Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Responding to the Lonely Perspective of Atheism

A friend of mine shared with me a dark and terribly lonely poem he wrote expressing his atheistic perspective in life in which he asserts that life is cold and cruel, and that man is utterly alone. I'm interested how one best responds to the lonely existential perspective that atheism often gives? (Yes, prayer is one key, of course, but getting there can be the challenge.) Not looking for pat answers of quick fixes, but perspectives that may have helped some of you.

53 comments:

Connor Boyack said...

All that comes to my mind is Alma 30:44 and 2 Ne. 2:24.

I met an atheist theologian (interesting combination, I thought) on my mission. It was quite interesting to field his questions on religion, which were very detailed and thoughtful. From the experiences I had with him and a couple other atheists I met, I noticed that each had a desire to believe, but said that their persepctives on life, war, and tragedy had convinced them that there was no God.

I'm grateful to have a prophet who is so optimistic, happy, and upbeat. There are plenty of things to despair and complain about, but it's refreshing and comforting when somebody focuses on the positive.

Bookslinger said...

It's interesting how illogical it is to come to the conclusion that "there can't be a God" because people first suppose that "if there is a God, he must do such-and-such, and be like such-and-such." Then because they make the wrong assumptions up front about the character and attributes of God, they dismiss the possibility of his existence.

Joseph Smith said that in order to have faith, it is _essential_ to know the character and attributes of God.

War and other tragedies can make or break people's faith.

Some look at war and say "There can't be God, because he wouldn't allow this."

I look at war and tragedy say "There must be a God who will judge someday, because this injustice cannot stand."

Jared E. said...

Bookslinger,
I disagree that atheism is illogical. I don't think that most people assume that "if there is a God, he must do such-and-such, and be like such-and-such." I think that many Christian beliefs contribute to people's conception that "if there is a God, he must do such-and-such, and be like such-and-such." Even many things Mormon's believe make it difficult to reconcile the evil of the world with the goodness of God.

jeff g said...

bookslinger,

The assumptions which the atheists are making are the following:

1) God is omnipotent
2) God is omniscient
3) God is omnibenevolent
4) It is good to prevent suffering, be it caused by human action or naturally.

Which one of these do you think is wrong? Reject any of them and most any religious person is going to have to alter something. Consider: if a person saw a fire approaching a house with people in it and did nothing to save the people, would anybody ever call this person good in any way? If this same person saw somebody doing something harmful to another person and did absolutely nothing to help them in order to "respect" the perpetrator's freewill over the victim's wellbeing, would we ever call such a witness good?

My point is that the assumptions which the atheists "wrongly" hold are the assumptions which the theists have given them. Don't blame the atheists for this.

jeff g said...

Jeff,

In response to your post, I think that there are basically and loosely two kinds of atheists: those who want religion to be true, such as your friend, and accordingly feel the way your friend does, and then there are those that, while they would certainly like to live again after death, the realization that they will not doesn't really bother them all that much.

Personally, I find myself in the latter rather than the former group. I don't think that the atheistic perspective is at all cold, cruel or lonely. But your post is clearly not aimed at people such as myself.

What the former group wants, I think, as a response to their issues is simply answers to the serious problems which they see. Not just a response like "God's ways are not man's ways", but actual answers that make sense and hold up under scrutiny. Answers that do not apply a different and contrived standard of justice to God than we do to man.

While the atheistic perspective is certainly not the one which any sane person would consider most preferable, it is the only perspective which I see as being at all probable or even plausible. I suspect that most atheists feel pretty much the same way. Thus, pulling the heart strings, in my opinion, is kind of addressing the wrong thing altogether. Yes, theism sounds good and comforting, but that doesn't make it any more probable or plausible. In fact, it simply makes the position look more suspicious since mankind tends to look with less suspicion, doubt and scrutiny at those things which they want to be true.

I'm not trying to argue against you, only give you another perspective.

Mike Parker said...

Jeff G. wrote:

1) God is omnipotent
2) God is omniscient
3) God is omnibenevolent
4) It is good to prevent suffering, be it caused by human action or naturally.


I have problems with number 3, assuming we define the prefix "omni-" as meaning "all." God is not all-benevolent; in fact, there are plenty of scriptural examples where he allows bad things to happen, or even causes bad things to happen.

I see God much as a parent teaching a small child to walk. As the child approaches a step, the parent has the choice to let the child fall, and thereby learn from his mistake, or to grab the child, and thereby prevent his harm. The wise parent goes for the former choice, otherwise the child never matures.

Walker said...

Similarly, I have problems with #1. Can God do ANYTHING? Could God save us without sacrificing his son? If his son is so beloved, then he certainly would have. It is best to say, as Truman Madsen did, that God has all the power that is possible to have.

Basically, one must revisit their understanding of suffering in order to believe in God. One cannot believe that the highest form of existence is the absence of pain. Nor can one view the mere existence of suffering as fundamentally evil. Certainly, not all suffering is equal. S Madsen further argues that God's power is limited in this regard as well: removing suffering and giving us eternal life are mutually exclusive.

I would dare argue that God is omnibenevolent, simply because man cannot love him any other way. We would ONLY fear him. He would be little more than a Greek God to me, where I manuever and bargain to get him to rule in my favor. It is not fair to compare such rule to that of a parent. Parents (we hope) ultimately have the interests of the children at heart. When we let them fall, that is not a BAD thing. Nor is it necessarily a good thing. It's a necessary thing.

That's the key: revisit your beliefs on suffering. If you don't, then it is perfectly logical to disbelieve in God, the alternative being a belief in a heavenly tyrant who delights in seeing his young ones hurt themselves. I, for one, refuse to accept that as the purpose of my existence.

Cliff said...

Isn't a little disingenous to equate your friend's dark and lonely perspective with all atheist?

My life is full of light, beauty, optomism, and love, and I need no God to know right from wrong.

You?

Walker said...

"As an athiest, I like [Cliff's]god. It is good to see him every morning while I am shaving."

Eugene D. Genovese, "Pilgrim's Progress," The New Republic, 11 May 1992, p. 38.

annegb said...

I think the world is a cold and lonely place and I believe in God.
I don't always feel that way, but sometimes, I do.

Bookslinger said...

Jared, and Jeff G:

No, I didn't say atheism is illogical.

I said a certain line of reasoning is illogical. Not all atheists have the same line of reasoning that I denounced as illogical.

Anonymous said...

