Welcome

Your mission, should you choose to accept it……

Sorry guys, girls and other genders (whatever that means?), you may recognise the title of this introduction from Mission Impossible, and...

Friday, 31 May 2019

Is there anybody out there?


There were a few reasons for starting this blog.  Firstly, I do look at all the religious fervour out there and sometimes wonder if I have missed something.  So far, every time I interact with anyone who has a religious belief, I come away both puzzled at their belief, and strengthened in my own, but who can say that this will always be the case?

Secondly, there is a lot of extremism out there.  The kind of stuff that is on our news reports every day about intolerant people who persecute others because of differing thought processes.  I think we all (me included), need to be a lot more understanding, and that will only happen if we recognise our similarities and shared needs.  This is not to say that if some person chooses to stand up and spout their particular brand of hellfire and damnation that they should not be questioned.  In fact, offering rational alternatives to such outpourings must be our best defence against them.  Long live cynicism in this context.  Whatever works for one individual in terms of belief is fine, so long as they do not force this on others.

It’s quiet here, damned quiet, but I will continue to monitor this blog from time to time, and I will answer all replies.  If you are out there and feel the need of a belief based conversation, feel free to start one here.

Stone.

Monday, 25 March 2019

A conversation with Ashleigh


Ashleigh was kind enough to reply to my ramblings.  To prevent the blog from becoming a single continuous stream, I have moved the resulting conversation here as a separate post and I have de.  I hope Ashleigh does not mind this?


Unknown9 February 2019 at 00:16
Hey there, I hope you're doing well this evening (or morning, or afternoon haha)! I found your blog on a bunny trail from nakedpastor.com. This is quite an interesting journey to be on (and honestly I think we should all critically examine our faith or lack thereof). You raise a lot of valid questions and concerns that I'm sure one who is so inclined could go back and forth on with you, probably ending in a stalemate (because I'm sure you've probably heard just about every argument in the book lol). Rather than trying to parse your post and make an argument for why I believe whatever I believe (which I am most likely woefully unqualified to do, haha), I would issue you a challenge in the same spirit as the one you start and end your post with: Challenge God directly. Literally, without subscribing to any variation of God in particular, throw some variation of this into the universe: “God if you’re real, reveal yourself to me, and tell/show me which God you are.”
I hope this doesn’t seem dismissive of all of the very real issues you are pondering, because that is not my intention at all. Here is my thinking: if all the bible passages you read and lifelong religious socialization you’ve described could make you a “true convert”, then you wouldn’t have written this post in the first place. Therefore, I can’t imagine that any argument that a person representing any religion could present to you here would fare any better (of course, I don't know you so I could be dead wrong lol). SOOOOOOOO, I figure if there is a sentient, omnipotent, omnipresent “Creator God,” then He/She/They/It is powerful enough to answer you. And if He/She/They/It is as in love with you as “christians” are supposed to believe (I can’t speak for any other religions because like you, I come from a christianized culture and so have no authority on other belief systems), then He (all the other pronouns were becoming laborious haha) should really want you to know Him, right? He would be just itching to talk to you in some way, I’d imagine. If he is infinite, your questions/concerns/contradictions wouldn’t phase Him in the least.
Then, once you receive an answer (this may or may not be a booming voice from heaven, haha), if God is found to be real, start GRILLING him with all the stuff you mentioned in your post. Really let Him have it. Be real about everything. See what he says/reveals. Side note, I have no idea how or when such a God would speak to you or reveal Himself to you specifically, so be on the lookout, I guess? :P
And if there is no God, well then, you have nothing to lose, I suppose.
So this is my contribution to your journey. I hope that this wasn’t weird or repellant (haha), and that you continue down your spiritual path and end up precisely where you were meant to be. If you want to have some discussions, feel free to reach out (or not, it’s up to you bro :)).


