General Information

New Articles On The Way

So I’ve been writing again which is good and I hope you’ve enjoyed the newest articles from myself, Jennifer, and all the others who have submitted entries. I’ve had some new ideas that I will explore over the coming weeks.

1.) BS News report

This is a satirical take on the news of the week from my own unique point of view.

2.) The return of A Pentecostal Atheist Bible Study

3.) Deep Thoughts

Subjects may include science, medicine, paradoxes, riddles, basically anything that gets me thinking.

Anyway, keep on the lookout for these new articles as well as other posts in the future.

Thank you so much to everyone who has read so far, I appreciate you all.

Side note: What would you like to see more of in this blog. Any suggestions and help will be greatly appreciated.

Matt

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Arguments Against Atheism

Arguments Against Atheism: Kalam’s Cosmologically Illogical Argument

For last weeks Argument Against Atheism, click here.

For those who, like myself, have come from the theist world, you will probably have memories of using this argument in the past. I can remember many times when I would use the cosmological argument as proof for a creator thinking that it made sense and was logically sound. As my faith left and my beliefs began to wane I found that this argument is actually illogical and actually quite asinine.

The cosmological argument has long been used by theists and philosophers to explain the existence of the universe. In its most basic form it can be laid out as such:

1.) Something Exists
2.) Something must have caused that thing to exist
3.) Something exists that caused the other thing to exist.

Let’s put it in a simple logical form.

puppy1.) Puppies Exist
2.) Puppies must be born in order to exist.
3.) Therefore mother dogs must exist.

The basis of this argument seems logical but it has long been debunked due to the fact that whatever causes one thing to exist must also have a cause by itself. So the argument soon is destroyed when god enters the picture. If everything that exists must have a cause then for god to exist, he or she must have a cause as well, then the next being would also have to have a cause and so on and so forth.

So theologians have decided to change things up a bit.  The Kalam Cosmological if-you-cant-convince-them-confuse-them.pngargument is what is now often referred to whenever someone uses the cosmological argument, since it is seen as fixing the issues of the original one. People like, William Lane Craig, constantly refer to this argument during debates thinking that it is an improvement but we will see that this argument is just as faulty in its assumptions.

The Kalam Cosmological Argument can be explained in the following manner:

1.) Everything that has a beginning must have had a cause
2.) The universe had a beginning
3.) Therefore the universe had a cause.

The key word that is meant to fix the errors of the original argument is the word “beginning.” Since god is supposedly eternal and the universe is finite, god cannot exist within the universe and is therefore outside of it able to be the cause of creation. This is made known because then the supporters of this argument will add the following stipulations,

4.) Whatever caused the universe must be separate from it.
5.) Therefore god, who is separate from the universe, created the universe.

So for the first issue let’s talk about beginning. For things to have a beginning, a middle, and an end, you must have time. Time as we know it is really nothing more than motion from one moment in space to another moment in space. For time to exist you must have the vast expansion of space. So when everything in the universe was condensed prior to the big bang, what sense of time would there have been?

Secondly for something to have a cause then they must be able to initiate that cause. That would in essence mean a beginning to a beginning, which if something exists outside of time, such as god, it would have no capability of existing both within and without time. Therefore god could not initiate the cause anymore than it could initiate the thought of initiating the universe.

However the main idea that I want to discuss is the assumptions made in the argument. As finite beings, generally living less than a hundred years, how could we have any knowledge of something that infinitely exists. This might at first seem like a, Ken Ham, “were you there” argument, but if you give me just a second I think you will understand what I mean.

radiation

For this argument to work first we have to agree that the universe is finite and that it needed a cause to exist, then we must presuppose that god is eternal and capable of causing the universe to exist. In order to presuppose that god is eternal and capable, we must also presuppose that god exists. In order to presuppose that god exists we must also presuppose to have knowledge and evidence of this god character. We must then take the next step to state that the universe existing is the evidence of that god character.

What you end up with is circular reasoning at its finest. The argument itself actually becomes this…

1.) Everything that has a beginning must have had a cause
2.) God has no beginning
3.) The universe had a beginning
4.) God exists outside of the universe
5.) Therefore the universe was created by god.

For this argument to work we must add into it that god is eternal and that he or she exists outside of the universe.  We must also claim that we have knowledge of these two facts and the only knowledge that we have is to say that the universe is finite and thus an infinite being must have created it. While this might seem to fix the initial issue yet it actually is open to the same issues.

Let’s say our universe is finite, and god exists outside of it. What prevents us from saying that the area outside our universe, in which god exists, is also finite, and thus there must also be another god outside of that finite space in order to give creation to our god. We can then continue outward ad infinitum. The universe can become like one of those russian dolls where you take off one layer only to find a smaller layer.

So we should now see that the Kalam cosmological argument is no better than the original cosmological argument and is susceptible to the same issues. It does nothing to prove that god actually exists, or that god is eternal, or that god is infinite. It also does absolutely nothing to describe the nature of that god if it were to exist.

