Archive for the ‘ Prayer ’ Category

Why Praying Is Hard

It used to be easy for me when I believed that it did something useful. Then I wondered why an omniscient creator god needed to hear from me to guide his perfect plan. Then I wondered why his perfect plan included so much pain and suffering in the world. Then I learned statistics.

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On any given day there will be a sizable portion of the population of which it can be said “it sucks to be you.” It’s hard to remember that when it’s my day to have a sucky life. These days are the ones that I used to pray about. It never did any good. Sometimes, drinking few fingers of Scotch and playing with my dogs makes it better. Some days there is nothing for it but a few aspirin and more sleep than normal.

In the end, no matter what your philosophical position is, none of us have it all figured out. Some days or weeks just suck, badly.
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When that happens, I try to meditate, relax, remind myself that it will pass because it will pass. I’m not talking about first world problems or fears about imaginary things. I’m talking about real life that grabs me and shakes me and won’t let go till I somehow figure out how to solve the problem. Without a solution at hand it often enough feels like a good scotch and some tearful moments will fix things. Perhaps even an attempt to ignore them will do it. Sadly, nothing like that really works.

Instead of prayer I sit and talk with myself. Amazingly there is a sound thinking part of me willing to have the conversation. I complain and that other part of me tells me it’s just one of those days so buck up sunshine, till you do something nothing will change. It would be nice to have a skydaddy that would fix it all for me but there is none. Even when I pretended there was, it was me that did all the hard work.
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If I can do this anyone can. I’m juggling 153 things at once and I just want to put some of them down. No such luck. I just have to soldier on. Writing this is not helping me do any of them but it is allowing me to have that internal conversation that I need. Do a few more things tonight, wake up, shower, do some more of them. Keep doing that till there is room to breathe or sleep. That is all I have. It’s the only plan I’ve got. The weight on my shoulders will not go away till I shed it myself. Praying would not fix it. In fact, praying would be no more effective than me writing this post.

That’s how this nihilist anti-theist does it.

How do you deal with shitty days?

God Hears Your Prayers

Yes, I stumble across random posts by believers that are trying to give advice to other believers and it hurts. Seriously it hurts. First when my jaw hits the desk and then again when trying to do a triple face palm.

This post is a comment on one from altruisco, you might know them. He feels privileged that he can pray to a god and he is concerned that some might be discouraged when their prayers do not seem to be answered right away.

Our privilege of prayer is from God, and it is as much ours now as when it was given to Israel (Deuteronomy 4:7). Yet, when we pray or speak to the One in Heaven, there are times when He seems not to answer. There can be many reasons for this, and the Scriptures suggest why and how our prayers are being dealt with by the One who is so tender and loving, who Himself loves our communing with God the Father, for He, Himself, is our representative (Hebrews 4:15).

But don’t let George discourage you, let’s continue

A primary reason why prayer is unanswered is sin. God cannot be mocked or deceived, and He who sits enthroned above knows us intimately, down to our every thought (Psalm 139:1-4). If we are not walking in the Way or we harbor enmity in our hearts toward our brother or we ask for things with the wrong motives (such as from selfish desires), then we can expect God not to answer our prayer because He does not hear (2 Chronicles 7:14; Deuteronomy 28:23; Psalm 66:18; James 4:3). Sin is the “stopper” to all the potential blessings that we would receive from the infinite “bottle” of God’s mercy! Indeed, there are times when our prayers are heinous in the Lord’s sight, most notably when we clearly do not belong to the Lord either because of unbelief (Proverbs 15:8) or because we are practicing hypocrisy (Mark 12:40).

I’m thinking this guy has not read

Matthew 18:20 – For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them

Mark 11:24 – Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

Another reason why prayer seems to go unanswered is that the Lord is drawing out of our faith a deeper reliance and trust in Him, which should bring out of us a deeper sense of gratitude, love and humility. In turn, this causes us to benefit spiritually, for He gives grace to the humble (James 4:6; Proverbs 3:34). Oh, how one feels for that poor Canaanite woman, who cried out incessantly to our Lord for mercy when He was visiting the region of Tyre and Sidon (Matthew 15:21-28)! She was hardly the person a Jewish rabbi would pay attention to. She was not a Jew and she was a woman, two reasons that Jews ignored her. The Lord doesn’t seem to answer her petitions, but He knew all about her situation. He may not have answered her stated needs immediately, but still He heard and granted her request.

It’s just a shame he doesn’t answer the prayers of those parents with starving children.

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God may often seem silent to us, but He never sends us away empty-handed. Even if prayer has not been answered, we must rely upon God to do so in His own time. Even the exercise of prayer is a blessing to us; it is because of our faith that we are stirred to persist in prayer. It is faith that pleases God (Hebrews 11:6), and if our prayer life is wanting, does that not reflect our spiritual standing also? God hears our impoverished cries for mercy, and His silence inflames us with a sense of persistence in prayer. He loves us to reason with Him. Let us hunger for the things that are after God’s heart and let us walk in His ways and not our own. If we are faithful to pray without ceasing, then we are living in the will of God, and that can never be wrong (1 Thessalonians 5:17-18).

