already balanced in power, though. It requires each side to have some means of holding the other accountable, and often breaks down otherwise. For instance, most forms of domestic abuse are based on a one-sided power struggle, in which the abuser benefits from the many abusive tactics they use to break the victim’s will. The latter becomes increasingly motivated by sheer pain avoidance, and eventually loses any leverage they originally had. While the abuser is rewarded with an obedient servant at their beck and call, the victim pays the price in fear, isolation, and a variety of long-term mental health problems–at a minimum. Counselors have noted that it does NOT harm the abusers to do this; only getting caught and held accountable really gets to them, yet they often manage to keep their victims quiet and/or discredited for a long time by the same process of abuse.
                Another example, if it’s not inappropriate for this website, is chattel slavery earlier in American history: Plantation owners profited from enslaving, tormenting, and sometimes murdering millions of people for 245 years before some third parties from another section of the continent intervened. That’s entire generations who never saw any kind of justice.

                It’s wonderful that there are people of all belief systems who would never take advantage of someone like that even when they can get away with it, but I’m not sure that we will ever outgrow a need for external infrastructure to keep the bad apples in line. And maybe we’ll never outgrow the need to debate which infrastructure works best.

            3. Blake says:

              Here’s how I derive my ethics from first principles:

              I like to feel good and I don’t like to feel bad.
              Other living things feel as I do, positive emotion = good, negative = bad.
              Objectively then, the best things are those which maximise positive emotions across the majority of people while minimising the negative.

              Time must be taken into account, punching someone might make me feel good for a moment, but it would also make them bad for a while (also: there’s a strong chance it would make future encounters between the two of us less pleasurable).

              I’ve also noticed negative emotions tend to be stronger and last longer. If I was to take $20 away from one poor person and give it to another, I’m sure the one who lost would have much more sadness and for longer than the receiver whose happiness would be momentary.

              I believe being nice to people is good because I like people being nice to me.
              I believe being mean to people is bad because I don’t like people being mean to me.
              My moral decisions are based on that, no higher power required.

            4. decius says:

              The ‘greater good of society’ is an explanation for why a system of morality is prevalent: The society with such a system prospers more than a society that has some other system. Darwin described how traits which produce offspring are present in offspring, while hereditary traits that result in fewer offspring die out.

              The problem, or perhaps advantage, of that explanation is that it doesn’t answer the question “What is the reason for or against a moral imperative to propagate a system of ethics or morals?”. It only explains why the systems that have propagated are ones that propagate.

            5. Simon Buchan says:

              OK, I know this argument has been responsed to death, but even looking at this from a *completely* non-moral, non-ethical and non-religious viewpoint, being nice to other people, at least as a default, is *still* the correct thing to do for your own gain, in the specific case of the iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma (eg, where the actors involved are in continuous loop of Prisoner’s Dilemma situations). Specifically, this is because the current best-returning strategy for a single actor, against any known strategy used by other actors is “Tit-for-tat, with forgiveness”, roughly, start by not betraying your partner, then do whatever he did last time, with a small chance to forgive him if he betrayed you last time (in order to break revenge cycles against another tit-for-tat’er). Note that this also means that revenge is not only OK, but ‘moral’ behaviour, if you use that interpretation, which you might not be OK with.

              EDIT: I’m a dumbass, this is of course in response to @Kacky Snorgle.

            6. Dys says:

              These nested comments get awfully confusing when they get this dense. The non-religious morality argument has been fairly solidly answered already I think, but I would like to add my own personal experiences.

              I am neurologically atypical, which perhaps is relevant to this point, but I regularly act in ways which are not beneficial to myself. I am genuinely more interested in the benefit of the group in which I find myself than in my own. It is natural and normal for me to think, when making decisions, ‘what will provide the most benefit to the people around me’.

              I don’t know if this is a result of my poor social skills, an attempt to overcompensate with abnormal generosity, or genuinely an abberation in my perception of my relationship with the rest of the world, but it is how I think.

              The point I’m trying to make is that people do not always act in their own personal best interests. Often the well being of others is a higher consideration, regardless of religion or lack thereof.

        2. toasty says:

          Yet I’ve mused on more than one occassion if after the results of the 9/11 Bombings, if the entire population of America had responded, not with angry and a desire for revenge (very reasonable reactions, I will admit) but with a “how can we love these people that hate us? How can we serve them?”

          My mom is fond of telling a story about a missionary and his two sons who were burned alive in their car in India at the hand of Hindu radicals. This man’s wife and his daughter, instead of asking the Indian government to punish these murderers to the fullest extent of the law, simply said, “I forgive you.” India was speechless. They didn’t understand how someone could say that. Imagine an entire nation doing that to people like Bin Laden. Its a scary thought. People like Gandhi have proven that nonviolence, but an intollerant attidute towards injustice is just as effect, perhaps more effect, than violent acts of terrorism (I’d like to point out that Islamic Extremists have done very little good in the West, except making people hate ALL muslims, while Gandhi, indirectly, created THREE nations and made the entire world take notice of a single man’s power).

          I think people just prefer the fast and easy way of doing things. I’m angry so I’m going to hurt you. You have stuff so I’m going to take it. That’s easy. But its also destructive. It divides communities instead of bringing them together, and that ultimately is bad.

          1. Aldowyn says:

            India is… odd, sometimes. Hindi is the dominant religion, I believe, but it’s also the home of such pacifist beliefs like Gandhi’s and Buddhism. You basically said that the country couldn’t imagine that someone would follow teachings very similar to one of the most famous people from that country. Odd.

            1. Blink says:

              This “pacifist” Gandhi being the same one who held a recruitment campaign during WWI? This being one of those figures that have been glorified beyond recognition, like Mother Theresa.

              Besides, when analysing the moral behaviour of a nation, religion is the LAST place you look at. The tenets of the dominant faith have no correlation with how people actually behave. Things like poverty, famine, low health care education and politics always come first.

              Well, there’s an exception actually: if the nation has a relatively new and “hot” religion, it’s usually worse off for it.

        3. Calatar says:

          It most certainly is possible. “Love of God” is really the only rationale you can find for why caring and kindness towards your neighbors is an excellent rule to follow?

          The phrase “mutually beneficial relationships” comes to mind. If you do nice things for other people, or at a minimum are considerate, they’ll respond in kind in most cases. Rudeness, hostility and taking advantage of others results in return hostility, thus diminishing the resources available to you.

          It’s fairly evident to see how a population of backstabbing opportunists wouldn’t fare as well or possess the same level of resources as a similar population of helpful individuals working together. Of course the latter necessitates a higher level of social ability, which humans have attained through our large brains. The study of the evolution of altruism as a trait deals with this heavily. In a society which depends upon the prevalence of altruism, a known backstabber faces ostracism for breaking the social rules which benefit everybody. Therefore the opportunist takes a risk by being parasitic, thus lowering the fitness of the trait.

          It’s not a hard rule, but generally speaking, you’re better off being nice to others than thinking only of yourself.

          Furthermore, it’s rarely wise to say “It’s impossible for X people explain Y thing” when speaking to a group which includes X people. Especially when it’s an alleged impossibility which presents such negative connotations for group X.

          1. Cuthalion says:

            which humans have attained through our large brains.

            I know I’m nitpicking here, but this bugs me, so I’m getting it out of my system. Large brains do not necessarily equal intelligence.

            1. Calatar says:

              We probably evolved large brains because of our complicated social dynamics, which require complicated and abstract thinking. Large brains do imply some evolutionary advantage deriving from the large size. Given that our abnormally large craniums cause difficult childbirths thus lowering our reproductive fitness, it stands to reason that they must increase our fitness otherwise. Human brains also use up far more energy than those of other primates, which use more energy than other tested mammals.

              Some studies have found there is some correlation between brain size and intelligence. It’s far from 1:1, but it exists (probably, though it is debated). There is a reason we don’t think Stegosaurus was too bright though.
              Wikipedia for more.
              Neuroscience and Intelligence

              Evolutionarily, we do care about brain size as a contributing factor of species intelligence. It’s not strictly true on an individual basis, but that’s why it’s not a 1:1 correlation.

        4. decius says:

          Sure, it's possible for an atheist to love his neighbor too. But it's not possible for him to show why “love thy neighbor” is a rule we should all follow….

          Yes, it is.
          First, establish a basis for deciding what the necessary and sufficient conditions for an action being one that we ‘should all follow’, or for an action being one that a given individual ‘should’ take.

          If you start with any permutation of “the greatest good for the greatest number”, then some variation of ‘love thy neighbor as thyself’ follows trivially. If a dictator is needed, one will be appointed, possibly without his consent.

          If you start with some variation of “do what you must to get ahead”, then you might see practical value in mutual society, which requires that certain mutual standards be applied. It’s good to be the king, but it’s also good to not be killed by those seeking the throne. The person or people who keep the power will take steps to keep it and maximize their returns. Thus, the wise despot will eventually create laws which benefit the people he has power over in order to indirectly benefit himself. Those laws are only effective if the sanctions for breaking those laws are less desirable than the consequences of following them. Therefore, the most selfish thing any individual can do is to perform the action which causes the most total benefit. QED.

          Or consider the strategy in infinitely iterated prisoner’s dilemma.

      6. Dys says:

        Two problems with those two rules.

        First problem, why is God #1? In this case the first rule takes precedence over the second and therefore anyone not worshiping God as you believe God wants to be worshipped is excluded from rule #2.

        Second, if we are ignoring the first rule, why exactly do we need it at all? Why not just have one rule which I would define as…

        Be Excellent to each other.

  15. Jason says:

    So I know you are writing this somewhat from your 10 year old perspective, so you wouldn’t have understood at the time, but why two churches? And why two that were so incongruous?

    For a long time, this blog has been an insightful place to read about games, I’m glad to see that you are as insightful about your own life.

  16. noahpocalypse says:

    Mark one down on the list of people who think this is a great series, made all the more so by it’s thoroughness.

    Irrelevant, but I totally agree with this post.

  17. Hal says:

    Eh, one quibble:

    Christianity has been a politicized, hot-button issue for a bit longer than you give credit. Roe v. Wade was 1973; Falwell founded the Moral Majority in 1979 (if Wikipedia is to be believed). Just saying, it wasn’t rainbows and unicorns in 1980.

    It’s sort of sad to me that it’s practically a rite of passage for young Christians to become disillusioned with the people around them in specific, or the faith as a culture in general. When you first become a Christian, you have a very idealistic idea of what it means to be a Christian; eventually you kind of see that it’s still a bunch of broken people sitting in those pews, and at the front of the church, every Sunday (or Wednesday, I suppose.) I guess the real test of maturity is when you can see past that and realize this isn’t a massive flaw but the reality of living in a broken world.

    1. tussock says:

      1973? The 16th century got just a touch of religion in their politics, with all wars kicked off by the Reformation movement. Major wars, over vital matters like who your priest was ordained by, saving entire nations from the horrors of people worshipping god the wrong way in their own homes.

      Crusades perhaps? If you want something a little more D&D. You know, getting European culture into the middle east by force of arms. Won’t make that mistake a….

      OK, I’ll stop now. 8]

      1. Deoxy says:

        I was going to comment on the Crusades part, but Wikipedia has a simple quote that does it much better:

        The Crusades were in every way a defensive war. They were the West's belated response to the Muslim conquest of fully two-thirds of the Christian world… The crusades were no more offensive than was the American invasion of Normandy… If the Muslims won the crusades (and they did), why the anger now? Shouldn't they celebrate the crusades as a great victory? Until the nineteenth century that is precisely what they did. It was the West that taught the Middle East to hate the crusades.

        “”historian Thomas Madden


        1. Max says:

          Okay, self defense against Muslim conquest is a reasonable explanation for why the crusades started, but it doesn’t explain the mass slaughter of Jews and Orthodox Christians in the Holy land. Even if the crusades started for a good reason, it doesn’t change the fact that they turned into horrible atrocities.

          Also the Middle-eastern crusades where not the only ones. There was the Northern Crusades against the pagans of Northern Europe, and the Albigensian Crusade against the Cathars, which wiped out almost the entire population of southern France. Just try to weasel a self defense argument for those.

          1. Tuck says:

            I’ve always understood (reading between the lines) that most crusades were based on the greed of particular potentates (whether religious or secular).

            In fact I reckon that can be extended to include the cause behind most wars. Greed and fear, the two most powerful emotions.

            1. SolkaTruesilver says:

              Rule #1 about Wars and Religion:

              Religion are never the actual cause for war. It might (and has) been used as a pretext, but it’s not an actual CAUSE for war. Crusades were done to secure trade routes to the East and prevent further encroachment of the Muslims in Europe.

              At a time of population pressure caused by the plague and a lack of potential fief to be inherited by a sudden surge in the population of the Military/Aristocracy social class, you end up with massive population displacement led by competent military leaders that just wanted to go out and find greener pastures. Might as well do it in the name of the Holy Church, no?

          2. DungeonHamster says:

            I would recommend God’s Battalions by Rodney Stark. Not a religious polemic, just in case you were afraid of that, but much more sympathetic to the Crusaders than most other recent literature and a good read. Worth reading just for the view from the other side, even if you decide Stark’s full of it.

          3. Deoxy says:

            Just try to weasel a self defense argument for those.

            Their BEHAVIOUR in the wars? The only defense I would have for any of that is that is was fairly common, historically speaking, among most or perhaps all people groups.

            But really, discussion of the bahaviour of the crusaders (or crusades against non-muslims) would be moving the goal-posts in this particular discussion.

      2. Raka says:

        16th century? As I recall, there was some politically and religiously inspired violence that took place right around 33 years after the New Testament opens. There may have been one or two incidents of politically and religiously inspired violence that took place in the Old Testament as well, but I’m sure it would take a lot of digging to find those.

    2. Alex the Elder says:

      Christianity has been a political battleground since the Council of Nicaea, or possibly even earlier than that depending on how you interpret the Epistles and Revelation.

    3. Hal says:

      Context, people! Context! We’re talking in a (very) contemporary sense about Christianity and cultural/political strife. While I (and probably Shamus) can’t comment about that relationship prior to the 1970s in America, there is the perception that things sort of exploded in the 1990s (for various reasons), and this accelerated in 2001, and again in 2003, after the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

      1. Aldowyn says:

        Thank you for saying this. People are talking about the CRUSADES, and Shamus was talking specifically about American politics…

        *checks* Oh, you’re the OP. THAT was totally on-topic and relevant. I’ll be darned if it didn’t immediately get derailed.

  18. Skating and preaching? That’s a … weird concept. Though if everyone kept skating whilst the preaching happened that would be kind of entertaining.

    I’m intrigued to see when/if your religious views change over the rest of the autobiography…

    1. Mari says:

      Apparently not that weird. I grew up in a church that owned a roller rink for the specific purpose of skating while preaching or skating and preaching or whatever combination of wheels and words you can think of (to kids – I don’t know that the adults ever used it). It also owned a bowling alley so that they could preach while bowling. And a basketball court for preaching while slam dunking. Also a collection of arcade games, foosball tables, and air hockey tables for similar purposes. They were big on doing things while preaching.

      1. X2-Eliah says:

        I’m torn on this. On the one hand – if skating is used solely as a lure to draw in kids, then.. it seems wrong to me. Like, you shouldn’t resort to tricks if you felt you’d be doing the right thing.

        On the other hand, maybe it’s truly a more fun way to conduct sermons/whatever – after all, unlikely that the bible outright banned preaching sessions while skating, and what’s wrong with having more than the bog-standard ‘sit around and listen to how awful hell is while being uncomfortable and cold’ stereotype..

        So. Yeah. Can’t figure out if it’s a good thing or a morally wrong thing. halp?

        1. Ander the Halfling Rogue says:

          If the vehicle for preaching isn’t wrong per se (and skating, I belive, falls in this category), then I don’t think it’s wrong, assuming it doesn’t offend badly or detract from the preaching itself (set moral values are excempt from the qualification).

          1. Nick says:

            I guess it comes down to advertising – if you make it clear before your customers pay their money that preaching will be going on, then I think that’s fine. After all, a service provider is allowed to name their terms and conditions and ‘being preached at’ is just one of those for this one.

            The fact that it just happened without warning in Shamus’ case makes me feel extremely put out – especially as the skating stopped for it and clearly they didn’t know it would happen!

            1. Ander the Halfling Rogue says:

              Yeah, I found that odd.

            2. Cuthalion says:

              Well, they were apparently asked a few times if they were there for church and told it was church night. So evidently, it was well-known, but… still not advertised? Hm.

    2. Ingvar M says:

      Not sure if “skating & preaching” is more or less weird than “scouting & preaching”. I’ve seen the latter, but never the former.

      1. Rutskarn says:

        Need a reliquary here!

        1. Scott (Duneyrr) says:

          This made me burst out laughing at work. Thanks, Rutskarn.

  19. Dwip says:

    I’ve always wondered about you and this subject, for some reason. Great thing about this series is it really puts a face to the name, as it were, on all sorts of topics.

    Also interesting to me how I went precisely the opposite way from you about the same age. Most of the Christians I got exposed to early on (the ones who talked about it, anyway), were decidedly of the “gossip and pride” set, and enough of that made me a fairly militant athiest* for a while. Wasn’t until I got to college and met a really great group of people in the “peace and love” set that I really started calming down on that. Kept the athiesm more or less, lost the militancy. Best for everybody. I wonder sometimes how it would’ve gone had that particular meeting order been reversed.

    * – A militant athiest with a passion for Byzantine iconography and religious mosaics. People are contradictions.

    1. Aldowyn says:

      Back in the day most art was for religious or government purposes like that, not for personal enjoyment. Especially big stuff. Think of the Greeks, and all their statues of their gods. Closer to what you were talking about, the Sistine Chapel. So it’s not that surprising, and certainly not a contradiction.

      1. Dwip says:

        Well, yeah, but even just in the Roman/Greek context, there are plenty of nice secular pieces of art to enjoy. Or I could have chosen to be a huge fan of Van Gogh or something. Instead, it’s all icons and mosaics and the Chi-Rho is my favoritest symbol ever.

        So I think that’s a little bit contradictory. It makes some sense, I basically majored in classical history, but still.

  20. Rodyle says:

    Just for the record: I’d like to point out that I am an atheist (albeit a ‘weak’ atheist) and that I would never mock people for their beliefs. While I do like debating these issues, I know to don’t do it if the other person is uncomfortable with that.

