Tuesday, July 24, 2012

I've just returned from being in New Hampshire's Great North Woods with a friend for a couple of days.  We kayaked, hiked, and generally looked for moose.  We went very far into boggy inlets in the kayaks, we walked a ways down the Moose Alley Trail in the dark with our headlamps, and we drove up and down "Moose Alley" several times, hoping to have our lives graced with the presence of one of these immense, fearless creatures. From the top of Mt. Magalloway, I visualized the moose in the bog we could see far below.  I even brought lucky moose-sighting socks that had a meditating moose and said "NaMOOSEte."  Ultimately, even though I have seen up to three moose in one day at these same spots, we did not see one on this trip.  If I were basing the success of this adventure on whether or not we had encountered a moose, I would have to conclude that it was a disappointment.  In fact, it was a jolting success, making me think of 'looking for moose' as a metaphor that relates to how I experience, categorize, and make meaning of my life.

What did happen during this trip was nothing short of spectacular.   From the top of the fire tower on Mt. Magalloway, literally as far as we could see in every direction, we could see nothing but hills, mountains, trees, lakes, bogs, logging roads, and a very few buildings.  Far beyond the farthest mountain I could clearly make out, there were faint outlines which could have been more mountains or clouds, or both.  Some bees, likely oblivious to the grandeur surrounding them, hovered in front of us as they went against the wind to the hive they must have built in the corner of the tower.   How often am I bee-like, working through and around obstacles to do what must be done in my own little sphere of influence, unable to see the big picture, I wondered?

On the first night we went to the dock on the shore of Lake Francis and looked at the stars.  We had been able to discern some stars at the campsite, but at the edge of the lake the view was magnificent.  We could see the Milky Way clearly stretched across the sky.   I looked at specific points of light and wondered how far away the star was, whether or not it had any planets orbiting it and if so, was there any life on any of them?  It occurred to me that I have not really seen the stars in a long, long time.  I have learned about elementary astrophysics and how the elements that comprise everything on Earth, including us, were forged in distant, ancient stars.  I have read the history of science and how people went from seeing their gods in the stars to detecting potential liquid water on a planet orbiting a star light-years away.  As I looked up into the reality of the tiny lights in the sky I realized I am one small being, made of star-stuff, and I still have a place in the cosmos.  This may seem like an obvious statement, but sometimes I lose perspective.  I remembered those stars.  I remembered myself.

We went kayaking in lakes and bogs, where we saw an inordinate number of ospreys and loons.  Just after having a loon pop up out of the water near us and loudly protest our presence, an osprey flew right over us  as it set out to hunt.  We watched as it spiraled  over the lake and occasionally dove in to catch a fish.  It didn't catch any fish while we were there, but it was a privilege to watch it.  I've seen loons before, and each time I see them is like magic, but I had never before seen an osprey so close and for so long in the wild.  They seemed to be everywhere we went.

If I were one to look for patterns, I would have to see that the joy I felt during so many moments of this trip happened because, besides being in a beautiful place and sharing enjoyable activities with a person whose company I enjoy, I delighted in what was present and not on what was missing.  Although I am now thinking of what meaning this trip had for me, in each moment I was doing my best to just experience what was happening.  Granted, it is easier to accept what is happening while watching on osprey glide against a background of building storm clouds than it is to be fully present during the more mundane or alarming parts of life, but I have to ask myself upon what is my attention?

Is it on the big picture, and my place in it, or do I only know there are forces preventing me from doing what I have to do?  Do I see a dynamic, productive, protected landscape, or do I only see the scars from logging and the encroachment of mankind on the wilderness?  Do I become disappointed and focused on the lack of presence of moose, or do I delight in the cries of the loons and the aerobatics of the ospreys?  I know life is generally neither black and white nor simple, and sometimes I think too much.  How far can I stretch this analogy, I wonder?  Sometimes what is present, or not present, in life hurts so much it is all-encompassing.  Sometimes I can see my life as a blighted, moose-less landscape, and at other times I see unending possibilities and wonder before me like the Great North Woods and the Milky Way, and everything in between.  It's all a matter of perspective.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Reality check

What follows is a conversation that happened over a few weeks on Facebook recently. I am putting it here for a few reasons, none of which might make sense to anybody else but me. I think this is fascinating. It is here for anybody who happens to enjoy reading this type of thing. Enjoy, ignore, whatever! It is all good. I would love whatever feedback anybody feels like leaving.

Gloria: Hi God, its me. Again. I am getting older and things are getting bad here. Prices are too high, food and heating costs are too high, and jobs are hard to come by. I know some have taken you out of our schools, government and even Christmas, but Lord I'm asking you to come back and re-bless America. We really need you! There are more of us who want you than those who don't! Thank You Lord, I Love you. In Jesus name, I pray. Amen. Remember: "Life without God is like an un-sharpened pencil - it has no point." 

Me: Can't.... resist.... must....say.... something. I must respectfully disagree with some of what you said. The lives of non-believers have meaning too, and public schools and government aren't supposed to have any religion involved in the first place. The former is my subjective experience, and the latter comes straight from the Constitution. I do agree that it would be nice if things would change around here for the better!

Jen: AMEN Gloria!

Nicole: Separation of church and state is what our country is founded on! I'll leave it at that. 

Facebook Lady: Diane, the 1st amendment protects your right to not participate in a religious practice, so you are included under the first amendment. What it does not do for a non-believer is give them the right to limit the practice of others because it might offend them. No one forces a non-believer to attend church, or a coven of wiccans for that matter.

Nicole, the philosophy of Separation of Church and State was written as the 1st Amendment to the Constitution to prevent the Federal Government from mandating a state sponsored religion to which everyone had to adhere. (Like the monarchy in England did with the Church of England) It is not about keeping those individuals who are in government and other organizations from practicing and celebrating their religion. There is freedom for all the practice their religion or lack thereof. Being employed by the government or some public organization or corporation does not suspend the right of the individual while they are at work or school.