God always seems silent to starving children. He sends them to the grave empty handed and with empty stomachs. Yes, trust that your god will answer your prayer. It worked out so very well for those now dead starving children and their families. Those starving children must not have believed in god with enough fervor. Maybe they forgot to pray without ceasing.

 

 

Proof That The Christian God Exists!

Yeah, I know. That title is more exciting than this post will be. I do that a lot. Still, bear with me this is pretty close.

I’ve been thinking today about the people that tell me answered prayers are evidence of their god existing.

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I know that looks more like a collision between methane and a flame, but whatever.

I wish Christians would keep a tally of the prayers they prayed which were answered with ‘no’ or ‘not now’. They are fond of remembering the ones they think were answered with a yes but they can never tell you how many were answered with no or not now – essentially not answered at all.

Do me a favor, ask them how many went unanswered when you hear that trope.

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I’m sure you’ll get a reaction a lot like the second image.

More seriously, if supposedly answered prayers is evidence of the god’s existence via interaction with the world it should be fair to say that un-answered prayers are also an evidence of the character of any given god. That is to say that if a god does not answer should we count that as abstention or as a Fsck You. In either case it is not a positive answer.

Matt. 18:20 For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

Clearly the Christian god is going to hear a lot of prayers.

If that did not sink in, this means that Gov. Rick Perry got the middle finger from his god in a big way. Of course that won’t count in the tally of what evidence is. No, that was just a ‘not now’ answer.

Do us all a favor, ask those that use answered prayers as evidence for a list of prayers that were not answered. Ask for details. Those prayers too are evidence to be considered. Let’s start making sure it gets the consideration that it deserves.

When the counting is done, here’s a link you might want handy: A book on statistics

I’m not even going to make the argument that they don’t know statistics. I think that simply asking for the list will be enough to start the conversation or terminate it completely.

Give it a try and let us all know how it worked out.

 

Five Seconds Is A Long Time

Imagine if you will that you could save 5 seconds every morning when getting ready for work. Over the span of an average worker’s life that would be worth 72.222 days. Just 5 seconds per work day.

How much time do or did you spend praying each work day? How much time of each work day do you spend being angry? How much time of each work day do you spend listening to ‘that guy’ that won’t stop talking?

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I know I wasted a lot of days praying. I kind of wish I had them back. What would I have done with it or how would I have spent it? I don’t know for certain but I do think that I could have used it better. That’s not a regret per se’, just an observation on what it cost me to become an atheist. It took a long time to get here. A lot of my life was wasted on what I was taught as a child to believe.

Society, especially in the USA, wastes that time of most children’s lives. Note that they have no proof that its not a waste of time and energy and joy, they do it in case the religion is real. Oh, I know that many of them think their chosen religion is true (or the religion that their parents chose for them). That’s where it get kind of criminal and creepy. Parents are taught to waste so much of their children’s lives on the off chance that a religion that was chosen for them is correct. They do this when there is no proof that any religion is correct about anything. I added up the 5 seconds. Imagine what hours per week looks like in the long run. Just 5 hours per week spent on religion adds up to over 500 days over the span of a work career. That is easily 1% of your life. When  you spend roughly 33% of your life asleep, that extra 1% becomes a pretty big chunk because it is effectively multiplied when you consider it comes out of your waking hours. So you work 8 hours and sleep 8 hours. 3% of the rest of your time is spent on something that was chosen for you, instilled into you, wasting your life.

It’s no wonder that atheists sometimes seem angry about religion.

I Am My Own God. That’s What Kevin Says!

I found this post and almost got some drool on my shirt from the jaw dropping open. No, this is probably not good enough to make the evening news but it will do for here. The Author, Kevin we’ll call him, clearly thinks that this post of his is clever. I say that because it sure makes him sound smug. Kevin, you see, has a way with words. He also has a way with presuppositions. Let’s see what he has to say about my god.

The entirety of his post follows with some commentary:

“Well, I don’t believe in God,” a man told me one day.

“How did that happen?” I inquired.

“I did a lot of reading and came to the conclusion that God is not real and the Bible is a book of fairy tales.”

Well, this seems fairly benign, something that might happen anywhere at nearly any time. How does Kevin respond? Why, as a theological authority of course.

“So, you placed yourself as your ultimate authority in all things spiritual. Do you realize that you have made yourself your own god?”

Kevin seems to believe that his god is real no matter what the evidence does or does not say about the matter. To him there is no choice as to whether his god is real. He also knows that those other gods are false gods. He asserts that making a decision about whether his god is real or not means that you are usurping his god’s power and rightful role of dominance over each and every human. We are not to use our free will to make any decisions about the god. No. This is not permissible.

“Never thought of it that way.”