I always find it funny to hear theists use this argument in an effort to prove their god or gods existence. If this argument were actually sound, it would only point to a god, giving absolutely no indication which god it would point to. Aren’t all god’s eternal? Aren’t all god’s considered omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient to some degree? What from this argument would make Yahweh more likely than Krishna, Allah, or Cthulhu?

Next you would have to prove the aspects of your god which this argument does nothing toward. A cause does not equate to love, goodness, mercy, or justice. It does not equate to a god that created the universe with us in mind. In this scenario, perhaps we are nothing more than a mold that formed on god’s yogurt cup that he left in his dorm room closet. Maybe our entire universe sits on the rim of a cup that god has been too lazy to clean in 13.8 billion years of our time? Would the Kalam cosmological argument disprove this? It would not.

So in conclusion, the argument does absolutely nothing to solve the issues of the original cosmological argument. It does nothing towards proving the existence of a creator, especially not a loving one, or a Christian one. All it does is create its own assumptions and presuppositions in order to prove the speakers already held beliefs, and in that it is nothing more than a fallacy.

I hope I have done this justice, to hear another take from some folks who I believe are much smarter than I am, here are a couple of hosts from the Atheist Experience speaking on the topic…

 

While you are here, find out more about me by reading my journey away from faith, found here.

 

Satanic Sundays

Satanic Sunday #5: Atheists

For last weeks Satanic Sunday, click here.

Did you know that Atheists secretly worship Satan? If you didn’t then you probably weren’t raised in a fundamentalist Christian faith where all things are evil and one of the most evil of all things that you can be is a non-believer.  How dare someone even question the existence of god?

As an impressionable child it was instilled upon me that all those who are outside the faith are evil. Heck, even Christians outside of my own denomination were considered as evil, but not quite as evil as a non-believer. Evil was an ever pervasive force in the world, controlled by the devil and anyone who did not adhere to our select doctrine was also controlled by his evil hand.

Below I list some of the things that I was taught to believe about Atheists.

1.) Atheists choose not to believe in god so that they can live an immoral life.

From the perspective of a child, atheists sounded like the most vile of creatures. Longing to have sex with anything and everything on earth. If you ever got around an atheist they would more than likely either try to fuck you or kill you. We were taught that the porn industry is 100% run and created by atheists in an effort to call more people to their cause. We were told that atheists love sodomy and that the first thing an atheist does is commit this act with great regularity.

2.) All Homosexuals are Atheist and all Atheists are Homosexuals

Going with the sodomy theme of the last tidbit is the belief that all atheists were secretly homosexuals. For some reason homosexuality is the cause and creation of all things evil in the world, within the confines of fundamentalist faiths. Basically, you question if god is real, become an atheist, and then wonder if dicks are yummy. It’s a truly juvenile belief system that equates any and all things to sodomy and homosexuality.

3.) Atheists commit child sacrifice and eat the children afterwards.

It’s funny to me how atheists today take this idea and run with it.  However, the belief that atheists eat children is firmly rooted in fundamentalist faiths. This was much more true, at least in the US, during the 1980’s when the Satanic craze was at its peak.  We would hear of Satanic meetings filled with hundreds of non-believers, meeting in graveyards or cornfields, specifically to murder children and then eat the remains. I suppose if they are in cornfields they at least have a nice side dish to go with the roasted baby.

4.) Atheists secretly believe in god but hate him.

This one is still pervasive today and is used mostly by christian apologists to try and prove their point. We atheists secretly believe in god but hate him due to our insane need for anal sex and other forms of debauchery. Satan allows us to feel safe and secure, believing we will be kings and queens in hell when we ultimately get there. It’s an incredibly silly thought used only by those who are completely incapable of forming a better argument for their own beliefs.

The Truth

The truth is that Atheists do not believe in god. Some might be homosexual but many are heterosexual and have no interest in sodomy whatsoever. We definitely don’t eat babies or take part in ritualistic sacrifice. We don’t choose to not believe in god due to a want to live an immoral life. From my own experiences, atheists are by and large incredibly moral creatures, though they are just as capable of committing an immoral act as any believer.

What truly separates a moral atheist from a moral theist is the reward/punishment system. When I was a theist, I did good things because of a reward I would receive in heaven and tried not to commit immoral acts for fear of hell.  If I did something immoral, I would ask god for forgiveness and feel better after having done so. Today I do good things because they are good things and I try not to do immoral things because I do not want to do immoral things. If I do something immoral I regret it and, if it involves someone, I will seek forgiveness from the person whom I have hurt. I no longer have any sanctimonious feelings of redemption for any bad that I do and so I simply try my best not to commit any bad act.

Atheists do not worship satan any more than we worship your god. As I’ve stated many times. Atheism = The lack of belief in a god or many gods. Simple as that, nothing more and nothing less.

Something Different Saturdays

Something Different Saturday #5: Theist Mindset

For last weeks Something Different Saturday, click here.

