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Posts Tagged ‘Belief’

Every now and then I think it’s a good idea to rehash the reasons why I write, and why I am “open” about my lack of theistic beliefs. Just why do I run The Skeptical Magician Blog, and what is my end goal? What do I hope to accomplish in my writing, and what do I expect or want people to take away from reading it?

It might be a good idea to start with why I am open about my lack of belief in the existence of gods. First and foremost, I am open because it is relatively safe for me to be open. For some people this is not the case. History as well as present day is filled with examples of individuals who have lost their families, their livelihoods, and their lives because they did not fit within what was considered by many to be the expected religious framework of society. Now, I’ve had my share of headaches and hassles from time to time as a result of what amounts to being honest with people, but these are all storms that I am able to weather relatively well. As a member of the non-theistic community, one becomes quickly aware of how this is not the case for many who have endured mental, emotional, and physical abuse as a result of them making known (or it being discovered) that they do not share the religious beliefs of friends or family. My being open about my lack of belief makes it easier for others to be open about their lack of belief, and it helps them to realize they are not alone in their doubts. It is also important for me to be open about my lack of belief so that others can see that skeptics/agnostics/atheists/non-theists/etc. are not the boogeymen that they were warned about in church. We don’t worship Satan (we don’t believe in him either), we don’t eat babies, and we’re not evil. We are simply people who disagree with others when it comes to metaphysical claims.

So, what do I hope to accomplish with my writing? Well, I would have to say that I have a couple of goals/reasons for writing. The first is that it was only a little over 2.5 years ago that I really started to critically examine my (Christian) beliefs, and as I began to examine my doubts I found myself thinking, “Am I the only person who’s ever considered this?” when I considered one thing or another. After compiling a pretty good list of these issues I went in search online, and of course discovered that I was far from original in my questions/observations (with a couple of exceptions). However, if those doubters hadn’t bothered to share their ideas, then questioners like me would have felt even more in the wilderness than what I did. Instead I discovered that I wasn’t alone, and not feeling alone is important, which is why it’s important for me to write. That way I can be one more voice among many saying, “Yep. We were in your shoes once too, and while the journey isn’t easy – it is far richer, and far more rewarding when you take the time to critically examine your beliefs and think freely without the fear of divine punishment to stifle your questions.” My second reason is to hopefully get people to think a little more critically about their beliefs and the positions they hold. I’m under no illusion that someone is going to read one blog post and instantly change their mind, but I at least hope to get them to think, “Wow – I never considered that before. I’m going to need to think on this a little further.”

Sometimes people mistakenly think that atheists like myself are “cramming our lack of belief” down the throats of others, and this really isn’t the case. I don’t go knocking on doors on a Saturday afternoon spreading the “good news of atheism” door-to-door. However, I do have thoughts and positions on issues that I make known from time-to-time here, or on Facebook, or wherever else, and if people really don’t want to know what I think, then they obviously don’t have to read what I write. What can be frustrating at times for me, however, is when someone states something in a public forum and I ask some challenging questions and suddenly become the bad guy when they are not able to defend what they’ve written. I freely welcome critique to that which I put forward, and while it would be nice if others felt the same way, this seems to seldom be the case. I’m of the mindset that one of the best ways for me to discover if I’m wrong is to have a good conversation with someone I disagree with.

I think that will about wrap it up. If I keep at it I just might actually get back on some sort of regular blogging schedule now that I’m done with school. Maybe that will be my next blog post: An atheist graduates from a Catholic university. Yeah, that might be a good one to tackle. 🙂

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Last week marked the first death I’ve had to deal with since becoming an atheist — the death of my grandfather on my dad’s side of the family.  He finally succumbed to pneumonia as a complication caused by a rare degenerative neurological disease.  He was 78, lived a good life, and I’m glad he’s no longer suffering.  So, is dealing with death harder now that I’m an atheist you ask?  Actually, dealing with death as an atheist is easier than it ever was as a believer.

We just passed the 3 year anniversary of the death of a friend and co-worker who was shot and killed by a jealous ex-boyfriend of the girl he was seeing at the time.  To conceal the evidence, his body was doused in gas, covered with a mattress, and then lit on fire.  Steve was a great guy, who loved life, and loved to have a good time, but he wasn’t exactly a Christian.  Because of that, not only did Steve meet a fiery end, but according to popular Christian doctrine, immediately following that he met a fiery start in eternity.  As a believer at the time, I felt a tremendous amount of responsibility for not doing all I could to get Steve “saved” before he died.  It bothered me so much that I didn’t make the trip up north to his funeral.  How does one celebrate the life of a friend, when eternity, which is what really matters in Christianity, has swallowed that person up in torment forever?

My wife posted something really nice about my grandfather’s death on her Facebook wall: “Eric’s Grandpa passed away last night. He was a wonderful man, whom I know left an amazing legacy to all he encountered. He left us having lived a full, happy, and adventurous life….and he will be greatly missed & greatly remembered.”  Among the various comments that followed were these two here:

“Did he love Jesus?!”