The reason that he never thought of it that way is because it is convoluted thinking. Stupid thinking. There are billions of people who think Kevin’s god is false yet they do not think they are their own god. They already have a god (which is not Kevin’s god) to worship. Surely Kevin doesn’t think he made himself his own god by deciding that all the gods which are not his god are false gods. None of that stops Kevin from continuing to assert that deciding a god is false necessarily means you are placing yourself in the high position of that god. You know, just like thinking a politician sucks at their job makes you a politician or not believing in the Easter bunny means you have to deliver all the eggs. Wait, maybe he’s on to something there?  Maybe that thought is worth a bit more thinking?

“Can you save yourself from hell?  Do you heal yourself when you are injured? Do you have control over the weather? Can you answer your own prayers?”

Here we go. Kevin wants to know if you can do all the things he thinks his god can and does do. Of course he has no evidence to support these beliefs, no evidence for hell; no evidence that his god heals the sick; no evidence that prayer works; no evidence that his god controls the weather; no evidence at all. None of that stops him from making unfounded assertions though.

At that point, he got mad at me.  But he had something to think about.  By being his own god, yet without Godly attributes (all-knowing, all-powerful and present everywhere) he isn’t being very wise.  The reality is that self has limited knowledge, limited power and is limited to being in one place at a time. Self is a pretty weak god in actuality.

There it is. Deciding that a god does not exist when you don’t yourself have godly attributes such as omnipotence and omniscience means you are not wise. This, he says, is because humans are not god-like. Clearly he believes that to make such decisions a human must have the arbitrarily defined attributes of his god. Not even Zeus is capable of making such decisions about Kevin’s god.  No mere mortal can make such a decision about Kevin’s god without presuming to be a god themselves. See the logic there? You can’t say Santa Claus does not exist without being an actual Christmas fairy. You would be unqualified to say that leprechauns do not exist unless you are an actual leprechaun.

You can’t argue with Kevin or change his mind. He is fully convinced that a god, his god, exists. Any belief otherwise simply means you are a fool. To Kevin, it’s plain as day and if you can’t see it you’re defective and headed for hell.

Atheists are nothing more than fools fooling themselves – according to the verse below. But, as a Christian I know that I can do the same thing. I claim to believe in God, but my behavior reveals the opposite.  I put more faith in myself than I do in God and I let myself down. How foolish!

Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, Romans 1:22.

© copyright Kevin T Boekhoff

Wait. Did he try to redeem himself in the end? No. He is saying he is fooling for not having more faith in his god which simply makes the atheist even more of a fool. Kevin, like most believers, likes to quote mine. That quote above seems pretty apropos for the post but let’s look and see what Paul was really talking about in this passage:

Paul’s Longing to Visit Rome

First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world. God, whom I serve in my spirit in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you 10 in my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you.

11 I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong— 12 that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith. 13 I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters,[d] that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles.

14 I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. 15 That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are in Rome.

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last,[e] just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”[f]

God’s Wrath Against Sinful Humanity

18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. 32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

And there it is. Because these people did not believe in Kevin’s god, Keving’s god made them murderous, lying, homosexuals… among other things. Without belief in Kevin’s god you are less than human in his eyes. When Kevin and his ilk say atheists are ‘fools’ that is just jesus-speak. They really mean that you are less than human, vile, evil, deserving of hell. They hold you in great contempt. Their polite words are drenched in pride, bigotry, and boasting.

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Read verse 22 AND 23 in its entirety: This is not talking about atheists but Kevin doesn’t want you to know that part. He thinks atheists can’t read his holy book … apparently.

Kevin and his ilk think themselves wise yet they would never dare question their god or their holy book. For them Wisdom hit its peak about 2000 years ago. For them there is nothing more, no more wisdom, no more knowledge, no new ways of solving problems.

 

Is Anti-Theism A Valid Position?

mephistopheles hesitant has a pretty decent post here in which they attempt to address, as a response, a post that was derogatory of anti-theists. I don’t want to go over the all of that territory as mephistopheles hesitant makes a fair go at it. I simply want to comment on some few sentences they used at the end. Their concluding paragraphs are below, complete, emphasis is mine.

The anti-theists have made a courageous engagement with questions about the place of religion in society. This is an important discussion that we need to have, not just because of Islamist terrorism and gay marriage, but because religious modes of thinking and being are part of our society and they compete in the marketplace of ideas. Anti-theists like to talk about religion as if it is a set of shackles from which we need to free ourselves. It is an extreme point of view, but we should acknowledge that some anti-theists sincerely want to help religious people to know that human beings are not inherently guilty, that we should not fear open questioning in the pursuit of truth, that you do not owe a cosmic debt—which you cannot physically or spiritually repay—to your Creator for a transgression you did not commit. Anti-theists are “spreading the good news” that you do not bear the mark of Cain or the stain of Adam. With this comes liberation and increased personal responsibility. If you commit an action so horrible that no person will forgive you, there is no hope of ultimate redemption. There is no second chance.