For nearly 30 years I was a theist. If you have followed this blog you will know that I was a Pentecostal pastor, raised to believe that I was an end times prophet. With that in mind I should be fairly well able to describe the theist mindset. Some will of course state that I was never actually a believer, they will assert that only a non-believer could ever really leave the faith and if god had actually touched my heart I would still be a believer. These arguments are used by those in the faith community to immunize their own beliefs from true scrutiny. Others will say that this is only my experience, which is true, but I think you will find that my experience is shared by many who have left the faith and so I feel it is good to share.

dinosaursGrowing up I always loved learning, that might seem strange to hear from someone who was a fundamentalist but it is true. Having Autism means that I have very focused interests with History, Archaeology, and Paleontology being a few of those interests. From as early as I can remember, dinosaurs were a huge part of my life. I still read any new article that I come across involving the subject.

So it might also come as a shock that I both believed in a young earth as well as admitting that dinosaurs made this fact an impossibility. How could this be true? How can someone hold two separate contradictory thoughts and believe them both just as firmly?

If you have ever partitioned a hard-drive than maybe you will realize just how this was possible.  A partitioned hard-drive can act as two completely separate hard-drives, each with their own programs, operating systems, and faults. The same was true for my mind as a theist.

evan.jpgMy brain was partitioned. The vast majority of my thoughts were logical and reasonable.  There was however a portion of my brain where logic and reason were not built into the operating system, this was my faith center. In that portion of my brain all of the things from the bible were completely reasonable; the 6 day creation, Noah’s ark, the tower of babble, angels, the devil, demons, etc…

It is my opinion that the majority of theists are of the exact same mindset. Part of their brain is closed off to reason the other is completely open. This is why when something forces both parts together, the believer can become the non-believer in a short period of time. The same can also be true in the reverse, some non-believers can become believers in a short period of time.

UnicornWhat proof do I have of this phenomena outside of my own experiences? Ask a theist if they believe in leprechaun’s, fairies, unicorns, or big foot? Some might, but the vast majority will state that these things can’t exist because they are completely illogical. Then ask if god fits into this same scenario and their mindset will switch. They will state that god is completely logical and apparent to anyone who actually looks…

Go one step further and ask about Zeus, Dionysus, Hercules, or any other god outside of the one they believe in. They will more than likely go back to the logic and reason center stating that these God’s cannot exist because they are illogical and make no sense.

How else can this be explained outside of the closed off portion of the mind?

So what can you do with this information? Sadly the answer is, not much. If religion was a matter that could be reasoned away from then I have a hard time believing that it would have existed to this point in history.  Like myself, I believe that the easiest way to break the barrier between these two portions of the brain is through life experience. Most often this comes in the form of a traumatic event.

Traumatic events have a way of refocusing the mind in ways that were impossible prior to them. This is especially true in the areas of faith. Think of it like this, what is “Free-will?” Free will was in essence an idea created to explain and answer the reason for suffering in the world. From ancient Greece, the philosopher Epicurus, came up with the following problem.

Epicurus_bust21.) If an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent god exists, then evil does not.
2.) There is evil in the world.
3.) Therefore, an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent god does not exist.

This problem has been the bane of believers and theologians for centuries. So the theologian introduced the idea of free-will, or that man shapes this world outside the ability of god, god cannot mess with free-will or else humans have no real choice in whether to serve him or not. So the equation becomes…

1.) If an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent god exists, then evil does not.
2.) There is evil in the world.
3.) Free-Will Exists which allows evil to exist.
3.) Therefore, an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent god does exist.

The entire idea of free-will is centered around the need for an out for god. If free-will does not exist and we are much more like the animals that we believe ourselves superior to, then god is the reason for suffering and he cannot be a good and loving god. In many cases a believer can be perfectly happy with the free-will equation until a traumatic event occurs that appears to be no fault of their own.

For me this came in the form of my cousin’s suicide and the idea that a good and loving god sent him to hell. I was no longer capable of accepting a good and loving god in the equation. God became dark, distant and evil. My mind began to open where it had once been closed and I was finally able to use logic and reason on the subject of faith. Once this became possible, faith fell apart and what remained was one departitioned mind.

I try to remember this in the conversations that I have with theists. Many are quite intelligent, logical and reasonable, in all areas outside of their faith. They are who I once was for a long period of my life. With this in mind my discussions and debates with theists became much more civil and caring. I no longer resort to anger when someone challenges me on the facts of my former belief. They have to claim that I was never a believer in order to still keep the disconnect within their own minds in place. One day they might be in the same shoes as I once was and I would like to be there for them if that becomes the case.

 

My Journey

My Journey Away From Faith: Part 26

For part 25 of my journey, click here.
To start at the beginning of my journey, click here.