“Sorry to hear of your loss. Was he a Christian? I hope so…”

For those who may be rusty on their Christianese, allow me to translate: “Is Eric’s grandpa burning in hell right now?  Is he roasting for all eternity, or did he escape the clutches of perpetual damnation?”  Would it even matter at that point?  Even if Christianity were true, what good would it do to ask the question?  It’s too late at that point, so why even bring it up?

So, what were my grandfather’s religious beliefs?  I don’t know.  Being I never heard him speak of a god, or any type of religious belief, and the poem on his memorial card was completely secular and gave no hint or mention of an afterlife, I would tend to think he was an unbeliever.  Of course, I could be wrong, and it doesn’t matter anyway.  The views he held were his own, and whether he believed in a god, or he didn’t, the impact he made in the lives of his family and his friends is all that really matters, and he lives on in the hearts and memories of those who loved him.

As for me, what do I think happens after we die?  I think it is just like before we were born — non-existence.  I don’t fear the year 1732, so there’s really no reason to fear the year 2232.  Some may think it’s a tragedy that we don’t go on forever, but that’s what makes life that much sweeter, and truly worth living.  And just like the 100+ billion people who died before me, one day I too will cease to exist, and I find it far more comforting that my memory will live on in my children and I not continue, than for a fraction of those billions to enjoy eternal bliss, while the overwhelming majority suffer forever.

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Greg Boyd is the senior pastor at Woodland Hills Church, and has authored a number of books.  I personally have read: Letters From A Skeptic, and Lord or Legend?: Wrestling With The Jesus Dilemma.  While I obviously don’t agree with Boyd, his books tend to be very readable despite the frequent times I find myself frustrated saying, “But you’re not considering x-y-z!”  Greg comes from the Open Theism school of thought and would likely be considered by fundamentalists to be on the liberal side of the Christian spectrum.

On May 19, 2011 Greg tweeted the following:

“Boyd’s ‘Pascal’s Wager’: You have everything to gain, and nothing to lose, by living AS IF Jesus is Lord and love is all that matters.”

I happen to disagree with Greg on this matter, and would like to unpack exactly why I think this way of thinking is flawed.  The reason I’m taking the time to even blog about it is because it happens to be something I’ve thought about a great deal, and as a matter of conscience, is a pattern of living that I could never follow.

Let’s say for the sake of argument that I’m wrong about everything, and there is a god in heaven.  And let’s say that god happens to not be one of the tens-of-thousands of other gods who have been worshiped in human history, but that it happens to be the monotheistic, three-in-one god of Christianity, with Jesus on the throne.  I’ve died; St. Pete has let me through the pearly gates (that’s how it happens in all the jokes anyways), and I’m standing before the creator who says, “Why didn’t you believe in me, and why did you lead others to not believe in me?”  My response would be something along the lines that he is the one who made me, and gave me the brain in my head.  With that brain I doubted due to the lack of evidence there was, and due to the destructive nature of false beliefs, I spoke out against what I sincerely thought was an untrue delusion — a delusion of which I was a part of for many years no less.  I would follow that with a request that if he required torture in hell for my actions, that he would not hold those that I had “led astray” accountable, but that the punishment would be solely mine to bare.  In essence, I can still ask for mercy, and more importantly; I still have the opportunity to say the words, “I was wrong.  I’m sorry.”

Now let’s say that I’m right and there is no God.  Greg Boyd dies and as a result his consciousness becomes just like it was before he was born — non-existent.  He will have lived his entire life promoting a lie.  Despite the desire to live a life where Jesus is Lord, and where “love is all that matters,” people will have followed after and believed in a delusion that he promoted his entire life.  People will have lived their lives feeling guilt for doing what comes natural biologically.  Families will have lived lives full of grief and strife over loved ones who did not believe, fearing that they were suffering for eternity after their death, or fearing it for decades before as they waited for the inevitable.  Individuals will have suffered at the words and hands of those living where “love is all that matters,” as they “love the sinner, but hate the sin.”  To promote this point of view when it is not true is to rob people of the only life they will ever get to live, and this is indeed a great tragedy.  However, the greatest tragedy of all is that Greg Boyd will not have the opportunity to say: “I was wrong.  I’m sorry.”

With the odds (tens-of-thousands of gods to one) and the evidence in favor of the atheist, agnostic, and the skeptic point of view, I stand fixed as a matter of conscience in the position of now being able to say I’m presently sorry for promoting what I now see was not truth (i.e. Christianity) for 15 years of my life.  In the event that both the odds and the evidence are wrong, then I guess I’ll find out later, and I’ll still be able to say, “I’m sorry.”  To say that “you have everything to gain, and nothing to lose, by living AS IF Jesus is Lord” is not only untrue, but it is to say you do not care so much for the truth, as much as for what makes you feel good.

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