While they are not anti-anti-theist I take issue with some thoughts they have:

There are many shortcomings in the anti-theist arguments. They lack nuance. Mostly, they lack an understanding of the anthropology and sociology of religion. They’re not political science or psychology or philosophy experts, either. They’re informed citizens trying to open up dialogue about questions that matter. Is there purpose in the universe? Is there an afterlife? Is there an all-loving Creator? Do such beliefs, if false, serve any good purpose in the world? All theists have to do is actually defend their beliefs against criticism. That’s not asking much.

Now, don’t take offense at the anology but this is a lot like one of the Rabbi’s sitting down to dinner with Moses and trying to convince him that these Egyptian fellows really aren’t that bad and they deserve a more nuanced and civil discussion about the matter, and how being terse, impassioned, and sometimes angry really isn’t doing the Jews any favors. All the Jews have to do is defend their belief in freedom against tyranny. Maybe a couple of good debates or something?

I’m not anti-theist. It’s a mistake to believe ridding ourselves of religion is the only option, or the best option. It’s not practical, and people are right to sound the alarm bells of bigotry and intolerance. Anti-theists have so far been careful about walking the fine line of anti-theist and anti-Christian or anti-Muslim. GA42’s points are important to consider, because we know what happens when extreme views fall into the hands of the mob. We have to correct anti-theists when they characterize all religious people as “illogical” or “irrational” or “stupid.” We have to be wary of dogmatism and ideological homogeneity in our beliefs, theistic and atheistic.

Now, when you think this paragraph through it will make sense. Read it again, several times if you have to. What is being asked for here? Who is legislating thought crimes into law? Who is legislating oppression into law? Who is legislating theological thought into law? Don’t be bigoted toward the tyrants he asks. Interesting way of putting things. In the position of theology there is no central ground save perhaps for agnostics. A parley for compatibility is nothing less than asking the enemy to put their weapons down. We know how that works out in the effluence of human affairs. Yes, I’m sort of saying that any capitulation at all is complete capitulation. Despite the violence that religion reigns down on humanity this is not a war of attrition it is a war of ideas – once side fighting for complete dominance and the other fighting for a secular world with freedom of thought for all.

We can all improve our attitude, our tone of voice on the issue of religion. We’re perfectly capable of talking about religion without resorting to hostilities. We can have strong feelings about a subject and attack peoples’ ideas without attacking the person. Theists have long had a privileged voice in society, and my hope is that nonreligious persons will no longer feel afraid to express their beliefs openly. As obnoxious as the anti-theists are, they are affording us all the ability to be more public about our opinions on religion. We should thank them for that.

Anti-theists well can talk about religion without resorting to violence. It’s a position we’ve been forced to endure for many centuries because anything else meant death, often a horrible death. Some modern countries still have blasphemy laws that carry very harsh penalties and death. Anyone that forgets that has forgotten the lessons of war, of history, of humanity. We are still a very long way from living in a society where expressing atheist ideas is safe. To believe otherwise is to fail to understand this society at all. When it indeed is safe to talk about our thoughts on religion perhaps then it will be time to consider that more nuanced approach. Until that time theists are not deserving of a nuanced civil discourse. They will get it, but they are not deserving of it.

Hell Is Real…

It’s called Alzheimer’s Disease.

Recently I found a blogger that thinks the mind creates the brain. That person is an idiot. Watching a vivid character and mind waste to nothing is the most disheartening thing I can possibly think of. I can’t imagine the hell of not being able to remember 5 minutes ago. My mother is becoming like many animals… living only in this moment but able to remember her college GPA to three decimal places. She can’t remember what she ate last night but she can remember long term stuff like the back of her hand. It’s a torture that I can see taking its toll on her and soon on the family. If prayer would work I would pray for her. It gives me physical pain to see that beautiful woman and mind reduced to such confusion and pain. Hell is real. It is the loss of your mind.

When she faces her god, she won’t remember if she has sinned and can’t repent of them if she did. If this is a god’s perfect plan I want to beat that god to death with a hammer. This was his plan? Torture her here and then condemn her after? I really want some believer to explain their god to me now. I want to know why their god wants me to feel such pain. I want to know why their god wants to torture my mother and my family. I want an explanation or for religion to shut the fuck up. Religion has no explanation and this just happens. It is part of life and if fucking sucks. I cry for the woman who does not know what my tears are for. Tell me you religious believers, what are my tears for? What is my family’s suffering for? What part of god’s perfect plan does this support? I’m listening…

Can’t We All Just Get Along?

The never ending discussion on the compatibility between science and religion asks if they can get along and coexist. The argument, no matter how it is stated, comes down to this: Science has facts, religion has faith. As long as religion has faith it will remain incompatible with both science and reality. Believers might argue that their faith is compatible with science yet they will not allow for someone else’s faith being compatible with their own. When believers can’t even get their ‘faith’ coherent but decide to disagree with the best method we have of knowing the world around us then it is completely incompatible with science.

A religion that is not incompatible with science would be one that requires no faith. Would that be a religion?

Can’t we all just get along?

NO, we can’t as long as you are unwilling to be a full participant in reality.