    OT: that’s an interesting situation you were in. I’ve been in several churches in my youth, but never in more than one, let alone such radically different ones at the same time.
    I was also wondering: what are the larger christian movements in America? I know that over here in the Netherlands it’s mainly Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, but I was wondering what the situation is over there.

    1. Hal says:

      Well, the Catholic Church and Protestantism are still your biggest groupings of Christianity in America, but I’d venture a guess that the percentage of Protestants is higher, plus the breakdown of Protestant groups is probably quite different. The United Methodist Church is, to my knowledge, the biggest denomination, followed by the Southern Baptist Church and the American Episcopal Church.

      Of course, we have a lot of “other” flavors of Protestant that don’t play well with the others: Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, etc. I only mention them because their numbers are much smaller overseas, though I’m sure you’ve seen Mormon missionaries at some point in your life.

      1. sab says:

        Could you elaborate on the ‘not playing well with others’ part? My experience with Jehova’s witnesses at the door seem more like “if you don’t want to play, that’s ok with us”. And we don’t get a lot of mormons here at the european side of the pond.

        If Shamus allows this subject to be discussed, ofcourse.

        1. Jonathan says:

          Hi sab,
          Short comment- I need to go to work here. Generally main-line Christianity does not accept these groups as Christian because they take what we believe about the nature of God (a key and important part of our faith) and the Bible and change it to the point where we believe that the god they worship is no longer the God of the Bible.

          The Jehovah’s Witnesses use a different translation of the Bible that changes a few key words and thus interpretations about the nature of the Holy Spirit and God himself.

          The Mormons have some additional books of the Bible that were added by a (reported) visitation of an angel to Joseph Smith in the 1800s, which make changes and contradictions to the Biblical canon accepted by the church for the past 1900 years or so (Jewish Torah + New Testament composted of the writings of the apostles, all of whom had direct face to face meetings with Jesus). For at least a part of their history, the Mormons also accepted further additions to the scripture by “revelations” which could only come to church leadership, but I’m fuzzy on that part.

          The other “doesn’t play well” group I can think of are Christian Scientists, who don’t believe in secular medical treatment and medicine (at all), and follow a book written by a lady in the late 1800s… beyond that I’m not familiar with the details of what they believe.

          Hah, I just thought this would be short!

          1. ccesarano says:

            I wouldn’t be so sure about the New Testament all being written by apostles who had face to face contact with Jesus. In fact, the author of Acts had no such contact, and Saul who wrote several letters also was not an apostle.

            It’s actually been interesting going through the New Testament again, and my approach to the text. I dislike the “THE WORD IS ALWAYS TRUTH NO MATTER WHAT” assessment, and when you get some background to the authors (or at least, the theories behind them) you get a sense of personality, but in some cases a sense of “Wow, is this guy full of crap?” To me, Acts seems inconsistent with the rest of the New Testament. There’s a lot more flash, pizzazz and theatrics than when Jesus was performing miracles. If anything, this gives more evidence that the author is giving second-hand accounts and wasn’t actually present during most of these events.

            …but then I try to bring this stuff up with my Church’s College and Careers group, and people warn me about the dangers of intellectualism…sigh…

            1. Joe Cool says:

              Actually, Paul was an apostle (from Greek apostolos, “messenger, person sent forth”) in the sense that he was instrumental in spreading the faith. He just wasn’t one of the Twelve.

              And whether or not he had face to face contact with Jesus depends on whether or not you accept his account of what happened on the road to Damascus.

              1. Cuthalion says:

                I’m pretty sure Paul actually does refer to himself as an apostle a few times, though he seems to consider himself less privileged because he didn’t have as much face-to-face contact with Jesus. I’ll look it up if I have to. :P

            2. Scott (Duneyrr) says:

              “The dangers of intellectualism”? Seriously?

              Luke (a physician) wrote his account of the gospels by interviewing people who knew Jesus after the events of his life.

            3. Cuthalion says:

              Actually, going by the texts themselves, it’s the other way around. Luke was present for significant portions of Acts, but got the info for the gospel named after him via his after-the-fact investigation.

              1. Scott (Duneyrr) says:

                Yes, he was certainly present during Acts, but was not prominent during Jesus’ lifetime.

                1. ccesarano says:

                  Hrm, I may have forgotten that part. I looked it up and read that he had interviewed Peter, but must’ve forgotten he was around during Acts.

                  I do find it odd as well, as I really enjoyed reading Luke, but there’s something about Acts I’m not a fan of.

          2. NonEuclideanCat says:

            Just some clarification here, since one of the greatest persons I’ve ever met is a Christian Scientist and I feel like I’d be doing him a disservice letting his faith go misrepresented.

            Basically, the core difference (or, at least, the most well-known) that separates CS from other forms of Christianity is their beliefs on healing. Specifically, they take the idea presented in Matthew 17:20

            (He replied, “Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”)

            and run with it, especially in terms of being able to heal wounds, disease, etc. Basically, with true faith, prayer, knowledge, and understanding, all things are possible through God (with the proviso that “all things” are good things; no killing tons of people with lightning vision).

            The “book written by a lady in the late 1800s” is a textbook-length analysis of the teachings of Jesus, with emphasis on the healings He performed while on Earth. The name “Christian Scientist” comes from the idea presented in the book that these healings are a provable, repeatable, coherent science that could be utilized by us regular humans at will, provided the requirements I mentioned above are fulfilled.

            Also, it isn’t that they don’t believe in medicine and medical treatment. There’s actually nothing forbidding them from seeking secular medical help (except in a few special cases). It’s that they will rely on aid and healing through God first and foremost. The exact reason why they do this would take far too long to explain and potentially falls into Mind Screw territory, since it concerns the metaphysical nature of reality, the true nature of Existence, and suchlike. I’m not going to try to render it into Plain English with my cursory knowledge of the subject.

            So yeah. That. Hope I cleared things up a bit. Like I said, someone I know (girlfriend’s uncle) has done so much good for so many people (nigh-constant missionary trips to Africa) through and with his faith that the idea of letting it go misrepresented like that just felt… wrong, somehow.

            1. Dys says:

              My only contact with Christian missionaries to Africa comes second hand and concerns distant American cousins. So I may not know much of what I speak, but apparently their main contribution to the well being of the third world is smug self righteousness?

              Charity is always at risk of condescension, particularly across national and cultural boundaries. I suppose what I’m wondering is if you have any actual evidence of this person’s good works, from the people to whom he was actually ministering?

              1. NonEuclideanCat says:

                None on hand that are any more conclusive than your second hand evidence obtained from distant cousins. Considering that I posses neither the time nor the resources to travel out to Africa to obtain in-person testimonies from people, I’m not really sure how I could. The only thing I could really offer is a link to the foundation he’s a part of:

                I suppose what I’m wondering is if you have any actual evidence that your conclusions that are based on second hand information from distant cousins are all accurate, based on the testimony of etc, etc, etc…

        2. Hal says:

          Insomuch as, except for the “not Catholic” part, these groups wouldn’t necessarily be classified together. Mormons wouldn’t really consider other Christian groups to be orthodox; same for JWs. On the other hand, most Protestant churches consider other denominations to be different flavors of the same thing, differing only on matters that are ultimately minor. Presbyterians wouldn’t call Baptists or Lutherans unorthodox.

        3. Mari says:

          Just venturing a guess, but the “not playing well with others” could mean that a major doctrine of the Jehovah’s Witnesses is that ONLY JW’s will get into heaven (and not even all of them, based on their doctrine of the 144,000 elect compared to their own membership numbers). Mormons are similarly inclined to overtly reject the notion of non-Mormons in heaven. Granted, many denominations and flavors of Protestants intimate such a believe, but only Mormons and JWs actually have it as a central tenet of their faith. By contrast, while you may find more than a few Southern Baptist pastors preaching on Sunday morning on the evils of some other denomination, it’s not something that the Southern Baptist Church has written down as a core faith article. They never held a vote on “All in favor of kicking the Methodists out of heaven, say aye.” Make sense?

          For the record on the basic difference in church makeup between the Netherlands and the US, the Roman Catholic church and the various “reform” churches (Calvinist/Presbyterian and Lutheran) make up a larger part of the European church population (with more than a passing nod at the Anglican church in England) while America seems to have a much larger percentage of later “protest” churches that trace their roots to sects that were kicked out of/fled Europe for being a little too weird for general consumption at the time. For instance, my family has a branch of Anabaptists that fled England to the Netherlands to avoid persecution in the 16th century. They stayed in the Netherlands for two generations and then wound up migrating to America. The area of Texas where I live still has a large population of various Anabaptist groups (primarily general Mennonite but also some Brethren and a scattering of Hutterite communes and Moravian churches). I’ve also noticed a big upsurge lately in various Pentecostal churches around here, which fits more into the “liberal” and “charismatic” end of the spectrum that Shamus described.

          1. adam says:

            I would say it’s a commonly accepted myth among people (Mormons included) that only Mormons will go to “heaven.” But that is simply not the case. There’s nothing in Mormon doctrine that states that only Mormons go to heaven. What Mormon doctrine asserts is that there is a prescribed method for re-entering God’s presence (this is not just “heaven”) and that the Mormon church is currently the one with the authority and knowledge to execute (parts of) this method.

            Think of it like taking a crucially important grad course from a world renowned professor. You’ll be given the opportunity to succeed, no questions asked, at some point during the class, with full knowledge of the consequences of both success and failure.

            Some of what the professor requires for success may appear arbitrary or silly to you at times (think “wax on, wax off”), but you go along with it because he’s the professor and he’s in charge. It’s a lot of very hard work, but if you do what the professor tells you to do, you’ll get a good grade and a recommendation from the professor that will open doors to personal and professional progression that you never would have realized otherwise. Of course, with this progression comes lots more work and lots more responsibility, but that’s the choice you made when you decided to work hard in your professor’s class. And, one day, armed with the knowledge you’ve gained and the education you’ve obtained as a result, you are in place to become a professor just like your original mentor who opened the gates for you and you can give others the same opportunity you had.

            Alternatively, if you procrastinate and don’t work hard in your professor’s class, you don’t get your good grade or your recommendation and that’s that. Life goes on, but you never see the opportunities for progression you would have had you trusted your professor and done the work that was asked of you. You can still do many great things, but you blew your most important opportunity. Of course, that’s what you wanted, isn’t it? You made the choice not to work hard in your class and now you don’t have to. Any regrets you have are your own self-inflicted punishment. Your hell, if you want.

            Seems pretty fair.

            That’s Mormonism.

        4. Abnaxis says:

          The thing about Jehova’s witnesses and Mormons is, they tend to cause conflict by merely being present more so than by starting a fight. As Jonathan mentioned above, their worldviews don’t jive well with many other denominations. At the same time, their faith compels them to go on mission to spread their faith. Some of the more conservative Christian in the United States construe this as an assault on their beliefs and an attempt to corrupt their children, and they will react with hostility in response. They’re like the gypsies of Christianity, in a way. A lot of the laws we have with regards to free speech, privacy rights, and freedom of religion have grown directly out of this conflict.

      2. Rodyle says:

        Hrm… Nope. I’ve never seen a Mormon missionary before over here. I’ve seen a few Jehovah Witnesses though.

        Yeah, over here, most of the Protestant are Calvinists(which is not too strange, seeing how we had the beeldenstorm and all that) and a few Lutherans, Reformed and Evangelicals.

      3. DanMan says:

        It also varies significantly by region. The Netherlands is about the size of the north-easter seaboard of America. While there is plenty of diversity, it’s hard to have as wide-spread differences as in the geographically larger America.

        I don’t want this to sound condescending, but a lot of the perceived “backwater” areas are hugely Southern Baptist. It’s called Southern Baptist because it’s largest groupings are in the southern states like Alabama and Georgia. By “backwater” I mean typically the southern farmlands and swampier areas.

        Shamus and I live on different sides of PA. I know Baptist has a greater pressence out on his half of the state.

        In the more “sophistocated” areas (I only mean big non-industrial cities like Philadelphia, New York, Boston, etc.) there is much more Methodist and Episcopalean influence.

        It really is interesting how different even “Christianity” is.

        1. Brett says:

          And you’re only talking about the eastern half of the country. Here’s a summary of American religious affiliations. And here are some maps showing different religious affiliations in different parts of the country.

          Broadly, the south is heavily Baptist and evangelical, New England is Catholic, the Midwest is mainstream Protestant (Methodist, Presbyterian, and Lutheran), the Mountain West is Mormon, and the Pacific Coast is mostly unaffiliated but trending Catholic thanks to Hispanic immigration.

          1. DanMan says:

            Yes, I was only talking about the eastern part because that’s really all I know. This was very informative. Good stuff, thank you

            1. Aldowyn says:

              About what I would expect. I’m kind of surprised New England is flat Catholic, though. The Puritans were definitely protestant, and I can’t think of any reason for there to be lots of Catholics there. I know that, at least in the middle colonies (primarily NYC), the Irish were prosecuted in a large part because they were Catholic.

              1. krellen says:

                The Irish and Italians who were persecuted largely settled in New England, bringing their Catholicism with them.

              2. Cuthalion says:

                Iirc, Maryland was founded Catholic. That might’ve had something to do with it.

                1. Aldowyn says:

                  I think you’re right about maryland. Duke (I think he was a Duke) Baltimore and all that.

                  @krellen Was it enough to change the demographic of an entire area? Somehow I doubt it :/

                  1. krellen says:

                    Enough such that the dominant ancestry in New England is now Irish or Italian.

                    Note: I live in the middle of that light pink area where people are “Hispanic”, not Mexican (because they are, in fact, mostly Hispanic; New Mexican Hispanics largely pre-date Mexico.)

        2. kmc says:

          Also, in many denominations, just a change of preacher can make a huge difference in the “flavor” of the church. Mostly, the congregations I grew up with sort of had their beliefs but a lot of that was kept on an individual basis. If they really didn’t like the preacher, they wouldn’t say much about it but you could feel it, and if they liked him or her, they’d profess beliefs that mirrored more or less what he or she preached. I think, though, their beliefs stayed mostly the same deep down. This is particularly mutable in a denomination like Baptist where there is no official ruling body. (In other words, a church can be Southern Baptist whether or not they follow guidelines set by an organization such as the Southern Baptist Convention.)
          My experiences are Southern Baptist growing up (Southern California), a fair stretch of no affiliation at all, American Baptist in college (outside Philly), and some Methodist (also Southern California). Now that I’ve spent my whole Air Force and post-Air Force careers in the Bible Belt, I haven’t looked for a church. The prospect is a little daunting.

        3. Jarenth says:

          I’m not entirely sure what exactly constitutes the ‘North-Eastern Seaboard’, but the Netherlands is about the size of the island of Nova Scotia. Just a little smaller than Maine.

          Your point still stands, though. Just wanted to point out that we might even be smaller than you think.

          1. DanMan says:

            Wow, I was guessing from memory of a size comparison of a map I saw last week. I thought it was the size of basically Maine to New York.

            I spent some time in Europe in high school and it still blows my mind how geographically tiny the countries are. It takes me 6 hours to get to my grandparents’ house ONE state over. It’s so strange to think that 6 hours of driving could take you through several countries.

            1. krellen says:

              New Mexico is roughly the size of France, and is only the sixth largest state in the US. I think Europeans are as alienated from the sheer scale of the US as Americans are from the relative closeness of Europe.

              1. DanMan says:

                Yes, the map I was talking about was a comparison of the entire continent of Europe compared to the state of Texas. Essentially, Europeans were criticizing Americans for not using/investing in public transportation like trains. Someone responded with that map.

                Yes, it’s easy to travel around Europe in a train. Yes they have a good train infrastructure. They also don’t have 3,000 miles to travel if they want to go from one side of their country to the other.

                Not to say that we shouldn’t invest in trains in this country. It’s better than flying

                1. Aldowyn says:

                  Umm. I don’t really care about public interstate transportation systems – I care more about city transportation systems. Europe’s are immensely better, especially than where I live. It’s the 46th largest city (by population, according to Wiki) in the country, and the measure of it’s transportation system is a completely insufficient bus system.

                  1. ben says:

                    Both the Seattle and Atlanta metropolitan areas, (where I live currently, and used to live), have a comprehensive bus network and light rail system.

                    But why would tie my schedule to public transit when I have a car? I can go 30 miles in my car for the 4 dollars I would spend on round trip public transit.

                    And I HAVE TO HAVE A CAR, because my parents live 40 miles away in Tacoma, and my sister lives 280 miles away in Pullman. With access primarily via the interstate highway network.

                    The public transit system between my house and my parents house exists, but would still require 2 bus rides and a train ride, entailing a significant delay and additional cost. Meanwhile the public transportation to get to my sister would be byzantine with a terrible hours long bus ride on Interstate 90 and highway 260.

                    Or I could just take my car, paying less than $15 in gas to get to my parents’ and $50 to get to my sister’s. AND not have to make any stops along the way, reducing the length of each trip by at least half.

              2. Cuthalion says:

                This always weirds me out. The closest border growing up was two hours away, and you had to go further to get to anyone you know (Washington -> Oregon). Other states were more like 6 and 8 hours away, and the ocean was 2-3. Now that I live in Ohio, it’s 2 hours from my family’s house in Kentucky, and the states are so much smaller over here that a few hours travel in any direction could go through multiple states.

                It blows my mind to think that, as close together as the states seem to me here, it’s even moreso in Europe, as they aren’t just state borders, but entirely different countries, with their own laws, languages, and (sort of) currencies!

                1. krellen says:

                  Yeah, actually, Eastern Americans might actually grasp the most European scales, and might be as surprised by the scales of the Western US as Europeans are.

                  The United States isn’t really a single nation. It’s much more akin to three nations* united under a single state.

                  (*The nations being the East/Northeast, the South, and the West/Midwest. There may be even further subdivisions of nations within those, of course.)

                  1. Falcon says:

                    Yeah most midwesterners wouldn’t take to kindly to being lumped with the west. Heck being a Chicagoan we most certainly already have a bit of a complex. There is a coastal bias we react strongly to, screw New York and LA. The national media focus too much on them, and ignores us, yadda yadda yadda. A bit silly, but there it is.

                    1. krellen says:

                      Hey, I’m from the Mountain Time Zone. We don’t even get a listing.

