Six Godless Years

I became an atheist six years ago. Allow me to set the scene. January 2008 I moved to Syracuse, New York for college after a tormented absence from schooling. It was time to get things back in order, and I was going to do it alone. This I did, driving a rental car packed with my every possession, looking past brown snowdrifts at potential churches. There were plenty.

In the two weeks before class began, I spent a lot of time alone in the library with as many Christian books as I could muster, looking for that grain of truth that would keep me on the path from an eternity in Hell. It had been a long way to almost losing my religion, studded mostly by uninspiring sermons, idiotic radio preachers, and heartbreakingly attractive science. Long ago, I had decided that I would not abandon science and become fully irrelevant; I had to reconcile things like carbon dating with things like nine-headed lions. It wasn’t easy, and reading the Bible most certainly did not help.

In retrospect, it takes a submissive heart combined with a charismatic teacher to make sense out of 2000 year old documents in a world of wireless internet and space stations. Between general social aversion, the many scams of holy white men, and the 450,000 books on the subject of Truth, I decided that if there was truth to be found, I would find it myself. In 2008, the situation was getting desperate.

Syracuse in winter is a great place to stop believing in a loving God. Those two freezing weeks saw prayer so fervent that Saint Monica grimaced. It also saw a lot of time holed up in Syracuse’s Bird Library, surrounded by discourses on Christ’s necessity and the efficacy of prayer. Meanwhile God refused to hear my desperate plea to just simply make me believe in him, to allow me to suspend logic, to even go out of character and show me something.

Surely no one would be surprised that I received no such affirmation. The Christian would (has) insist(ed) that I leaned too heavily on imperfect human reasoning, that the wisdom of God cannot be translated and so we walk in a ridiculous human haze, manipulating a world bereft of God’s hand. He smilingly watches, loving us while intervening in nothing.

I decided that such a God understood human reasoning and heard human prayers. Then why, I asked six years ago, would he rather see another unbeliever produced than silently flip some tiny switch and gain that soul forever?

In the end I followed the only course I could and gave up the gods. Surprisingly, really; we would generally rather suspend thought and believe in salvation than throw it away, no matter how infantile it appears. Better to live a lie then die in Hell. Those were days of integrity, and I followed up on my determinations. Outraged that Jesus has wasted so much of my last 20 years, I turned furiously against religion, bloviating like a Limbaugh to my public speaking class, turning in furious essays, debating with satisfaction in class and out.

College was awful, and finally it ended. For a time I allowed a lull in my atheism, allowing that perhaps energy or love could suffice as a god on which to hang our good deeds. I’ve given all that up for a more Tea Party point of view: save your fucking self. Don’t rely on gods, on spirits, on prayer. We built this world, and we will build better still.

Life has gotten a lot better since giving up God. The freedom is incredible. No longer do I wither to think of the lost souls that surround me, of how (a single foul behavior will turn friends away from the holy light of Jesus) (popular culture emphasized dancing over prayer and so must be annihilated) (these other supposed Christians aren’t speaking out loudly enough about all those Muslims getting OUR souls) (ad infinitum). Freedom is a great thing. Eventually I traveled to China, Turkey, and Russia, and saw some other places where secularism produced a great society. More importantly, I gained the confidence to really work on saving myself, and have lived a much better life for it.

I hear a lot of talk of how freedom is the greatest American principle. I never felt so imprisoned as I did as a Christian. Really believing that God is sending 4 billion people to Hell demands complete submission to the cause of saving them. It does not allow for a nightcap after that hard day of work. It does not allow for raising a family. It does not allow for buying a house. Real belief demand, controls, obsesses, and destroys, or else God is most displeased, and surely we shall have to account for our failures one day. As a result, most Christians go halfway and watch that football game or make that first million, cheering with Limbaugh Monday through Friday and with Pastor on Sunday. As a young man furious for the truth, that was not good enough.

Now, truth provides more options than I could possibly pursue. Life is good. I may sample truths and falsehoods, feeling no guilt, growing all the time. If not growing, enjoying. If not enjoying, learning the hard way. A game of chess, a bike ride, an episode of Breaking Bad, or an article in the Journal of Plant Pathology; everything is allowed, and if it turns out to be bullshit, I will be the one to decide, not a fable, not a pulpit.

Six more years!

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Tuesday’s Farce (a true story from the 2011 archives)

 (Event 1 (negative): Thunder Panic)

Events from a Tuesday off of work began with the realization that I must immediately leave my mother’s comfortable home in one city and travel 80 miles to my uncomfortable home in another. This kind of travel is no feat for the modern man and his fossil fuel slaves, but I chose to stress out grandly upon hearing thunder in the sky. This worried me, for I was traveling by motorcycle, and nothing ruins a motorized ride like 30 pounds of soaking wet clothing.