Before anyone thinks I’m calling all believers stupid, just stop. This is a reaction to the discussion of compatibility and not simply your particular point of view. That said, if you want to feel offended, that is your prerogative, just don’t expect an apology.

 

 

Talking About Theism … On The Edge

or, Think Like A Believer is perhaps a better title? You decide. Actually I’ll have a go at the atheism/theism issue from a side angle. It’s one of my favorites: how do we think and what is thought.

I found a post from a presumed Christian believer which illustrates what I want to say in this post. In the mode of trying to understand the theist discussion by asking questions I run into a small problem: what were they thinking? I also try to understand how all of us think. Theism is not a disease or even a brain malady. We all have the same brains so when I changed from evangelical to atheist it was not a case of my brain changing nor a case of me finding a cure. Something changed, this much is certain…. but what was it that changed? Maybe we can figure this out by examining the reasoning and thoughts that theists use in rationalizing and supporting their beliefs. I’m going to try to do this more often.

Those of you who follow my blog know that I write about my theory of how we think, how our minds work and have a profound interest in consciousness. In this post I’m going to take my theory and apply it to the post I found so we can see how the ‘same’ brain can arrive at vastly different ideas and how this does not require atheists and theists to have different brains or health.

The post in question is called Sin is Enacted Atheism by The Orthosphere. I’m choosing which portions of the post to include here and may reformat it slightly. To see the original, click the link. I urge you to think about what the writer of the post might be thinking, how we are not generally lying to ourselves on purpose, and finally that we do all try to solve the puzzles we find in life for the most part.

This is not going to be a quick post, so go run and get a beverage… or three

Sin is Enacted Atheism

I have thought for some time now that there is a direct relation between unbelief and sinfulness, and that *it runs both ways.* Thinking about God can be extremely hard when I feel really bad about how sinful I’ve been. When I’ve done something wrong, or want to, I want to avoid thinking about God. Because if I do, I shall see what a disgusting worm I am. And no one wants to face that.

The post starts out with contemplation of guilt. Guilt is when we know we’ve broken one of the rules about life that we think we should not break. You can break the civil law and not feel guilty. Guilt only happens when you believe you should not have done the thing which you now feel guilty about. It is wholly subjective. Being subjective, the rule you broke was part of a plan to achieve a goal you have set for yourself or in some way subscribed to. Subjective rules are not arbitrary from the perspective of self. What we are talking about here is the reaction to breaking a certain kind of rule which (the writer in this case) person has set for themselves based on some beliefs and truths and experience. It is not a simple rule like fire is hot or the Sun is bright. It is not universally agreeable as a rule, it is subjective in nature by the very nature that it can cause guilt as a reaction. This kind of rule can be one such as we make each January first. Importantly this is not a whim but something the writer has put a lot of time into thinking about. What is thought? What is thinking?

It’s easy to see why shame would make me want to avoid God when I have sinned. The hardest thing of all to admit in our hearts about God is that because his beauty is infinite, even our worst sins are to him infinitely tiny. Whether we know it or not, and whether or not we admit the fact to ourselves, his overwhelming power washes over our sins the way that a great wave washes over the filth a fly has left in the sand of the beach. So, no matter how bad we have been, we can turn to him and he will wash over us, cleanse and refresh us completely.

That sounds like a good thing but it turns out to be one of the most effective reinforcements of the original arbitrary rule. In this case the arbitrary rule(s) were established in order to achieve a goal – that of getting into heaven and not going to hell. The only way to get absolution for the guilt is to renew your vow to the original goal… not through prescribed public scapegoating or admission but through private commission of your thoughts. This regenerative feedback loop happens entirely within the mind of the adherent. No external input is necessary as demonstrated in this post. Note that the absolution of guilt does not modify behaviors nor adjust thought. It only reinforces the original goals and rules.

But this is hard to remember, or understand. Indeed, it is hard to remember *because* it is hard to understand. Our sins loom large in our lives, and we understand the harm we have done – and the cost of its repair – quite well. Infinity being by contrast impossible for us to comprehend, we have a hard time doing the moral accounting involved in reconciling God’s omnipotent redemptive power to our picayune peccadilloes. It’s like expressing inches in light years, or vice versa. Light years just don’t mean anything concretely commensurable to our lives as lived, compared to the distance between two joints of a finger. So, all we can see is the sin, and the penalty thereof; we cannot see the everlasting life beyond its redemption. And so we avoid turning our minds in its direction, or toward God and the agony of his glory.

Sometimes apologists say stuff that just takes way to long to figure out the meaning of. This paragraph above is one of those. The notion that infinity is impossible for us to comprehend begs the question… what then does infinity mean? Oh, I see, we actually do comprehend it. I think this is a case of trying to say that when it comes to our guilt we can’t see the forest for the trees. In this case the writer seems to be of the mind that when they feel guilty for their ‘sins’ they think themselves unworthy of their god’s redemption.. I think that is the definition of guilty actually… correct me if I’m wrong. What is the writer doing here with thought? There is the effect of harm and guilt due to the sinful cause. Then a statement on the nature of god, infinite redemptive power… god will forgive anything. This is a rule in the mind of the writer that they are reinforcing with this statement. Like taking the Sun for granted and stating we forget the great benefit it brings us. Next another couple of rules: if you sin you burn forever. This rule is not questioned but taken as fact to the writer.