                    2. Aldowyn says:

                      @Krellen What’s in the mountain time zone, really? To be perfectly honest, that makes sense. Population wise, it’s just minuscule. Sorry if I’m offending you :P

                      The midwest, on the other hand… 4 of the 10 largest cities (… what? Is that wiki map accurate? San Jose and Pheonix are larger than anything other than NYC and Philly on the eastern seaboard?) are in the midwest, and there are actually a significant amount of people there, especially around the great lakes area.

                      As for the midwest being in the same category as the West… completely different, and significantly different between itself (I would say more so than the rest, except southern cali and the pacific northwest), from north to south (Texas-Illinois. Enough said)

                    3. krellen says:

                      Denver is in Mountain, as is Phoenix for half the year (Arizona doesn’t observe Daylight Savings).

                      And I live in a first-strike target. How many other people can say that?

                    4. Eärlindor says:

                      I think Chicago is about the only city in the Midwest that the two coasts are willing to admit exists. :P

                    5. Aldowyn says:

                      Since no one likes to think about Texas, sometimes.

              3. Zukhramm says:

                What? Looking up the areas on Wikipedia, it seems New Mexico is less than half the size of France. And Europe as a whole is roughly as big as the US. And of course, not everything is densely populated here either.

                1. krellen says:

                  I mixed up France and Germany (not that I was confused about which country is which, I just forgot which one was the bigger one). New Mexico is roughly the same size as Germany.

              4. TSED says:

                I live in Canada. We can stick a good chunk of your CONTINENT into most PROVINCES.

                I just cannot fathom the population density of Europe, but I hate how sparse it is over here. I frequently find myself fantasizing about moving to Scandinavia / Britain because of it…

              5. Dys says:

                Speaking as a Brit, I think you’re entirely right about not being able to really grasp the size of the US in comparison. It’s often held as a point of ridicule how few US citizens hold passports or travel outside the country, or know sod all about anything outside the US. It’s less common to see that accompanied by a decent understanding of the fact that foreign travel is so much more present in Europe.

                As one memorable comic put it, ‘I can piss on Calais from Dover.’ (It’s actually about 50 miles, but I think I’m right in saying that at no point in Great Britain is a person more than 1,000 miles from France).

                1. krellen says:

                  I spent a year living in Ohio. Geographically, that is the same as a Spaniard spending a year living in Prague.

                  1. Cuthalion says:

                    To emphasize what krellen said:

                    I was born and mostly raised in Puyallup*, Washington**. My family (and I, when not at college) now live in Hebron, KY. That is 3,765 km (2,340 miles) by road. Guesstimating 3,200 km (~2,000 miles) by air.

                    This is roughly the road/boat distance from Madrid, Spain to Helsinki, Finland (3,614km).

                    I am still in the same country.

                    *Pronounced “pew-WALL-up”… sort of. Sometimes.
                    **The state, not the city. 2,678 road miles distance from roughly center to center. And now that I live closer to DC, I always have to specify “Washington State” when I say where I’m from. :P

  21. Mogatrat says:

    Of all of this, I found it most interesting that your mom’s friends abandoned her when she went Christian. Non-Christian people, particularly in the US, have to deal with Christianity all the time and generally speaking most of your friends, coworkers and random people you find on the street are going to be Christian, so I’ve always figured that getting terribly offended at someone’s religion is kind of a silly, self-defeating enterprise. I wonder how these people survived in the US at all.

    1. Jonathan says:

      My understanding of the current statistics is that, although most people in the US consider themselves “Christian,” something like 30% or fewer actually attend church on a regular basis.

      You can be a Christian without attending church, but there is instruction in the Bible to “not abandon the gathering together of believers,” and teaching about the Bible, and it’s hard to grow on your own. I think most of the people who say “yeah, I’m Christian” but do not attend church are “cultural Christians” or people who grew up in the church, walked away from it, but still think of themselves that way.

      You can go to church without actually being a Christian, ie without having personally acknowledged in your heart that you are an imperfect, flawed sinner, and are totally unable to erase your sin with good works, and that only through Jesus can you be saved and have a personal relationship with the Creator God of the universe.

      Between those two groups, the actual % of Christians in the US is smaller than it might appear at first.

      1. Brandon says:

        And yet, when it comes to politics and society the Christian Culture is still a powerful force, even if those individuals might not be considered “true” Christians. I was made very sad a couple years ago when a semi-regular survey resulted, yet again, that atheists are the most reviled belief/philosophy group in the US. Even for those who are “fair-weather” Christians, the idea that there is something greater out there is essential, and that atheists don’t accept that can be very threatening.

        A Christian friend once told me she thought I was brave, sauntering out into the world believing that there was no afterlife, that when I died I was merely gone. I’m not sure I agree.

        1. ccesarano says:

          See, that’s the thing I find interesting. When I think about the after life, of eternity, I actually feel frightened. Every time I explain it I find myself having to huddle in a corner until my nerves calm down.

          When you live a finite life in a world where nothing lasts forever, the idea of never-ending is scary. At least, it is to me. This fear is perhaps my greatest temptation to stop believing in God.

          1. Aldowyn says:

            My problem is that I just have too strong a faith in the laws of the universe. If I believed in God (… complicated), I would probably be closest to a Deist – basically believing that he just made all the laws of the universe and let it create itself. I would add that even he can’t break them – and thus, Lazarus wasn’t really dead, and there was a reason Jesus walked on water. Or they’re just stories. I’m a strong believer in Genesis (at least the beginning) being metaphorical, not literal.

            1. Cuthalion says:

              I don’t think you’re alone. Deism seems to be the default belief of Americans. Most just don’t know the name for it.

              (“Default”, not “only”.)

          2. Tzar says:

            Interesting. I’m an agnostic, but I find the idea of non-existence to be profoundly terrifying. Enough so that I’ve actually become a bit of a transhumanist lately.

  22. Simon Buchan says:

    I hope the positive feelings above are due to your excellent readership, and not to your tireless moderation. I feel I have the duty, as a good* Atheist**, to reassure you and your readers that you don’t have to be Christian (or even religious in general) to find this post compelling, and your thinking and position admirable. I would also like to state that your mother is starting to sound like the best person in the whole world ever, you inconsistantly lucky bastard :)

    Re: Christians looking like Jerks: I think a lot of this is due to the fact that if you don’t know someone well, but do know their religion, be it Christian, Fundamentialist, Atheist, or whatever, in general that is because they are being a Jerk about it. It’s a pity that at this point, bringing up religion at all requires half-page disclaimers, or the equivalent.

    * Debatable, for any interpretation :)
    ** Perhaps not strictly: rather than beleiving in the lack of a theistic power, I beleive in a system of logic that leads me to be confident, given my current experience and knowledge, in the lack of a theistic power. Perhaps more correctly Agnostic, but that is more easily misinterpretable in the popular understanding of the term.

    PS: I apologise for the stiff tone of this post. I try very hard to use maximum politesse if I feel my message could easily be misinterpreted and cause some drama.

    1. Dys says:

      Agnosticism is most correctly the belief that it is impossible to know anything about God, his existence or lack thereof.

      So stated, your position appears to be atheism, in that you don’t believe there is a god. The fact that you have reasons and are prepared to be wrong doesn’t alter the current state of your belief.

      I’m not sure there is any such thing as an Atheist, defined as someone who will refuse to believe in any god even in the face of direct evidence for said being.

      1. swimon1 says:

        I can’t find the word right now but I know there’s a word for someone who believes in a god but refuses to worship it. It’s maybe not exactly what you were looking for but I like mentioning it because I think it’s a cool concept. It’s one thing to not believe it’s another to actively oppose a being you believe to be omnipotent, that’s pretty ballsy.

        1. krellen says:

          I’d use the word “anti-theist”.

  23. Note: Tired when I wrote this. If it does violate the gold box above, just delete it. I don’t mean to, but the fact I don’t intend to have an argument (I’m really not proposing any discussion at all here, it’s just a comment on a situation I’m surprised to have never experienced) here might not translate to an actual outcome. I dunno. If it does, I’ll be as annoyed as anyone.

    Atheist though I am I still find reading about religion extremely interesting, because it’s just so different from the way I think. And I kind of resent the fact that whenever I try to discuss it, It’s always assumed I’m trying to start something, to the point there’s always disclaimers like the above present in case I get too inquisitive and start insulting people for no reason or something.

    For reference I’m a pretty die hard skeptical atheist, meaning I personally have no investment in what I believe beyond “is it true or not”, and very few things actually meet my criteria for the former. But the vast majority of my extended family are Christians of various denominations, and my Pentecostal cousins were basically like siblings to me growing up, but I could never, and really still can’t understand why they aren’t as uncompromising about this kind of thing as I am. Because I certainly didn’t make a point of talking or even really thinking about it growing up. So that lack of understanding fascinates me, though it does so FAR more than it does others I’ve noticed. Which is a shame.

    Like I always wonder why fundamentalists are considered “too extreme” by moderates for taking their holy text as read. Not that, from where I sit the moderates are doing anything wrong – I’m all for the peace and love aspect, but what purpose would parts you have to read around serve in a guide to civilization? I mean, my worldview involves the universe being giant, uncaring and willing to crush us like the insignificant blue dot we are pretty much at random, with things like ethics and morality being entirely self-determined. But as nihilistic as half that stuff is, that doesn’t mean I can choose not to believe it.

    Maybe there’s a reason religion is so popular, everyone does it after all, so naturally I keep asking things like this, with the intent of understanding what I’m missing, and naturally nobody wants to give me an answer. The usual reasons being because I’m obviously just trying to start a flame war or being intolerant (I figure if I’m still trying to talk to someone, they’re being tolerated) or trying to ruin people’s beliefs. But why would I want to make anyone mad if I’m looking to get an answer out of them? Why do people get mad at questions anyway? I love questions, questions make me think, and wonder if I’m wrong. Sometimes I am wrong, and I don’t have a problem with it because that’s the first step to becoming right, so I don’t understand the opposite reaction.

    Meaning, basically I’ve kind of stopped asking, pretty much for that reason.

    1. Primogenitor says:

      Me too. I find belief (especially against evidence) quite an alien concept.

      1. Zekiel says:

        Me too!

      2. Eldiran says:

        Agreed, and this is coming from an ardent Christian.

        I much prefer the definition of ‘faith’ as the ability to believe in things that are inconvenient to believe, rather than believing without reason to. Such as believing in a proper ethical system when you might want to do something a little morally shady.

        It’s a shame you can’t find anyone to discuss intellectual matters with, Pareidola — too often political correctness and a misguided need to “get along” gets in the way of insightful discussions, such as this autoblography and its comments.

        Thanks for having the guts to share all this, by the way, Shamus.

        1. What I don’t get is where does “inconvenient belief” change into “belief without reason”? Aren’t the things that would make your view on the nature of the universe “inconvenient” considerably harder to ignore than the temptation to take the moral low road?

          I think that’s the fundamental disconnect with faith for me – I treat belief in abstract concepts like ethics as a completely different animal to more physical concepts like chemistry or something. If I find myself having trouble believing the former I try to come up with a good solution, if the latter then I stop.

          1. Eldiran says:

            What I don't get is where does “inconvenient belief” change into “belief without reason”?

            Optimally, it doesn’t. I don’t think anyone should believe in anything without reason to. For me though, there are a lot of logical reasons to believe in God.

            I realize that my view of faith is quite different from the traditional view, but it’s the only one that makes sense to me.

            To sum up with a big ol’ quote from C.S. Lewis ‘cuz it makes me look way smarter:

            But what does puzzle people-at least it used to puzzle me-is the fact that Christians regard faith in this sense as a virtue, I used to ask how on earth it can be a virtue-what is there moral or immoral about believing or not believing a set of statements? Obviously, I used to say, a sane man accepts or rejects any statement, not because he wants or does not want to, but because the evidence seems to him good or


            Well, I think I still take that view. But what I did not see then- and a good many people do not see still-was this. I was assuming that if the human mind once accepts a thing as true it will automatically go on regarding it as true, until some real reason for reconsidering it turns up. In fact, I was assuming that the human mind is completely ruled by reason. But that is not so.

            For example, my reason is perfectly convinced by good evidence that anaesthetics do not smother me and that properly trained surgeons do not start operating until I am unconscious. But that does not alter the fact that when they have me down on the table and clap their horrible mask over my face, a mere childish panic begins inside me. I start thinking I am going to choke, and I am afraid they will start cutting me up before I am properly under. In other words, I lose my faith in anaesthetics. It is not reason that is taking away my faith: on the contrary, my faith is based on reason. It is my imagination and emotions. The battle is between faith and reason on one side and emotion and imagination on the other.

      3. Jethro says:

        The difference between religion (and specifically here I’m speaking of Christianity) and science is how the term ‘belief’ is interpreted. In science (or Rationality, or Skepticism), belief is determined by provability. In religion, belief is derived from faith. Faith is defined by Christians as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” This in turn becomes belief.

        As a Christian, I find little value in the idea that it’s helpful when Science (or ‘a science’) makes a discovery that corroborates my beliefs. Christians get really excited when archaeologists find an ancient site that’s mentioned in the Bible, or when some esoteric passage of poetry can be interpreted to confirm a scientific principle; I find this to be pointless. What use is my faith, if it’s based entirely on rational thought? It is no longer faith, but is then logic, rationality, and so on.

        The point of faith is to sustain our souls, not our intellects. I firmly believe that we have both, and that they are linked- but I’m not going to try to nourish my soul with facts about the world I live in. (Why do we consider a sunset beautiful? It’s merely a collection of photons. Why do we weep when watching Emmanuel Kelly on The X-Factor? What triggers the release of chemicals into our brains when seeing his story? Both our soul and our intellect are observing these events, but to say one has more value than the other is to cheapen the whole that is a Human.) I consider myself a skeptic, even with regard to my own faith- but I don’t apply science to my questioning of my faith and its principles.

        Someday, perhaps, we will discover the ‘faith gene’ and figure out what triggers belief against evidence; or perhaps we won’t. Regardless, my faith won’t be less valid to me. Just as I don’t lose ‘faith’ in science when it blunders (and it has, just as religion has), so I seek to keep my faith in spite of the evidence that religion causes nearly as many problems as it corrects.

        1. I find sunsets beautiful because they’re a collection of photons. In fact I find a lot of the rational science stuff absolutely beautiful, I assume in the same way most people find poetry. It’s fulfilling to me in more than an intellectual way, but I can’t see why I would need a soul to appreciate it. The appreciation is mental, as is the intellectual part, so where does the soul fit in to there? What drives the assumption that it’s required or is it just another name for the part of my brain that likes pretty things?

          1. Eärlindor says:

            If I understand this correctly, you’re saying you appreciate things based on a function performed by the brain. So you’re asking what a soul is and where it comes into play, or it’s relevance to the body.

            If that’s the case, I think I might be able to help put this in perspective. In Christian theology (and likely other theologies as well; I’m not an expert on world religions but I assume others have this concept) the idea is that a soul is not something you have but, rather, something you are. You’re not a body with a soul, you’re a soul with a body. Soul=You (the real you [think I just beat this into the ground; sorry!]), the body is a temporary shell (though it is an amazing and complex shell). And the two are linked for the time we are here.

            Taking the sunset example, one does not necessarily need to know what it is exactly, or how it works, to appreciate its beauty. In your cause, you (yourself, the soul) appreciate and find beauty in the mechanics, the photons. And that also stimulates your mind and intellect. Everyone is different like that, and that’s cool.
            That may be a little sidetracked. The original point of bringing this up was when you said:

            …so where does the soul fit in to there? What drives the assumption that it's required or is it just another name for the part of my brain that likes pretty things?

            There’s not an assumption of a requirement, it’s more like it is (and it’s you).
            I hope that makes sense. I was kinda having trouble explaining it at the end there (or last half, or whatever).
            Ultimately, I was just trying to give you an idea of what a soul is and what’s meant by it (according to Christian theology).
            Hope that helped.

    2. Cerapa says:

      The thing about religion is that in some cases it punishes non-belief. If you are doing something that might reduce that belief, then its the equivelant of attempting to send them to hell.

      That might just be a small subset of people though. I dont actually have a clue why religion is such a touchy subject. That is basically my herp-derpy emotional answer that is totally unproven.

      Also, questions are awesome.

      1. Retsam says:

        Real things have consequences. Non-religious people tend to think of religion as an abstract concept that shouldn’t have any impact on their life if they don’t accept it, but that’s not the way real things work.

        People are quick to say, “If I don’t believe in God, then I shouldn’t be ‘punished’ when I die“, and think that’s logical. But replace the words “God” and “die” with just about anything else and see if that makes sense.
        “If I don’t believe in Gravity, then I shouldn’t be ‘punished’ when I step off a cliff.”
        “If I don’t believe in the speed limit, then I shouldn’t be ‘punished’ when I drive 70mph in a 30mph zone.”
        “If I don’t believe in sharks, then I shouldn’t be “punished” when I go swimming in the middle of the ocean wearing a slab of meat around my neck.

        It just doesn’t make sense. Because gravity, sharks, and even the speed limit are “real” things, then they have consequences, regardless of your belief in them. If religion is real, then why should it be any different?

        1. Cerapa says:

          You have brought up a very good point.

          Non-religious and religious people have very different angles from which they view god.

          Non-religious people think its fuss over nothing.
          Religious people think its reality and thus denial is very odd.

          1. krellen says:

            And apatheists just want us all to stop being such Jerks all the time.

          2. Aldowyn says:

            Ah, but what will God do to those who believe he isn’t real? Will he give them a free pass? (and not give EVERYONE a free pass? Yeah, that makes sense!) Send them straight to hell? (the belief of what Shamus called “firehall” churches) Or will he actually consider each and every one of them? (This is where I would lean. I personally believe that, his existence assumed, good people will go to heaven, bad ones will go to hell, and belief has nothing to do with it. So, belief is a means to an end, and not the end itself)

            1. krellen says:

              Shamus used “fire hall” to describe the group sitting around a campfire singing Kumbayah. He used “fire and brimstone” (the far more traditional term) to describe the straight-to-hell ministry.

              1. Aldowyn says:

                Whoops. … Whoops. Fire just made me think fire and brimstone.

                *shamefacedly moves on*

            2. Atarlost says:

              The fire and brimstone churches are accurate, but not constructive.