(Event 2 (negative): Skin Slices)

In fact, the day before I was caught in a comparable downpour, being soaked on a shorter, 15 mile ride to somewhere or other. To account for this, I chose to put my shoes (still wet) in the oven, in order to maximize personal dryness. This worked very well, but in my panic to make sure the house didn’t burn down I madly shaved at max speed, causing  few painful slices.

(Event 3 (negative): Stranded I)

I rode without event, albeit soaked by a wet ground (shoe bake nullified). After gasolining 30 miles from my destination, I turned the ignition to discover a dead battery, a recurring problem. The moto had just been resurrected from winter hibernation, and started barely well enough, until now. I was nowhere and unmoving.

(Event 4 (positive/awkward): Tip Panic)

Luckily I was able to borrow a pair of jumper cables from a (very busy) used car dealer and convince a kindly gentleman to provide the needed jump. A quick start and a thanking returned me to the dealership, where I decided I ought to tip the busy dealer for saving my ass. They were his property, after all, and probably valuable. After replacing the cables I nodded and blurted out a five dollar bill. The dealer, on the phone, took a moment to realize I had given him money, and exploded into a silent arm-waving refusal of the tip. An electrocution could not look much different. Impulsively, I turned back to take back my blood money, realizing 1.5 seconds after that I should stand by my decision to tip. I proceeded to turn back around, then spin about yet again with another change of mind as the dealer continued to wave the $5 in my direction. Finally I turned to the door (again), mumbled incoherently in a friendly tone, and ran (not walked) out of the dealership. Tied to an absorbing phone call, the dealer did not pursue.

(Event 5 (negative): Scheisty Landlords)

I arrived in downtown Rochester, illegally parked my moto, and entered an office building (wet and dirty). An insufficiently suspicious guard asked me to sign in before going upstairs (I was signing a lease for an apartment). I waited for 20 minute for the landlord. When he arrived, no more than 3 minutes passed before I wrote him a check for several thousand dollars. I declined to feel disenfranchised by this, or by the bullshit story he gave as to why I could not rent the somewhat cheaper place that I had expected. He blamed the subletting tenant, and in my heart I believed him, notwithstanding the fact that it was he, not the tenant, who actually rented out the apartment to someone else. It was not until leaving the office that I noted I had just been done business with, the financial equivalent of date rape.

(Event 6 (negative): Stranded II)

Returning to my motorcycle I discovered that, despite cramming the brake all the way from last stranding, I was again without battery and thus movement. The solution now was not as simple; clearly a jump was only a bandaid, and I would have to get a new battery or charge the old one. I noted (as evidenced by the bicycle wheel I possessed, which I had carried all this time) that I was only a mile’s walk from the rest of my bicycle. Removing the dead battery, I set out to find the bicycle and an auto parts dealer.

(Event 7 (negative): A Suspicious Stranger)

The mile’s walk complete, I entered a student-housing enclave which I had deemed days earlier safe to lock a wheel-less bicycle. Immediatly upon reaching the bike, a woman pulled up, inquiring, “so is that your bicycle?” “Yes, is mine…” conveys the response. “It’s yours? It has been here a while…” “Well, not anymore; it’s leaving.” “The neighbors were starting to ask about it…” “[semiwordless response]”. Clearly she was fishing for an apology, and for clues to my strange identity. She continued, “we were hoping someone was coming to pick it up; people were wondering…”

I decided to employ some sarcasm. “Wow, really, was he misbehaving? Was he loud?” The response: “No… do you live here? Are you from around this neighborhood… or…” With this dangling participle let it suffice to say that I was questioned in a most unforceful manner, to the extent that I inconsistently responded. I just wanted my goddamn bike. Having it, I departed for an auto store.

(Event 8 (negative) Battery Ba


Things I like

Cloud shadows moving on mountainsides

Fog

Breezes from open windows

Tailwinds

Pecks on the cheek

Falling asleep to a movie

Violent weather

Freshwater vegetation

Knowing that tree’s identity

Text messages

Complete saturation by rain and not caring

Seeing honeybees

Cheeks that look like kukui nuts

Light sunburn

Gluttony

Fire (in a nonthreatening sort of way)

Getting surprised by art

2nd day soreness after a workout

Irony

Absurdity

Christian monster truck events

Adages (“the nail that sticks out gets hammered back in”)


A moving on (reprise)

Today begins the process of my final departure from this city that I have occupied since Christmas 2006. I remember moving here in a rental car in that unseasonable winter, full of religion, loneliness and fear, and I really am quite amazed to think I am at last leaving for good.