If he is anything like I was before I came to any sort of church at all he's looking for someone to give him the reason and answers to believe. I believed in a higher power, but I didn't necessarily trust in things such as organized religious groups or the Bible to teach me such things due to human error and tendency towards corruption. Many church history's disturbed me, and there was nothing that I could see that didn't say that the people who wrote the Bible were just telling a bunch of fables, or were just mentally unstable. I hungered for a testimony of my own.

Granted my life thus far hasn't been nearly as bad as it has for many others, but I've had my share of rough times. I've lived my life with a terminal illness, and a house hold torn apart by divorce. To make matters worse, my mothers second marriage was to a verbally abusive person. I used to ask why all the time, and lived in denial, but as I gradually received Christ into my life I began to see how all those things have become instrumental, and very often, necessary for my personal and spiritual growth. Had I not been born with Cystic Fibrosis do you think I'd be the fiesty fighter I am that lives each day to it's fullest?? Maybe...but more than likely not. The divorce of my parents gave me the love for my Heavenly Father that I do because he's the Dad I felt I never really had. He'll never break a promise, never let me down, never leave me, or discipline me when it wasn't deserved or for my own good. He's THE perfect Dad. When my faith in the Lord really became solidified was with the birth of my son, which I thought would never be possible for me. His birth was a miracle to me because of all the complications I could have had dealing with my Cystic Fibrosis, and the fact of how perfectly he arrived after the night for the first time I trully prayed for help from our Heavely Father. (One of the feelings I lived with before this night was that God doesn't answer my prayers, or worse, doesn't hear them at all.) I worried about labor and delivery because I was so sick at the time I feared I would go into a coughing fit and complicate things, but as the time neared to push my breathing cleared up to the point when it was time I felt like I hadn't been sick at all. The blessings that have followed have only strengthened my testimony.

One of the blessings I received was being directed to the first church I have ever attended regularly that had Bible studies on a regular basis. Suddenly the truths of the Bible overwhelmed me, and understanding set in. How could something so perfect have not been divinely influenced?? I know it is not without some flaw, but the over all message and symbolisms all meld together in a way I can't see several people all coming to together over hundreds of years. I now see, though unfortunate and sad, why the tragedies are allowed to happen. They are there to send a message. They are there to teach. Those who take them and learn from them grow and mature becoming more like Christ.

I hope some of this or all of this helps. I was just moved to post having been in this persons position only two and half years ago. It was all free-flow thought that I was just praying was divinely inspired. I've only been a member of the LDS church for about 7 months, and have only begun to really utilize my gift of the Holy Spirit, so please bear with me.

Tiffany

Anonymous said...

One more thing that I think was key to me finding my faith in God is following his bread crumbs. I feel that God puts certain situations in front of everyone who isn't yet a believer that give them the chance to follow Him, and receives the answers they're looking for, but he has to be willing to go out there and get those answers. Jesus will knock on you're door, but he can't come in if you don't answer. I feel that if your friend is willing he will follow the subtle signs put in front of him that will guide him to where he longs to be, and he will be guided at a speed that is comfortable for him spiritually. I say this because the first step I made was accepting a tearful friends wish to be baptised. Things that she said to me really touched me and moved to me to agree, but I had conditions. I wanted my friend to baptised me, and I didn't want it to be done in any church that I didn't believe in, so he baptised me in his bath tub. Later after I had my son, I was referred to a certain church in my area, (my Mother-in-law in Maryland just happened to have a friend that grew up in the town I live in down in south Georgia; a little town in the middle of nowhere and attended the church she sent me to.) That's when I did the Bible study, and later became baptised into that church. A friend I met at that church referred me to a day care that she worked at to take my son too. That day care hosted a Pampered Chef show where I decided to become a consultant myself. My recruiter just happened to be a member of the LDS church. Through her I met other members. That moved me to become an investigator, and later become baptised into the church. (The reason being suddenly surrounded by LDS members moved me so is because my parents were sealed at the Ogden Temple. My Dad was a missionary even, so I was born into the church, but due to the divorce both my parents became inactive. I also found out shortly before I was baptised that my Dad's side of the family is all members which I never knew because my Dad really didn't talk about his family much. Right before I got baptised I was able to go out there and meet them. The feelings I got around them, and Temple Square were too powerful to deny. So, I felt that God was guiding me back home. After all it wasn't my choice to leave the church.)

Tiffany

Mormanity said...

Cliff, yes, you're right. I didn't mean to imply that all atheists have a dark view - but I would suggest that atheism necessarily means that we are alone and transient, not eternal beings with a Heavenly Father who is above all and there to help us.

My friend's perspective is well expressed in a poem he wrote, "Prophecy" at http://www.jefflindsay.com/long.html. Yes, he has kindly given me permission to post it on my Website.

jeff g said...

While I don't want to turn this into an extended thread jack, I do want to address Mike Parker and Walker's responses:

Let us consider the example of the tsunami. Are we really prepared to say that God couldn't have prevented it somehow? That's certainly not something most theists would want to grant.

Are we really going to say that God allow all those people to be destroyed in order to "raise them" like a child? If you had know that the tsunami was coming, and you child was in danger, would YOU have left you child there? If we found ANY parent at all that was willing to go along with that we would rightfully lock them up.

While your responses might work for some forms of suffering and evil, the cases which such responses can deal with are a little trivial.

Stephen said...

Without downgrading anyone else's loss or sufferring "The assumptions which the atheists are making are the following:" should be "are limited to the following" and "subsume that our perspective on pain and loss is correct."

So that if there was a God he wouldn't allow amusement parks or thrill rides.

I think that from an outside perspective our pain and suffering is of but a moment and beneficial to us.

Walker said...

Fair enough question, Stephen. I'm not suggesting that God simply didn't have the power to stop the tsunami. I'm suggesting that he could not prevent WHILE STILL ACCOMPLISHING HIS OVERRIDING PURPOSE. What that purpose is, we can only speculate. As Elder Maxwell noted, if an affliction is fair, then it isn't a test!

Determining if God is there in the first place--that's the key. Then you extend to a given event. Not the other way around.

Cliff said...

Mormanity,

Thank you for your consideration, but I still can't accept your assumption about atheist.

"...but I would suggest that atheism necessarily means that we are alone and transient, not eternal beings with a Heavenly Father who is above all and there to help us."