Here is a First Amendment Primer: The right to freedom of religion is so central to American democracy that it was enshrined in the First Amendment to the Constitution along with other fundamental rights such as freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..." -- The First Amendment

In order to guarantee an atmosphere of absolute religious liberty, this country's founders also mandated the strict separation of church and state. LARGELY BECAUSE OF THIS PROHIBITION AGAINST GOVERNMENT REGULATION OR ENDORSEMENT OF A PARTICULAR RELIGION, diverse faiths have flourished and thrived in America since the founding of the Republic. Indeed, James Madison, the father of the United States Constitution, once observed that "the [religious] devotion of the people has been manifestly increased by the total separation of the church from the state."

Americans are still among the most religious people in the world. Yet the government plays almost no role in promoting, endorsing or funding religious institutions or religious beliefs. Free from government control -- and without government assistance -- religious values, literature, traditions and holidays permeate the lives of our citizens and, in their diverse ways, form an integral part of our national culture. By maintaining the wall separating church and state, we can guarantee the continued vitality of religion in American life. 


Jonathan: Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are the hungry now, for you will filled. (Luke 6:20-21) God does not bless us through riches and through things we can see. The Gospel is veiled in unseen places like a cross on a hill, outside the city walls.

Facebook Lady: EVERY good thing comes from God.

Me:  I would never presume to try to limit anybody else's freedom to practice his or her religion. I don't think people who work for government or at a school should be prohibited from practicing their religion. I just don't want anybody else's religion forced upon me or anyone else for that matter. I do think that official government property, proceedings, documents, philosophies, etc. should not reflect or promote any one religion over another.

And Gloria, please don't take what I said as an attempt to thwart your practicing of your beliefs. It's difficult to read that someone else thinks my life is pointless and not respond! I don't believe in a deity, but I still find meaning in life. I see its wonder, beauty, sorrow, suffering. I am happy when people find whatever works for them.

Gloria: I invite thought and discussion. I appreciate anyone who takes the time. Further, I am extremely difficult to offend. And if you do aggravate me, I will forgive you. So - as the kids say - no worries. :)

Melinda:  I don't agree, and my life is WONDERFUL! I'm pretty sure it also has a point, and if it's dull I have my own beliefs that will sharpen it right up for me.

Facebook Lady: There is such an intricate design in life forms on earth, not to mention all throughout the universe, that to study these things and not believe in a creative designer would require willful rebellion and denial. If you want an example, start by studying the eye. To hold no belief in a creator God once one has seen these things exist, is equivalent to looking at a painting and not believe in a painter. "It happened by accident over millions of years"...yeah right! I have some swamp land in Florida to sell you too! :) For those who believe that life without God has a point, as far as an individual's life having a point without God and His provision of eternal life, once you're dead, you're dead and you have no more existence and no memories. So really, what was the point? He who has the most toys when he dies wins? Even your children will die and be remembered no more. Very few individuals are remembered beyond their family in as few as 100 years. Look at a cemetery someday and try and remember who was buried there.

Ah, but there are many atheists that are lobbying to actively stamp out Christianity legally. They are trying to make laws that forbid our practice and expression of our beliefs. Christ told us (Christians) that our main job here on earth was to share the good news with everyone that death, the grave and hell do not have to be the end of everyone's life. If you are not interested in hearing that message, that's your right to kindly and politely decline. Eventually that person will not "bother" you with the good news again. Listening to one another is small price to pay to enable freedom for all in our nation.

Jane: Without GOD....LIFE is EVERYTHING!!!! I just got home from FL and noticed quite a few people pray out loud as a group before they eat in a public place.....I found it very odd and awkward to be around,,,,I didn't know if I should stop eating until they were done!! LOL

Me: We're such wicked heathens up here in the north!

Facebook Lady: LOL Jane! We all face awkward situations in life. You do not have to acknowledge other people's prayers. Since thanking God has no significance to you, neither do their prayers of thanksgiving. Regard it as a ritual that you can politely ignore. Feel free to go ahead and eat. No one is obligated to participate in any way. Diane, no one is completely good, so there is no special group of "perfect holy people". Everyone is a "heathen" at heart. Prayers do not denote holiness. People who pray at dinner are giving thanks to God for the provision of their meal. They do this because they recognize and are grateful to God as the creator of everything.

“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” What do people gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun?Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises. The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course. All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they return again. All things are wearisome, more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing. What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, “Look! This is something new”? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time. No one remembers the former generations, and even those yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow them.

Jane: I never said I wasn't polite Ms Facebook Lady :) Just had a thought: maybe the reason people in the South are so religious is because of the crazy idiots on the road!

Facebook Lady: They were God-fearing (respectful of) people long before the automobile! LOL! Nice try!

Jane: Facebook Lady...Could you pls explain the meaning of God-fearing/respectful of...?

Me: I meant heathen as in non-Christian. I know that nobody is perfect. Do you think I don't know why people pray? I am an atheist, not an idiot! Your "Meaningless" bit made me think of one of my favorite chants... "We all come from the Goddess, and to her we shall return.

Facebook Lady: Actually I was addressing Janet with regard to her comment about the people praying in the south at dinner in public, so no I don't think you're an idiot.

Me: Like a drop of rain, flowing to the ocean... there's more but I can't remember it right now. Of course I don't believe in an actual Goddess just as much as I don't believe in your God/Jesus. The song does make me feel connected to part of my creator, the Earth and cosmos from whence I believe life arose. 

Facebook Lady: And that does not mean I thinks Janet is an idiot either! ;)

Me: I was responding to your bit addressed to me, about why people pray. No idiots here! : )

Facebook Lady: Jane; Sure, I will explain it biblically: Some people mistake the meaning of God-fearing as to mean to be "afraid of God". It actually means a healthy respect of God's power, authority, and sovereignty. If you have ever read the bible, you will know that the only people that need actual fear God's judgment, power and authority are those who have rejected the peace offering He made to each us in the sacrifice of his Son, Christ Jesus. Also, if you have read the bible, you will remember that Jesus is the second person of the triune Godhead, i.e. God incarnate, who agreed with God the Father to live a perfect life as a human and then sacrifice his life willingly as a substitute for all humanity for everyone who would believe. The only stipulation to receiving the pardon that Jesus offers all people, is to believe. Belief requires action. Action means obedience. What are we to believe? That we are flawed, and God is not. That flaw is called "sin", and it is what separates us from our perfectly good God. We have all broken the perfect law of God, everyone of us, when we lie, cheat, steal, etc. God can legally place the judgment we deserve on Christ when we turn our lives over to Jesus and follow him. This, and only this, makes anyone righteous in God's sight.