Stone12 February 2019 at 08:25
Hello Unknown, whoever you are. Thanks for the reply. I like your style of writing. It is so much less oppressive that all the 'believe or else' stuff that I was brought up with. As you can probably tell, hellfire and damnation featured heavily in my religious training.
The reason I set up this blog is because I was, and still am spiritually inquisitive, although I have come to believe that when I die, whatever spirit I possess either lives on in the memory of others, or dies with me. I am open to be proved wrong in all this, and still dip into religious texts from time to time. I still don't get it though! I presume too that if God was going to talk to me he would have done it by now. I searched in earnest for long enough.
You may be right then, I may well be a lost cause so far as religion is concerned, I tend towards thinking that I have all the answers that I need, but I think it is good to leave the door open. :-)
Stone

P.S. Sorry for taking 3 days to post this. Your message ended up in the emails spam folder, and I did not notice. I'll have to keep an eye on that!

ashguyot13 February 2019 at 23:28
Hello Stone!
Thank you for your reply to my reply, haha! My name is Ashley : ). I am unfamiliar with blogger, so I wasn't sure how to make sure my name was added before I submitted my post 😅 (I also tend toward medium to heavy emoji use to make sure my tone is conveyed, so please bear with me if I overdo it lol). I sent this message as an email, but I thought I'd post it as a comment as well, just in case.
I tend to believe that a God that would create a sentient, free-willed creature capable of love (and free to reject) like humans wouldn't have created us to institute a religion, but to have a deep relationship. I also think that fear based "hell and damnation" "conversions" are unstable and ineffective, especially with the wealth of knowledge we have available to us now. I hope my post didn't discourage you from your path though! I firmly believe that because you're seeking, the God that loves you will be found. Perhaps He (again, "he" is just an easy shorthand pronoun) has spoken to you, but you didn't realize it was him (there is probably a specific way he communicates with you; maybe dreams, music, nature, books, images, thoughts, video games, circumstances, etc). Or maybe he had to get you out from under what was an oppressive religious system (as it seems from your post) and dust all that debris off of you so you can encounter him from a pure place, unencumbered by religious baggage and expectation(which a lot of people have to unload later in life). It may still be a good exercise to just throw the question out there again ("Are you there God? It's me, Stone" lol---10 points if you recognize that reference 😄), now that you are moving away from the religion of your childhood.
In any case, having an open door, heart, and mind to whatever the truth may be is perfect! The spiritual journey is a continuum designed to lead us to an intimate friendship with God, and it unfolds over a lifetime, so there is still plenty of time for Him to talk to you (even if it seems like He should've done it by now 😉).
Just so my own position is clear (in the interest of full disclosure), I would fall under the "Christian" category, though I have always emphasized developing a relationship with God over following religious dictates (which are so easily used to abuse). I didn't grow up in a church, nor was christianity forced on me by my family, so I suppose I've had the luxury of an organically grown love for Jesus. I believe that God wants you to know Him more than you want to know him, and he's actively seeking you out (which can also be seen in the fact that you are still spiritually inquisitive and open to the possibility of Him, and you put up a post inviting discussion and the opportunity to convert you). I don't think it's necessary to beat you over the head with fear-based arguments, because if God is real, His love is more than sufficient to woo you.
AAAAAANYWAY I get real bold at 11pm, Haha, writing these long messages when I should be sleeping 😁. I'm praying for you bro (or sis, or other, haha). If you ever want to discuss anything at all, feel free to reach out (no pressure, of course lol). If I never hear from you again, I hope you will have a beautiful, fruitful life, and I hope to see you on the other side some day! 😄 (hope that's not too weird or hippy-dippy lol)

Best regards,
Ashley


Stone7 March 2019 at 02:49
Sorry, I had to Google the reference. It must be: Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret, by Judy Blume?
The score then stands at:
Google = 10 points
Stone = 0 points
;-)
ashguyot8 March 2019 at 11:28
Haha! I'll give you 5 points for that; it was an open book test anyway ;).

As a side note, I apologize that it is taking me so long to reply to your previous comment; life is preventing me from sitting down and formulating the thoughtful answer you deserve, but I haven't abandoned the conversation! I SHALL RETURN! Haha :D In the meantime, I hope you had a wonderful trip!