How would my not believing in God make me alone? I don't feel alone? If God does exist (and neither I nor anyone has any evidence) does/would he treat me or "be" with me any differently than you?

Would God not help an atheist as he would a believer? If there is life after death, will I not share that experience the same as a believer?

Is faith a prerequisite to anything? Shall I not hold myself to the same standards of morality as a believer?

I don't quite get all the assumptions people make about atheist. I mean after all these centuries of various religions proclaiming some special knowledge of God, and yet there is still no evidence, I mean nothing. There have even been incredibly careful scientific studies of the effect of prayer on the sick with no evidence of even the smallest coloration.

On the other hand, one can easily conclude that if God DOES exist, he has been very diligent in preventing any trace of him. And if you accept that, then you must believe God is a purposeful God, which means everything he does is deliberate. Which means he must have a reason for instance for creating so many different and warring religions, which of course would make God a real joker, cause the Crusades weren't very funny. Neither was the Holocaust.

I some of us need to ask ourselves if it is easier to believe in God than it is not to.

Just my thoughts...or His designed to test your faith.:)

Peace

Cliff said...

PS: I really do enjoy your blog. I love religion, especially when it causes people to think deeply which is always a good thing.

Keep up the great work. Even if religion is man made (and this IS MY testimony) it is a good thing. Even the the wars and killing in his name would be justified in some other way (as many have been) in the absence of religion.

Mormanity said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mormanity said...

Cliff, thanks. I've been a bit rash in my assumptions, or at least in my writing, in this thread. It's wrong for me to assume that atheism necessarily implies being "alone" in anyone's perspective but mine. Some atheists proclaim that we are "alone" - but mean that there is no God, not that mankind is alone. But one could also say that we are alone because there is no Easter Bunny, no Santa Claus, no Tooth Fairy, and no credible Superman - but is there any real loneliness if such mythical figures don't exist?

To me, though, the reality of God is so real and so vital, and so precious is the knowledge that there is Purpose in life and hope of Eternal Life, that I can only feel sorrow when I think of those who lack this hope and have not yet witnessed His power and love. I'm sure it seems crazy to those who don't believe it, but there is a witness that surpasses mere belief and hope, and gives substance and evidence to faith.

As for my friend, whose poem proclaims that we are alone, I'd appreciate your comments. I think it's a majestic piece of writing, for all the sorrow and loneliness that it conveys.

Bishop Rick said...

The problem I have with religion (not the existence of a God) is that all religions pertain to their little group. Take the old testament. It was compiled and written down by Jews (hebrews) about the history of Jews, and states that Jews are the chosen people. It never speaks of the many other peoples not in the region, and only records time and religion over the past 6000 years. What about the humans that lived 100's of thousands of years ago? Did they not matter? What about the book of Genesis (or the Book of Moses for Mormons) where it gives a history of the universe. We know this not to be true now. It makes revealed religion hard to believe.

No offense Mormanity, but you claim to know that God lives and that you have a personal relationship with him. How can this possibly be? Have you seen him face to face? Have you had audible 2-way conversations with him? Good feelings and heresay from those that came before us, just isn't good enough. Every other religion claims the same thing as Christians and Mormons, that they know such and such with every fiber of thier being, and they are willing to die for thier "god". Radical Islamics claim the exact same relationship that you do. You can't both be right. It is much more likely that you are both wrong.

Jared E. said...

Bookslinger,
I think you overestimate the amount of atheists who employ your faulty line of reasoning.

Mormanity said...

The experiences that lead to a testimony can be every bit as profound as an audible two-way conversation, or moreso. Fuzzy feelings are not what it's about.

By the way, just how many decibels are required in the two-way conversation for it to count? Does it have to be over 120 decibels with sufficient base to shake the ground? OK, what about 10 decibels or so for a still small voice?

I'm surprised you listed an audble two-way conversation as a form of evidence for God's existence. If someone believed in God on the basis of that kind of experience, wouldn't you be more likely to classify him or her as mentally ill? Hearing voices, eh?

All religion is mental illness in the eyes of some. And sufficiently advanced science appears as magic to those who don't understand what's behind it. Yes, a true testimony is a form of advanced knowledge that can seem like mental illness or magic to those who lack it.

Bishop Rick said...

Mormanity,
I respect your position, and do not mean to make light of it, but can't you see where skeptics have problems with this logic?

Each religion feels exactly the same way you do, and all feel that they are right. It seems that all that matters is what religion you were born into, or had the greatest influence over you, that dictates which one you feel is "true". Aside from that, the testimony experiences are the same.

I have never had this relationship that you describe, and not for lack of trying. Why does it have to be so hard? It seems to me that what is going on is that one just has to convince himself of these things because there will never be any proof. I just don't understand why a loving God would make it so hard, and leave your salvation up to chance (where you are born, environment, etc.) to determine whether you join the right church or not.

Jenn said...

Okay, I wanted to add to this heated debate.

For those that believe in God, or at least want to believe in Him or have a healthy curiosity about Him:

Read the non fiction works of C.S. Lewis. He was once an Aethist who became one of Christianity's greatest advocates. "Mere Christianity" is great, but there are so many others, too.

Those that do not believe in God:

There is nothing that any one can say or do to convince you of God's existence. Just as there is nothing that can happen to convince me that He doesn't exist. For me, and for many others, The existence of God is like the existence of the Sun to a blind man. You may not see Him with your natrual eyes, but He is there. To have such a sure knowledge, (yes, a person CAN have this knowledge) and to deny it is unthinkable.

Yes this world is full of suffering and tradgedy. The Earth is not in it's perfect state, it is cursed. That is in the bible. It is also a point of belief for me that God has to let Humanity live through the consiquences of it's actions. Free will has so many ramifications that it is imposible to connect all the dots for a person like myself. But I know for a fact that God can see all of our choices through the end.

You use the tsumami as an example of tradgedy on the largest of scales. I agree. What a horible tradgedy.

But from my point of view, The people that died went on into eternity, they still exist in spirit and will be resurrected one day. They will have a chance to accept God and His gospel, and there is much more than a horrible death in their story.

And the people that survived, that lost people that they loved, that lived through the most horific event in recent history; they suffered so tremendously. Their grief must be unimaginable. I wish I had been one of the people that went over there to help them. Of course nothing I or anyone can do will give them back everything that they lost. But this tragic event did bring the better side of humanity to light. It showed that people of all belief systems can work together for the good of their fellow humans. It gave humanity a chance to show the better nature that lives inside of it. And that is a good thing. I belive that God can take tradgedy and make good things come out of it. Does any of that erase what happened? No, of course not. But if we choose to focus on the negative and never the positive, then what is the purpose of even breathing?