Jane: great to be fearless!!!

Me: Sure, if you subscribe to that particular set of beliefs, which, of course, I don't. So, none of it applies to me. I just am a good person and do good things because it's the right thing to do.

Facebook Lady: Ahh, I wasn't pointing you out Diane, since I include myself in this group. All people are born as "heathens" By the way, I don't use the word "heathen". Just believer and unbeliever.

Jane: Yes it is refreshing to just do the right things for the right reasons....without fear or dogma!!

Me: So the We is Christians? Humans? People who live in the Northern Hemisphere?

Facebook Lady: Have you ever lied? That makes you and me a liar. Have you ever stolen anything, even a paper clip? That make you and I a thief. Have you ever lusted after a guy? That makes you and I an adulterer. I guess no one can say that they are truly a good person a heart. Perhaps when compared to Hitler and the like one might say that they are a relatively good person, but that is only relative. Our problem is that we are not like God who is unable to lie, cheat and steal. Hence our problem.

Me: Well believer and unbeliever seem reasonable enough. I like "heathen" though. It's got a nice ring to it. Really though, as you know, I am indeed an atheist to the core.

Facebook Lady: Jane, You're not reading carefully enough. I see myself as having no righteousness of my own. Where did you get that idea? You cannot place your unbelief on me. That is an issue between you and God and I have nothing to do with it. Sorry.

Me:  It may be your problem if you are not like your God, but it's not mine! I don't strive to be more like a deity in which I don't believe. I try to be good because I am a good person. Not perfect, just good... without God.

Facebook Lady:  Diane what we are you referring to. Too much confusion going on here. I'm trying to talk to two people and not doing a very good job of it I guess.

Me:  One day, we should try to find something upon which we see eye-to-eye. It could be challenging. :)

Facebook Lady: Jane, read the bible for yourself. The answers you are seeking are in there IF you'll do the work and study it for yourself. I cannot give you the long answer because my fingers would fall off! LOL Diane, you know I like you, so what does it matter? We both have strong convictions. Better to have strong ones than weak ones or none at all! Janet, Also, I am not trying to argue with you or insult you. Only sharing what I have experienced as true.

Me: Me too! 

Facebook Lady: Jane, you do not have to defend yourself because I am not attacking

Right on Diane! :) Jane, no I do not believe that this is all a big stage show. Think about love, think about freewill as necessary for love to exist in true form. Then think about what free will necessitates. I am happy also, but I know that death is not the end of life. That is very freeing!

Me: I meant I am also trying to share what is true for me. Reality is not the same for two different people. Our worldviews are very, very different

Facebook Lady:  Jane, But don't you realize that the same could be said for your position? Diane, that's okay. Makes no difference to me. I can still enjoy listening to your worldview/ thoughts.

Facebook Lady: Actually I do have an interests, but you asked me the question and I answer accordingly. Tell me what you believe. I'm listening! :) Jane I would love to hear. Please continue.

Facebook Lady: Yes, it is. Just wondering. Since when I was exploring God 24 years ago, I did not accept the bible at face value. I did a lot of studying. Is that what you do?

Yes, it is your right is what I meant. Also, what is your understanding of where all matter came from? How in your world view did it materialize?

Facebook Lady: Diane, what is your opinion?

Me: I am also an agnostic - in that I think I cannot know about the existence of a God. I certainly don't know.

Facebook Lady: P.S. Gloria said it all: "It's not about religion, it's about a relationship with God." And yes, one can know for sure. Diane, to answer your question above; the "we" I mentioned is all mankind. Diane and Janet, you say that you do good because it is the right thing to do. What do you base this on! It is good because you say it is? Why is that valid? Diane first you say you are an atheist to the core and then later say you're agnostic. Which is it?

Me: I am both atheist and agnostic. I don't believe in a deity (that's the "without a deity" meaning of the word), and don't believe I can ever know whether or not there is one (that's the "Without Knowledge of a god" meaning. I am not, and cannot, with certainty say there are no deities. I just don't believe one exists. These are all rather deep questions I can't answer right now, and will most likely never answer to your satisfaction. I know that the Earth exists, that we exist. I'm fairly sure of how we humans came to be here, but I don't know how all matter came to be here and how life started. I have read some theories that seem plausible to me, and I am satisfied with them.

"Whence comes good?" is one of those philosophical questions that I can't answer sufficiently except for my own experience. I am good without God, period. I have proof that I am good. I was once accused of being the best "Christian" someone knew, ironically, because I apparently impressed him as being the kind of person Christians aspire to be. I'm not trying to aspire to be like Christ - I'm just a good person, with faults, of course. When you include me in your "we" I find it offensive because you are making a statement which you believe to be true, not only for you, but for me too. Doesn't that seem a tad militant? If I said, "I don't believe in a deity and neither do you," not only would it be an invalid statement, it might be classified as militant atheism. I just wish people would let us nonbelievers go on non- believing without having to have the last admonishing word. If I said, "We were all created by the Flying Spaghetti Monster and will go to the great stripper factory and beer mountain in the sky when we die," would you feel like you are a part of that "we?" I daresay the answer would be no, because you don't believe that particular religion's set of, albeit silly, beliefs. And for the record, I firmly believe the Pastafarianism belief in the Flying Spaghetti Monster is 100% as valid a set of beliefs as yours. And why not? There's a Gospel and a chart that says it's all true. The proof is in the book! The FSM says so.