              If you went to a math class that did nothing but reiterate the fundamental theorem of calculus you wouldn’t learn anything about practical integration and would come to resent the fundamental theorem, but that wouldn’t make the fundamental theorem cease to be fundamental or true.

              The doctrine of human depravity and the doctrine of hell are similar.

        2. Jarenth says:

          I can’t really think of a way to word this reply in such a way that I don’t sound like a smarmy jerk, so I apologize on beforehand if I give off that impression.

          The difference might be that gravity, sharks and the speed limit are all provable, observable things, whereas God by definition is unprovable and unobservable. With the prior examples, the ‘punishment’ is alleviated by the fact that I can predict the outcome on beforehand and test it, and that I have ample, proven warning that ignoring these rules gets me trouble. The more brimstony religions, on the other hand, tell me that unless I do everything right, I will essentially be punished for something I can’t test, know or understand.

          1. X2-Eliah says:

            Thank you for making the reply far better-worded than I would have.

          2. Retsam says:

            Thank you for a respectful reply.

            But I would argue that provable and observable aren’t attributes of objects, they’re attributes of ourselves. An ant would find sharks or cars to be unobservable and unprovable, but that’s has no bearing on whether or not an ant would be crushed if it wandered onto a highway.

            And, perhaps God isn’t provable in a scientific manner. (There is, however, in my opinion, plenty of evidence for God, if not scientific) But God is certainly knowable, many people claim, myself included, to know him on a very deep level. And I’d even say it’s possible to understand God, to the extent that he has revealed himself to us. (Which is to say, very very little)

            The problem here, is that you’re defining a very very specific way of knowing, claiming that you can’t know God in that way, which may be true, and then claiming that, therefore there can’t be any negative consequences for not believing in him.

            As a counter question, does true love exists? I’m really not a romantic person, but it strikes me as a good analogy. It’s not measurable, not directly observable, and certainly not provable, yet many people claim to know it, and many people claim to act based upon it.

            1. Aldowyn says:

              This is actually really simple: Yes, that’s valid – if he exists. But that can’t be PROVEN – and nothing you said changes the fact that belief in him is based on faith, and not proof. I would recommend you go look at Jethro’s last post for more detail.

            2. Jarenth says:

              Fair point. As a not-particularly-religious person I don’t know how authentic your knowing of God is, but I’ve had other people I respect and admire tell me similar stories, so I can only accept that it is a thing (that I currently do not share in).

              The analogy to love and other emotional state is a good one (even if, as far as I recall, the scientific community is hard at work explaining love as a function of brain chemistry [citation needed]), and you could certainly argue that God is proven in the people acting in his name. It’s, again, not a view I subscribe to, but it’s certainly a valid one.

              I do fully believe that an ant, equipped with the right tools and procedures, would be able to eventually observe and prove sharks exist. They are vastly different in scale, true, but that does not make it impossible, just hard. Do you feel God is inherently unprovable, or is it more a similar matter of scale?

            3. Stranger says:

              You forget that gravity and sharks and whatever are all simply functions and organisms, they dont have the ability to choose or change their behaviour. God, if he exists, has essentially placed humanity in an incredibly unfair game. First of all, what you end up beliving, or if you end up beliving at all, is dependant on your environment and upbringing, and then, your circumstance. When all is said and done, and you didnt end up with the right faith, who is at fault? Its like making every human play russian roulette, only if you lose, you burn in hell forever.

              Frankly, you made a rather absurd argument. If salvation is something that has to be achieved through hard work and study, then the deck is stacked by such ridiculous obstacles that only a small fraction of people can hope to succeed.

              1. Cuthalion says:

                In (most) Christian theology, salvation is not achieved through hard work and study, but through acknowledgement of Jesus’s deity and his ability to forgive us of our sins/evils/failures. This is a much easier thing physically, though not necessarily psychologically. (We often prefer to have things happen because of our own physical actions, not someone else’s.)

                The idea that what we end up believing is dependent on environment, upbringing, and circumstance is controversial within Christianity. The argument you make is the same that Christian opponents of that idea often make. I don’t believe in the cosmic roulette game myself.

          3. DungeonHamster says:

            Except not all things on earth are so obvious as sharks, gravity, and such. Things we didn’t/still don’t understand have been killing people without warning signs for time immemorial. For instance, in 1986 a lake in Africa (Lake Nyos) gave off a giant CO2 bubble that killed a couple thousand people. No warning, so clue that anything like that might happen. Nobody even thought to look. There have been many other things that haven’t even been explicable in the aftermath, and I doubt somehow that we will ever be able to prove the existence of everything that could mess us up. Observability, even provability, has no bearing on actual reality, only on our perception of it.

            As far as brimstone, it has its place. It is difficult to accept God’s grace when we don’t even understand our own sin and its consequences; that is, both “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” and “the wages of sin is death.” Like any good story, there has to be some sort of obstacle. The problem arises when some would wallow almost masochistically in that agony, making a terrible show wailing at the city gates in sackcloth and ashes, failing to move on to what the Heidelberg Catechism tells us are the other two things all believers should know: “how I am set free from my sin and misery, and how I am to thank God for such deliverance.”

            Incidentally, I really do love the Heidelberg Catechism.

            1. Jarenth says:

              But wouldn’t you say we were, retrospectively, able to observe this event? You’re able to tell me that it was a CO2 bubble that killed those people, after all.

              Incidentally, the concepts of the original sin and possible punishment for not following the rules are the two main reasons I don’t subscribe to any major religions. I understand how they have their place in a consistent religious worldview, I honestly do, but (to misappropriate a quote) I prefer to reject that reality and substitute my own

        3. I’ve heard this expressed before, and thing is, it’s Pascal’s wager with the serial numbers filed off – “isn’t it better to believe when lack of belief could mean eternal torture”.

          Jarenth outlined the basic disanalogies well, but even assuming it’s true, there’s a problem. You can apply the argument to any belief in any deity, but belief in all of the gods is mutually exclusive, and believing the wrong one is equivalent to atheism with respect to any other gods.

          So if Christianity is real I should be a Christian, but if The Norse Gods are real I should worship Odin, if the Greek gods are real I should worship Zeus.

          Is heresy worse than disbelief in these cases? Gravity won’t actively punish you for thinking stuff falls to earth because of magnetism instead.

          1. Stranger says:

            Exactly. It isnt love or belief or antyhing like that, its just nodding along because you’re afraid of the consequences if youre wrong.

        4. Dys says:

          Ok, working hard to try to take this apart, but I’m not sure I’m really up to the task. Jarenth does an excellent job as usual.

          Taking one step at a time then, ‘Real things have consequences’..
          ..yes, which means the critical question becomes ‘is God real?’

          If any one of the gods is real, then yes, we should do as they say. Until that question is satisfactorily answered however, it makes little sense to do anything.

          I would not argue that disbelief in God should result in no punishment after death. I would argue that the non-existence of God, and indeed any kind of afterlife, would guarantee a lack of punishment after death.

          If we assume the non-existence of any gods, then whether or not a person believes in them during life will have precisely zero impact on that person after death.

          Alternatively if you are not talking about God, but about religion, then yes, I would prefer that not having anything to do with them resulted in them not interfering with me, but acknowledge that it will never be the case. Religions are people and people affect other people, such is the nature of the world.

        5. Dovius says:

          While I am perfectly okay with actions having consequences, something like consequences in the afterlife sound like a completely different affair to me then the examples you named.
          The entire thing, to me, seems like telling someone to choose from a set of 2 answers for a question of which they have only the vaguest of clues of what it actually is, with the answer only being noted as correct once you walk away and either get an eternity of Heaven or an eternity of Hell without consideration of any variables, such as if the person that the case concerns has lived a good life or been an evil jerk.

    3. Zekiel says:

      Good question, and thanks for the disclaimer. Additional disclaimer: What I write here is not intended to be inflamatory or prosletyzing; I won’t be offended if Shamus deletes it if he feels otherwise.

      Disclosure: I’m a Christian, having happily been an atheist or agnostic in my teenager years and decided aged 21 that Christianity made sense.

      All that out of the way… I think your question is a very good one and I heartily agree with you believing that truth is important. I think we have to hold to the truth so far as we understand it – while recognising of course that we’re not going to have understood all of it fully – and keep searching for more truth. (Part of which is being able to ask questions and not get shouted down for the question being irrevant or something.) But I have had the same experience as you – there are plenty of people who whom truth isn’t so important, and actually what they’re looking for is something that works.

      So one answer to “why doesn’t everyone agree with fundamentalists taking the holy text as read” is “because it doesn’t seem to gel with our reality today and therefore doesn’t work for us”. One way of dealing with this is to say “OK well then the holy text can’t be true”. An alternative is to ask what you mean by “taking the holy text as read”. If by that you mean “why doesn’t everyone take the holy text as being literally true” – then was that text written with the intention that is be taken literally?

      I would suggest that it is also important to read what is written in the context of the people it was originally written to – it’s not realistic to expect every part of a text written hundreds or even thousands of years ago to be directly applicable to us in the Western world of the 21st Century.

      Obviously there are lots more questions beyond that… but does that help at all? Or have I missed the point of your question?

      1. Jethro says:

        THIS. Christians are much more interested in reading the Bible as a literal history book, than in expending the effort to understand what it really is: a collection of stories, facts, parables, poems, and ideals- written down at the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in order to do one thing: to draw people to Christ. Every bit of Scripture is geared to this one thing. It’s not meant to be taken literally; it’s not a textbook on anything (even though it contains a great deal of wisdom across a wide range of subjects); and it’s certainly not meant to be used as a Weapon Against Evil (that’s what the Fifth Element is for).

        And yes, context is very important. Saint Paul said a lot of shit to a lot of different people, and if we take what he said at face value for us today, we’re going to do some screwy things. (Still, anytime, anyplace: probably best not to sleep with your step-mother!)

        1. krellen says:

          SOME Christians read it literally. Many more do not.

          1. Gale says:

            And some talk at length about how their reading of the Bible is a literal, common-sense reading of what’s written, denouncing all other interpretations as arbitrary, and even evil – only to immediately fall into symbolism and allegory when asked about what it all “really” means.

            And some Christians interpret the Bible in terms of who it was actually written by, the times in which it was written, and the intention they likely had at the time. Hence Revelation being regarded as pure prophetic soothsaying by some, and cutting political allegory by others. Or both! Or neither! “Bible inerrancy” isn’t really as clear-cut as people often assume; it is unwise to take people’s descriptions of themselves at face value, especially when they use words like “literal”.

            There are a lot of different kinds of Christians out there, as it turns out.

          2. Peter H. Coffin says:

            The Some are the noisy ones, though. If someone’s misrepresenting that they speak for another, and the other doesn’t deny it, why shouldn’t the one be taken for the opinion of both?

        2. Eldiran says:

          On the other hand, we have to be careful not to interpret everything as metaphorical. There are parts of the Bible that are literal, and parts that are not. If we’re not careful, before long people will be seeing the resurrection itself as a metaphorical event, which undermines the entire religion. That said, many of the literal passages need contextual information from the culture and history of the time to make any sense, so yes, definitely don’t take it at face value, literal or not.

          1. Gale says:

            “Undermines the entire religion”? Well, it may well undermine significant portions of Christianity, as it stands today, but given how . . . diverse the religion can be, and has been, I would hesitate before I say something quite so broad.

            1. Eldiran says:

              Well, when I say religion, I’m referring to the belief structure and not the institutions. It does undermine the very core of Christianity, because if Jesus weren’t resurrected, he would not be the Messiah, and would instead be a heretic who claims godhood falsely, invalidating much of his ministy and the ministry of those who preach his name.

              Aside from the inherent meaning tothe resurrection of defeating death and sin and granting forgiveness to believers, there are buttloads of prophecies in the Old Testament that Jesus had to fulfill to be the proper Messiah. Resurrection was kind of a biggie among them.

              1. Dys says:

                But surely those requirements may also be allegorical, non literal or simply wrong?

                1. Eldiran says:

                  If that were the case then I’d say Christianity would be pretty well undermined.

          2. Blake says:

            Ive met Christians who don’t believe in the resurrection. They believe there is one god who got a woman pregnant a couple of thousand years ago and he was capable of performing miracles and whatnot, and they believe if they’re good they’ll go to heaven.
            You see the resurrection as one of the most important parts of the bible, some just see it as a happier ending than ‘Jesus died, the end’.

            One of my problems with religion is that it’s so open to interpretation, and that each individuals interpretation can’t be disproved even though the majority *must* have at least some of it wrong (based on all the differing views).

            1. Eldiran says:

              I’m afraid the resurrection is pretty essential. I describe it in my reply to Gale. Although I’m sure the Christians you speak of are good and kind people, they are mistaken on the tenets of Christianity if they believe that just being good will bring them salvation.

              The Bible is very clear that faith in Jesus as the Son of God is the only path to salvation. I mean, they can call themselves Christians if they like, and I’m not going to stop them, but if they don’t believe in the ideas of Christianity I’m not going to include their beliefs when discussing the ideas of Christianity.

              1. krellen says:

                I object to the “salvation through faith” idea primarily because of all the Christians who then make the leap that their “faith” saves them, regardless of how they live on Earth. The “faith, not deeds” crowd. I think these people are dangerous, to themselves, to those around them, and to the planet as a whole.

                The (in my experience, more prominent) crowd that believes that deeds reflect the faith, and faith without deeds is meaningless, are a much more wholesome bunch.

                In my experience, people that talk about needing faith to be saved tend to more likely fall into the former category than the latter.

                1. Eldiran says:

                  I wholly agree that deeds reflect one’s faith, but I would argue that if someone’s still committing all kinds of wrongdoing, then they didn’t really come to faith. You can’t just say “I believe in Jesus and God” and be saved regardless of what you do. Even Satan believes that Jesus is the Messiah. In order to truly accept the gift of salvation you have to at least be trying to obey God and do the right thing.

                  That said, if a man on his death bed repents and truly believes, then regardless of his actions during his life he can be saved.

                  1. krellen says:

                    The deathbed conversion is a dangerous and harmful idea. Your faith (as a community, not as a feeling) would be stronger without it.

                    1. Shamus says:

                      Well, “stronger” isn’t the goal, truth is, so…

                      I expect that it’s actually exceptionally rare that a person might might have a TRUE conversion at death. If they go through life rejecting the idea of God, and then change their mind in the last 24 hours, they are probably grasping at straws and looking for comfort than engaging in a serious search for the truth. Hitchens is so concerned about this that he said ahead of time that if he “converts” at the end, it will be due to drugs and pain, not a change in beliefs. He’s right about himself, but I also expect he’s right about a lot of other people.

                      If anyone says ahead of time, “I’ll live as I like, and then convert at death.” Then they probably are REALLY engaged in Pascal’s wager, and not seriously contemplating their creator.

                      So yes, people shouldn’t go around entertaining thoughts of converting “later”, if they believe now. At the same time, if an epiphany comes to a human being near the end and they genuinely repent, then they are no different than a ten year old boy who repents. What? Is the forgiveness of Jesus too WEAK to cover that debt? (And Jesus even warned us against grumbling about this being “unfair” in Matt 20.)

                      It leaves the door open all the way to the end, but also serves as a trap for the careless or calculating. Interesting dynamic.

                    2. krellen says:

                      Matt 20 is the workers in the field parable, right?

                      I always hated that one, because I always found it kind of douchey to the guys that worked all day. And while the “day” in this case does represent life, in the real world those workers you hired in the morning are highly unlikely to come back the next day.

                      I think Jesus preached a lot of good things, but I don’t think that was one of them.

                    3. Shamus says:

                      Why wouldn’t they come the next day? In the parable, he paid a fair wage for a day’s work. So what if he is more generous with others? So what if he goes to the market and hands out free money? It’s his money. I did my work, and I was paid as agreed. Any complaining is just self-destructive bitter jealousy on my part.

                    4. krellen says:

                      It’s an active incentive to wait around until the last hour instead of doing honest work all day (which has the same destructive and harmful effect as the deathbed confessional).

      2. Abnaxis says:

        Responded to the wrong comment

      3. I’ve no problem with my points being attacked/answered/questioned/whatever in any way anyone sees fit.

        I do realize the people who wrote it were vastly different from us, but I’m not sure that’s an excuse for the myriad interpretations of a single document.

        Couldn’t an omniscipotent being account for the people reading it and make an indexed series of instructions by time period with no room for interpretation, in such a way that whoever read the words directed at them would understand them perfectly? Or simply make a book that automatically rewords itself to make sense to those reading it?

        Getting people to write a book that can be taken as equal parts metaphor, literal account or parable seems like it’d be specifically designed to troll people, which wouldn’t serve the purpose of the text. So why assume anything written in it means anything other than what it says?

    4. kanodin says:

      Ah I’m in much the same boat, never really had much belief nor concern over what others believe and yet still interested in the topic. Though I always reckoned that curiosity was more natural inquisitiveness and holdovers from being raised going to church instead of any hole in my life.

      If I may be so bold, the way your post reads it seems like you are only or primarily getting the more conservative and fundamentalist perspectives. I say this because they tend to be the ones that don’t appreciate outsiders questioning anything as well as your characterizing them as taking their text as read.

      Liberal and moderate Christians sound completely different from that and are, generally but not always, a lot more open to people questioning them about their beliefs. Indeed, I asked a similar question on fundamentalists to my sister, who is currently in seminary, and her response was that the majority of the bible is about love and world peace and that the fundamentalists are focusing only on the negative that they prefer.

      It’s important to remember that multifaceted nature of Christianity applies not only to those within the church, but also with those interacting with it.

      Note: As above I have tried not to say anything argumentative or offensive but I could be wrong on that so moderate away.
      Edit: Seems I took longer typing than I thought, with a half dozen replies suddenly ahead of me.

    5. Daimbert says:

      Well, for me, I see big problems with “taking the holy text as written”. I do a lot of philosophy, and doing that really reveals that “as written” isn’t always obvious. For example, reading Kant “as written” is likely to be horribly confusing; you need to do a lot of work and have to even translate words based on what was said because he doesn’t — and can’t — use the words with their literal meaning. The same thing applies in spades for the ancient Greek texts where you’re translating a word that doesn’t exist in your language. And then there’s the question of thought experiments and examples, and of what should be considered such. And then there are questions of scope: for how long and in what cases are, for example, some of the moral rules meant to apply to?

      Interpreting pretty much any religious text gets into these issues, especially the Judeo-Christian-Islamic ones with such a long history.