I have had tradgedy in my life. I have had suffering. Nothing on the massive scale of the tsunami, but our suffering feels important to us, no matter how small it is.

I think belief in God is a matter of perspective. I see all of nature, down to the smallest intracacies of each cell, each atom, and I say "wow, God really knew what He was doing there". How can there be no God when every living thing is so complex and intertwined with every other living thing? I cannot see how this all happened randomly, or by accident. I respect the fact that some of you have a vastly different perspective, and I know it well, for I have known a few Atheists in my time. But you have to realize and respect the perspective of billions of other people in the world that there is a God, or at least a higher power. Im not telling you that you have to believe it yourself, that is between you and, well, your own beliefs, but don't dismiss us as a bunch of misguided idiots that believe in some strange mythology. (some Aethiests do believe this, although no one on here has said as much)

For some of us it isn't a question of which is easier to belive: God exists or He doesn't. It is not a belief. It is a knowledge that goes beyond feeling, or even the senses of this existence. I don't think I can explain it in words. When God manifests Himself to you then you just know. But you have to seek Him out first. Free will, and all. He wants people to come to Him.

Bishop Rick said...

Jenn,

I appreciate your post. You obviously have great faith in the existance of God and in the divinity of the scriptures. You mention that there are atheists that also believe in the existance of some supreme power or entity. I believe they would be deists, not atheist, but I understand your point. Neither believe in revealed religion, but deists at least hold the possibility of the existance of a God.

I don't think anyone is trying to convince you that their is no God, only to get you (and others on this blog) to understand the view of skeptics regarding there being no validity behind revealed religion and in the case of atheist, no validity behind the existance of a God.

Science and anthropology have produced endless arguments against the validity of revealed religion. It is based on these arguments that atheist deduce that there could not be a God. Now deists know that even though science has dispelled revealed religion, it has not been able to dispel the possibility of a God, and they choose to cling to that possibility even though they do not recognize any religion that is or ever has existed.

To be perfectly honest, there is no proof that God exists or that the Bible, BofM or any other scriptural canon is true. In order for someone to believe these things (they can't know) they have to have great faith in the wake of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. You seem to have that level of faith and that is fine. Just try to understand why there are many that do not have that same level of faith.

annegb said...

Good point, Jenn. I love CS Lewis and his honesty. He's gotten me through some rough times.

Shawn said...

Good post, Jeff... thought provoking stuff.

Regarding Bishop Rick's statement that there is "overwhelming evidence to the contrary" that people of faith have to overcome, seems to be a rather broad stroke.

Many of the nearly eight million Americans who have had Near Death Experiences (NDE), seem to be credible witnesses to something outside of our physical bodies. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Near-death_experience)

So what qualifies as evidence for or against if we ignore intra-personal experiences people report having (i.e. spiritual witness)?

Personally, I see evidence for God in many places... Take the moon and the oceans. Both are required for life on this planet as we know it, but both have highly improbable (but real) characteristics. The moon is too big to have been captured by the earth's gravitational pull. It’s there and keeps the earth stable at a 23.5 degree tilt enabling reliable seasons. Water expands when moving from liquid to solid states. This trait, which almost all other liquids do not share, allows the oceans to be the largest biomass contributor to life, vs. a frozen slush with warmer waters floating on the top. Without either and their aforementioned characteristics, our shielded, relatively safe environment would not exist.

I will concede that what I see as evidence doesn’t actually provide “proof” and it is that “proof” that some people would need before they can be believers. That’s O.K. but on the same token, neither does a catastrophic tsunami provide evidence that God does not exist.

Maybe it’s a loaded question… but how does one qualify evidence?


-Shawn

Shawn said...

Whoops! Not implying NDEs are a spiritual experience, in regards to "intra-personal experiences". I meant to refer to personal testimonies people receive which leads to them "knowing" God exists i.e a spiritual witness.

BTW, Jenn... thanks for your post. :)

Jenn said...

Bishop Rick
Actually, I knew that Atheists are only those that do not believe in God at all. I always thought it was Agnostics that believed in a higher power but not in organized religion...

Oh well, sorry for the mix up, I get to writing sometimes and I don't always put things as clearly as I mean to.

I really do think that seeing God is a matter of perspective. A point of view, if you will. If you are determined not to see Him in science and nature, you never will. If you are determined to see Him through science and nature, you will. I guess we'll find out after we die!
Thanks for the debate.
Jenn

Bishop Rick said...

Shawn,

Admittedly, "overwhelming evidence to the contrary" is a broad stroke, and I wished I had toned that statement down a bit after hitting Login and Publish, but its too late for that now.

Let me just state for the record that I am active LDS and believe in the existence of a supreme being.

Those facts, however do not change what science has discovered about the creation of the universe that is totally contrary to the Genesis version of creation, or the fact that the story of Noah's flood could not have occurred as stated in the OT either. There are many many examples of things in the scriptures (including LDS scriptures) that are just not true, and the JS translation does not fix these either.

I search to know these things because I want to know the truth. I don't take what is taught in sunday school or priesthood to be the gospel truth unless I have thoroughly researched it because often times the instructor is misinformed or just doesn't know the subject that he/she is teaching.

All the warm fuzzy stuff is great, but it proves nothing. You can make yourself believe anything you want (and feel warm and fuzzy about it) whether it is true or not. Don't take things at face value. Research everything first. You may find that many things dealing with religion are simply not defensable (like the creation story and Noah's flood for example).

I can tell you right now, if you rely solely on what is taught from the LDS church, you are not getting the whole story. You are only getting what they want you to have.

Sounds harsh but it is true. If it were not true, you would be learning about doctrine pertaining to polygamy and many other things I won't mention here, and you might be discussing why the creation story doesn't jive with what science has proven. Instead we get the same ole stuff rehashed a hundred times, and we get defenses of things that are just not defensable.

shawn said...

Bishop Rick,

I agree it's difficult to reconcile some elements of known science and the traditional Judeo-Christian teachings.

To me both evolution and the traditional explanation of creationism seem absurd.

Are we suppose to believe inert, inanimate matter organized itself, became alive, and has "evolved" into the most amazing and incredibly complex organic machines? The universe is a very violent place and seems to be good at destroying things and creating decay, not complex animated reproductive organisms.