Facebook Lady: Good morning Diane, Thanks for your answer. :) Flying Spaghetti Monster must be atheist speak for any"God" in general. My cousin in California uses the same term. Using your definitions, you are agnostic, not atheist because you declare that you do not know if there is a God. It is your guess. Athiesm. Don't you see that you are applying a double standard where by your beliefs rise above mine in your mind? That is what you are saying that I do to you. It is okay for you to express your beliefs, but not okay for me? How is that any different from what you say that I do? Could not your beliefs be considered "militant" from my perspective? I prefer to say that we both hold to our convictions and are willing to express them. How is that bad? I am not offended by your viewpoint, so why should you be offended by mine if you do not believe it to possibly be true? I do not see your viewpoint as threatening and I fail to see how another person's so called myth could be a threat to me if I did not believe that is might be true. THEN it would be threatening. As it is, your views have no power over my emotions and mind. The same should hold true for you.

You say that you wish to be left alone, yet you are the one that started this entire conversation. I have no problem with that, I will be happy to discuss whatever you like because I respect your thoughts and viewpoint, but don't tell me that you want to be left alone. That just is not true. I used the word "We" because that is Jesus' word. I know it to be true because I know him in a personal way. You do not believe it to be true because you have never met Jesus. Plain and simple. Look at it this way; my mom died in 2007. You never have met her. I knew her all my life. Would you expect me to disavow the existence of my mother just because you never met her? Of course not. Neither can I disavow Jesus.

Jane: I am inspired by love and guided by knowledge. :)

Facebook Lady: That is a wonderful thing Janet. :) But one question that I have always asked myself was how do I know that the so-called knowledge I possess is the absolute truth? On the other hand, love will never steer you wrong.

Jane: I continue on this path of life and remain open minded and teachable.

Facebook Lady:  That attitude will serve you well! Congratulations! :)

Me:  I don't mean I want you personally to leave me alone, or for everybody to leave me alone. I also enjoy talking about many things, including religion. I think it is important for me to be honest about what I believe, instead of just going along with the majority because it's the path of least resistance. I don't know how you got that I'm putting my beliefs above yours from anything I said. Yours are equally valid. I just don't believe the same things you do. I don't have the will right now to go into everything I want to say and you are right - I've never met Jesus. Truer words were never spoken.

One more thing. I think it's semantics we're dancing around with the atheist/agnostic/unbeliever bit. You can refer to me as any of those and, I believe, you'd be right! I don't believe in a deity, although I acknowledge that we can't know for sure whether or not one exists. They're related, but distinct, concepts. I thought this might illuminate my position on the whole atheism/theism/agnostic/gnostic bit. I hope it is helpful towards understanding me (and many others like me.)

Facebook Lady: Hi Diane, Was away for two days on a women's retreat on Colorado Springs. Probably is semantics because an atheist cannot truly exist. The reason; no one has disproven God. The best anyone who has never met God can do is deny, resist or honestly say that they do not know. More later, off to church.

Me: God's existence doesn't have to be disproven. The burden of proof is on those who claim he exists. Nobody has disproven the existence of fairies or unicorns, but reasonable people don't think they exist. I would need proof of fairies, Allah, Thor, Santa Claus, Jesus, etc., equally as much in order to believe they are real. And that doesn't mean I'm stubborn or defiant. Am I stubborn or defiant because I need proof that Allah exists before I believe in him? I didn't think so. : ) Please stop invalidating what I know to be true about myself: I don't believe in any deity. I am an atheist. We exist! When you can explain why you don't believe in Thor, Zeus, Freya, etc., you will know why I don't believe in your deity. Nobody has ever proven the existence of any of them. If there is a deity and it wants me to believe in it, it needs to give me actual proof (not arguments disguised as proof.)

Why? Because I don't go around believing in things that have never been proven to exist. I am not claiming definitively that no deities exist, but I am 100% certain that I do not believe any do. I have said that before, maybe even to you, and have been told that the proof is there if I choose to find it. Really? Why would  I decide to pick Christianity to explore over any other religion? Shouldn't I explore the writings of all religions to find "proof? I don't have that kind of time or interest. I've read the Bible. I saw no proof there and I had to stop reading it because it made me feel unwell. That's it for Christianity, and Jesus for me. If proof comes my way, then I will be the first to say I was wrong. : )

Facebook Lady: If you are truly an atheist, prove to me that God does not exist. (This is moot because You cannot, because I know Him in a personal way.) Below is only one example of what I mean when I say that man has no excuse for not believing in God. There are literally unending examples I could send you....but here's one: http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/2258763/posts Also, there is really no such thing as "Christianity" per se. The first "Christians" were Jews. What people today call "Christianity" is actually a misnomer. It is merely a gentile's divinely revealed personal knowledge that the Jewish Messiah promised to the Jews in the Old Testament was Yeshua (Jesus). We are gentiles who have been grafted into the "Olive Tree" (Israel) because we know and accept Jesus as King/Messiah. "MessiMessianic Jews" are Jews who have recognized that Jesus was their Messiah and publicly accepted him as their King and Savior. If you are intellectually honest with yourself, start here, watch all 6 videos by Dr. Jason Lilse and then we can talk. :) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X-21HM_YP7E&feature=related



Me: I'd rather stick an ice pick in my eye than watch those videos, really. I'd rather go meditate - something that will make my life better. Once again, I will say the onus is on you as a believer to prove the existence of your deity.  I say you prove the non-existence of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and THEN we can talk. : ) Go ahead, try it! The church has a Gospel and proof EVERY bit as valid as whatever believers in Jesus, Allah, Last Wednesdayism, The Invisible Pink Unicorn, etc. have.

Facebook Lady: No, I quit Diane. I am not responsible for your salvation, only to tell you that forgiveness is freely available as long as you live. After that, the doors are closed permanently and a person will be separated from God because they so wished it. God sends no one to hell, people volunteer to go there because they hate and reject God. God sadly honors their wishes. Apparently, you are not open to being taught or shown anything, and just want to argue. You have nothing to offer in return except the old argument of existentialism and fatalism. Your philosophy offers nothing but death and the grave. You have indicated you are happy not knowing for sure if there is a God, and you have certainly been given many chances to start seeking God by lots of people who DO KNOW for sure that there is a God. When you say no to God, the onus is on you, and not me. God only reveals himself to those who sincerely are looking for Him. You are not. If you never look, He will never prove Himself to you. It is not up to me to do the work for you, but up to you to do the work. I truly hope you are wise enough to do the work at some point before your physical life comes to an end. Perhaps my words have aggravated you and seemed presumptuous, but I'd rather aggravate you than see you in hell. That is a good trade off in my opinion, and shows that I genuinely care about your welfare.