      So there is room to argue against literal interpretations … and to argue for them. Which — while philosophy of religion and theology are low on my list of interests — is what makes philosophy of religion and theology interesting.

      1. Zekiel says:

        Entirely agree!

    6. Warstrike says:

      One reason someone might have trouble with someone else taking their holy book exactly as they read it is that it (the KJV for most “fundamentalists”) is a particular translation of older works. It tried hard to use beautiful language and made at least a couple of specific translational choices based on political expediency, leading to several places where the accuracy of the translation is debatable at best. It is an incredibly beautiful translation, and the basis for most later versions because of this beauty.

      Truly accurate translation is difficult, a point that was made to me when I had to use a correspondance (texts in early greek/latin/hebrew next to the english translation) to write a paper about the phrase “fear of God” used in a particular passage. The same greek word used in that phrase comes up in different places, not necessarily attached to the same english word. To really figure out what the older word means you need to look at the context of all these appearances of that same word. End result is I had to write a 5 to 10 page paper to really explain what that phrase meant. Most “fundamentalists” (or anyone else except biblical scholars, including me) don’t (can’t) put that much effort into their reading.

      1. Matt says:

        This is why many churches believe very much in an educated clergy. I am a pastor, and went to seminary, and studied Greek and Hebrew. We compare various translations with the original texts, and do the kind of word studies you’re talking about regularly, in order to try to provide just the kind of context you’re talking about here when we teach the Bible. No translation is perfect, and yet even the lay person, without this kind of training, can come to a pretty good understanding of what the original author meant by what he said, if he or she is willing to put in the effort.

        Also just wanted to second what a lot of others said. I’m really enjoying these stories, and as someone very much interested in the process of faith, I love to hear how that happened in individual cases.

    7. Abnaxis says:

      One point that I think is missing here: Some of the most resounding, powerful arguments against religion come in the form of a question. An example question would be: “If God is all-knowing and all-powerful, why does He let innocents suffer? Could he not design the world any other way?” The idea is that if you cannot find a satisfactory answer, then the religion is inadequate and/or invalid in some way.

      While I don’t think consideration of these questions is inherently bad as a philosophical exercise and in fact can greatly serve to guide one in finding one’s philosophy, many people with an anti-religious bent use these questions as a debate tool, playing “gotcha” games with believers by continuously posing complex philosophical questions and waiting for a misspoken or not-well-thought-out response. Because these few vindictive people have antagonized others in this way, you have to make clear that you aren’t trying to do the same thing. Make sure whoever you are talking with understands you are asking valid questions that you are genuinely curious about, not that you are trying to trap them in a hypocrisy.

    8. Kdansky says:

      You know what the primary issue with religion is? It can be abused and quoted for any atrocity you want to come up with. There’s always that one hard to interpret (or downright bigot) line somewhere.

      The problem is not that people believe. It’s that they justify their interactions with others by it. And you can justify anything if you go by a book that’s been written by a hundred authors during a thousand years. The translation and interpretation issues are not helping either.

      So my advice: Don’t ever bloody quote the bible. You can get it to say whatever you want anyway.

    9. Cuthalion says:

      I think fundamentalists are considered “too extreme” because:
      1) Their beliefs are different. Which is kind of an ironic reason, really. (For certain definitions of “ironic”.)
      2) They have a reputation for anger and aggressiveness.

      I think their willingness to stick to their beliefs is admirable. I also appreciate that they define truth in a sense very similar to you: something which is fact, regardless of convenience, rather than having truth be “something that makes you happy” regardless of its relation to fact. On the other hand, I cringe a little inside when I or someone I agree with is called a fundamentalist, because it includes all the negative attitude baggage that I don’t want to be associated with.

      Personally, I think religion is popular primarily because there is something about it which is true, and humans are constantly trying to get at it. That desire, I believe, is built into us. Oh, there are other reasons — political expediency, a glue to hold society together, a way to look better than everyone else — but I don’t think those are primary.

      Even atheism reflects this. I typically see atheists (including, as best I can tell from your post, yourself) defend their beliefs not because they are convenient or feel nice, but because they’re true. They accord with fact. If it’s true, it doesn’t matter if you like it.

      In a way, atheist and fundamentalist beliefs are held under the same rationale. If it’s true, it’s true, whether I or you or anyone likes it or not. Fact is greater than feeling.

      As for myself, I’m not really sure what category I’d fit in. I don’t agree with all of the typical fundamentalist beliefs, at least not to the “no exceptions” extent typical of some of the more extreme ideas on things like literally interpreting the Bible. I also don’t like being thought of as a jerk. So, there’s that. But my beliefs themselves are based on the fact that I think the things I believe in are true. Not just true in the sense that they provide me stability, but true in the sense that they match the facts. While I don’t really want to be considered fundamentalist, I don’t really want to be considered mainline either because that brings with it the connotations of separating fact and belief, along with a lot of internal inconsistencies that bother me.

      Perhaps I should just say, “I’m a Christian,” and leave it at that?

      1. Aldowyn says:

        … Yes. Leave it at that. Good on you.

      2. Dys says:

        I get the feeling we’re on far sides of a quite daunting chasm, so I don’t think getting into a conversation here is going to be wise, but I couldn’t help but comment on this.

        Fundamentalism and atheism are held under the same rationale because both prefer things that are true?

        I simply can’t swallow this assertion, which, yes, may be a failing on my part. The beliefs of a fundamentalist of any religion are not true. They are simply not factually true… You may believe they are true, but that does not make it so.

        I’m not going to say that the position of an atheist is provably true either, but it’s so close as to be virtually certain, whereas the whole world would have to be intrinsically different for a fundamentalist belief system to be true.

        So, do you actually believe that the assertions of a religious fundamentalist are actually, factually, true? And if so, can you try to explain to me how you can believe that?

        1. Abnaxis says:

          Actually, I can see where Cuthalion is coming from, and it is a very interesting point I’ve never considered before. Atheists and fundamentalists base their philosophies on two polar opposite axioms: fundamentalists, on the one hand, believe that in his infinite wisdom God passed the Bible down to humanity, instructing them on the nature of humanity and the universe, and that this book is the ultimate, pure truth. Atheists, on the other hand, believe there is no God, that the universe is governed by universal laws which pay no heed to any man or being, and the only way to unlock to mysterious of the universe is through our own investigations.

          However, once you look beyond the fundamental bases for their philosophies, atheists and fundamentalists look very similar. They both seek to objectively define their worldviews using the tenets of their philosophy–for fundamentalists, this means a close, literal reading of the Bible, while for Atheists search for truth in science and logic*. “Objectively” is the key word there–if the (accepted) Bible says, in no uncertain terms, that women cannot cut their hair, fundamentalists women should not cut their hair. At the same time if science were to discover, conclusively, the existence of the soul, an atheist should not ignore this fact even if it is distasteful to them.

          That is a very interesting way to compare two very different groups of people. Thank you.

          *NOTE: Not saying all theists are illogical, just that the basis of faith is not logic.

          1. Warstrike says:

            C.S. Lewis wrote a significant number of books on these kinds of questions, probably due to his own conversion process. “Simple Christianity” (I think that’s the right title) was an attempt to derive Christianity based on observation and logical argument. “The Problem of Pain” is an entire book (which I admit I did not make it all the way through) on the question of how there can be a good God with all the pain and suffering around. The thing I noticed about each of these books is that they are very clearly written, in reasonably simple language. he doesn’t go soaring off into realms of flowery prose or get bogged down in philisophical terminology.

            1. Cuthalion says:

              Probably “Mere Christianity” you’re thinking of. Very interesting book. And actually, the book that convinced me nonfiction reading could be entertaining and not just homework. (Of course now, I spent an outrageous amount of time reading short-form nonfiction, like this blog or wikipedia articles on phonetics.)

          2. Cuthalion says:

            Yes, that’s exactly where I meant to go with that! Fundamentalists prize, prize objectivity. As do many of the atheists commenting here, if I understand them correctly. They come to different conclusions not because they have irreconcilably different priorities or methods, but because they have at some point accepted very different points from which to reason. They’ve judged different sources of information to have the highest reliability. But they would both scoff at the idea that we should believe something which is not objectively true.

            (To the point where emotions are seen as almost dangerous in many theologically fundamentalist churches. This gets confusing when a few fundamentalists get reputations for being very angry, thus the negative connotations of the term — but I think many of those do not even realize they’re being emotional. They probably think they’re simply doing their duty in pointing out evil and not allowing the subjective, emotionally-clouded opinion of others to force them to back down. What comes off as angry may simply be cold, ruthless objectivity — albeit, I would say, with a few critical logical failings.)

            I ramble, but I’m glad it gave you a new way to compare the two groups, Abnaxis.

    10. Eärlindor says:

      I’m a Christian. I see nothing wrong or offensive with this. Even Christ warned against blind faith. It’s a shame that your questions about religion over the years have been shot down by people when, in fact, they should be addressed to the best of one’s ability. It’s the only way we learn and grow.

  24. Jonathan says:

    Glad to see this post. I’m a Christian, and I’ll agree that it’s hard to find a church that you can be really comfortable at. Looking back at the church that I (mostly) grew up in…yeah, a little wierd, and had some issues. Happily, it’s not church or the preacher that saves us, but Christ Himself.

    There are a lot of churches out there that tend towards legalism, and/or where it seems thateveryone is OK and nobody has problems… when in fact most people have habitual sin of some type they deal with, anger issues, grief over stuff in their past, etc. etc. Hey guess what, Christians are still flawed human beings, we just have Jesus to help us work through it and find grace, forgiveness, and peace. My current church has a saying… “It’s OK to not be OK. It’s not OK to want to stay that way.” They teach the scripture, but with a heavy focus on the grace of God… which is, ya know, pretty important in a fallen world.

  25. Primogenitor says:

    Out of curiosity Shamus, was it something Christianity-specific that attracted you to that faith? Or was it the more general “people should be nice to each other” idea?

    This sounds to me more like the latter, which in turn makes me interested if you could have a different faith (e.g. Hindu, Buddhist, etc) if you had different experiences (e.g. indian origin babysitter). Or was it more “Christian or nothing”?

  26. X2-Eliah says:

    Errrrr. Okay, after reading the comments a bit, a question springs to mind:

    A few Christians referred to the current-day world as ‘broken’ / ‘fallen’. Is that a thing coming from the religion (that view of the world), and subsequently, does it mean anything if one thinks the world isn’t particularly broken?

    1. Eldiran says:

      It comes with any religion that requires belief for salvation, or that has a strong ethical code. Humans always fall short on one or both counts. Even those that succeed in the former fail in the latter.

      Thinking the world isn’t fallen implies that you are fallen. Which isn’t saying much, since we pretty much all are.

    2. DanMan says:

      Answering for others as best as I can. “The Fall” is a Christian, Jewish and Muslim concept. It may exist in other religions as well, but I don’t know about them. The three religions which accept the Jewish God believe that the world started in the Garden of Eden, which was a perfect paradise where no Sin existed (people were in harmony with God and followed what he says).

      Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden by disobeying God, which is referred to as “The Fall”. People describe this as the “fallen world” because sin was introduced. Now the world is no longer a paradise because people rebel against God.

      That is a very simple explanation, with a TON of theological implications behind it. I’m assuming you wanted the short version

      1. Aldowyn says:

        This reminds me:

        Am I the only one that finds it absolutely ASTONISHING that such a vast majority of the world is judeo-christian? (which, btw, includes Islam. Sorry, they were late to the party). The ENTIRE WESTERN WORLD became predominantly judeo-christian – I literally can’t think of another religion that is dominant in more than one country. (Hindi- Indian, primarily. Buddhism – … it’s a little fishy, but I think most would agree that most countries wouldn’t identify as “buddhist”.)

        1. Blink says:

          Not really that remarkable once you take into account that judeo-christian religion has the most powerful incentives to destroy, suppress and convert other religions, mainly the commands to spread and fill the earth and the whole missionary thing.

          Eastern religions, I think, are much more introspective.

          1. ben says:

            Judaism has a lot of parallels with Shinto-ism and Hindu-ism. National religions of one ethnic group that are resistant to foreign conversion but are not into converting others except through marriage and adoption. No commandments to spread the word or expand to fill the world here.

            Christianity has a lot of parallels with Buddhism , both religions proselytize extensively, and both are second generation descendants of religions that were formally tied to one ethnic group.

            Islam is the odd man out, since its goal is to RULE over the world while not necessarily converting everyone. Proselytizing is secondary.

    3. Daimbert says:

      To come from the religion itself, it would be equivocation; the literal “fallen” wouldn’t necessarily mean what you think it does (meaning fallen from the Garden of Eden). Otherwise, there is much room for debate on the view of the fallen or broken that you’d be thinking of, with some arguing that the world is broken and some arguing that it isn’t.

    4. Retsam says:

      Are there people who don’t think the world is screwed up? I tend to find non-Christian perspectives on the world to be even more negative than Christian perspectives.
      If anything, I think the Christian worldview is quite positive. It teaches that humans are inherently good, but have simply been twisted by sin. There are no “complete monsters” only people who have been severely twisted, everyone has inherent value as a human being.

      Personally, I believe to really be a humanist, you have to be a theist. I know atheists claim to be humanist and that humans have value, but honestly, I just don’t see how that idea is consistent with their belief that we’re nothing more than the accidental byproducts of random chance.

      1. krellen says:

        We don’t have to have purpose to have worth. We don’t have to have a Creator to have purpose. And you don’t have to have faith to believe people are fundamentally good.

        1. Michael says:

          (Yes, this was intentionally a response to Krellen – need it to make my last point)

          I find your description of atheism alarming, Retsam.
          “I know atheists claim to be humanist and that humans have value, but honestly, I just don't see how that idea is consistent with their belief that we're nothing more than the accidental byproducts of random chance.”

          See: Vulcanized Rubber, Penicillin, Plastic, Super Glue, Teflon.

          All of those things were created by random chance – some even a by-product of a experiment for something completely different. Yet all this things are incredibly valuable.

          Vulcanized rubber is used for car tires and shoes. Penicillin is the most used antibiotic; it has saved millions (perhaps billions) of lives. And there’s plastic in almost everything nowadays – including some people!

          I could not agree more with Krellen, here. Perhaps the randomness is what spawns the belief that humanity has great value. Out of trillions of trillions of permutations, this is the one that prevailed.

          As for the ‘people are good’ thing? People would like to believe other people mean good. So they do. Nothing more complex.

          EDIT: I don’t mean to come off snappy or hostile, but I can’t word this any other way. I’m glad other members of the community are more eloquent than I.

          1. Aldowyn says:

            Ouch. This point and rebound probably hit me the hardest theologically. I actually physically flinched.

            … I don’t think humans are inherently good. Ouch. I don’t think they’re inherently, evil, either.

            That doesn’t mean they don’t have worth, though, but it also means they don’t have… what’s the opposite of worth? ability to do bad/evil?

            Ultimately, it’s up to each person to be either a fundamentally GOOD person, or a fundamentally BAD person. It’s entirely possible that the only reason “good” is seen as predominant is because society encourages good. … sheesh. Atlas Shrugged is now inserting its thinking, and thus I shall stop.

            (Or not. Is what society says is “good” actually good? Or should everyone do their hardest to succeed, in any way, no matter what society thinks? To be fair, that is NOT what Atlas Shrugged says – Rand believed that people earned success through intellectual achievements, and force was immoral and unnecessary for societal success in such an environment)

            1. Michael says:

              “That doesn't mean they don't have worth, though, but it also means they don't have… what's the opposite of worth? ability to do bad/evil?”

              I’m not entirely sure either. When something has no worth, it’s generally considered ‘worthless’, but no opposite immediately springs to mind.

          2. Retsam says:

            I’ll say that I find atheism to be moderately alarming. I have a generally good opinion of atheists, but that’s largely because most (if not all) of them don’t follow their beliefs to their logical conclusion.

            All those things you listed were discovered “by accident” but were still discovered by an intelligence, and were only put the their respective uses by acts of intelligence. “Penicillin” may be an accident but “Pencillin as an antibiotic” was not.

            And, regardless, it’s not just that we came about randomly, but that if there’s no soul, no free will, no higher power, we’re nothing more than chemical/electrical signals running through sacks of carbon. Kill someone? All you’ve done is end a few tiny electrical signals. Why should I care about those electrical signals any more than the ones running through my computer’s CPU? (Because if I don’t, other people will end -my- electrical signals and I’m hardwired to care about that? A very pragmatic answer, but not a very comforting one, and does little to encourage altruism)

            “Out of trillions, this is the one that prevailed.” I couldn’t quite tell if you meant this, or if you were ascribing this idea to others. Either way, simply saying “there were a lot of ways this could have happened, and this is the way it happened” doesn’t make it special. If I throw a handful of sand up in the air, it’ll land in one particular pattern, out of, perhaps billions of different patterns that it could land in (I won’t quite say trillions, but I think billions is reasonable). Does that make that pattern special or valuable or worth something? Not really.

            1. Michael says:

              Well, there’s your problem – you’re confusing Atheism with Nihilism and, to a lesser extent, Determinism.

              How did you come to the conclusion that Atheists believe that there is no free will?

              I also still object to your argument that things cannot have value for simply existing. You mention the fistful of sand, and then say that, despite being unique, it’s not special or valuable.

              While I would agree that a fistful of sand is far from valuable economically; it’s still special. It’s one of the billions of ways it could fall, you said. I can’t put a price-tag on it, no, but the creation itself is still unique and intrinsically valuable, even if not monetarily.

              EDIT: DungeonHamster below me has a very good point. Value is relative. Just because you believe something is valuable doesn’t mean I will.

            2. Stranger says:

              Alright, see, THIS is a line of thought I have a pretty big problem with. I consider myself atheist, and it gets rather tiring that people seem to balk at the concept that morality can exist without being forced upon you by a higher being. Aside from the more complex answers involving social development and such, it boils down to a very simple answer: Other people, wether or not they have a soul, are humans, just like you. Imagine how you would feel if they harmed you. Thats how they feel if you harm them. Yes, its a simplified way of looking at it, but thats essentially what it boils down to. The Golden Rule isnt exclusive to Christianity.

              If you need God to be a decent person, then I say that you arent a decent person at all.

              1. Cuthalion says:

                Interestingly, (theologically conservative) Christians would actually argue that no one is a decent person at all and therefore each person needs God in order to become a decent person.