When we believe in something, we conform ourselves thereto. It shapes our minds, our thoughts and attitudes, and so our acts, and our lives. Because he has a hard time even thinking about God, the sinner, then, has a hard time really believing in God. His shame disinclines him to God; his disinclination to God inclines him to sin; his sin is shameful. It’s a vicious cycle.

Because the sinner is guilty and can’t think of god, it’s hard to believe in a god. What is described is not a cycle, but a spiral downward (if I understand the thinking) toward godless sinning and shame and guilt. Now, let’s think about this. Guilt for breaking a rule makes it difficult to feel good about the rule. If your new year’s resolution is to exercise more, when you skip the gym do you then excuse yourself and feel good about your resolution? I opine that the answer is no, but you will tell yourself that it will be okay because you’ll go to the gym tomorrow and all will be okay again. Do you see what’s going on here? Theists have built-in behavior justifications. The rule only applies when they want it to and they can justify breaking the rule when needed. This, as therapists will tell you, is exactly how to fail at a resolution for change. There is no behavior modification, only reaffirmation of the rules and goals. The thoughts here are that ‘you are what you think you are’ and in the mind of the writer when they are not thinking of god their life is not godly and their actions and thoughts remain sinful. This is a cause and effect rule in the writer’s mind. What we’re seeing is the rules used in the writer’s mind to reason out a cause/effect puzzle.

But it works the other way, too: the unbeliever is eo ipso a sinner. Indeed, unbelief and sin are two sides of the same coin. For, as sin is enacted falsehood, so is it an explicit enaction of disbelief in the God who is all truth, and the whole of truth. It indicates a want of faith; for, if I really believed in God, and understood him, how could I bring myself to sin – indeed, how could the notion even occur to me? Doesn’t the presence of God in our hearts drive out sin? So, if I am sinning, doesn’t that mean that I have not very much God in my heart?

Right, so sinning is to be godless and to be godless is to sin. So every sin causes a do-over, start from the beginning kind of thing. This kind of thinking only serves to reinforce the original thought. Whatever sin you commit brings guilt which in turn reinforces the thought that it was a sin (wrong) in the first place… only this is worse because it is here described as a denial of the rules that the believer has accepted as true. This thinking brings the writer to conclusions: sin and unbelief are two labels/aspects/properties of each other. This association of properties between object/actions in the writer’s mind is important to note.

If my understanding of God is correct, if I really understand what “God” means – not as a philosophical proposition, so much as a concrete proposal for how I should constitute myself from one moment to the next, what I should consider, think, say and do – then won’t the beauty and power of that knowledge drive out all competing considerations? God is *infinitely* beautiful. Nothing else even registers, compared to him. If I really turned and accepted even that bare notion, how could I sin? If I do sin, then, this means that there is at least some corner of my heart that does not believe in God. It resists him, or else is deeply confused.

Note here that the belief is reinforced also by the unproven fact that the god is infinitely beautiful, yet we cannot comprehend infinity says the writer. So, the rule (stipulated by belief in a god and accepted as true without evidence) gets broken. The writer concludes that this causes guilt/shame which precludes the rule breaker who then is unable to ‘get over it’, yet the writer urges us to do just that by accepting the god (and the rules) all over again. It’s a do over. A clever way to purge the guilt, to acquire absolution and rid yourself of the shame and damnation. Now we see the writer looking at behavior modification by simply having more god in his life and thoughts. A puritanical cycle of thinking if ever there was one. The modification does not remove temptation but changes thinking processes in the writer’s mind in order to avoid temptation next time around. This is a plan that hormones really don’t cooperate with.

My sin tells me that I have not yet truly and fully converted my heart to God. And since the love of God is generated irresistibly by the vision of God, by the apprehension of his beauty, my sin indicates that I have not yet properly apprehended him. I have somehow erred in my apprehension.

We cannot correct the error of our apprehension that enables our sin – or rather, that is to say, *constitutes* our sin – except by turning to face him, opening our eyes and our hearts and letting him in. But because we err, we cannot see where to find him unless we are already facing him – in which case, we are not erring in the first place! So, we are stuck fast in the Sin against the Holy Spirit, the one unforgivable sin that prevents our acceptance of redemption, and therefore effects its rejection.

That’s where Grace enters the picture. God will show us. All we have to do is ask, even though we don’t know exactly what we ask. When we say the Agnus Dei, or the Jesus Prayer, we ask him to show us how and where to turn to him.