And in case you don't get the kindness of my message, here's an analogy: There was a blind man out taking a walk on a beautiful day. He could not see, but he could appreciate the warm salt air and the breezes blowing by the oceanside home where he lived. As he strolled down the path, a stranger was watching him as he walked along blissfully unaware toward a cliff. If he kept along his current pathway, he would definitely go over the cliff and crash to his death upon the jagged rocks below. The stranger had a choice to make. He thought, "Gee that man is really enjoying his walk. I really do not want o interrupt his serenity and joy. Perhaps I should stay quiet and see what happens, after all, he has not yet gone over the cliff and there is still time to save him." Then again the stranger thought; "What if I do not get there in time? He'll most certainly die. I'd better go tell him now. Better to interrupt his peaceful walk now than to take a chance." And so, the stranger ran over to the blind man and warned him of the danger. The blind man thanked him profusely, readjusted his course and safely continued his walk, still enjoying the beautiful day. What person who was unaware of the danger ahead would be angry with a stranger who took the time to warn them and thus save their life? Here's one for you:


Me: Sometimes quitting is better - I will not budge. If me expressing my views adamantly, and not conceding to yours is "just wanting to argue" then so be it. You don't seem to want to understand - you seem to want to convert. My mind is open, actually, but not to nonsense. I have talked to enough followers of Christ, read the Bible , and gone to enough church services to have found out all I need to know. Your words are definitely aggravating and presumptuous, and have pushed me even farther, although I didn't really think it was possible, away from wanting to try to know Jesus. You might try changing your approach just a bit. Just a suggestion.

Another suggestion would be to not try to convince people like me that what you believe is true. I know your indoctrination compels you to do so, but the most effective messengers for Christ that I have encountered are the ones that preach less and just walk the walk for others to see. I wrote a bunch more but then accidentally lost it. Take my word for it - it was brilliant. :) You are hereby given credit for having tried to show me the way. It is a bit like trying to buy kiwis in a shoe store - it won't work. No matter how much someone insists on trying to buy kiwis in a shoe store, he or she will be unsuccessful. 

Facebook Lady: Wounds from a friend are better than kisses from an enemy. Blaming me for your denial of God is a cop-out and I do not accept it. You and you alone are responsible for your attitude. Obviously, you have not found all you need to know. I can say that because you are still an agnostic. Anyone who has honestly made a sincere attempt to find God with ALL their heart will find out beyond a shadow of doubt that God is alive and well. I call things as it as I see it. You repeatedly go fishing for an argument by involving yourself in discussions about God, then you get upset when you hear the honest truth, and you shoot the messenger. It's a pattern with you. What do you hope to achieve? What is your purpose? Is it possible you believe you can convert us? Then you are wasting your time and you should just ignore all of us in the future. From my point of view, you are not open-minded, you are closed-minded and hostile. I see the hostility that you exhibit regarding God to be a byproduct of all the hurt you've suffered in life and so now you have a high wall of protection and animosity all about you. You will not let anyone through, and you blame them when they try, even when you're the one who invited the attempt. You do not seem to see any need for forgiveness from anyone, the world owes you an apology. If you believe you are open-minded, you might do well to take another look at yourself.

Open people review and consider ALL information, without using ridicule, and belittlement as a major part of their response. If you were open-minded, you'd have reviewed at the videos I sent you, even if it only was to get more information with which to prove your point. But you didn't..... Those videos do not pose any threat to your worldview, yet you responded as if they were poisonous. A bit of an over-reaction don't you think? Perhaps the real reason for your over-reaction is fear of the unknown, fear of being humbled, and laid bare to the truth of who you are. You are not alone.

Facebook Lady: Ahhh, I get it. NOW I see what's in it for you...I get your motivation now! Self-justification. Diane, we've all been there and done that.

Me: Nope! You are wrong, wrong, wrong. In another mood I would have/might have looked at those videos. I am not threatened by them. You think you know so much about me, but you really don't understand. There is a lot I don't understand about you too, obviously. I have no desire to convert you or anyone else. I just want to let you know not everybody thinks the same way. Should I never express it? Do you get to openly say what you believe? Yes. Should I not also be able to do so? Yes! I am not blaming you for my denial of your version of a god. I said you helped push me farther away. And I am an equal-opportunity denier, by the way. Not only do I deny Jesus, but also Allah, Thor, Zeus, Athena, Xenu...

We will arrive at this point over and over again every time we discuss this, so let's stop. I honestly wish you well. I will try to refrain from making comments that will inevitably lead us here. The irony of this is that I really am a very nice person. I am as passionate about what I believe as you seem to be about your beliefs. In general, I am done being quiet and/or apologetic about being an atheist. My goal is to be true to myself, not to be disrespectful or hurtful to anyone else. It is a very loaded issue though. Some people, like you, deny the very existence of what I believe myself to be. That can tend to get people upset - no matter from which side it comes. Even though you say I am close-minded and won't look at myself, I know the opposite to be true. I know about humility and surrender. Just because I won't surrender in the particular direction you think I should doesn't mean I don't get the concept or am incapable of it. I am in fact surrendering now, as difficult as it is. : ) Really, I don't mean this sarcastically - may your life be full of loving-kindness.

One more thing. I read what you said about me to someone who knows me very well and asked his opinion of whether or not you are right about me. He said, "No she's not, and what she said indicates she is not qualified to make those judgments about you." Of course he's probably a bit biased, but I think he would also give me as objective an answer as he could. I am very lucky to have many, many people in my life who love me, and I think if I were as close-minded and hostile as you say I am, that would not be the case.