            3. The Defenestrator says:

              That is a really strange and scary thing to say. Are you saying that if you met someone who didn’t have a soul, you would say that morality didn’t apply to them, so you could do whatever you wanted to them with a clear conscience?

              Presumably you value people as people, not as valuable materials that happen to be arranged in self-ambulatory shapes. Why is it strange to you that atheists behave the same way?

        2. Retsam says:

          (As a side note, this post has spawned a lot of discussion. I suppose I should have seen that coming, and I’d like to reply to more of it, but I don’t see that happening, and I’d rather give detailed answers for a few, than quick, easily debunked answers for many)

          “We don’t have to have a purpose to have worth.” Not that I said anything about a purpose, but can you give any justification for this? What sort of worth are we talking about?

          Ultimately, it’s a self-referential problem. Without any external standard, it comes down to “We’re worth something, because we say we are.” But, the problem with self-reference is that it’s not justifiable or provable*. It’s just something that has to be accepted at face value, and if someone comes along and says “Humans are worthless”, there’s really no basis on which to wage an argument.

          “And you don’t have to have faith to believe people are fundamentally good”.

          Well, first of all, the idea that people are fundamentally good seems like a huge leap of faith, given what goes on in this world. I’m guessing you meant “religious faith”, otherwise the statement seems like a contradiction. (Unless you have some sort of proof for that statement)

          But, not to resort to just asking you to define every word you use, but how do you define “good”? What standard do you measure people’s actions to, and call some good and call others bad? More importantly, how do you justify that this standard is the right one?

          I’ve heard many answers to this question, for example “not causing others pain is good”, and while I respect the thought process behind many of them, there’s no justification. Again, it comes down to a self-reference problem. “Not causing pain” is good, because I say it’s good. (Or because society says it’s good)

          The quick response to this is “It doesn’t matter that I can’t justify it, it’s still better to treat people well”, and yes, that’s true from a practical side of things; but again it’s no use trying to use it in arguments or as a basis for a worldview, because if anyone else comes along with a different definition of good, (even a wildly different one), there’s no way to promote one definition over the other.

          Having a God, having a Creator provides an external standard for both these issues; we’re worth something because the almighty God says that he loves each of us individually. We can know what good and evil are because God is good. We know that we’re good because we’re created in his image.

          To nontheists who believe in doing good and who care about others: I applaud you. But I don’t think that your worldview stands up to logical scrutiny.

          *Actually, the problem with self-reference is self-reference.

        3. DungeonHamster says:

          The thing is, value is a relative concept. I might value a Snickers enough to pay a dollar for it, whereas you might only consider it worth 50 cents. One might place one man’s life at roughly equivalent to 2.875 horseshoe crabs, while another might consider one human worth more than an infinitude of any variety of crustaceans. You get my drift. However, if some sort of god is running this scenario, then if this god values humans, then we will value them precisely to the extent that we care at all what this god thinks of us.

          As far as purpose, no, you don’t need to have faith to have purpose. If god exists, you’ve got a purpose whether you want it or not. If we’re referring only to personal goals, well, then very nearly everyone has a purpose almost by definition, although not, from the view of anyone who holds a faith in something other than what you do, necessarily a worthwhile one.

          I would also argue that you do, in fact, need a great deal of faith to believe that there is any sort of good at all, much less that people are fundamentally any such thing. How else but by faith can we know what good is? Moral good, that is, rather than merely something which seems to us beneficial.

          1. Michael says:

            In that last paragraph, do you mean faith as in religious faith?

            Or do you mean faith as in “belief in something not based on proofs.”?

          2. krellen says:

            Good is an evolutionary trait we have developed because it helps us survive as a species. You don’t need a higher power to convey it, because good is simply rewarded by increased survival, and thus increased procreation and increased influence. What we view as “Good” is, ultimately, the evolutionary traits that most help Humanity survive as a species.

            And I’m really sick of some theist falling back on the damn “how can you have Morality without God” argument every time I try to have this conversation. It’s not all of you that do, but one of you will inevitably drop it EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.

            There was morality before Christianity, and before Judaism, and before Zoroastrianism. Morality does not have to be bequeathed upon us by a higher power to exist. It comes from ourselves.

            And if you don’t believe that, you’re not a humanist.

            1. DungeonHamster says:

              Just a quick post before I turn in for the night. Sorry if this reeks a bit of smartaleckry.

              First, I didn’t say you needed a god, just faith. Good requires some sort of purpose to which it tends. With Christians, that purpose is to serve God and bring glory to his name. According to your above post, that purpose would be survival of the species. That doesn’t mean that doesn’t take a certain amount of faith.

              Second, having a morality is not, at least if we accept the existence of some species-wide goal (be it survival, serving God, or even the ever popular finding happiness) which good and evil are relative to, the same as having the right one.

              Finally, though I’m not entirely certain you’re using the term correctly, I never claimed to be a humanist.

              1. krellen says:

                This conversation thread is about humanism.

                And survival isn’t really a trait that requires faith.

                1. DungeonHamster says:

                  But the belief that “good is an evolutionary trait we have developed because it helps us survive as a species” does.

                  1. krellen says:

                    How so? There’s historical proof of that fact. While each culture has its own subset of things it considers “good”, there nevertheless exists a superset that permeates all cultures of universally “good” virtues – charity, honesty, cooperation, humility. We don’t quite all agree on the entire definition of “good”, but there’s an extremely firm foundation we hold in common to start from. I don’t need faith for that; it’s empirical fact.

                  2. ben says:

                    Altruism is a survival trait is what he was trying to say.

                    Ants don’t have the brainpower to even begin to deal with faith, but they still display altruism.

                    Many of the traits that are considered good despite being detrimental to the individual, are actually beneficial to the survival of the community or species as a whole.

                    Helping the injured and sick as charity, for example.
                    Spend a little extra resources here, and later that guy can help you when you get sick. That way you both survive, while the people who aren’t charitable end up losing tribe members faster than they can replace them and die out.

            2. Retsam says:

              Of course there was “morality” before Christianity. Of course people realized that if they went around killing people, people would come around killing them. Of course people realized that if you stole from others, they’d steal from you.

              But is that all that morality comes down to? Reciprocity? I should do good, so that it benefits me? If so, people who jump on grenades have missed the point entirely.
              Moral behavior makes sense, but why is it that our conception of morality seems to go beyond mere reciprocity? Why do we believe that people should legitimately care for one another, even when it doesn’t benefit them?

              Without a God or higher power, there’s no basis for any higher morality than mere reciprocity.

              1. Zukhramm says:

                If there is no basis for higher morality without god there is no basis for it with god either. Following a set of rules because someone (god or other) tells us to is not morality, it’s just rules. What makes it morality is that we think the rules themselves are good and if they are, that is a conclusion we can reach both with and without god.

              2. Cerapa says:

                By jumping on a grenade you are increasing the survival chances of your “tribe”. And since communities tend to share genes, this means that the genes in question that make a person do that, survive through others.

                So its a persons genes increasing their own chances of survival and procreation through others.

                1. Sekundaari says:

                  Genes are one thing, but I think jumping on a grenade is more a trait from social and cultural evolution. By sacrificing yourself you are saving others with similar values and thoughts (maybe even religions), which is certainly beneficial for the survival of those “memes”. Your heroic death can even spread your values after your death.

              3. Stranger says:

                Well there’s friendship, family ties, sheer goodwill, a lot of things can make people want to do good without compensation for it. If you have to promise them it will make God happy then they kinda missed the point of altruism.

      2. X2-Eliah says:

        Idk.. Somehow I find the Christian perspective stating that a newborn infant is guilty of sin by default – simply due to existing – to be the disturbing one.

        1. Shamus says:

          In my view, it’s not so much “guilty” as having “an inevitable propensity for”. Sooner or later that baby will grow up, and participate in the Great War Of Everyone Being A Complete Dick To Everyone Else. It’s not guilty until it does so, but that cute ‘lil bundle of joy WILL (in this way of thinking) do so eventually if it is [un]lucky enough to live that long.

          1. Ander the Halfling Rogue says:

            In fact, I’m not sure where, but David indicates that his son who died an infant went to heaven. The implication is that God doesn’t hold a baby accountable for his inevitable sin until the child is capable of understanding right and wrong. Once that happens (and if there isn’t a mental problem, it will happen), they need to get saved.

            1. Cuthalion says:

              This is one of those issues that even people in the same church will disagree on. I think pretty much everyone (including myself) really wants to see it the way you and Shamus describe, but it’s not really directly stated either way that “dead infants go here -> X”.

              It’s also hard to discuss thoroughly sometimes because people often lose young children, and most people don’t want to discuss something that could make a mother cry. But for the record, I agree with what Shamus said and kind of what Ander said.

              1. Falcon says:

                Here’s another problem, say you are a Calvinist. You have a child, born premie, and dies a few days later due to complications. Now the Calvinist concept of total depravity (for more google Calvinist tulip) states that that child was born as a sinner. They, though having not yet sinned, are still guilty by generic inheritance.

                That child is then going to he’ll.

                Not a pleasant thought, is it. Now I’m not one to shy from uncomfortable truths, but that isnt something most people can willingly accept. Now try and square that with the idea of God. What shape does God now take?

                Do you get the picture of a loving God, who cares for all? Cause that gives me a picture of God as a vindictive dick, without a concept of mercy. It doesn’t really mix with the picture Christ paints.

                That’s why I don’t ascribe to that bit of theology, it doesn’t square for me. I believe in the concept of ‘age of accountabilty’ aka that baby will go to heaven, as will any child who doesn’t yet understand right or wrong.

                I hope I’m right, because that example is all to real right now.

                1. Aldowyn says:

                  From what I’ve seen, God in the Old Testament was a pretty vindictive God. He occasionally punished his own worshipers, and was always trimming them for the ones who really did believe. (Noah and the Flood, Moses and the Exodus).

                  Jesus’ views in the New Testament were totally opposite. Everyone had a chance to go to heaven, and basically all they had to do was admit they were sinners.

                  This… confuses me. There is little to none direct contact with God himself in the New Testament, so basically all you have, even Christians, to say that this second idea is what God wants is Jesus’ word. Obviously, lying is a sin and thus it is true because Jesus never sinned, but… still. Why would God never confirm this in any other way?

                  1. Cuthalion says:

                    Confirm that Jesus was really him? Well, if you accept the things the New Testament says that Jesus and his followers did, and not just the things they said, then he did confirm it in various miraculous ways. Also, there are a lot of Christians who would claim the reality of their belief was confirmed outside of the words of Jesus, though any of that stuff is very difficult to prove. Experience, I think, tends to be the most persuasive and the least reliable.

                    (Not meant to sound snarky.)

                  2. Bret says:

                    Have you seen what his followers were up to?

                    It was, on average, 30 years between sessions of “You know what’s awesome? Other gods and burning babies alive!”

                    And every time, he sent someone to sort things out, often with explicit instructions of “Here’s what you do. Hint: It involves not-infant-sacrifice. Are we sorted?”

                    And it didn’t stick.

                    Sure, a lot of violence, but it mostly hit cultures that were asking for it. And there was, often as not, a chance at forgiveness and survival, if people went for it. See: Rahab, and Nineveh. Not quite as thorough as the conventional wisdom goes.

                    And Jesus, on the flipside, was a lot less hugs than commonly depicted. Sure, redemption was available to anyone. On the other hand, he beat the crap out of the money lenders in the temple, there’s the parable of the sheep and the goats, his treatment of the Pharisees, and more.

                    Fascinating stuff, when you look into it.

                    1. Stranger says:

                      See, this brings up something that has always bothered me about the Christian God ideal. All those people that regularly got slaughtered back in the Bible days… were all of them irredeemably evil or something, like, the women and children and everything? I mean, dont get me wrong, I get that those days were pretty crappy all around, but it just seems kind of unnerving. And it “mostly” hit cultures that were asking for it? What about the ones that didnt? The one that always bugged me the most was the whole Jericho thing, where they ended up dead because they lived in the wrong spot and wouldnt leave because some guys showed up and told them God said they got to live there now. How is this fair again?

                      If God is real, then obviously, he can do whatever he wants to us, its not like we can stop him, but that kind of behaviour doesnt really make me want to sign up.

                  3. Blink says:

                    And not just in the Old Testament. Jesus basically invented the idea of “go die in a fire forever.”
                    Before him, if you did bad you were just murdered, which seems more merciful to me.

                2. DungeonHamster says:

                  The thing is, Calvinism also teaches the doctrine of Election. If God’s picked that baby, then by all that is holy he’s picked that baby.

                  That said, while Scripture nowhere discusses the subject of infant salvation in any sort of depth, it in several cases implies allows a certain extension from part to the whole. In Adam, one man, all men sinned. In the remnant from Israel that returned from the Exile, all Israel is saved. In the “whoeverso believeth in him shall have eternal life,” “God so loved the World.” There’s even a passage in I Timothy 4 that refers to “the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe,” hinting that while certainty is impossible, there MAY even be some hope for those who are not believers themselves.

                  With that in mind, turn to I Cor 7:14, and we see “For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.” I think that’s a pretty sure indication that at the very least children of believers are in the clear until they are able to decide for themselves.

                  As far as the children of unbelievers, we can have no certainty. They MAY be saved. It is not utterly outside of the realm of possibility that Satan himself might one day be redeemed.

                  But we cannot know. If not, well, as Romans 9 says “But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, “˜Why did you make me like this?” Cold comfort, perhaps, to those believers who grieve for those who aren’t, but a clear message that it’s not up to us.

                  1. Falcon says:

                    Yes, I understand all this. It’s just going into Calvinist/ Armenianist/ other doctrines on a forum not dedicated to such topics is rather difficult. I was giving the cliffs notes version, assuming an audience not intimately familiar with the distinction.

                    Heck most Christians don’t truly understand the distinction.

                  2. Stranger says:

                    In that case, I’d rather have nonexistance.

              2. noahpocalypse says:

                I’m inclined to think that God will have mercy on those who aren’t mature enough to realize what they are or aren’t doing. After that point, they are accountable for themselves and need to realize ‘I did wrong, and I truly regret that. Forgive me.’

          2. ccesarano says:

            I’ve had discussions over “sin nature” with friends myself, and I actually look back to Adam and Eve pre-Apple. Before they had knowledge, they weren’t ashamed of being naked. After they had knowledge, they were ashamed of being naked. Eve’s conversation with the serpent is much like a child might have. “But God/Mommy/Daddy said not to!”

            I look at children as being unaware of the weight of their actions, and if you study psychology/sociology you learn that children aren’t completely capable of sympathizing with others. This is why we keep asking “how would you feel if…” It’s also why they tend to play dress-up and other such games that literally require them to step into someone else’s shoes. It’s an attempt to understand the outside world by experiencing it as themselves.

            But, without that ability to understand the weight of their decisions, with their minds only capable of grasping personal experiences, they’re not going to be able to understand sin. All they know is themselves. I believe we aren’t truly judged until we reach that awareness, where you understand the weight of your choices and what is right/wrong based on how it effects others.

            As to when that begins, who knows. But because of this I feel babies, toddlers and children (to a certain age) are innocent.

            1. Aldowyn says:

              That conversation reminds me of something I’ve struggled with in the past.

              I think this was harder for me than others, but I didn’t really realize that other people were just as complicated as I was … probably until high school (it’s… complicated. Lots of things are). Every once in a while it strikes me: Wow. There are seven BILLION people on this planet, and EVERY one is a person, just like me, with their own talents, their own personality, their own problems… amazing.

              1. Cuthalion says:

                That hits me every once in awhile, too. I usually have a hard time coming to terms with that fact and sort of passively assume that everyone else is not real. They’re NPCs. But then, I get to know someone, and I realize that behind the scenes they actually have stats and skill trees not so different from mine.

                1. Aldowyn says:

                  Lol. I love video game comparisons.

            2. Dys says:

              So… what about psychopaths?
              They retain that trait their whole lives.

              1. krellen says:

                They’re anomalies.

      3. Woyzeck says:

        Well, as an atheist who claims to be a humanist (at least i try my best not to be a douche ^^), i indeed believe that the universe wasn’t created, but simply is, that life is “the accidental byproduct of random chance” rather than a product of god’s will, and that our consciousness, our intelligence are results of evolution, not of a plan.

        And in this worldview, because life and intelligence aren’t necessary, they are precious. I won’t have an afterlife to amend, therefore i try to be a decent human being here and now.

        It is neither more or less consistent a belief than “life is a gift of god, and he wants us to love each other” :)

      4. PAK says:

        BTW, I hope the following isn’t antagonistic–I simply want to take part in all the enriching sharing of perspectives going on in this thread. It’s quite wonderful! Only on Twenty Sided.

        I’m a nontheist (though I usually self-classify as agnostic, rather than atheist) and I regard myself as profoundly humanist. I have many atheistic colleagues who are strongly humanist as well.

        I understand your stance to a point. Many nontheists are quite cynical people. But you don’t have to believe in a guiding sentience to recognize beauty and magnificence and order in the world. Is order the product of an “arbitrary” rule set? Is it accidental? What is accident, in an ordered universe? What does it all mean? See, even those of us without ardent faith don’t always have it so clear.

        I seem to have wandered. Sorry! My actual point is, heck, maybe it’s just evolution programming me to be amazed by my fellow humans and to have human concerns. But who cares? Maybe “objectively” humans are meaningless, but as a human, I find human potential and human beauty and the power of kindness and happiness to be AMAZING. To me, that’s self-evident, even if there isn’t a sentience that created me with that purpose. Let’s all be nice to each other and be all we can be. Why would we have any other goal?

      5. Alex the Elder says:

        “I know atheists claim to be humanist and that humans have value, but honestly, I just don't see how that idea is consistent with their belief that we're nothing more than the accidental byproducts of random chance.”

        (Read the entry: “ignorance” has a very specific definition and function in the description of the logical fallacy and is not meant in the colloquial, insulting sense.)

        1. Nick says:

          Also: you’re confusing what is a logical inference here because you’ve taken ‘there is a God’ and ‘there is a divine mandate for ethics’ as precepts for ‘we should all be nice to each other.’ That makes sense to you because the first two points are axioms (non-arguable points) for you.