“For everything there is a season,
a time for every activity under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die.
A time to plant and a time to harvest.
A time to kill and a time to heal.
A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to cry and a time to laugh.
A time to grieve and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
A time to search and a time to quit searching.
A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear and a time to mend.
A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate.
A time for war and a time for peace.”
-Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

I cannot tell you how hard it was for me to write those first few words to my ex-wife. For nearly a decade, I had told myself time and again how much I hated her, how every thought of her made me angry and sad. Even though all of those feelings had been a sham and a protective covering for the hurt I truly felt, I was sure that she hated me and would never message me back. I spent hours debating whether or not I should even message her, but I did it and immediately felt foolish for the corny way I initiated contact.

She responded, “HEY!”

That went way better than I expected it to go, now was time for me to attempt a conversation with her, but I had absolutely no idea what to say.  I asked her how she was and if she had heard about my second marriage breaking down, surprisingly she had. My ex had contacted her and asked her for help in getting back with me, which is a really weird thing to ask someone. Anyway, we chatted for a bit and then I told her how sorry I was for how distant I had become during our marriage, I accepted my role in our divorce and told her I no longer felt any ill will towards her.

“I accepted my role in our divorce and told her i no longer felt any ill will towards her.”

She was shocked by the apology but acted cordial and let me know that she had forgiven me years before. We were both young and had both made mistakes. She then apologized to me for giving up on our marriage so quickly and for not being as understanding as she felt she should have been. In the end of our first conversation we agreed that we were mature and old enough to be friends.

I went to work after that and my mind kept wandering back to the beautiful redhead that had once sang to me on a rooftop so many years before. Talking to her again online had brought back all of those feelings that had been lost to me for so long. When I got home, I hoped on-line and saw that she too was on-line. We talked for a couple of hours and then she said she had a question for me…

“Do you still have feelings for me?”

My answer was an immediate, “no.” We talked for a few more minutes and were getting ready to end the conversation when my mind burst into action. “I lied,” I said “I have never stopped having feelings for you, losing you was the most painful thing that I have ever gone through but I still love you and always will.” Her response was, “I still have feelings for you too.”

Now this might seem a bit silly, but do you know the scene in “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” where the Grinch hears the Who’s down in Whoville singing and his heart grows three sizes? That’s the absolute best way of describing what seeing her type those words did to me.  I literally jumped in the air and did a little dance in my friends living room. Never once did i think that I might have another shot with the woman of my dreams but this was it.

Thus began another series of late night talks like we had shared almost a decade earlier. Talking to her made me feel like a teenager again and every conversation left me wanting more. For nearly a month we continued these talks and eventually we decided that she should move to Iowa. Only a couple of issues, I was in the middle of a divorce, needed my own place, and had an old beat-up van that I feared wouldn’t make the journey to Texas and back.

“…I was in the middle of a divorce, needed my own place, and had an old beat-up van…”

Her life in Texas was stagnant, her mother had passed away and so she had no real family connections in Texas anymore. She had a daughter who was performing horribly in school due to the large class sizes and lack of one on one attention. She believed that the smaller class sizes would be good for her and so she decided to ask her if she would be interested in the move. One night she told her daughter about me, about Iowa, and about the new school she could attend. She was excited but demanded that she get to talk to me before any decision was made.

Our conversation was the moment my heart grew its fourth size. She had a sweet voice and demeanor, was absolutely in love with the movie Frozen, and insisted that I listen to her sing, “Let It Go.” We chatted for a bit, discussed our mutual love of video games, learned much more than I ever needed to know about “My Little Pony,” and she told me she couldn’t wait to meet me. I hung up the phone happy with how well that conversation had gone.

Almost instantly I found an apartment, I took my van to the shop and had about a grand in repairs done to it. I asked the mechanic if the van would make the trip and his words were, “If it would float, i’d drive it to Hawaii. It’s not going to give you any problems.” Everything was going so well and I thought they would continue to go well…

(Ron Howard Arrested Development Voiceover) “…they did not continue to go well…

It turns out that my wife at the time had hacked my e-mail account. She quickly learned that I planned to make a long trip, knew I had recently moved into an apartment, put two and two together and realized what was going on. She called me fuming. “If you get back with her you will never see the kids again!” I told her that we were separated and that I could do whatever I wanted with my life. She repeated the threat once again and I told her, “Do that and eventually the kids are going to hate you for it. In time they will realize what actually occurred and you will regret it.” She hung up on me.

About 20 minutes later she arrived at my apartment. She pushed her way in and quickly grabbed every picture of the kids that I had in my possession, or so she thought, I had in my binder an envelope filled with pictures that I had grabbed shortly after moving out. She broke several frames and I told her she needed to leave or I was going to call the cops. She left and went straight to the van and began kicking at the tires and beating on the windows. I ran outside and screamed that I had called the cops, I hadn’t, but that they would be there soon so she had better leave. She swung at me with a handful of junk mail, cutting my nose with one of the edges. I told her to leave and she finally did.