Stone14 February 2019 at 08:07
Hi Ashley,

Firstly, you are right, when talking of God, assigning a gender is important for we humans in our communication, but probably an irrelevance when talking of an omnipotent being. He, him or any variation of this is fine to get a point across.
You talk about God speaking to people, by which (and I hope I'm not assuming too much here?), I assume you mean that person making sense of the world around them. This has always been one of the key reasons for religion, of whatever flavour. In that respect, when I was on my initial quest many years ago I did have, (to use a word with good religious derivations), something of an epiphany; a revelation.
I thought long and hard on the many, many questions that my Bible reading had brought up, then had a flash of inspiration. Unfortunately, this did not bring me to God, as I had naively expected, but in totally the opposite direction! Don’t get me wrong, that does not mean that I am a Satan worshiper or anything, because logic dictates that if you reject the existence of a God, then his nemesis also disappears by the same logic. The world changes from the polar view of light and dark, good and bad, opening up into all sorts of shades and variations. In fact, I am a lot happier living with the belief I have than I ever was with church imposed ones.
In that respect we are probably not so far apart in our beliefs as you might expect. I am male, have been happily married for many years (with the usual trials and tribulations along the way). We walk a lot, and enjoy the coast and mountains near our home, the changing seasons, the bird song and all the rest of the natural wonders that we are fortunate enough to have on our doorstep. Possibly my only difference from you is that I do not ascribe their existence to God. As I have said before though, I am far from the smartest person who ever walked the planet, so do sometimes wonder if I have missed some simple point, hence this blog. Remember that I was only 13 or 14 when I came to this belief, and knowing now just how thick and incompetent I was at that age (I’m not much better now), I am sometimes amazed that I managed to come to such a conclusion that has proved to be so resilient, hence my periodic visits back to the religious front line.
There is a guy in work whom I am now happy to call a friend. He attends a local creationist church (they are quite evangelical), and when he discovered a real live atheist in his midst, he set out to convert me. Our encounters were at first a little hostile, then deteriorated into some exasperation, then at last came acceptance (one both our parts, even if we still cannot comprehend the others viewpoint). He went through many of the simpler arguments for God. Morality came up, the creation, etc. etc. He even had his pastor involved at one point. I’m glad we got past this, because he is one of the world’s good guys. His views on religion being from a strict creationist viewpoint are somewhat narrow and a little simplistic though (in my opinion), and he has never been able to explain much to me in terms other than a fear of eternity.
I have all sorts of questions that I would like to ask you Ashleigh but will limit this to one. Feel free to ignore it, or to tell me to clear off if the need arises. I’m trying to understand the ‘why’ part of your belief.
1) What does your belief give you that you found lacking beforehand?
Thanks,