I want to agree with A Moving On that this is the next step in a cumulative journey. It probably is, but today I feel very much that I am leaving the place where I experienced more growth than I had previously or will again.

This afternoon I closed my PO box in the South Salina ghetto. My address was the only thing that remained constant amid five years here. People changed, I lost friends and lovers (but amazingly, no family members). I changed – I lost my religion quite soon after moving into my bare, empty apartment.

This I count as probably the most significant and sweeping change, but then there was an education (not insignificant), an informal education (weeks spent in Bird Library’s philosophy section, failing to comprehend things), eight jobs, five apartments, probably a thousand forgotten elements that built the Za we know today, and of course the girl of my dreams.

Here I first got drunk, here I learned to socialize, here I made and lost friends, here I lived off the grid and avoided arrest… But most significantly, perhaps on par with my religulous sea-change, were the journeys to other places. By bicycle to Chicago and Maine, by thumb to Los Angeles, by aeroplane to China, Russia, and Hawaii, and a thousand times to nearer, more unremarkable places. Yet always I returned, until now.

Is is our context that defines us, and as much as I’ve wished it otherwise, this place is my context. From the watershed event of my life in China, I returned here. When finally I got a job doing foresty things with trees, I kept an address here and returned time and again. Only now do I leave… and though it is high time, an embarrassingly huge part of myself shall always be Syracuse.


A moving-on

This evening I left a bar sort of abruptly. A woman walking in my direction a few hundred feet away was on her cell phone. Crossing the street to avoid her – I do this sometimes – I overheard a fragment of her conversation. She said, “… since I’m leaving and not coming back, I can have closure, like a moving-on…”

Already feeling inclined to pay attention to things like feelings, I considered her words. It’s really quite wonderful to be able to leave a place and not come back, especially a place like Syracuse. Even now, at the advent of spring, I look back at a few times when I supposed that I was leaving and never coming back, and I think they were some of the best times. Leaving and not coming back is a sign that you are not yet dead; that life is evolving; that you are growing.

I considered Dim’s statement in one of his journals, “my bags are packed, and I am ready.” This was, I think, before we set out on our great bike trip. Something about the tolerably cold spring air and the hope for better things makes leaving-times all the more relevant. I picture Dim as the ideal adventurer, confident, lacking fear, and open-eyed as a rule. I envy Dim, Dim who reads this – hello Dim, for his innate ability to have his eyes open to… everything. Insights like the one that appeared on the walk home from the bar are a steady stream for the Dim, who had enough in Russia to fill a whole composition notebook with fables and lore. Insights, these being the signs of growth do not have to progress in any direction, nor do they have to be consistent, indeed they do not even have to make sense. Dim, and many others, grow in this way, in all directions, like a plant exposed to light on every side. It does not grow straight and tall – the knackers get no good timber from this tree – but it grows, and by so growing it survives, and survives, and survives. So long as you have an upwelling of feeling, of insight, you have the indication that growth is taking place. Something, at last, is happening.

Back to real life, and my impulse is to immediately complain that college is now over, and that all the opportunity (indeed, the mandate) to get up and leave for places and whole new life regimes is lost. Oh alas, no longer is there an end of classes to spur me westward for three months, nor the looming cataclysm of graduation to burn completely the ghost of four college years that can carry you no longer.

Again Dim comes to the rescue. At some point in LA I expressed a fear that some day I shall lose the good things I have achieved, namely Brooke who I love, and thereafter become destitute and alone. Dim said something along the lines of how I have only reached higher highs over time, and that things only get batter and by all indications should only improve further. Intention keeps growth from stopping. I (or anyone, really) does not just let life become stagnant and miserable – we seek out new frontiers and, having the intention, invariably achieve them.

It’s a lot like shoes. My shoes, for instance. On this last trip, I brought and eventually disposed of some old boots, leaving me without footwear. Turning my attention toward shoes, I almost immediately upon arriving in LA found some ugly tennis shoes that almost fit me. This happened because I was thinking about getting some shoes; shoes were there and so I noticed and took them. With shoes still on the mind a week later, I noted a pair of almost-new running shoes in a San Francisco garbage can. These I walked in for 15 days and twice as many miles (probably more than they’d seen in their pre-garbage life), and would have gladly kept them, only to find that my mother bought me brand new shoes that fit, not liking the idea that I was wearing garbageshoes.