          But if I take neither such axiom, and instead take ‘humans learn from observable experience’, ‘society incentivises helpful behaviour as a self-helping measure[by which I mean laws, police, recognising charitable actions etc]’ I can still arrive at ‘we should all be nice to each other’

          See? There’s no need for God to be involved in humanist ethics if you don’t believe that God matters/exists

          Edit: This is in response to Retsam, just to make that clear

          1. Eldiran says:

            Of course, that’s where the troubling question of “why should I care about society except when it benefits me personally?” comes up.

            1. krellen says:

              Because a disordered and dysfunctional society harms you personally.

              1. X2-Eliah says:

                Yeah, but it takes more than a few decades to change an entire society by one person.. so the individual, assuming not a dictator / military leader / religious idol, is pretty much safe in that aspect. Ofc, if ‘personally’ includes successors of the line..

                1. krellen says:

                  It depends on how quickly the people you are preying on team up. We are, essentially, pack animals, with great strength in numbers. Our cooperative and collaborative skills are not an accident and oft underestimated.

                  1. Eldiran says:

                    True enough that if you’re outright malicious it can come back to bite you quickly. But there’s never any reason to do good or avoid doing bad unless you are trying to impress others.

                    Regarding successors, there’s no reason to care about your successors because they’re not you.

                    1. krellen says:

                      Genetically, and evolutionarily, they are. Traits that help your successors are more likely to be passed on, because you will have more successors.

                      And besides “being its own reward”, doing good is also investment in the community; those that do good are rarely then later on left to rot on their own when they fall on hard times. The same is not necessarily true for those that do not do good (although the presence of people that do good tends to offset this effect.)

                    2. Eldiran says:

                      @krellen:I can’t reply directly to your comment because the thread is too big :(

                      The reasons you give are both reasons that being helpful can be self-serving. But it’s not really about being moral if it’s purely about self-interest, is it? It’s not really a system of ethics, but instead is a strategy on how to best serve oneself.

                    3. krellen says:

                      If you believe in absolute morality, an absolute good, then the WHY doesn’t matter. What matters is the deed. If you approach the good from the basis of “because God said so” and I approach the good from the basis of “that’s what benefits us as a species the most”, we’re both still good, and neither is more good than the other.

                    4. Eldiran says:

                      Actually, the why is the only thing that matters when you want to determine if someone’s actions are good or not. If you help someone only because you expect to get a big reward, that is evil. If you help someone for the sake of helping someone, that is good.

                    5. krellen says:

                      I could not disagree more. Motive is not a defining feature of good. Think of all the evil done in the name of “the greater good”.

                    6. Shamus says:

                      Krellen, I sort of want to offer a blanket compliment for your contribution to this thread. You’ve been patient, interesting, knowledgeable, thoughtful, and prolific. A lot of people have had a lot of interesting things to say in this conversation, but you’ve done an exceptional job and I’d like to thank you for it.

                    7. krellen says:

                      It’s been a pleasure, Shamus. Religion is one of the things that really grips my interest. I love talking about it.

                    8. Eldiran says:

                      Ah – you are correct. I have to amend my statement. I have been thinking from the perspective of determining a person as good or evil, even though I said actions.

                      An action is good or bad depending on the circumstance, but a person is good or bad depending on the motives for their actions.

                      Regardless, just from society, there is still no incentive to be good, benefit the species, or do anything unless it benefits oneself.

                    9. krellen says:

                      The “incentive” to be good is that we are genetically predisposed towards goodness, because evolutionarily, “good” human groups thrive over “evil” human groups, and have done so throughout history.

                      Evolution has many examples of altruism, without divine impetus, because altruistic species do a better job at surviving, as a species, than do selfish ones.

                      And to steal your own argument, if your reason for being good is because you will receive a reward from God in the afterlife, morally that is no different from someone being good because they will receive a reward from society in Earthly life.

                      (Slight tangent: I believe that “good feeling” most people have when they have done the right thing, helped another person, is our evolutionary reward for altruism. We have a “feel good” gene activated by our charity that encourages charity, and that encouragement led to its propagation throughout the species.

                      And to those that say “if you do it to feel good, it’s not really altruistic”, I say “shut up, smartass.” :)
                      /end tangent)

                    10. Eldiran says:

                      If good is just what we are genetically predisposed toward, then it’s not really a matter of morals. We could no more blame Nazis for their actions than we could blame them for their hair color, because they just did what they were biologically impelled to do.

                      I agree that seeking heavenly rewards is not a good reason to do good. It really irritates me when people try to evangelize through threats of hellfire, or through promises of heaven. Having faith based on fear or greed is not a good place to be. (Not to mention the logical fallacies involved in preaching in such a manner!)

                    11. krellen says:

                      Actually, the Nazis, being as human as the rest of us, were explicitly operating against their altruistic genetic imperatives. They were selfish, laying blame for their problems on another group and opting to find violent ends to their problems that could have otherwise been repaired diplomatically (instead of tanks, they could have built Volkswagons for all of Europe and affected much the same economic recovery as their militarism brought them.)

                      And they failed, and were discredited, and their ideas and responses were proven unsuccessful and were not passed on. It is one of the most pointed recent examples of an “evil” human group failing to thrive against a “good” human group.

                      We have, as Carl Sagan put it, “dangerous evolutionary baggage” left over from our earlier evolution. Evolution never ends. Some traits that were beneficial in the past cease to be so in the future, and we must evolve beyond them. For instance, two traits we have left over from an Ice Age when the world was cooler and resources more scarce that we have increasingly evolved away from are, physically, our propensity for hairy bodies and, socially, our propensity for aggression.

                      We’ve reached a point of complexity wherein human society is evolving as much (probably more, actually) as the human species. The same principles apply to that evolution – and yet we are intelligent enough to guide our own evolution. We can make the decision ourselves which evolutionary traits we desire and should keep, and which we despise and should discard. Our sense of “good” – increasingly globalising, yet independently built on similar, solid foundations – is what we use to shape this evolution.

                    12. Eldiran says:

                      Wouldn’t the Nazis just have been following a different biological urge (dominance, self-preservation, etc) than the ‘altruistic’ imperatives? How is one impulse inherently better than another?

                      How can you know for certain they were acting against their altruistic urges — perhaps their genes were deficient, and they experienced altruistic urges less frequently?

                      If ‘good’ is obeying a specific genetic urge, wouldn’t that make some bloodlines of human inherently better than others? And for those who are inferior, how could we blame someone for their genes differing from ours?

                      Regarding guiding our evolution — how can our sense of “good”, if that is itself an instinct, guide us to have different instincts?

                    13. Cuthalion says:

                      I agree that seeking heavenly rewards is not a good reason to do good. It really irritates me when people try to evangelize through […] promises of heaven.

                      I hate to jump into the exchange between you two, but while I would probably normally side with Eldiran, I’ve decided for whatever reason to contradict here:

                      Why did Jesus tell people to store up treasures in heaven for themselves?

                      By the logic that heavenly rewards are a bad reason to do good, I would argue that Jesus was encouraging his followers to do something useless, perhaps even evil. By his very mentioning of heavenly rewards, he gives opportunity for — even commands — wrong motive. If it were wrong to do things for good results for oneself, then we would all be better off if he had never said this.

                      Now, I do think there is something even more special about doing something good without even thinking about whether it would reward oneself. But I think that God considers doing good for reward perfectly legitimate. (And God is the source of morality, according to the standard for which you are arguing.)

                    14. krellen says:

                      The Nazis didn’t think they were doing “good”, Eldiran. Many of the rank-and-file after the fact stated as such, that they knew what they were doing was wrong, but were “just following orders”.

                      As for your genetic argument, you’re simply ignoring the reality of evolution, and the particulars of self-directed evolution. Evolution doesn’t just accept every genetic change as valid and good. Genetic differences are constantly tested and evaluated. Some are found desirable and are thus retained. Some are found wanting and discarded.

                      Just because someone has a genetic impulse does not make that impulse “good”. “Good” is an absolute whose boundaries we have not fully discovered; some cultures still view “purity” as vital to goodness while others do not, but all societies agree that “fairness” and “no harm” are vital components to goodness.

                      We’re still working out the specifics. That means we will have tests of what we, as a species, consider “good”, and it means we will once in a while have to endure (which, notably, does not mean accept) an anomaly that we consider “evil”. That’s just how the process works.

                    15. Eldiran says:

                      Generally, yes, the reason many Nazis gave for their actions was following orders. I’m mostly just using them as a prototypical ‘evil person’ for the sake of argument.

                      But the problem I’m trying to get at is, if the only incentive to do the right thing is a biological urge, then those who have a different biology cannot be blamed for their actions.

                      And if someone happens to have a biology that predisposes them toward whatever we deem “good”, then that makes them a better human being than others.

                      @Cuthalion: Perhaps you are right. I personally am bothered by it, but perhaps I’m not being pragmatic in realizing that it as an incentive, it could actually work to make people better. I do think that receiving rewards from God is better than from people, since he’s certainly not going to misjudge you and give more than you deserve.

                    16. krellen says:

                      Yes, people who are more predisposed towards the “good” moral sense we have evolved are better people, Eldiran. Evolution does not claim all members of a species are equally fit. Some have evolved better traits than others, and those traits prosper over others.

                      But because we have reached a level of intelligence at which we can self-direct our own evolution (and we have, and we do), those that lack and refuse to adopt the superior moral sense that is “good” can be blamed for not doing so. We have the intelligence to overcome biology and do so all the time.

                    17. Eldiran says:

                      Intelligence is also something rooted in biology — you can’t just will yourself to become smarter. It’s entirely plausible according to this theory that a man can be born immoral and be unable to become moral. This is a very slippery slope.

                      I’d also wager that a biological moral impulse does not reflect reality. If you take an infant from a moral family and raise it elsewhere, odds are it won’t display any special propensity toward being good.

                      And I still maintain that what is beneficial to the species is separate from what is good. Under the definition you have described (if I understand it correctly) then eugenics is good, and allowing people who will never contribute to society to live is bad (such as incurable mental patients, incurably senile elderly, prisoners with a life sentence, etc) because these things benefit the human race.

                      As an aside, I want to clarify something tangential that occured to me might be important to clear up — when I argue against the possibility of a universal moral standard in a worldview without a higher power, I am not saying that people who don’t believe in a higher power are all immoral. That would just be stupid and disrespectful — there are atheists who are better men than I will ever be. What I am arguing is that their understanding of why they are moral is mistaken.

                    18. krellen says:

                      If the entire concept of Eugenics is not-good, then animal husbandry is also not-good; they are the exact same thing.

                      The practice of Eugenics was evil, because it was argued poorly, by people with not-good agendas, for not-good ends. But the concept of Eugenics, in the idea that it is possible and even desirable to breed a better human, is not inherently evil (thinking that a “better human” has white skin, as was the central flaw in Eugenics as practised, is).

                      I’m not convinced that saving every life possible is good, or desirable. It’s certainly not one of the precepts upon which a unified stance of “goodness” has been agreed upon by all cultures. A lot of healthy, vibrant cultures have ideas of “dying with dignity”, a concept that exists even within our own. And cancer, which is a mass of unproductive but undeniably living (aggressively living, even) cells, is universally viewed as unhealthy and bad.

                      OTOH, it is very important that great care should be taken here; what defines “never contribute” can vary greatly, and even someone that will never work a day in their life may still have great value in other ways; our social ties are far more complex than mere “production”.

                      As I’ve alluded to before, there are many varying definitions of “good”. I don’t think any of them have arrived upon the “absolute good” that guides them all, but with all the testing and proving Humanity goes through on the concept, we’re making a much bigger list of what we’ve agreed is absolute, and what we’re still in debate on is or not.

                    19. Eldiran says:

                      Fair enough, but I can think of another example that poses a problem because it is much less ambiguous.

                      A weak and unintelligent man is in danger of dying a horrible, agonizing death. Is it good for someone who is extremely ‘fit’ mentally and physically, to risk his life rescuing the other man?

                      For the purposes of this example, the victim is someone who is weak and unproductive to the point that his overall contribution to society is in the negative. If he were rescued, this wouldn’t change. It would actually benefit humanity for him to die. And it would be terrible for humanity if the fit man died in the attempt.

                      But the right thing to do is to save him, and I’d warrant that society agrees pretty strongly on this.

                    20. krellen says:

                      That depends rather heavily on a lot of variables you’re leaving out, Eldiran. Is it dangerous to save him? What, precisely, is weak and unproductive about this individual that makes him a negative? Should a strong, moral prison guard risk his life running into a burning prison to rescue an irrefutably guilty rapist? I don’t think society would unequivocally agree that saving him is the right thing to do.

                    21. Eldiran says:

                      Since we’re running a hypothetical situation here, we can decide all those variables ourselves.

                      Let’s say the victim is a fop and a wastrel who doesn’t do any work and doesn’t produce anything — nothing more than a drain on society’s resources. And he is of low intellect and physically weak. He is old and utterly set in his ways.

                      At the current moment he is stumbling into a pit. A pit filled with poisonous snakes that are on fire. The poison is incredibly painful. Anyone who falls in will die in a prolonged and agonizing fashion.

                      Our beefy supergenius hero stands a few feet away and can make a split-second desicion to jump and grab at the victim. There is a 5% chance that the victim’s flailing will cause them both to fall in and die. There is no way to rescue him from his fate other than to try to grab him.

                      Does the hero jump out to save him? (y/n)

                      The right thing to do is to save him. Even though the victim is pathetic and nothing will change that, it’s widely accepted as wrong to let him fall to a hideously painful death. If our uberman here chooses to just let him fall, who could still think of him as heroic?

                      More importantly though, if we take our ultimate goal to be benefitting humanity, then it becomes wrong to save him even if there were no chance of failure.

                      There is a disparity between “benefitting the human race” and “good” as agreed upon by society.

                    22. krellen says:

                      I think one of the disconnects we’re having here is that I have not been speaking on the micro scale; the concepts I have discussed do not operate on the single, one-man scale. Evolution only operates on a macro scale; benefits to the human race only operate on the macro scale. I speak of the benefit to society, as a whole, from the actions of individuals within that society taken as a whole. I speak of survival and fitness of societies, not individuals.

                      Good is the micro sense that leads to the macro result of benefit to humanity. You cannot take the “benefit to humanity” view and boil it down to a single person – evolution simply does not work on the scale of an individual. We can use good to judge an individual, however, because our evolutionary sense has developed such that the sense of good will, in aggregate, result in macro-scale benefits, whatever the individual micro-scale cost of the individual decision.

                      An altruistic man might die because of his altruism. An altruistic species (meaning a species whose individual members are predominantly altruistic), on the other hand, flourishes.

                      Examples abound throughout nature. In our own species, we need look no further than our own children. No other species on the entire planet, even the ones with longer lives than we have, invest so much time and effort into the altruistic rearing of children – humanity has one of the longest gestation periods on Earth, and the single longest adolescence. This, among other altruistic urges we have evolved, is among the reasons we are the dominant species on the planet.

                      Whatever cost we invest into an individual because of our sense of good is worth the overall benefit our sense of good lends the species.

                    23. Eldiran says:

                      But there’s no reason, in the context of our argument, for humans to do “good” except for the evolutionary impulses; these evolutionary impulses would naturally evolve toward “whatever benefits the species.” Our notion of morality would never evolve to include actions that are harmful to our species. Instead it would evolve to tell us we should let weak men die.

                      The fact that an altruistic person is, in certain cases, required to do things that are actively harmful to society, means that altruism is not just an evolutionary force. Certainly it shapes our evolution by altering our actions, but our understanding of goodness has to come from something else.

                      A society in which all people acted to benefit the species, on both a micro and macro scale, is not what anyone would see as an altruistic society. Genetically weak people would allow their superior brethren to slay them so as not to divert resources away from their betters.

                      And if our species were like this, it would flourish way beyond its current state, or even way beyond a society that actually behaved altruistically (ours does not, in spite of knowing better).

                    24. Sekundaari says:

                      There is another reason for altruistic behavior, which krellen mentioned earlier and I mentioned further above, namely that our cultures and societies see evolutionary pressure too.

                      This cultural evolution can be enormously faster than biological – Nazis rose to power in 15 years or so, less than a generation, and the Germans afterwards didn’t carry deep biological urges to “purify” the human race, as far as I know. A message of “This is all X’s fault” has a habit of spreading fast. The cultural traits can also spread more freely than genes, not just from parents to biological children, and can be altered more during life. And I wouldn’t wonder if behavior like saving others at the risk of dying yourself was spread more culturally than biologically these days. Through religion, through one’s own moral evaluation or maybe through a touching story. Anything that makes one feel it is heroic and right, that “If I did that and died, it wouldn’t be a bad way to go.”

                      And one of the reasons I believe leads to us not evolving to always benefit the society, not individuals, is that estimating the benefit of the species is way more complicated than the benefit of an individual. It is easy to see that a person falling into the proverbial poisonous fire snake pit will suffer, harder to estimate the chance of your death, or the potential harm for society from your own death or the other person’s survival. However, cultural evolution can change things in that direction, and so you probably do see people arguing for the benefit of the society at the cost of an individual. You might see people fighting wars over it.

                    25. krellen says:

                      While I was writing my last response, I initially included a paragraph that I later took out. Clearly I should have left it in, so I shall recreate the argument below:

                      Were we omniscient, omnipresent perfect judges of moral character, able to accurately judge an individual’s worth in a split second, your argument that altruism is counter to evolution would be correct. However, we are not perfect judges of moral character, and as such, our moral sense has evolved to err on the side of altruism because, in aggregate (as I keep saying, and please pay attention to this line, think about it, and respond to its idea), between all the individual up-and-downs that altruism causes, the net result is a gain.

                      I will stress once again that you cannot – literally, cannot – argue against evolution based on an individual example. To call evolution’s influence into question, you must look at trends across an entire species and in every culture. It’s not that finely tuned a process; evolution does not affect individuals. You’re making the same argument against my point as the people that claim evolution, as a whole, does not exist because no one has ever evolved gills to save them from drowning.

                    26. Eldiran says:

                      Aye, I’m not arguing against the fact that there is human cultural and biological evolution to some degree. And altruistic behavior can influence this. (Though it seems to me that only the cruelest or most pacifistic ideas would die off faster than others– a virtuous person and a selfish person are probably going to prosper about equally.)

                      However my point is that the true standard of good/altruism is not defined by evolution. It is static across human history — a universal moral standard. I think we are in agreement on this if I understand you correctly, but I could be mistaken.