Later she called me and made the kids get on the phone and tell me how much they hated me. I could hear the pain in their voices as she goaded them to say these mean things. I told them both I loved them dearly and hoped they would understand one day. She then took the phone back and told me that I wasn’t allowed to see the kids again and that if I tried she would get a restraining order against me.  I laughed and said if anyone needs a restraining order, it would be me against her but that the whole idea was preposterous…

A few days later I hit the road and was on my way to Texas. I drove straight through the night, only stopping long enough for gas and to grab a couple of snack foods, nuts and beef sticks.  I reached Dallas by dawn and realized that my trip was nearly over, just three short hours to go. As the miles past, my excitement continued to grow. I pulled in to her driveway at around 11, gave her a quick kiss, loaded the van and we were back on the road before noon.

Only with my luck could we hit a blizzard in the middle of Texas, but that’s exactly what happened. We made it halfway through Oklahoma before we had to stop for the night. We were snowed in for nearly 3 days and what was worse, the nuts and slim jims had not done me any favors. I spent those three days in excruciating stomach cramps and pain, turns out I’m slightly allergic to nuts. Who knew? Nothing says love than being able to sit in a room where feet away the guy you love is shitting his guts out for three days.

When we finally reached Iowa, I thought things were going to calm down for a bit. We spent the next couple of days just enjoying being in each others company. We signed her daughter up for school and spent some quiet time alone. These days passed by so quickly that it was soon time for me to return to work. I hated having to leave her, but money had to be made and so I went back to work expecting a long and boring day.

Long and boring it was not, a couple of hours into my shift a police officer entered the premises. Speaking to the boss he asked if I was working. I stood up and said I was the one he was looking for. He walked across the room, handed me a stack of papers, and said “You’ve been served with a restraining order, you are to not come into contact in any way with your wife or her two kids.”

My brain checked out and I give my boss props for not sending me home. I sat in silence, feeling as if I had lost two of the most important parts of my life forever. Nothing, not even the feelings of losing my faith or my first marriage breaking down, had ever hit me with such deep depression and horror as hearing those words come out of that officers mouth. I was, once again, dead inside.

To continue on to part 27, click here.

 

Freethought Friday

Free-thought Friday #2: I Was Always An Atheist

For last weeks Free-Thought Friday, click here.


Alan Solomon has been a reader of my blog for some time now. He has shared with me his interest in my journey from the perspective of someone who was never a believer. Here is his story and I think you will find it very interesting!


 

First, a definition. An atheist is someone who doesn’t believe in any god or gods.

So.

I was born an atheist. When you’re a week old, you don’t believe in anything, except milk and poop. Then I was eight days old, my parents decided that I wasn’t quite as perfect as delivered, so they got a mohel to make a small snip. No-one consulted me about this, although if I had been asked, my response would have been either “milk” or “poop”.

0-5
Age 0 to 5 – my interests became more diverse. I had bricks, and stacking cups, and a thing you pushed things into whereat they came out the other end, and books. I’m told that I was starting to read at an age that I frankly don’t believe, mothers always exaggerate. But I do remember my first day at school, I was about 5, and I came home very disappointed. “All they did was play with water”, I said, although actually they were also doing “A is for apple”. Except I was reading books by then, and wasn’t even interested in “Janet and John”.

Age 5 to 10. As I grew up, no-one gave me any good reason to believe in any god. I enjoyed reading a *lot*, the local public library was within walking distance, I persuaded the librarian to let me borrow ten books per week, and I was doing well at school. There was some sort of “assembly” in the morning, and I do remember “All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small”, which is a great song, but the next line is “The Lord God made them all”, and I classified that along with Santa Claus, because I already had read about evolution, and that was so obviously the right answer.

ChederAt the age of 9 or 10, I had to go to Cheder. Because my mother told me I had to. At Cheder, I learned two things. A) how to read hebrew, and B) how long I could hold my breath. Hebrew is really difficult – it isn’t just a new language (and I found out later with French,  Latin and Russian that I’m really rubbish at languages) and it isn’t just that the pages are back to front and the writing from right to left. It’s also that the letters aren’t the A-Z that I already knew, and the worst thing is that the vowels are left out and you have to guess what they are from just the consonants. Holding your breath, however, is really easy. The clock in the Cheder had a second-hand, and in order to alleviate the excruciating boredom, I practiced breath-holding.

The purpose of Cheder was to prepare me for my barmitzvah, an ordeal that every jewish boy has to go through as a rite of manhood at the age of 12 or so. It’s a bit like being given a spear and being told to go out and kill a lion, except that you’re given a passage in hebrew, and you have to stand up in front of dozens of relatives and dozens of complete strangers, and not only read it, you have to *sing* it using the prescribed notes, which are, of course, not like the sort of music I was learning when learning piano – oh no, it was little marks amongst the hebrew that told you what pitches and lengths to sing. I would have preferred the spear and the lion. The only good thing about Cheder was that you got unlimited bread and strawberry jam beforehand.

I got through my barmitzvah unscathed. Because I got one-on-one tutelage, and more practice than I’ve ever used for anything else. Not completely unscathed; it was many years before I was willing to stand up in front of an audience and make a fool of myself.