What this amounts to is fairly simple, yet delicately complex… even sublimely complex. The believer (the writer specifically in this case) shows that there is no adjustment of rules, no adjudication of morality or right and wrong, only a law that cannot be changed and how the believer must react to it. This is blind acceptance of a rule that was dictated, not discovered. It is slavery of the worst kind… voluntary slavery. We see the writer’s thinking solidified… the original goal is to not go to hell. Interim conclusions accepted without question are then used to reason about the writer’s own actions and what turns out to be self-brainwashing. In the writer’s mind they will make any thing or action which constitutes sin an object/action in the simulator of their brain to have the property of repulsive, ugly, deadly. The writer’s brain will at some point along this course begin to react to said objects/actions with real repulsion and fear. The writer is effectively reprogramming the rules in their brain simulation such that they will be repulsed by sin and could possibly begin to trigger fight/flight responses if they tell a white lie, or find 100 dollar bill on the floor and not turn it in. These seem small matters until you get the situation where these trigger dire reactions in the mind of the believer. That white lie situation can soon trigger fear, bad decision making, avoidance and so on. Not because they tell a white lie but simply in reaction to the urge to do so.

There is a cycle involved here. The same cycle suffered by those that swear to lose xx pounds/stone but are not willing to modify their behavior to achieve the goal every time they seem to fail the objectives. Some folk set impossibly difficult goals for their resolutions, and then feel guilty because they cannot keep them nor change enough to ever achieve them.

I have compared this to resolutions like we make on New Year’s day for a reason. Both are subjective goals, both have subjective rules. These are invented rules which are not guided by empirical evidence and when we see ourselves failing at those goals, introspection causes us to do a number of things:

  • Feel shame for not meeting our own expectations, and our brains see this as a problem
  • Our brains are evolved to solve problems of cause-effect
  • We then see that the cause of the failure is self inflicted – that is we failed, there is no objective consideration of the situation and by objective consideration I mean one that is outside the thoughts of the guilty person
  • Guilt drives the person to reinforce the original unrealistic goal/rule

Sorry that this rambled a bit but I’m trying to show that theists get into the business of twisting logic because they first accepted as true a rule/goal without evidence. To twist logic and reason is much easier than going back and changing all the rules that got tied into the original error – the error of accepting something as true without evidence. Further, once we accept something as true our confirmation bias does a lot of harm in that it keeps reinforcing the original error to the point that the believer does not really care that their logic makes no sense objectively.

That is why many discussions end with “Well, it’s just what I believe and I’m allowed to have my own beliefs!”

To try to unravel their rules and properties assigned in effort to support the original erroneous rule/goal will not change that original error in the believer’s mind. The original error won’t get cleared out until the believer begins to doubt that truth by itself. I think that for reason to preside in society we have to ask “why do you think a god exists” and work with the believers, individually at times, to help them understand the first error – why the accepted the existence of a god as true in the first place. Many talk about indoctrination and so on, but this won’t get the believer to look at their own original error. Some of them are old enough now that they won’t remember why they decided that was not an error, rather that it was unmitigated truth. As they grow up they will find many ways to justify this erroneous rule such that no matter how many justifications you tear apart, it does not touch the value assignment of the original error in the believers mind simulation.

The original programming error is what needs to change.

Ideas on how to get the believer to ponder seriously that first error?

Doing Harm With A Smile… The Good Of Religious Belief

First, Do No Harm…

This maxim has questionable origin yet its value is beyond mere origin. No cure is acceptable if it causes more harm. We could discuss this at length if desired but I simply want to state it as a premise for the rest of this piece. This maxim does not specify how much harm, only that doing harm is not the method or manner to a cure in its usage generally.

One might rightly ask ‘what is harm’ when evaluating this. It’s common sense to know that cutting off a foot to cure an in-grown toe nail is not in keeping with the maxim, even if it relieves the pain of the toe nail. Clearly, long term harm is not acceptable as a cure for short term ills. I think most or all of us will find this as an acceptable maxim or a kind of truth for every day life.

With that premise fairly stated, let’s jump right in to the discussion here.

There are a great many people who blog or write on the Internet that think they are doing good for people. Mind you, the good they think they are doing is a subjective opinion not shared by all of humanity, rather it is an opinion shared by a very small portion of humanity. Still, they believe they are doing good so spread their ‘knowledge’ of how things work in order to spread good among the world. Many even offer advice or suggestions for how to make life better, how to live a better life, or simply how to enjoy life better.

Is their subjective opinion useful? Some think so. Is it beneficial on more than one level? Some think so. How do we judge good from harm? This is a subjective (even if it seems universal) process for good does not mean the same things in all circles. There are some that think they know what objective good is but can’t show evidence of such a thing as absolute objective good. So what can it mean then to ‘first do no harm’ ?

Thus begins a series of analytical looks at well intentioned religious posts from around the WP blogosphere. I’m going to start with a post that seems to be promoting a policy or ethic which I’m not familiar with: Doctrine of Vocation?

We start off with a valid question and a scripture quote. All things in the holy book are true is the premise for such a beginning. This one is reminiscent of a divine teddy bear picnic. Let’s see what it says:

WHY CAN’T I BE CONTENT AT WORK?

“Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground, but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground.Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground – trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food.” (Genesis 2:5-9, NIV)

All believers who believe the holy text to be completely true will draw conclusions from this. They are not necessarily correct conclusions, but this is their interpretation:

God created Utopia from nothing. He created a world which was pure, clean, and beautiful and gave it to man to take care of. God was a worker. He created man in His own image – to work the land and care for His new world. God saw a vision of men and women working in harmony, worshiping Him and glorifying Him in everything they did. He saw a peaceful world filled with love and beauty.

Here we have the unabashed statement that something can come from nothing, but it requires magic. Some how we are to believe that this god worked hard, even though he simply speaks things into existence and nothing that exists is not his creation. Further there is an assumption about this god’s intent which bends the understanding toward the writer’s intent for the lesson. “men and women working in harmony” is not what religion brings us today, no, far from it. But let’s skip reality here, there is a lesson to preach. Wait, I know you want to understand what this has to do with truth or honest understanding of the world… well, nothing that I can discern. Still, it is the premise of the lesson so let’s bear with it.

So why has that which God designed to be so majestic often become so mundane – so meaningless? Why all the confusion  about our work? Why can’t we relax and enjoy our jobs? Whatever our jobs are, no matter how ordinary they seem, they can be extraordinary and brimming with God-honoring importance and significance if they are done well and for the glory of God.

So the lesson comes as resultant from the premise that the writer understands the mind of a god. Right here we see damage and harm being done. The hapless reader is to assume and adjust their thinking that it is possible to know the mind of a god, that gods are real, and that the purpose in life has been set down in an ancient book. So what are we learning here:

  1. Gods are real
  2. We are here through the use of magic
  3. There is a purpose to life because it says so in a book
  4. This writer knows that purpose because he knows the mind of a god

These rules for life are dangerous. No matter that they might make some folk feel good, they are dangerous. The authors of Interactive Philosophy blog have nailed down why this is harmful. If we base our understanding of the world on a rule such as ‘magic works’ we can make all kinds of bad decisions. If we believe simply because we are told to then anything that perverts the course of the god’s plan is counter to survival and this will cause us to make very bad decisions. Check out “The Dazzle of Convictions” post.

If we are discovering the rich and robust doctrine of vocation for the first time, we might be tempted to see it as a passing Christian fad. In our more cynical moments, we might wonder whether all this talk about work is merely the latest hype in an often shallow, populist Christian faith. Though this kind of thinking about work may be new to you, let me assure you that the language and doctrine of Christian vocation is not faddish but foundational to an integral Christian faith. A right understanding of vocation has been a transforming truth in the day-to-day ordinary lives of faithful followers of Jesus for many centuries. Vocation is a robust theology of ordinary, everyday life.

Just because people have been ‘apparently’ following this doctrine for a long time does not make it true, correct, useful, or harmless. An appeal to popularity or authority is nothing but an attempt to manipulate the reader. It says that the lesson is true and to be trusted because other people have used it. This is harmful because it urges the reader to abandon evidence based judgement and this is harmful as it will encourage further ignorance of evidence based judgement in other areas of life.

What can you do to bring a little excitement back into you job? Try praying. Try studying the word of God. Quit complaining. Do your very best in everything you do. Make sure the path you are taking is a path that honors God and not one that turns you further away from Him.

Here we see the real harm done. Do not seek actual methods of finding happiness or contentment. Turn toward your imaginary friend and ignore the facts of life. Persevere in unhappiness to glorify the god. Be content as slaves and glorify the god. Do not seek to change your life or job or do anything which would alter your situation, simply internalize this unhappiness and situation as your fault and pray to the god to help you feel better about your shitty life. Why should the reader do this?

Happiness and contentment come when we find ourselves living closer to our Father and further from those things that bring us down.

Enjoy your day, “Working for Christ!”

Support the church, believe in magic, pay your tithes, quit complaining, be a good slave. More than that, be a happy slave. Never do anything to improve your own little piece of the world never mind the parts of the world that are outside your reach. Suffer in silence and let the god take care of the rest of the world, it’s not your problem for you are broken and can’t even fix your own world. Shhhhhh do as I say.

If you tell a child they are worthless and stupid often enough that child will believe it is true. This type of lesson we see in this post is the equivalent of that constant derision. How can we expect those that believe they are broke and must trust their church leaders for wisdom to make good decisions. They know nothing of fixing the world’s problems nor of taking responsibility for their culpability in them.

This simple feel good happy shiny lesson is harmful to those that believe it. That in turn is harmful to the rest of us because those people will be the weak link in the chain of society, they will hold the rest of us back. Be certain, this message is not a positive message. It does not lift the spirits of those reading it. It tells the reader they are powerless to change things and so must simply smile and be a good slave. Those slaves vote. They are everywhere around us making changes to the lives the rest of us live. They would take away your rights to ensure their god’s apparent wishes are met. Slaves serve their masters and these masters do not want you to have the life you want unless the life you want is that of slave to their god.

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