On the same token, are we suppose to believe God planted fossil records (and fossil fuels) to throw us off in the search of life's origin? Is earth’s biomass is based on thousands of years of existence vs. billions?

There is an answer somewhere because life exists and we are self-aware enough to be able to examine its origins.

Personally, I think the answer is a combination of the two. I am even encouraged by Genesis 1 (as far as we know it is correctly translated, wink, wink) because apart from the time line conundrum, the order of things is closely congruent to what science tells us. Light, water (after the earth cooled, heavier element moved towards the core, and some cometary bombardment took place), land, “lights in the firmament” (which I suppose would mean stars were visible after the atmosphere stabilized), water bringing “forth abundantly the moving creature that have life”, THEN the land based creatures, and finally mankind.

But who knows…. 

Thanks for your posts, Bishop Rick. More important than a complete knowledge of the beginning and the afterlife is how we lead our lives between birth and death, wouldn’t you agree? My hope is we may all find ways to reach a more “self actualized” life, irrespective of our belief system. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow's_hierarchy_of_needs). For me, the LDS Church is the best tool I have found.

Sincerely,
Shawn

Bishop Rick said...

Shawn,

Well said.

ujlapana said...

I find it perplexing that people find God as a cure for loneliness, purposelessness, or complexity.

Loneliness:
Is 6 billion people not enough? Adding God only means that you are saying that no one ever dies, giving you more like 23-50 billion people. How does that help?

Purposelessness:
The questions "where did I come from, why am I here, and where am I going?" are not really resolved by the Mormon theology. You may "know" where you came from, but where were you before that? Why are you here? Well, why "are" you at all, even in a spiritual sense? These are questions that can be answered in a scalable way, if you think about it:

Scope: My house
Q: Why am I here?
A: You just walked in the door.
Q: Where did I come from?
A: Outside.
Q: Where am I going?
A: Toward the kitchen.

Scope: Earth
A: God wants you to grow and develop.
A: Premortal life
A: The Celestial Kingdom, if you pay tithing.

Scope: Celestial Kingdom
A: I don't know
A: I don't know
A: Nowhere--this is it.

Complextiy:
Complexity of life, etc., leaves the same problems. If a intelligence was required to create life, from whence sprang said intelligence? A Christian idea of God at least has It existing kind of "independent" of existence (whatever that means), but the Mormon theology does not include a "supergod," only other spiritually-advanced men. Where did *they* come from?

Adding "God" to resolve things that we don't know answers to creates a "God of the gaps" that really just pushes the unknowable stuff behind a veneer named God.

As a relatively new atheist, I will say that letting the security blanket of God slip away was not easy. But now I am fairly comfortable in admitting that there are things I cannot know. I find purpose in life through my children, my wife, and my interests. I'm not so sure eternal existence would be that great. (On the flip side, I cannot comprehend existence without myself, because any such imagination puts me in the scene as an observer--ironic.) I admit that some great trauma could lead me back to God, but that's not really admitting She's there are much as admitting that I want a security blanket after a nightmare.

Bishop Rick said...

ujlapana,

You state that you recently accepted atheism as your philosophy. Would you mind stating which religious affiliation you had prior to that?

Walker said...

"admitting that I want a security blanket after a nightmare."

So you're suggesting, then, that evil and pain are NOT real, only a figment of an overactive brain during REM-life?

Bishop Rick said...

What I took from his comments is that in times of crisis, you look for comfort where ever you can get it, and that could include religion...even for atheists.

Anonymous said...

ujlapana here, unable to login.

Bishop, I was, and am, LDS.

Walker, I'm a little lost. I didn't say anything about those topics. But now that we're on it, pain is clearly real. It exists in the nervous system of most animals. Evil is also real, although it is an abstraction. It is not the sole responsibility of a rebellious brother. (Just who tempted Lucifer in the pre-earth life, anyway?)

I haven't had any problem defining morals (and, accordingly, evil) in the absence of God any more than many people (particularly literalists) seem to so easily make immoral choices in the name of God.

Walker said...

I concluded that this statement had reference to pain/evil/suffering:

"I admit that some great trauma could lead me back to God"

Was that an incorrect conclusion?

"I was, and am, LDS."

Now I'm a touch confused. An LDS athiest? Please expound.

"It is not the sole responsibility of a rebellious brother. (Just who tempted Lucifer in the pre-earth life, anyway?)"

I agree. And the parenthetical question is insightful. I think it is as incorrect to view Satan as raw evil (though he is the owner of evil) as it is view God as raw good (-though he is certainly the owner and distributor of good).

Joseph offered this as an answer, at least in regards to our relationship with God:

"The first principles of man are self-existent with God. God himself, finding he was in the midst of spirits and glory, because he was more intelligent, saw proper to institute laws whereby the rest could have a privilege to advance like himself."

I believe one might extend the description to the devil, only that the devil carries out the process with evil rather than good.

Of course, then comes the question: "Do we worship God or the principles that made him such?" For me, the infusion of these principles into an individual so perfectly is what is worth my worship. "Principles" cannot understand my pain, nor can they really understand at all. A God who's been there can. That's why I worship him.

Bishop Rick said...

Walker,

Reading your post made me look at God, for the first time, as someone who was once a man like me. I have heard this taught for years, but never really made the picture until just now. I hate to say it, but I find it hard to worship someone who is just a more experienced version of me. Its like worshiping my boss because she is has a higher title, but she is really no better than I am. I realize that is a bit simplistic, but that just popped into my mind for some reason.

Walker said...

Rick:

The message I was trying to convey (imperfectly, as always) was that abstract prinicples are meaningless unless obeyed. That's why I don't worship "justice" or "mercy." To me, obedience is far more than a title assumed. Managers/bosses don't always acquire a position because of excellence on the job. Even if they did, that excellence is always limited to a few key areas.

God's excellence, on the other hand, is not just in key areas or even all-encompassing--it's infinite. So infinite, in fact, that I speak of him "obeying" laws only for the purpose of this particular discussion. For practical/worshipping purposes, he IS the law, so I would submit.

Hopefully, I haven't destroyed anyone's faith. While it's nice, in a strange sort of way, to know that I made an impact, the assumption is always that the impact is a good one. Truth builds testimonies. If mine little ditty didn't do that, then throw it out for crying out loud!

Bishop Rick said...