So now I was a mensch. When a minyan was needed (you need ten men for some prayer services) I could be one of them! But even better – I didn’t have to go to Cheder any more, and that was a real benefit; no longer was I in any danger of death by non-breathing. Also, I was in charge of the decision of whether to attend synagogue or not. I chose not.

The school I went to was all boys in gender, mixed in religion. Half jewish, half christian. Because of that, it would have been difficult for them to ram any kind of religion down us, but we still has a daily assembly, and I learned to ask for “forgive us our trespasses” which, at the time, I thought referred to that time in autumn when we would creep onto a field that we weren’t supposed to in search of conkers. No-one explained this stuff to me. The whole of that prayer just sounded like nonsense; even the words I understood were being used in a way that sounded daft. “For thine is the kingdom”? What does that actually mean? It was just words, and meaningless. But we had to mumble them, although no-one explained to me why.

The school I was at was the Grocer’s Company school (which I have to say was the best grammar school in the area, later called the Hackney Downs School, which isn’t nearly as elegant). The motto was “God grant grace” and the school hymn was also  “God grant grace” This was completely wasted on me, because no-one ever explained to me the meaning of “grace” in this context. To me, grace was the opposite of clumsy, and the hymn was all about not tripping over your own feet. And the tune was a dreadful dirge.

It was at this school that I first learned the terms “jew boy” and “yid”, which (judging from the tone of voice they were used) were supposed to be insults. But there were far greater insults, such as “cap crawler” (one who wears his school hat in conformity with the rules) and “swot”. I was, of course, all four. I also learned that although I was wretched at French and pants at Art, I left everyone else behind at maths, which turned out to be useful later.

Grocers was an all-boys school. That didn’t seem to be a drawback until I turned 15 or so, at which point the total absence of half the world’s population became an issue. So I joined Habonim. That’s a jewish youth movement whose objective is to get to to do Aliyah – emigrate to Israel. I had no interest in Aliyah, but a growing interest in that other half. And there they were.

British Bulldog

Religion in Habonim is of very minor importance. Dancing, a lot more so. and mixed games such as British Bulldog, all of which gave boys an opportunity to clutch at girls, and vice versa.  There were also summer camps, also mixed, and winter activities. But included in all this, was a certain amount of what I would call cultural awareness, and it was there that I first found out about the holocaust. No-one had told me about this before, at school we were up to the Tudors and the Stuarts, and the syllabus ending in 1832. It’s impossible for me to describe the impact that this had on me. Thinking about it still makes me cry, and although I’ve read lots of books about the second world war, I try to avoid books about the holocaust. Except “Maus“, which I’d recommend.

Fiddler on the roof.jpg
My grandparents came from Russia at the turn of the century in response to the pogroms there (and no-one had told me about those, either, and “Fiddler on the roof” also makes me cry). They came from the part of Russia that became Poland, and if they hadn’t emigrated, then 40 years later they would have been murdered by the Nazis, along with any children and grandchildren. And, of course, if they’d converted to christianity (which almost certainly they wouldn’t have) that wouldn’t have saved them – the Nazis didn’t care about your religion, only your blood.

So between the ages of 15 and 17, I felt more jewish than I ever had, but not religious. I didn’t go to synagogue (except for family barmitzvahs, weddings and funerals), I didn’t pray, if you’d asked me I’d have said I was agnostic, but that was because I didn’t know the definition of atheist – I was actually an atheist.

If I had believed in god at the age of 15 (which I didn’t), then finding out about the holocaust would certainly have changed that. Some people say that you can’t prove the non-existence of something, but actually you can. If you specify the thing in question (for example, a full-size elephant in my room) then I can prove the non-existence of that (I leave the proof to the reader, it’s pretty simple). And I knew about this sort of proof from maths; you can prove the non-existence of a largest prime number, or that you cannot express the square root of two as a ratio of two numbers. I would very quickly have come to a strong belief in the non-existence of the god of the jews.

So I went up to university at 17 as an atheist to read maths, and soon discovered that I was the Only Jew in the College (if there were others, they were keeping a very low profile). There was Habonim in Cambridge, which was just as well because in student numbers, there were about 20 males for each female. In maths, more like 200. But in Habonim, five girls and two boys, which is small in numbers, but favourable in ratio, especially as there was already one couple paired off. But I’m not going to talk about my early sex life …

As the Only Jew in the College, I found that there were people who thought that I hadn’t heard the Good News, and that if only someone told me, I’d eagerly accept Jesus into my Heart and become one of God’s Army. This is something I hadn’t encountered before, and I was unpracticed at dealing with it. I fear that I was unable to sufficiently conceal my mirth at some of the approaches, which is not as well-mannered as I should have been.