In fact, a good friend of mine who is a follower of Christ often compliments me on my ability to have open-minded and respectful conversations about God. She gave me a book called "The God Question" and I did read it. It didn't change my mind at all, but I read it with as open a mind as I could. I am not sure if you are familiar with it or not. I have not dismissed everything you have said, either about God or me. I am looking at myself - not at what I believe or don't believe but how I might want to change the way I interact with some believers whose approach apparently rubs me the wrong way. I admit I am stubborn and can get sarcastic and ornery, but this has little to do with my atheism or atheists in general. I am very human and subject to all of the flaws and faults inherent in the human condition. You have helped me to try a little harder to transcend those lesser parts of myself. Thanks.

Me: Jane, I agree! Well said!

Facebook Lady:  Diane, :-) Believe me, I know not everyone thinks the same way! You are always free to speak and voice your opinion, however from my perspective it seen as moot because I do know God personally. It's like trying to tell a person that their father does not exist because you've never seen or met him. Silly, right? Please allow me to try and share my challenges with our conversation. Try and picture yourself in my shoes. A person's mind is forever and irreversibly changed when they go to God and ask Him to reveal Himself to them. If that is something you have never done in the biblical fashion, then I can fully understand why you do not believe in God (I did not know for sure either until I asked Him 25 years ago at age 33). It's perfectly logical to not know if there is a God if you've never seen/ met/interacted with Him. For instance: I would not believe in snow if I had always lived on the equator in the year 1600. Once I saw, felt, touched snow, THEN I would know it exists. Before that experience, I would probably make fun of anyone believing in snow. I get that. I just wanted to know why you're so driven to discuss this topic.

After all, we've been here before, and I am familiar with your views about God "the flying spaghetti monster" whom I know personally. Do you see how that appellation can be an insult to a person who knows God in a real way? It is very, very frustrating to be told that your Father (God) is a figment of your imagination and that you are crazy for knowing He exists. Since God reveals Himself to a person on the inside, I cannot show you God. You have to go to Him yourself and ask Him since He does not force Himself on anyone. No, I do not know you and you do not know me, so I finally gave you feedback about how you have come across to me in our discussions since last October. I am used to being accused of judging others and I can receive that because I know everyone judges others to some degree, however, I know that the truth of the matter is that I care about other people and their eternal welfare, so I press on. I am obedient to what God tells me to do, that being; to share with others what He did to reconcile them to Himself. We are all born as an enemy of God. No one is righteous, no not one. I am just as guilty as anyone else on this planet, the only difference between me and you on that score is that I have received forgiveness from God (as His word says) and you have yet to do so. It's a fee gift already bought and paid for.

What do you do with the problem of evil? I just cannot see how anyone can live this life and feel that they are not in need of forgiveness, that there is no accountability for one's actions in life while here on earth. If there were none, then God would truly be unjust and therefore not good. Fortunately He is just and good, therefore there is a need for accountability and judgment. He MUST judge to be good. He WANTS to judge no one, so he made the payment for everyone if they will just receive it personally. Think of our courtrooms. No good judge excuses or winks at evil. He must render judgement to remain a good judge. Fortunately for us, God's love is greater, and He overcame the legalities of His courtroom by dying in our place as a substitute. He paid our fine. He can legally transfer your guilt to Jesus who was God incarnate and who died as a ransom for your soul. If you had been the only person on earth Diane, Jesus still would have died for you personally, just so he would be with you forever. By the way, it is not "my version ofof God". It is God as He has revealed Himself to mankind starting with the Jews 6000 years ago, and then to everyone else. He's a real person. To say He does not exist would make me an outright liar, and I cannot do that. Hope you enjoyed your weekend :-) 

Facebook Lady:  In re-reading your comments, I just realized that we are not discussing things from an equal perspective. We're comparing apples to oranges. Yes, you have your beliefs, but mine are *not* beliefs. They are actually personal experiences, interaction and knowledge of God. I do think you are a nice person Diane, especially when compared to other people. I appreciate your passion and candor. The point is that it is not a comparison game. No one can meet God's standard for perfection. He is holy, which means set apart, different than us. That's why Jesus chose to put on flesh, live a perfectly obedient life and then forfeit that life as payment those who would receive it. Forgiveness is not earned by our good works, so that everyone is on even footing. When is good tainted with evil fully good? He knows we are incapable of being perfect as He is perfect, so he made restitution for us. That was the only way he could legally find us innocent, and it is all up to us to receive it or reject it. It's like throwing a presidential pardon into the gutter and telling everyone you don't need it. Everyone needs the pardon. There is only one person qualified to issue the pardon. Jesus.

P.S. In the interest of full disclosure, It is not my goal to get you to believe in God. My goal is to help you to think about the moral issues involved, and to think things through to a logical conclusion. That's why I wanted you to view the videos. I enjoy that part of our conversation. I also pray about what I should say or not say in our conversation. If God indicated I should stop, I would stop. It is the job of the Holy Spirit to point you to Christ, not mine. I do not get "brownie points" for making a conversion! :-) Just so's ya knows! :-)

Deborah B: Religion and politics are very difficult subjects to discuss. Best to leave it alone if you ask me. 

Me: Of course you are right, Deborah. I try to resist and am often successful. Sometimes I feel I need to speak up for myself. The problem is in determining the best times and places to bring it up. Cheryl,  at some time I will view the videos. Life has been doing what it does again, and I have been in no shape to watch them. When I can do it, I will.

Cheryl R: This was kind of crazy to put all over face book. you guys might just want to all get together and talk about it . and be who you are . no matter how it turns out . if don't belevie so what . I love the person I am and I love Janet for who she is. and that should be that. get off the God kick here

Jane: sooo true ,,,,,,,so done!!! LOL

Me: I am usually much more reserved on Facebook, and not on the God kick at all (here). Sometimes I can't seem to help myself though. I will go back to making my usual innocuous statements and posting pics of mountains. : ) It's better that way. The next time someone says I don't exist, I will just quietly go on existing anyway.