                      As such it seems to me that our (society’s) knowledge of good must come from something other than just evolutionary impulses, even if (in aggregate) altruism benefits our species.

                    27. krellen says:

                      I think we agree there is an absolute definition of “good”.

                      I think we disagree in where this definition comes from, and on where our knowledge of it comes from. You give it divine impetus and discovery, while I give it evolutionary impetus and discovery (from my point of view, our evolution will stop once we finally reach a complete understanding of the absolute good.)

                    28. Eldiran says:

                      Yes, exactly! That sums it up perfectly.

                      My problem is I can’t see how or why evolution would stop at absolute good. Surely it would continue until only ‘fit’ behaviors are encouraged? There is a lot of overlap between good and fit, but there are fit behaviors that are not good and vice versa.

                    29. krellen says:

                      I actually disagree on that point. I think, in the long term aggregate of the entire history of the species from now until eternity, “fitness” and “good” will, eventually, converge.

                      At the moment, yes, there are survival traits that are not “good” that continue to thrive. I believe we shall eventually outgrow these, however. We’re not there yet, obviously.

                    30. Eldiran says:

                      Well, if Good is a universal standard, it’s not changing… And it’s not like the definition of ‘fit’ can radically alter; it’s never going to be beneficial to the species to do certain Good things, such as preserving the weak. I just don’t see how these two could ever logically match up.

            2. X2-Eliah says:

              Incidentally, that question is only troubling if you care about the society other than when it benefits you ^^

              1. Eldiran says:

                True that. But when it comes to establishing a system of ethics without assuming an absolute moral standard exists, then the question becomes quite a sticky wicket.

                1. krellen says:

                  Why do I need belief in a higher power to believe in absolute moral standards?

                  1. Aldowyn says:

                    Ah, but what IS the absolute moral standard? I… don’t really think there is one. Morality is our view of what is good, and how to be good. “Good” itself is an abstract concept, and I don’t think abstracts can be absolute, because they don’t physically exist, and are always subject to interpretation.

                    I see holes in that. Like the fact that you can interpret an absolute.

                    1. krellen says:

                      We haven’t discovered the entirety of the absolute yet, but we’re getting there. There are certain universalities we have generally reached already – pretty much every successful culture on Earth has already determined that murder, lying, cheating, and stealing are all bad, for instance.

                    2. Cuthalion says:

                      Why can’t abstracts be absolute? Yes, they don’t physically exist, but why does that make them less real?

                      Serious question. I personally don’t think all reality is physical, which is why I ask. It seems a little odd to me.

                    3. Aldowyn says:

                      Hmm. The physical = reality is an issue with the way I think, I think. Physical things are absolute, can be proven, are always the same, etc. Mental things are malleable, abstract (there goes the implication that abstracts can’t be absolute again… need to think about that for a bit), which means they can’t be absolutely proven and are ALWAYS subject to interpretation.

                      Still real, though. Just not.. reality. There’s a point and a difference here, I promise.

                  2. Eldiran says:

                    They need to be derived from some higher power to exist. In a world with no higher power, an absolute moral standard has no meaning. If there is no being, mind, or force behind it, then why should it matter who is Good and who is not?

                    A Good man might feel less guilty, or be more appreciated by others, but if those are the only differences between a Good man and an Evil man then it’s no longer a real moral standard and is instead just “what you can do to feel better about yourself”. Such a thing could just as well be a hardwired biological impulse that might be different if our cells were rearranged (and is thus not a universal standard in the least).

                    Without a higher power to make it matter, a universal moral standard would be unobservable and have no effect on existence whatsoever.

                    Thanks for asking this question, by the way. It made me stop and think for a long time about the answer, and I ended up typing a whole bunch on the meaning of life and God before I came to a much more succinct and hopefully straightforward response.

                    1. krellen says:

                      See above: A “Good” man is more fit to survive, and evolutionarily favoured. And across our species, there exists several universal traits we all agree constitute “good”. These cultures evolved independently, and yet largely arrived at the same solutions. How are these not absolutes?

                    2. Eldiran says:

                      I’m afraid I can’t equate Good with survival. Doing the right thing is often directly at odds with survival, such as putting oneself in danger to rescue someone else.

                      If the species’ survival is the ‘good’ thing to pursue, then why would you risk your life for another human’s life? Especially if the other human is inferior to you, physically or mentally. The right thing and the ‘fittest’ thing are not the same.

                    3. Cerapa says:

                      You are confusing personal survival with the survival of your genes.

                      For example it is generally agreed that people are more friendly and willing to help their family, yes?
                      Now why is that?
                      Genes man, genes. They share your genetic structure the most so any genes that make you friendly towards them are actually protecting themselves.

                    4. Eldiran says:

                      I’m not sure what preserving your genetics has to do with being Good. Doing good is still often at odds with protecting your own bloodline.

                    5. Aldowyn says:

                      I may have said this before.

                      Heinlein, in Starship Troopers, said that all morality is derived from protection of something. The first level is yourself, the second is your family, then your friends, neighborhood, town, state, country, and so on and so on. Probably the primary evidence is, given the assumption that animals are naturally “moral”, this kind of idea is what dominates the life of any animal, just on different scales depending on the animal.

                      Interesting idea, actually.

      6. Zukhramm says:

        I don’t know anyone, religious or not, who believes we are a byproduct of random chance.

        1. Aldowyn says:

          If you consider evolution random chance, then there are many who do. Most people wouldn’t – it’s darwinism, survival of the fittest. The fact that we were created was random, the fact that we survived and progressed is NOT. Thus, we … holy ****… thus, we inherently have value. (Yes, I just came up with that and surprised myself)

      7. Cybron says:

        I very much object to your presumption that humanity has to be an intentional creation to have value.

        Look at the Grand Canyon. If it were not made by the hand of some greater power, would it suddenly lose whatever significance it has? Personally I find it even more impressive, that such an amazing thing could arise from random interactions.

        Or are you saying the only reason you value human life is because of some edict from on high? That implies that human life has no value beyond whatever sacred command you’ve been given, which is a pretty disturbing perspective to have.

        1. DungeonHamster says:

          Value is inherently relative. That is, value is entirely in the perception, rather than reality. A human being, like anything else, has worth only because the observer values them. I might value a book at $10, you might judge it worth $15. The only reason any trade ever happens is because both parties are exchanging something they value less for something they value more.

          Now, since all ethical systems ultimately come down to what we value, it might seem at first that good and evil are also relative. However, if we allow that the universe was intentionally created, then it follows it was created to some end. To borrow a little from Plato (not that I’m his biggest fan, but he has some good stuff), we do good when we act “according to our natures” which, in this scenario, is the same as according to our creators intentions. We do evil when we struggle against it. Thus the ethics/morality (call it what you will) inherent in the universe is absolute, because God’s values are an absolute, in the same way it might be an absolute fact that a person likes chocolate ice cream.

          Kind of went off on a tangent there. Hope it’s not too much of a muddle. Need to go back and reread me some Greeks.

          Anyway, yes, I value human life primarily because I value God. That said, seeing as how the God of which we’re talking values mankind more than he does the life of his own Son, I can’t honestly say I find anything particularly worrisome about that.

          1. Cuthalion says:

            It might be less disturbing to say “values mankind more than he does his own life”. Otherwise, you get the impression of child sacrifice or that his son wasn’t in on the idea.

            1. DungeonHamster says:


          2. Cybron says:

            Sorry, but I’m not sure what this has to do with what I said. What I said was if you believe that one can only value human life for religious reasons (as the person I was responding to did), that means you believe can’t value human life for non-religious reasons. I find this disturbing, as it basically implies that all non-religious individuals must be sociopaths. Do people really believe without religion we’d all have no regard for human life at all? Was there no one who valued life before the advent of religion? The implications of the statement are just stunning to me.

      8. Dys says:

        God, this comment thread is starting to make my head hurt. Not in a bad way, just haven’t had to think this hard in a long while. Trying to keep up with Jarenth and Krellen is a daunting prospect.

        So, one point I didn’t see adequately addressed is ‘we're nothing more than the accidental byproducts of random chance.’

        I don’t think anyone believes that, unless you’re in the far fringes of solipsistic philosophy. What you’re referring to, I imagine, is that we are the product of an unimaginably large chain of unimaginably vast trial and error experiments. Each change within a single generation may be entirely random, but the survival of an individual is anything but.

        The true genius of Darwin was to see that all of the complexity of life and all of the glory of the human mind could be created by natural and inevitable processes.

        Speaking as an atheist, and not one usually given to poetry, a human being is an almost unbelievably wondrous thing. To understand that a system so complex, so marvellous, could be created by a natural process – which is as intrinsic to the universe as the fundamental principles of geometry – is a revelation unmatched by anything else ever conceived by humanity.

        The existence of any single human being is a chance so radically small that any attempt to grasp it is doomed to fail. Every one of us is a winner in a lottery whose odds outnumber the stars and whose prize is life. One life, three score years and ten (or considerably more as medical technology advances). One life, fantastically unlikely, indescribably precious and over far too soon.

        1. Cybron says:

          I believe they simply mean random as in without final cause or plan, events which happen because of their proximate cause and no other reason – as Douglas Adams said “That which happens, happens” (He also has a WONDERFUL essay describing the ramifications of that statement).

          In which case I believe what you’ve described (which I believe also mirrors my own views) is by that definition an “accidental byproduct of random chance”. It’s a shame to belittle such a fantastic concept with such a label, though.

  27. SolkaTruesilver says:

    I actually don’t care wheter Shamus is a religious guy or not, because he already proved to be somebody who would never arbitrarily pick a morality stanced based on what somebody told him to and then spent the rest of his existence validating such shallow decision-making process by convincing other people to do the same.

    Shamus is a rational person, who has some moral stances I might agree or disagree with, but the point is, you know he has good reason for such stances. He will think about things, and actually re-evaluate his position if he’s presented with new elements to the issue. Even better, he doesn’t feel obliged to take a stance when he doesn’t have to. So he reserves his jugement until it’s appropriate.

    All these character traits is what I value about a man’s morality. It has to be naturally evolved into shape rather than hammered into place based on a standardized template picked by others.

    What causes the morality to become what it is right now is irrelevant. Because of religious arguments (which aren’t inherently bad if picked as ARGUMENTS, not self-evident truths), life experience or personnal epiphany.

  28. Mumbles says:

    I used to teach Sunday School at my Catholic Church and I went to a Catholic College. I tried really hard my senior year of high school to believe in Christianity, but it just didn’t work. I knew I didn’t believe in it, but I was really good at talking about the Bible and sounding reasonable so I stuck with the community for as long as I could. Eventually, I felt like a phony so I dropped out of the whole scene.

    I’ve got a deep envy for people who really believe in the Christian faith or any solid religion, really. I just can’t. People think agnostics are lazy, but that’s not always the case.

    1. krellen says:

      No, the people that are really lazy are us apatheists.

      1. Jarenth says:

        I’m interested in hearing about this denomination. Do you have a pamphlet?

        1. krellen says:

          I never finished it. Halfway through, I realised I just didn’t care to explain it.

          1. Jarenth says:

            Well played.

            1. krellen says:

              In reality, a simple explanation of apatheism is that it really doesn’t matter whether there is a God or not, as this fact does not ultimately affect Earthly life anyway.

              Whether or not there is a God, “be nice to one another” is still a pretty good idea. Whether you arrive at that conclusion through a belief in God or a belief in Humanity or a belief in a pasta-based entity isn’t important.

              1. Cuthalion says:

                I think that’s the central tenet of fundamental* religion that you’d disagree with: whether or not God’s existence would affect Earthly life.

                Not sure where I was going with that.

                *fundamental in the sense of more literal, sticking-to-the-original-idea beliefs, not in the sense of “diepagandie”

                1. krellen says:

                  Fundamentally, apatheism is a belief, no different from other beliefs, that the existence of a higher power doesn’t matter.

                  1. Destrustor says:

                    Wow… I’m an apatheist.
                    The more you know!
                    God exists, or not. who are we to know? why are we even arguing about that?
                    As for the afterlife, if its all fire and pain, light and joy, or just nothingness, I guess we’ll find out when we get there. I just hope I discover that as late as possible. We should just try to make the wait as fun as possible for everyone else.
                    The short time we have here is the one worth caring for.

                    1. krellen says:

                      Ministry must be in my blood.

                  2. Aldowyn says:

                    That sounds about right. I’m getting tired of all these labels, though.

                    One caveat: “not caring” and believing it “doesn’t matter” are NOT the same thing. I can CARE whether god exists but believe it doesn’t matter, especially as far as morality is concerned.

                    1. Dys says:

                      I believe that apatheism allows one to think that the existence of God is absolutely critical to the future of humanity. So long as you don’t really care.

                    2. krellen says:

                      Use whatever labels or definitions (or lack thereof) you like. I don’t care. ;)

              2. SolkaTruesilver says:

                Can’t you also link Apatheism to Blaise Pascal’s razor regarding if you still should have the faith?

                – If there is no God, then it doesn’t matter if I believe or not
                – If there is a God, then it’s important as Hell I believe in him for when I die.

                While there is no direct application to Earthly life, it has a big application to the afterlife, in the possibility that there IS something.

                1. krellen says:

                  If I’m a good person, and I live a good life, doing good to the people around me, and there is an afterlife with a God who rejects me simply because I didn’t believe in it, I don’t want to spend the afterlife with it. It doesn’t deserve me.

                  1. SolkaTruesilver says:

                    – Suscribed

                  2. PAK says:

                    Krellen, this is exactly why I stopped fearing Hell. So awesome to see someone else using that line of argument.

                    1. Aldowyn says:

                      But what if Hell actually IS torture? I wouldn’t particularly want to spend eternity in any religion’s hell. Then, self-interest necessarily comes in, unless you want to make a moral stand AGAINST god.

                    2. PAK says:

                      Aldowyn, for me it becomes not so much “what if?” and deciding I want to stand up to God, it becomes “what a ludicrous idea. I just CAN’T take seriously the notion that any omnipotent being would punish me for not believing, especially when they would have played a role in the development of my intellect to begin with (and given that I strive to live well).”

                  3. Cuthalion says:

                    This is actually an argument that is sometimes used to respond to the question of “Why would a loving God send people to hell just because they don’t believe in him?” Not in those words, but that’s the basic idea.

                  4. Christopher M. says:

                    I think the standard response to this is: If you were truly a good person – by God’s standards of good – you would be let into Heaven automatically.

                    Problem is, God being regarded as an infinitely perfect being, anything less than perfection ain’t good enough. Anyone who’s ever told a white lie, while they may be a saint by human standards, is on the same plane as everyone else when compared to God’s standards.

                    1. Eldiran says:

                      Agreed, although I disagree that white lies are always evil (albeit incredibly minor evil). But that’s pretty much unrelated.

                      My understanding of the situation is like this: every person on Earth (or in space) is an incurable sinner, but God says: ‘here, have the gift of forgiveness and salvation’. We can acknowledge and take the gift or refuse it; he doesn’t force it on us.

                      Being a “good person” is basically insigificant, given the immense magnitude of sin, and the fact that as our creator God owes us nothing and there is nothing we can do to earn it.

                      P.S. It’s worth noting that I’m of the belief that God judges us based on our circumstances, and that an infant with no understanding of reality or a human separated from all contact with the Word is judged accordingly and fairly.

                      (Sorry to pick on you krellen, you just have all the most poignant comments that I can’t resist replying to :p)

                    2. krellen says:

                      Eldiran: Now I get to use my flippant response.

                      If my only choice is to accept this God’s forgiveness in exchange for my worship and belief, or suffer an eternity of torture, I choose the torture. I refuse to worship a God so petty.

                    3. Eldiran says:

                      Fair enough.

                    4. Aldowyn says:

                      Like I said, Krellen. Taking a moral stand against God.

                2. John Lopez says:

                  Pascal’s Wager has a major flaw in that it is Boolean: either you believe in God or you don’t. What is not contemplated is the third option: you believe in the *wrong* God.

                  If it turns out that something other than Christianity is the “correct answer”, both options Pascal contemplated were losers (barring krellen’s “you did good enough” approach, in which case faith isn’t required).

                  Worse, the Reformation made it clear that salvation has been tied to a particular *flavor* of a religion. In the end you would have to “hedge your bet” by believing and following a myriad of faiths, made more difficult by the contradictions that entails.

                  1. Jarenth says:

                    I can’t speak for the other major religions, but I’m pretty sure Christianity and Judaism have an exclusivity clause built into their Ten Commandments.

                    1. Atarlost says:

                      Only the exclusive religions matter. No reason to be a Hindu, I’ll get reincarnated either way.

                      Of the exclusive religions there are a finite number. Pascal’s Wager doesn’t tell you which one to choose, merely that you should choose one of them. Then it’s on to things like comparing archaeological evidence and noting that Baal is a real jerk and all the Olympians ride the short bus and eventually I think it gets down to the abrahamic religions, the non-greek polytheisms, and any non-reincarnating eastern religions with an afterlife. Add the assumption that if god or gods care enough to create religion they care enough to keep the true religion from extinction and you can cut out most of the polytheisms. All of them actually I think since Hinduism has reincarnation and all the others are extinct. Maybe some of the amerind stuff still has followings.

                    2. Dys says:

                      I think it’s worth noting that since the ‘exclusive’ religions are all basically worshipping the same god, and simply disagree on exactly how, from His perspective there’s as much difference between Muslim and Jew as between Catholic and Protestant. Right?

                  2. DungeonHamster says:

                    One little quibble. The Reformation didn’t make clear anything of the sort. I doubt you’ll easily find many Protestants even willing to condemn Catholics to eternal perdition, much less other Protestants. Even if they were, it would be because they perceived the other as “not Christian” rather than “wrong flavor of Christian.” We all agree man does not live on bread alone, but there was some confusion as to whether wheat, white, potato, or rye “word that comes from the mouth of God” was actually the edible one. That debate was pretty much killed, at least in America, by the forced association of different denominations during WWII and by the end of the agrarian, town centered society that predated it.

                    Of course, now that we’ve established that they’re all edible, we have to settle for arguing that ours has twice as many vitamins and minerals as the other guy’s, and tastes better anyway.

                3. Zukhramm says:

                  But, assuming not all religions are true, choosing one just for the afterlife is pretty much a lottery.

                  In any case, life is one of those things I can be satisfied even with “only” one.