Walker,

Don't worry, it was nothing you said in your post. Probably more coincidence than anything, just happened while I was reading your post.

Funny thing, we (people in general) often times have a problem putting to words what makes perfect sense in our own minds. I know I fall into this category more often than not.

shawn said...

Hi ujlapana

I’m perplexed at your state of perplex-tion-ish… :) I can’t speak in regards to “people” in general, but I would like to offer a few counter points based on my personal views / experiences.


Loneliness:
At least in American society, feelings of loneliness and isolation are growing. Check out this article (if you like) from the Washington Post.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/06/22/AR2006062201763_pf.html

The article does not appear to discuss the tragic isolation experienced as people grow older and their friends and families begin to pass away.

Can God help with loneliness? You bet. A simple prayer and a subsequent answer changed my life from a bitter, “stuff”-happens worldview to one of peaceful wonderment. Indigestion, you say? Maybe. But that change was (and continues to be) augmented by the Church programs that are dedicated to serving God. I can’t count the number of people at Church whom I consider to be dear friends that I would have never met via my “normal” social circles.

Purposelessness:
I have met many people who use all sorts of crutches to try and fix this innate “human dilemma”. Maybe your focus is simply on the Where/Why/Where question posed. This problem is much bigger than just that, wouldn’t you agree? I see the lack of purpose in peoples lives as a major contributor to the decisions made around alcohol, drugs, sex, gluttony, video game addiction, social standings, political power, pornography, and all out mean-spiritedness.

I joined the LDS Church well after college. Like many of my peers, I shared a perspective that the world stinks and everyone is out for themselves. The rich eat the poor. The sick are left dying. The weak are crushed by the strong. Many of the people I have known have needed some sense of purpose, some sense of reason. Some have used work to define themselves, some have used their appearance. Some have developed “talents” around the social ills listed above.

You say you are perplexed at how people can find a cure in God. A sense of purpose is a major behavioral motivator, along with a sense of belonging and self worth. Things make sense with purpose and fear of the unknown can be abated to some degree. Real or not, I am able to use the Plan of Salvation (I vote real) as a tool in decision-making and moral choices. Many don’t buy it and that’s OK. For me, it works.

What is really REALLY sad and perplexing is that fact that people can find a “cure” even when they miss God altogether. This summer, our tiny east-coast ward will have 4 missionaries out serving in the field. How drastically different is their purpose compared to those we see on TV… those whose purpose and mission is to find a crowd and suicide-bomb them in “the service of God”.

Complexity:
I don’t get it.

;)

So you’re saying any “intelligence” involved (in traditional Judeo-Christian terms) had no beginning which may be construed as illogical or that the “intelligence” had its own creationary period, which therefore lessens its effective “godliness”. Only a “supergod” need apply. :)

For me, I’ll take a “God of the gaps” over the reality of Nihilism (see below) any day. I know, I know, you’re probably rolling your eyes that I’d even dare to bring up THAT extreme philosophy. (Before lightning strikes, let me say I do not belief God is anything but a “supergod”. Whew!) BUT, if we are only animated matter, hanging out and stressing about stupid things like paying bills or silly abstractions such as morality, life is a pretty big waste of time. And pretty short, too, dang it. And there’s not enough stuff I can collect before I start pushing up daisies. What does it all matter 1000 years from now, anyway?


In response to one of your later posts… I agree that there have been many who have (and still do) make immoral choices in the name of God. It’s very sad. What concerns me the most is exactly that topic, choices. You say you haven’t had any problems defining morals as an atheist. Rock on! I sincerely respect your position and person. IMHO, better morals / choices = better world. Again, my hope is we may all find ways to reach a more “self actualized” life, irrespective of our belief system.

P.S. Bishop Rick... thanks! :)


From Wikipedia,

“Nihilism is a philosophical position which argues that the world, and especially human existence, is without objective meaning, purpose, comprehensible truth, or essential value. Nihilists generally believe all of the following: There is no reasonable proof of the existence of a higher ruler or creator, a "true morality" is unknown, and secular ethics are impossible; therefore, life has no truth, and no action is known to be preferable to any other.”

Bishop Rick said...

Shawn,
I think the problem that atheist have with religion in general is as follows (not an exhaustive list):

1. Why are there so many religions on the earth today (and yesterday for that matter)?

2. Why is it that all religions "know" that they are right? (either none are right, all have an element of rightness, or none are right.)

3. Refering to #2, if only 1 is right, why would a loving God send his children to an unknown place after erasing their memory, and judge them according to which church they join, when overwhelmingly people join the church they were born into. (there are exceptions of course, but only a fraction of a % on the whole)?

4. Why does God only seem to speak (directly) to other people when no one else is around, or to multiple people (but only in stories)?

5. Why does God answer some prayers and not others? (I think this blog knows my feelings here thanks to Bamba).

6. Why is it that scriptures (any scriptures) don't truly stand up to research? It doesn't matter if it is the Bible, the BofM, the Torah, the Koran, etc., if we are honest with ourselves, none of them stand up to true scrutiny.

7. Why would God send his only begotten son to establish a church and be killed in the process, just to have it be withdrawn after only 1 generation? The 100's of thousands of years that humans have been on the earth and the church has only been on the earth for 75 years, (~200 if you include LDS).

These, and many more, questions seem to influence the thoughts of atheism. Is it really that surprising why some people choose this philosophy?

Bishop Rick said...

Please excuse my error on #2. Did not mean to say none twice.

Shawn said...

Hi Bishop Rick!

Not surprising in the least. I totally agree. I’d like to add the “religious” nuts on TV who tend to drive people away from God with their blatant panhandling and lavish lifestyles. They really tick me off. Why are they allowed to malign the work of the Lord and sow the seeds of confusion?

Or better yet, what about the doctrines of Hell. Do the approximately 1.5 billion Christians really believe and accept all others are going to Hell, irrespective of their “works”? Same goes for the 900 million+ Muslims. Eh?

Before joining the Church almost 14 years ago, I had a very simple philosophy on life and religion. Life = “Stuff” happens. Religion = a manipulative political tool used to control groups or masses. Nothing more, nothing less.

How did I arrive at this line of thinking? From the religion I was raised in…

How did I end up dumping that philosophy and becoming an active LDS member? Ah, that’s another boring story…

Anyway, I think there’s a bigger, yet simpler question that predicates the intelligent questions you pose. Does a benevolent, engaged God exist? If the answer is yes, then there are answers to your questions. If God exists but is not benevolent or not engaged, then we’re a pretty slick ant farm. If God doesn’t exist then eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die.