Shoe-intent brought that series of shoes about, and it’s the same with growth-intent. So long as we hold growth sacred we shall have it. So long as it remains important to us, we will demand change. It may mean the forfeiture of good jobs, family, opportunity, love, treasure, stability, and comfort, but we shall grow. We shall have growth upon growth. There is no atrophy, only the temporary cessation of growth, and if we will it we shall grow and grow again. So long as we desire change we shall have growth.


Ranking faiths and faithful

I like:

Christianity better than Islam,

Judaism better than Christianity,

Hinduism better than Judaisim,

Buddhism better than Hinduism,

and Atheism better than Buddhism.

 

At the same time I like:

Christians better than Muslims,

Hindus better than Christians,

Atheists better than Hindus,

Buddhists better than Atheists

and Jews better than Buddhists.


Rebuttals to Rational Theism – Chapter 6

The book: The Rationality of Theism edited by Paul Copan and Paul K. Moser

Chapter 6 – The Cosmological Argument by William Lane Craig

The cosmological argument is revisited here. The cosmological argument for God‘s existence is an oft-cited, oft-refuted, oft-re-cited logical proof of God‘s existence, which continually calls for a “first cause” or “uncaused cause” or “prime mover” (insert Latin to taste) that set all things in existence. It seeks to answer the question, “why is there nothing instead of something?”

A typical cosmological proof goes something like this:
Premise1: Anything that exists has an explanation, either that it was created by something or is eternal.
Premise2: The universe is a thing and cannot be eternal.
Premise3: The universe exists.
Conclusion1: The universe must have proceeded from something eternal (God).

Or,

Premise4: Anything extant has a beginning.
Premise5: Anything beginning has a cause.
Premise6: The universe exists.
Conclusion2: The universe has a cause (God).

This argument always cites “infinite regress” as something that cannot happen: there cannot be a cause of a cause of a cause, so on forever.

So, since any observation of an extant universe demands a first cause lest it plummet into infinite regress, it continually gets chalked up to God.

According to Zale, that is stupid. So you’re telling me that since the universe “cannot” regress infinitely, we need to just produce some being that can regress infinitely? Remove the title “universe,” bestow the title “God,” and you’ve solved your logical quandary? You’re saying that that which we see existing infinitely is implausible, but that which we do not see, a magical man in the sky who somehow looks and acts and feels like us, is more plausible?

Let’s look at premises 2 and 5. You’re taking a thing that exists, the universe, and telling me that, certainly, they must not have existed before? Since when do we see something and logically equate it with nothing? Does that make sense?

I think that it makes far more sense to say that the universe has always existed. That doesn’t feel great either, but at least it fills the infinite regress hole with something we know to be real.

Maybe, dare I say it, infinite regress doesn’t have to be such a no-no.

Craig writes, “We have, I think we can safely say, a strong intuition of the universe’s contingency [or arising from something else]… We generally trust our modal intuitions on other matters with which we are familiar; if we are to do otherwise with respect to the universe’s contingency, then the atheist needs to provide some reason for such scepticism other than his desire to avoid theism.”

I will provide some reason. Intuition has certainly been known to fail. The realities of this world are often not at all intuitive. Before Van Leeuwenhoek discovered microscopic organisms, it was perfectly intuitive that no such thing existed – all God’s creations were our size. Certainly. It was not even considered otherwise. After Van Leeuwenhoek discovered them, he deemed them “animicules,” or tiny animals. Intuition filled the gap, explaining that these animicules inevitably grew to the size of the humans and giraffes with which people were familiar. Because, of course, it was intuitive that all of God’s creation was present on the earth in observable form, according to the doctrine of preformation. Certainly to the alchemist it was intuitive that all materials were fundamentally alike; that no invisible building blocks made up matter and the elements. And to us, now, it is intuitive that the Earth is a static place, not that we and our planet are composed of the same “star stuff” that, according to E=mc^2, is really just the same as energy. No, because we intuit something does not make it correct. Because we do not intuit it does not make it false.

Given strides made in cosmology as a physical science, we can confidently say that the beginnings of the universe are not intuitive and certainly not as dumbed-down, preposterously simplified and emotionalized as a loving yet angry God-man who created the earth and gave us an absurd and contradictory account thereof.

Reality, we see, does not follow our on-Earth tunnel vision. The big bang, budding universes, entropy and the reconciliation of entropy with eternity, light as a particle and a wave simultaneously… these things have all been explained by physics — not perfectly, but far more plausibly than a loose-ends God. If anyone gives a shit, I will gladly revisit works of popular cosmology and explain them.

So, in short, the cosmological argument (in my opinion the best positive argument for God) appeals to the authority of our intuitions, indeed our desires that the universe came from something comprehensible. Hopefully, say we, something that gives us meaning. The argument works well within those walls, but certainly the universe does not live within them.