Cheryl R: - that's a good idea except we live half a continent apart. If I went over to where she lives, I'd be checking out the incredible geography and, ironically, being in touch with a creator of sorts - this beautiful planet.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

My father passed away two days ago. I posted, "It's over. R.I.P. Dad" as my Facebook status to let people know. It was comforting to receive comments and condolences from my friends. Of course, the people with whom I am the closest have been with me and in contact by phone throughout the past few days.

They all must know I'm an atheist. What they might not know is that my father was one too, and he never verbalized anything different during his two year battle with cancer. He faced it bravely and with more dignity than I thought possible, all the while facing what he perceived was impending oblivion. There will be no service, no burial, no headstone. He will be having a military burial at sea, as was his stated wish.

I was comforted by people's comments, all except one. This one was from a Christian coworker that maintains I am seeking Jesus and just don't know it and/or won't admit it. As soon as I saw her name, I knew she would not be able to resist, and I was right. She said her prayers are with me and my family. I appreciate the sentiment, but she had to have consciously said that instead of the more generic "thinking of you" type of statements made by others. I do realize that people might not know what to say to an atheist at times like these, but most people are obviously trying to say what they think will actually be comforting to me.

This feels petty, and I'm not going to say anything to her, but I felt like saying to her, "Don't pray for him. If you think I'm an atheist, you should have met my dad. Even though he was scared of dying and worried about those of us he was leaving behind, he never wavered in his belief that life happens on its terms, not ours. He would not have wanted your prayers."

I know people will say their prayers are with us and they mean well, but it irks me. I feel petty. My problem with it is the propensity some Christians, including my coworker, have for using times like this to attempt to insinuate their deity into the picture. A kinder thing would be to just say, "Diane, I'm sorry for your loss," and let it go at that.

I hope to express this here and not towards anybody else who will say their prayers are with us or that my dad is in Heaven now. Now is not the time for anger, but sadness and acceptance. Carl Sagan's comment about how we are all made of stardust is comforting me now. Everything is recycled, recreated, reforged into something new. My father's ashes may be part of a meteor shower watched by beings in another galaxy millions of years from now, igniting sparks of wonder in a small creature's mind.

I have been that small creature, afraid of the dark, holding onto my father's hand and watching in awe as the lights streaked across the sky. Thank you, dad, and goodbye.

Monday, December 5, 2011

A response to a friend, a follower of Christ

Have you ever read The Chronicles of Narnia? I think there are 7 books in all. They were written by C.S. Lewis, and they, along with The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, are some of the books I've read and re-read the most in my life. They are the closest things to a "Bible" I've got.

Narnia was created and presided over by Aslan. Wikipedia says this:  "Aslan is a talking lion, the King of Beasts, son of the Emperor-Over-the-Sea; a wise, compassionate, magical authority (both temporal and spiritual); mysterious and benevolent guide to the human children who visit as well as guardian and saviour of Narnia. C. S. Lewis described Aslan as an alternative version of Jesus that is: "as the form in which Christ might have appeared in a fantasy world".

I think that your relationship with Jesus must feel similar to Narnians' and the visiting children's relationship with him. The very name "Aslan" fills the characters' psyches with warmth, love, and comfort, or fear and shame, depending on the circumstances. He loves them unconditionally but allows them to have free will even if it means they choose courses of action that end in separation from him.

I would love to have an Aslan! How wonderful that would be! The characters long to be touched by his breath and to bury their faces in his mane. They call his name in times of need, knowing he will respond as he sees fit.

At the end of the last book, Narnia ends and all of the people and creatures that believed in Aslan, or believed in something else that wasn't presented as Aslan but ultimately was, went through a magical doorway to the real Narnia. They discovered that the Narnia they had known was but a shadow of the real Narnia. The further in and higher up they went, the larger and more real it became.
There was no more weakness, pain, or infirmity. All they felt was joy and love. They had died but not really lived until then.

If you haven't read the books, I highly recommend them. When I read that last book, called The Last Battle, I realize C.S. Lewis must have been trying to describe a personal relationship with Jesus and what Heaven must be like. I get that. It sounds wonderful.  My problem is that I know it is fictional. Aslan seems more real to me than Jesus does, in fact. I could just as easily convince myself that Aslan exists as does Jesus. I suppose if Aslan showed up at my doorstep, I'd have to believe in him. So far, though, no deities have come to the door, at least not in the way I need to have it presented to me for it to make sense. Any actual deity, or one with whom I would want to associate, would know this about me and present itself accordingly.

Why the game playing? Why would a deity demand faith without presenting obvious proof? It makes no sense to me! At least Aslan presented himself to people. I mean in a real sense. I would pay attention to a giant talking lion standing in front of me!

The thing about this is that a lot of people make the mistaken assumption that atheists are atheists because they are ignorant about a god or have never sought one. This is so not true!  I believe what you want for me is to have that comforting, loving, protective, guiding relationship with Jesus. I know I could allow myself to be convinced through prayer, reading, and communion with believers, but that is not the same as the actual being presenting itself. Without proof, it's just mind games. The mind is a very powerful thing.

Well I do ramble on, huh? Part of it is that I am finding out what I do believe, and refining it, as I have this type of discussion with people. I become ever more the atheist as I go.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The tapas bar scene

"Que pasa?" said several men after I ran into the doorway while running out
of a tapas bar in Cornella de L'lobregat, just outside of Barcelona. I
dropped the change I had come there to get for the bus that would be at the
bus stop, which was about a 5 minute run away, in about 5 minutes.
If I missed the bus, I would miss my plane again, and be stuck in Barcelona
for another 24 hours.

I ran to the bus stop to find Rosario still waiting there with my luggage. We had walked from her apartment for at least an hour, following the same path I had walked the night before in a futile attempt to find the hotel I had miraculously booked online back at Pili's in St. Just Desvern.

"Que pasa?" said Rosario as I tried to catch my breath and rubbed my now
very swollen and numb left hand. By the time I could get a word out, I
started crying. In between gasps for air and sobs, I said, "La puerta, mi
mano..." and mimed what had just happened for Rosario. I had the change,
though. That was what mattered right then.