I’m not sure if you really wanted me to try and answer some of the questions you’ve posed. Obviously, I’d be a pompous dork if I tried to speak for anyone other than myself. These same questions bothered me, though, and my testimony, my belief in God, has roots in the answers that work for me. So here goes an attempt to offer my opinions…

1) Why are there so many religions…? Power, money, tradition, and the “God of the gaps” syndrome mixed with the honest desires of many people who wish to do good. Any failings of leaders or doctrines (whether real or perceived) leads to “new religions”.

2) Why is it that all religions “know” that they are right? It has been my experience that many do not purport to “know” that they are right… although they do seem to know an awful lot about what’s wrong with other religions. :) I propose there is another option besides the couple you listed. There is God’s truth, and one religion is closer to God than all the rest. Being comprised of simple people, the “more right” religion is not infallible and can drift away from God’s truth and maybe be replaced by another. Some say that God is too big to fit in “one religion”. I would say that there are no religions capable of encapsulating all of God’s truth. I believe certain truths such as a lay ministry, the promotion of family, the absence of violent tendencies, and a plan that can save all mankind are key components to the “one religion” that is closest to God.

I can’t tell you how many times I heard, “It’s one of the mysteries of God” when I asked basic questions while growing up. (Dang… I should have used that and said “one through seven, here you go...”) Many people don’t realized they can (and should) question their religious tenets, especially when left with uninspired answers. So how does one find out what one should “know” or what is “right”? I realize some people have a very hard time with it but inquiry, prayer, and scripture study seems to work for me.

3) … why would a loving God send his children to an unknown place after erasing their memory… ? Before I joined the Church, this question really bothered me. The only logical conclusion I could reach is that we must have existed before and that this life was an aptitude test… the only way to truly judge one’s character. It meant that the experience was more important than how far one progressed in this life. The traditional Christian view doesn’t work with that answer, though, if faith in Christ is a requirement for absolution. The majority of God’s children could do nothing but fail, having never been Christian. There is only one Church that I know of that has a doctrine to redeem the dead. And through that doctrine, all mankind can be saved (except for those that know God and actively work against Him).

As for 4) 5) 6) and 7) I’m too tired to properly respond but I’d say God does not wish to violate our free will or agency. May seem like a lame thought, but I can elaborate further if you wish, just let me know.

Hopefully I do not seem contrite or conceded (maybe self delusional and boring you to tears). :) Thanks for taking the time with your posts. I think this is a meaningful discussion. There are definitely mounds of ammunition that make it easy for one to avoid religion in general. And we haven’t even touched on the insanity occurring in the Middle East!

Sincerely,
Shawn

shawn said...

Hi Bishop Rick!

Not surprising in the least. I totally agree. I’d like to add the “religious” nuts on TV who tend to drive people away from God with their blatant panhandling and lavish lifestyles. They really tick me off. Why are they allowed to malign the work of the Lord and sow the seeds of confusion?

Or better yet, what about the doctrines of Hell. Do the approximately 1.5 billion Christians really believe and accept all others are going to Hell, irrespective of their “works”? Same goes for the 900 million+ Muslims. Eh?

Before joining the Church almost 14 years ago, I had a very simple philosophy on life and religion. Life = “Stuff” happens. Religion = a manipulative political tool used to control groups or masses. Nothing more, nothing less.

How did I arrive at this line of thinking? From the religion I was raised in…

How did I end up dumping that philosophy and becoming an active LDS member? Ah, that’s another boring story…

Anyway, I think there’s a bigger, yet simpler question that predicates the intelligent questions you pose. Does a benevolent, engaged God exist? If the answer is yes, then there are answers to your questions. If God exists but is not benevolent or not engaged, then we’re a pretty slick ant farm. If God doesn’t exist then eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die.

I’m not sure if you really wanted me to try and answer some of the questions you’ve posed. Obviously, I’d be a pompous dork if I tried to speak for anyone other than myself. These same questions bothered me, though, and my testimony, my belief in God, has roots in the answers that work for me. So here goes an attempt to offer my opinions…

1) Why are there so many religions…? Power, money, tradition, and the “God of the gaps” syndrome mixed with the honest desires of many people who wish to do good. Any failings of leaders or doctrines (whether real or perceived) leads to “new religions”.

2) Why is it that all religions “know” that they are right? It has been my experience that many do not purport to “know” that they are right… although they do seem to know an awful lot about what’s wrong with other religions. :) I propose there is another option besides the couple you listed. There is God’s truth, and one religion is closer to God than all the rest. Being comprised of simple people, the “more right” religion is not infallible and can drift away from God’s truth and maybe be replaced by another. Some say that God is too big to fit in “one religion”. I would say that there are no religions capable of encapsulating all of God’s truth. I believe certain truths such as a lay ministry, the promotion of family, the absence of violent tendencies, and a plan that can save all mankind are key components to the “one religion” that is closest to God.

I can’t tell you how many times I heard, “It’s one of the mysteries of God” when I asked basic questions while growing up. (Dang… I should have used that and said “one through seven, here you go...”) Many people don’t realized they can (and should) question their religious tenets, especially when left with uninspired answers. So how does one find out what one should “know” or what is “right”? I realize some people have a very hard time with it but inquiry, prayer, and scripture study seems to work for me.

3) … why would a loving God send his children to an unknown place after erasing their memory… ? Before I joined the Church, this question really bothered me. The only logical conclusion I could reach is that we must have existed before and that this life was an aptitude test… the only way to truly judge one’s character. It meant that the experience was more important than how far one progressed in this life. The traditional Christian view doesn’t work with that answer, though, if faith in Christ is a requirement for absolution. The majority of God’s children could do nothing but fail, having never been Christian. There is only one Church that I know of that has a doctrine to redeem the dead. And through that doctrine, all mankind can be saved (except for those that know God and actively work against Him).

As for 4) 5) 6) and 7) I’m too tired to properly respond but I’d say God does not wish to violate our free will or agency. May seem like a lame thought, but I can elaborate further if you wish, just let me know.

Hopefully I do not seem contrite or conceded (maybe self delusional and boring you to tears). :) Thanks for taking the time with your posts. I think this is a meaningful discussion. There are definitely mounds of ammunition that make it easy for one to avoid religion in general. And we haven’t even touched on the insanity occurring in the Middle East!