My worst misdemeanor was when a good friend of mine, who went by the handle of Li(3) of 1 (that’s a mathematical joke) persuaded me to go to chapel, on the grounds that I’ve never been, and how do I know I wouldn’t like it if I hadn’t tried it, which is an argument that was also used on my to get me to start smoking (I didn’t) and drinking beer (I did, and still do, occasionally). So I went with him to chapel, and maybe the fact that he called it “chapel” tells you which brand of christianity it was, but I never found out, and we went through a service that was every bit as boring as Cheder, and worse, because there was no clock with a second-hand that I could use to practise holding my breath.holding your breath

I shall pass over the incident when I was asked to eat human flesh and drink human blood and refused on the grounds that cannibalism was against my atheistic principles, even if it’s symbolically, and skip to the part where Li(3) of 1 introduced me to the vicar (or priest, or minister, or whatever he was) with “This is my friend, he’s, he’s, er, er, he’s a, um, he’s of the Hebrew persuasion” at which I said, loudly enough for everyone in the chapel to hear, “No I’m not, I’m a jew”.

I wasn’t invited back.

Elliot 503

I graduated, and there was a ceremony, and people prayed, and since I’d worked hard for that certificate I wasn’t going to make a nuisance about that, and I got a job where they had an Elliott 503 computer, which I fell in love with, and I’ve been messing around with computers or the 50 years thereafter, and it turns out that if you like playing with the best toy ever invented, people chuck money at you, which is nice.

So for 60-odd years, I was an atheist, and thought nothing of it. I mean, it really is nothing, like “not playing football” or “liking brussel sprouts”. I don’t like football, but if someone else want to play, why should I care? And if someone else dislikes brussle sprouts, it’s no skin off my nose. But then I was rummaging around Youtube, looking for yet another production of the Mikado, when I came across Christopher Hitchens, which led to Matt Dillahunty, and I discovered that for some people living in some countries, atheism is indeed a thing. Because in some countries, religion gets rammed down your throat whether you want it or not. Some people don’t accept that other people’s sex lives are none of your business as long as it’s adult consensual.

I still go to synagogue for family barmitzvahs, weddings and funeral, but I’ve found that if I take a book with me and read quietly about such subjects as the “War of the Spanish Succession” while everyone else is either praying or pretending to pray, no-one seems to mind. Just don’t read a book that makes you laugh out loud. At Pesach, I go to the seder at my sister’s house (she does a great pesach meal with chicken soup, chopped liver followed by various Sephardi dishes (we’re Ashkenazi, she married a Sephardi and now mostly cooks in that style) and because there’s two seder nights, the other is at my sister-in-law (more chicken soup, chopped liver and then various Ashkenazi dishes). Because they both know how much I like chicken soup and chopped liver. And at the seder, it’schopped liver.jpg laid down that you should ask questions about the exodus from Egypt, and boy, do I have some good questions each year. So if you want to, you could say that I’m gastronomically Ashkenazi Jewish.

 

 

When my kids were small, we did Santa Claus and the reindeer each year, and I actually do not care that some Christians think that they have a monopoly on Christmas, nor do I care that this maybe comes from a Druid festival or maybe from the Roman Saturnalia. And one of them was the Christmas Elf, who oversees the Distribution of Presents on Christmas Day, although I suspect that we might be the only family that had our own Elf. And I’m still willing to be Santa for grandchildren, because I think it’s important for kids to learn that grown-ups lie about invisible people

Although in restrospect, I realise that religion has affected me, and not just the holocaust – I mean affected me personally. There was a thing in England called the Lord’s Day Observance Society which led to legislation about what I could and could not do on a Sunday. And their idea was that the only thing I should do on Sunday, is going to church, which in my case wasn’t going to happen. These days, the LDOS is pretty much a dead duck, and Sundays are full of activities.

But also the House of Lords (a total unelected anachonism in itself) includes 26 “Lords Spiritual” (bishops), which means that the cold dead hand of religion is infecting my government, although given the almost complete lack of power of the HoL, that isn’t as bad as it might have been and nowhere near as bad as it is in the USA. Oh, and one of the Lords Spritual is a jew. These jews get in everywhere. But no Roman Catholics, because ever since Henry VIII, they’ve been persona non grata in the higher reaches of government.

I read with great dismay, the stories of people (mostly American) who have been inculcated with religion and who have considerable difficulty getting free of it, of the nightmares that some of them still have about an imaginary hell. About how the people they thought loved them, turned out to love their imaginary friend so much more that they’d turn their back on the newly declared atheist. About how people in one of the many religions of peace turned out to be anything but peaceful when push came to shove. About how even though the religion preaches charity, the devotees practise malevolence. About how faith is preached as an ideal instead of as the polite word for gullibility.

And I can only thank god that I am truly blessed because I am, and always was, an atheist.

My Journey

My Journey Away From Faith: Part 23

For part 22 of my journey, click here.
To start at the beginning of my journey, click here.

“Optimism,” said Cacambo, “What is that?” “Alas!” replied Candide, “It is the obstinacy of maintaining that everything is best when it is worst.” -Voltaire “Candide”

The thing about “Candide” isn’t so much that it is a work of philosophy, or that it changed my outlook on life but that I saw, so very much myself in the title character, that it shook me to the core. if you haven’t read this title, I will try not to spoil it too much, but I must describe a bit to put you into my mindset. The title character of the story starts life in a perfect environment and it being taught the philosophy of optimism. From this point Candide falls in love, loses his love, searches the earth for his love, and in the end gets to be with his love but not in the way he saw it happening. Throughout the chapters, Candide is forced to see that the world is not an optimistic place and that his whole worldview from the beginning had been completely wrong.