Stone


ashguyot19 February 2019 at 13:45
Hi Stone,
Please forgive my late reply to your comment! I hope you've been well in the meantime, and enjoying the lovely nature you described above (of which I am quite jealous--I've been feeling the deep need to escape the city to the peace of the trees, haha)! This will be a 2-part response because it's so long haha.
Working backwards through your comment, I will start by answering your question. Before I do, I would like to mention that after our last conversation, I did ask myself (and God, I suppose, haha) why do I believe in God in general, and the christian concept of God specifically. I ask myself these sorts of questions periodically; the why, and what if God doesn't exist (or what if He was of the complete opposite character and earth was a hell-scape :D). I don't have a radical conversion story like some, and I haven't had the wild supernatural experiences that are so effective in bringing people to faith in God (yet ;)). I think this ties into your question of what belief has provided that was lacking before, and I also think it may be partially why it can be hard for those of us who have generally pleasant, productive lives and who are generally good people to see a personal need for God or a reason for Him to exist at all. I was having a miniature existential crisis as I was asking why I believe, when an answer came to me that I'm not smart enough to have come up with myself (and therefore I believe that God spoke/revealed it to me. It also lit upon my mind in a way that I am coming to attribute to how God speaks to me personally, which was that of a "word impression"; not a full sentence or clearly spoken words, but something of a word concept with no images, which is not how my thinking works, haha. Sorry if that sounds cuckoo, it's challenging for me to explain). What I understood was that, at a very basic level, I believe in God because I have an honest relationship with Him that has been cultivated (primarily by Him) since childhood. Now before you dismiss me completely (:D), this is not so far fetched. We know that there are billions of living people that exist on the earth today; we see evidence of them, there are reliable equations that calculate our numbers and estimate our growth as a species. But that can all be very abstract in the day to day, as we go about our pleasantly productive lives. But there was a time in your life that your spouse was just part of that abstraction, who had no bearing on how you lived, thought, or viewed your life. In a very real sense, your spouse didn't exist, you didn't believe in them, they weren't real.
Until they were.
ashguyot19 February 2019 at 13:45
[con't]
Until you met them, and began to grow and deepen in your relationship and understanding of them. If your encounter with them had been nothing more than a passing glance on a crowded street of other people, they quickly would've slipped back into non-existence and would have no further impact on your life. Or perhaps, if they were particularly attractive, they would stay in your mind's eye for awhile, maybe even form the basis for what you are physically attracted to and what you seek out in the future. But still, they would have no real meaning in your life, and you would continue to be pleasantly productive, not feeling a lack or need for them. But because you and your spouse (or even just your best friend) stopped and invested years of committed time into getting to know each other, you know that they're real, and you know their personality. You know them intimately. As the years add up in your relationship, you can probably guess what they'd like or hate, you have a general understanding of why they do the things they do, and you can probably sniff out when someone is telling a lie about them or misrepresenting their character. Of course you don't know every single thing about them, but you know enough to spend life happily and grow together (you learn more each day). Because you know them intimately, you can walk into the home you share with them and see all the little evidences of their existence–the way they arranged the pictures on the wall just so, the "Honey-do" list on the fridge, their lingering scent–that a stranger wouldn't pick up on. And if someone tries to tell you they don't exist just because they aren't physically present in the house, you'd of course tell them they're wrong, maybe even try and show them all the little proofs of your life with them. To the unacquainted stranger, your spouse is nothing more than a concept, and unless they develop their own relationship, they are only taking you at your word that they exist. (And you could represent your spouse to them any way you want, for good or ill, and they would have no personal experience to base their understanding of them on besides that representation.)
So what does your (happy & thriving) relationship with your spouse give you that you were lacking beforehand?
In a very similar way, what my belief gives that was lacking beforehand is that relationship, with all of its ups and downs. It's been a slow "getting to know/trust/love you." Of course, there are fantastic promises attached to that relationship (love, peace, a hope and a future, an eternity, as you've heard, among other things), but the real draw is the love and acceptance and "settled-ness" in the heart.
Whew, that was really, really long. My apologies, haha! I'll stop here for now, but I did want to drop a little nugget regarding creation: I heard it said once, that the bible (and its account of creation) is God's signature on creation, and science is the study for how He did it. So the bible=who, science=how. I personally have a reeeeally hard time believing that all the complexities of existence, from the vastness of universe down to the neurons of a human brain, came out of absolute nothingness. That takes way more faith to me than believing that an immeasurably vast intelligence at least got the ball rolling (from "Let there be light" to the big bang is not that far of a stretch, haha). And there is so much in the universe that we as a species don't know (if I'm remembering correctly, we haven't even totally explored the oceans on our own planet), that there is no possible way we can totally rule out the existence of a creator God.
Anyway, I'd better stop there for real this time, or I'll start writing a book haha. I'd be very interested in hearing your hard questions (at least one by one, haha), because I think they'll help me as well (and it also makes for interesting thinking ;D)
Best Regards,
Ashley

Stone20 February 2019 at 02:27
Hi Ashley,
Firstly may I say many thanks for continuing this conversation.  No apologies are necessary for the long post, and I am simply glad to be able to tap into your experience.
There is, as you say, a lot of information in your posts, so I too will need a little time to let this sink in and to formulate a response that does not sound too ill conceived. My first reaction was that we are entering philosophical territory here. There is that old question about how we know things. "If a tree falls in a forest and there is no one around, does it make a sound?" It initially sounds like a very stupid question, but its implications are quite deep. I will reply shortly when I have had time to consider.
Thanks once more,
Stone