Sincerely,
Shawn





So I blabbed away in the previous post. :)

On a side note: why does the existence or non-existence of God matter anyway? Especially if we have agency and free will. Life is hard and unfair. Shouldn’t we just do what we want vs. trying to find and adhere to a religious dogma? Does religious belief have any benefits? What difference does it make in our lives?

A pessimist would say religion only creates suffering. That holds true for radicalism.

But I believe the "religion closest to God" would have doctrines that benefit all mankind, irrespective of religious belief or philosophy.

Over 500,000 Americans die every year from alcohol and tobacco misuse. This doesn't include abuse to others. A simple belief in the Word of Wisdom could have saved all of them.

Would the WHO be predicting half a BILLION AIDS victims by the year 2050 if people could grasp the Law of Chasity? Would abortion exist if people were NOT getting pregnant when they didn't want to?

If more people believed “in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law”, would there still be as much suffering, esp if the rulers held themselves accountable to a “higher authority”?

Check out this link (if you like) about religion and economics.

http://rationalchoice.blogspot.com/2006/01/religion-and-economic-performance.html

Could 200 million tithe paying people enable the Church to wipe out things like world hunger (or evil HMOs)?

ujlapana said...

Hate to come so late to the party, but here are some thoughts.

Shawn, there's a lot in-between nihilism and religion. It's hard to sum it all up in a quick blog post, but just because objective reality lacks inherent meaning doesn't mean that I don't (or can't) assign a meaning to it myself. In fact, it's the assignment of meaning (abstractions) to things that makes humans "human." As far as I can tell, I can "know" lots of things about existence and can enjoy my distinct presence in it (even though this, too, is an abstraction). Actions still have consequences, so insomuch as I wish to be happy and make copies of myself, I pursue activities that further those ends. Short-sightedness is not a requirement of atheism, so you won't see me engaged in wanton partying. I derive my morals much as an Objectivist would.

Why do you care about 1,000 years from now? It is well beyond your control. But there's the rub, isn't it? Life (for obvious natural-selection reasons) wants to control the things that impact it, so as to live longer and less stressfully. An apathetic creature turns into quick prey. Sadly for our brains, a lot of what happenes to us is beyond our control. The answer? Rituals that we believe can control anything (like prayer). Even if things don't work out like we wanted, we can say, "hey, I prayed, and that means God is going to make everything okay in the end." Even if the end comes after we die.

I feel sorry that you were sad during your atheist period. If you're feeling better as a Mormon, that's fine; I just believe that people will find the greatest long-term joy in pursuing truth, even if that truth is painful.

I've never called mystical experiences indigestion. Any straw men will be burned. (Interestingly, I've heard this same strawman from other Mormons recently--was this in a GC talk or something?)

Your description of a "one true religion" sounds more like an Eastern tradition than Mormonism. I like it. You claim that the "truest" religion can fall away--do you believe that if the "truest" religion teaches that it cannot ("The Prophet cannot lead the Church astray"), then it has just fallen away?

I don't think the only fruits of religion are pain and suffering. Religions are a key mechanism for social intergration, which is, in turn, a key part of human existence. (Once again, solo humans turn into lion dinners, groups can eat elephants!) You seem to do a good job of finding the good parts of religion, without getting excessively caught up in literalist dogmatism. But then, I don't really know you.

On the other hand, it's interesting that you seem to defend (and I'm sure you have other defenses, but these are the ones you chose) religion using the WoW and LoC. Unfortunately for religion, those are kind of self-evident. Actions (drinking, sleeping around) have consequences, and they are readily apparent. People may choose to take risks, but that's up to them.

Sometimes religious leaders are well placed to provide true moral leadership (Jesus, Gandhi, MLK, etc.). Once again, the morals are self-evident (Jesus: ordinary people, especially women, have value; Gandhi: the "unclean" have value; MLK: blacks have value), but the religion can sell it more convincingly than an atheist (70 virgins vs. reason?). Sadly, I haven't seen much of that in the Church, where basically mainstream principles are adhered to a little longer than most members are probably comfortable with (1978? Patriarchy? Homophobia?). That's just basic conservativism, and comes with elderly leadership.

Could 200 million people paying tithing eliminate hunger? I doubt it, since 90% of that would go toward facilities management & building. I look for charities with much lower administrative overhead!

Bishop Rick said...

ujlapana,

Nice post. Keep in mind that the LDS church has done a great job recently of investing money and building side businesses. A recent acquisition of a downtown SLC mall for $1 Billion testifies to that fact with Church leadership came out and said that no tithing money was used in the purchase. That means that the LDS church's business dealings are successful enough to build up quite a nest egg, aside from tithing donations.

ujlapana said...

A yes, the megamall. Not to threadjack here, but exactly where does that money come from? Income on existing business dollars. And where did those come from? Keep going back, and it all had to be donated at one point in the past. Maybe God doesn't get to keep investment income on His tithing? Or perhaps God would only invest in bonds, and so the Church gets to keep whatever beats that? Whatever.

$1 billion dollars...blows your mind.

Bishop Rick said...

Good point. If you go back far enough, it is all tithing. I guess that the LDS church's business ventures have advanced to the point where now they stand on their own.

If someone invests $50 in bonds, and after awhile makes $100, and takes out the original investment of $50, is the growth now considered to be seperate from the original $50?

It's like taking a $20 and dropping it into a slot machine, winning $40, taking $20 and putting it back into your wallet. Now you go play with the $20 that is left. Are you still gambling with the original $20?

Sorry for the gambling reference, but it seemed like a good analogy.

Walker said...

"I don't think the only fruits of religion are pain and suffering. Religions are a key mechanism for social intergration, which is, in turn, a key part of human existence. (Once again, solo humans turn into lion dinners, groups can eat elephants!) You seem to do a good job of finding the good parts of religion, without getting excessively caught up in literalist dogmatism. But then, I don't really know you."

So is the Lion's Club, the Rotary Club, and Citizens United for C.S. Lewis Club.

Why mess around with the gadgets of religious dogma if they're a lot of phooey anyway? You call it a key to the human experience, but that's an ex post facto declaration.

Religion half-believed is religion tritely lived. Shaw quipped: "The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one." The gap between the believed and the real is no small matter.

Chesterton (with some obvious preference): "The sort of man who admires Italian (or any religion, really) art while despising Italian religion is a tourist and a cad"