From this book I saw the story of my life.  I too had started out thinking that I knew everything I would need to know in order to get through life. Thinking I understood how the world worked, through the eyes of my faith, had led me down a path that had left me empty and lost.  I even saw that I was in the place of the title character at the end of the story, after going through what life had thrown at me, being controlled by numerous outside sources, and in the end settling for a life of solitude where I could fake that I was happy in the right moments. Needless to say, this was not a particularly good feeling.

Upon returning the book to my professor, I asked him if he had any other suggestions. He recommended me to grab some of the works of Plato and start reading through them. My ex had owned Plato’s “Republic,” and had left it when she moved out. It had sat on my shelf for many years gathering dust.  So that night I pulled it down and started reading.  While I have always considered myself an avid reader, I will admit that at times I had to stop and restart huge sections of the book in order to take it all in. The book confused me a great deal and in all honesty made me angry from time to time.

Why did the book make me angry? Being raised in the Pentecostal church I had been told from my earliest days that the church was the source of justice, morality, and goodness; this book challenged those ideas greatly. Within its pages I found a great man, who set for himself one goal, to understand whatever topic he is speaking about to the very fullest. In time, Socrates would come to replace Christ in my mind. Where Christ gave shallow, sweet sounding answers that in reality meant nothing, Socrates, would hit a topic so hard that by the end you couldn’t help but be in awe of his amazing reasoning capability.

I began to devour everything that I could by Plato and each time I felt further from the faith of my birth and closer to some great truth that was yet to be found.  My daily life had once included many hours studying the bible and yet now I found as my eyes wandered through its pages, no sense of morality that I couldn’t find a better example of in the works of philosophy. My struggle with the bible was becoming a great hindrance to my sermons. Writing sermons had been one of my favorite parts of the ministry for a long time but now when I sought scriptures in the bible, it was as if a veil had been lifted and all I saw was moral discrepancy.

For every passage that speaks of love another will speak of fear. Scriptures dealing with justice will ultimately wind their way into stories of genocide and mass murder. The god of the old testament is cruel, impatient, unloving, jealous and for lack of a better word, evil. The god of the new testament seems a bit better but then his “son” brings in the idea of Hell, a place of eternal punishment for all those who might question “the celestial dictator,” as Christopher Hitchens would call him.  A book that had become so central to my life for all these years was now like reading through the ramblings of a serial killer, and so my sermons began to speak less and less on scripture and more about various aspects of life with a simple scripture to start them out.

I did however preach at least one more hate filled sermon and I speak of it now as a man who regrets it deeply. Growing up I had always been taught that homosexuality was a horrible sin and while my beliefs on this matter were beginning to change, my childhood indoctrination was not yet ready to admit defeat. So one Sunday I preached on the topic of homosexuality in the worst of terms, it was the last time I ever mentioned the topic in a sermon but I still hurt from the pain it caused.

Another one of my cousins had been attending my services and was sitting in during this sermon. I would later find out about the inner struggle he was facing and that my sermon had kept him in the closet for several years longer than he should have had to wait. I love my cousin and today he is in a relationship with a wonderful guy who loves him dearly, I am happy for them but I will forever regret the pain that I caused him as he sat through that sermon.

Outside of that sermon, I was finding that less and less of the bible even made sense. It might be strange to hear but I did truly believe that a serpent talked to Eve, that a donkey spoke to its master, that a flood did cover the entire globe, that a man had been swallowed by a great fish and survived, as well as that Moses had led several million people through the desert without leaving so much as a trace of evidence. These were things that I had accepted for so many years that I never found the need to question them, that is until I began using the Socratic method on everything I read.

Outside of church and school I had recently reconnected with a friend from High School. He is a jovial sort of man who you just can’t help but smile and laugh when you are around him. We had fallen out of contact when I had moved to Texas but I learned upon our reconnecting that he too had been through a struggle of faith, having been in a local cult for 7 years, he was now an atheist. His cousin who had also left the cult at the same time became my friend as well and it was strange to me how much I enjoyed being around them. By all accounts, at least in my mind, these men were godless sinners on the way to hell, yet I found a friendship with the two of them that I had never really experienced in the church. They weren’t friends with me because of what I believed but because of who I was and that was a situation I hadn’t experienced since the early days of my first marriage.

Life was becoming less and less recognizable to what it had once been. I began to question everything about my faith. What I could reason as being likely I still preached on, what I couldn’t I threw out. I had gone from a staunch Pentecostal full of anger and contempt for anyone outside the church and had now become an almost liberal pastor who talked more about social justice and reform than I did about the life and teachings of Christ. I still considered myself a Christian but at the same time it was becoming harder and harder for me to tell you what a Christian was supposed to be.

To continue on to part 24, click here.