Rosario had to go to work, so we said our goodbyes and I waited for the bus
alone. After what seemed like a long time, it came. I got on and sat down,
heading towards the airport and, hopefully, Philadelphia.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

What DO you believe?

I have been asked this question by several Christians, and it's a good question.  I suspect they might expect me to say, "I believe in sacrificing goats to Cthulhu," or "I believe in daily orgies."  Oh, wait.  It's the Christian Bible that supports animal sacrifice for seemingly just about any reason.  I'm so confused.  

I wish I didn't care about religion one way or the other.  Try as I might, I seem to be unable to stay under the radar.  I do not mean to pick on Christianity, but I am surrounded by Christians who are after my soul.  I haven't had any Buddhists encouraging me to convert.  No Hindus have told me that unless I believe in their deities I will burn for eternity in Hell.  Nobody other than the Christians seems to care.

So, here's my answer.   I don't believe in any god.   I especially don’t have faith in the Christian god.   I am not completely without beliefs, however.   I believe that, in a general sense, what goes around comes around.   I believe in the importance of freedom of religion and separation of church and state.  I think that mankind creates concepts of “god” because, as complex as we are and as much as we have evolved, much of what happens to man over time is seemingly violent and random.   Even though I don’t believe in your god, I think it is important to live according to ideals that make good moral sense.

I believe that I have the duty to protect my children from being taught mythology, albeit modern, as science in school.   I believe that Jesus could have been a real person and would be mortified at the actions of many of his followers now and throughout the past 2000 years.

I know that all life on this planet evolved from a common ancestor through the process of natural selection, and I know this because of the overwhelming evidence in support of the scientific theory of evolution.  There is a huge difference between faith and knowledge.

I do believe we have a creator of sorts - the Earth, the cosmos, the stars.  I believe that there is a divine melody playing in the universe, and I don’t need to assign a composer to it.  It is there to listen to or not.

I believe that the creator, if there is such an entity, is inherently ineffable. I think that religions are created by humans, and are a weak guess at what or whom may be at the root of the cosmos. I am prefacing my comments with “I think” and “I believe” because I have a right to do or not do both, and I will not willingly give up those rights.

Deep down, when I ask myself what will happen when I die, I don’t have an answer. I highly doubt that any one group of homo sapiens has somehow, out of the infinite possibilities that could have been settled upon, picked the exact form of the creator around which to form a religion.  Do I believe in some force greater than myself, than mankind? Yes. I don’t know what it is and I don’t need to know. I don’t think it cares what I think: It just is.

I am a passionate, soulful person on a spiritual path of my own. As Martin Luther said when asked to recant his criticism against The Catholic Church, “Here I stand. I can do no other.” If I had to say I believed in your god to save the life of a loved one, I would say it, but I would believe it even less inside.

My “creator” lives in mitochondria.  It is in the beautiful blue atmosphere of the Earth.  I see it reflecting back at me when I look at pictures of the Whirlpool Galaxy.  It is in my back yard.  It is in this moment.  It is in each breath.

To the Christians in my life:  Your religion, churches, books, and deities don't add to that at all.  They confuse and contort sacred simplicity into twisted, damaging, processed, dangerous, impersonal, power-hungry, egocentric, and befuddling nonsense.  Please, if you care about me like you claim you do, don't ask me to read your book or go to your church.  Just know that when I am in the moment at the top of a mountain, or just walking down the street, I've got my own thing going and don't need the trappings of your religion to make sense of it.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Yesterday as I drove through Franconia Notch, I looked up at Cannon Mountain's ski trails.  The ski lift disappeared in the clouds that covered the top half of the mountain. It reminded me of a dream I had a long time ago, and from what I was seeking refuge in a remote corner of the White Mountain National Forest.

I had the dream when I was in my mid twenties, and it was exactly the sort of dream people might have when they are doing the developmental work that normally happens around that time.  I was on a ski lift with my father, which never happened in real life. My father told me when I took up skiing, "People who strap fiberglass to their feet and go down a mountain should have their heads examined."  That's the kind of thing my father was prone to saying.  He also told me that even if he believed in Heaven it wouldn't matter because it would be full by now.  

My father is a retired engineer and military officer.  He's never been overly demonstrative in any direction.  He has always preferred to read a good book than to talk to just about anybody. Showing affection is not his strong suit. In the dream though, as we glided slowly upwards, he wordlessly showed me how much I meant to him.  

He gave me a folded piece of paper, which unfolded to reveal things he had collected from my whole life up until that point.  Everything I had ever wanted him to say to me was said.  Every question I had about who I was, where I came from, and how he felt about me was answered.  He also gave me a jewelry box containing trinkets from my childhood - acorn tops, pocket knives, tickets to the ferris wheel at Coney Island.  

As I relished in these physical affirmations of how precious I was to him, the ski lift stopped at a halfway point.  I got off but my father stayed on the lift.  I stood there holding the paper and the box as I watched him go silently up and fade into the mist.  

After I had that dream, I knew the day would come when my father would leave whatever he could and go on without us.  I realized as I recalled the dream yesterday that I am now on the ground watching my father being taken slowly away.  

We are not sure whether it's the brain tumors, the chemotherapy, Alzheimer's or multiple small strokes that is taking my father away from us, but he is surely going.  He never gave me a paper or a jewelry box in real life, but I have them just the same. What he gave me was a chance to find them myself.  He taught me to trust my intellect and to think for myself.  He and my mother taught me to love and respect the natural world, and that there is no creator besides nature, no rules beyond the laws of science.  He helped me to have the ability to find solace hiking up a mountain in the midst of the crisis created by his illness and change in how he is in our lives.  

My father really doesn't believe in heaven.  I don't know where he was headed in my dream, but it was warm and peaceful.  In reality he's terrified and trying to get off the ski lift with me, but we all know he can't.  For now, I will maintain eye contact as long as I can before I can't see him any more, and I will never let go of  what he gave me.  I know I will need it to walk down the mountain without him.