Stone21 February 2019 at 08:25
Hello again Ashley,
Sorry, this one is long too, so I also will have to do two posts!
Chapter 1.
It’s good to know that I am not the only person who likes to question their beliefs from time to time. I think there are far too many people out there who either blindly accept what they are told, or do not care to think about such things, or who come to a belief and then stick rigidly to it like the proverbial square peg in a round hole because they are afraid they may have been wrong in the first place. On length, no problem. Detail is always going to be better than a lack thereof.
This is a bit of an aside but …… A few years ago, a very loud and very evangelistic preacher appeared in the city where I work. She was audible for blocks from whatever vacant doorway she took over for her ministrations. I passed her once and noticed a homeless person just a few doorways down. Now he appeared to be in a pretty bad state from drugs or whatever, and I would never give cash directly since that is likely to fuel rather than cure such addictions. For the record, I do support a local homeless charity, and have nothing but admiration for their staff and volunteers. They do a very difficult and thankless job. She, like most of us ignored him, preferring to harangue passers-by with their obvious sins. As I walked by she shouted a comment at me. I replied with a reference; 1st John, 3:18. I had to repeat this as she tried to correct me with the more commonly loved Christian quote from John 3:16. She then proceeded to look it up whilst shouting ‘Hallelujah’ and ‘Praise Be’, as she leafed through looking for the verse. When she found it, she read it in increasing puzzlement, but at least she was quiet for a while! I’m afraid that I keep that and a few other references handy to make such people think. It is amazing how many of them have little or no bible knowledge.
I’m going to quote you here Ashley , “was having a miniature existential crisis as I was asking why I believe, when an answer came to me that I'm not smart enough to have come up with myself (and therefore I believe that God spoke/revealed it to me”. That could almost have been written by me, except for the fact that my bible reading led me to disbelief. The moment of clarity when it all made sense must have been very similar though.
OK, back to the tree in a forest question (Google tells me that it was the Philosopher George Berkeley who devised this question BTW). This is complex stuff, so bear with me if my descriptive powers fall short. The real questions (in this context) are:-
1) Does the world only exist for humans to experience, i.e. is it of our own making?
2) Since we experience things through our senses, can we generalise from this to postulate that all the world behaves in the same way?
Stone21 February 2019 at 08:25
Chapter 2.
Now the next step. How do we know about God? Our 5 normal senses are out on this one, so we are left with whatever teaching and wisdom we have from others, and the kind of personal experience that you talk of. Your analogy of a person’s existence or lack thereof before and after you personally know them is a little flawed I think? It only works if you believe the tree falling in the forest makes no sound. Yet, even though I cannot at this precise moment see my wife or my home, I know that both exist because I can go to them and see or touch or use any of my other senses to know that they exist. I can therefore extrapolate from this direct experience that they exist outside of me and have an existence all of their own. The same, unfortunately, is not true of God. I cannot ever experience him directly through any of my senses, and would have to presume that whatever I attribute to him is an actuality. This is a belief, and is unlikely to ever be a provable fact unless anyone ever submits the supposed miracles, talking in voices or other spiritual manifestations to be proved by physical science. Now I am aware too that science has its problems. It works on theories and models. Scientific theories are held until our knowledge progresses far enough to modify or replace them, but they are frequently far from perfect. We could argue science and its failings for just as long as we could do the same for religion, but I am not a scientist so cannot get too far into that one.
There was an interesting study published many years ago by a professor from the States called Harold Garfinkel. He described a phenomena that he has observed in the way people rationalise the things around them (from memory he called it ‘The Documentary Method). To show this, he set up a mock student counselling program where he told students that to prevent bias from the councillor, they would not be able to see them, and could only get yes or no answers to their questions. The order of the yes or no answers given was randomly preconfigured so was totally unrelated to the student’s particular problems. Despite this, in post counselling interviews, students reported that the sessions were very helpful in helping them with their problems. In other words, we humans rationalise external experiences to fit our pre-conceived notions. In all probability, I do this too.
The problem with belief in God is that unless we strictly follow the teachings of one of the world’s many religious texts, then we are to a greater or lesser extent inventing the God that we believe in. For the reasons given above this cannot be, because if he is real, then surely there must be a commonality of belief and experience? This harks back to the point I made in my opening piece that historically and fundamentally, all belief is based on a Bible. The argument then returns to all the points made previously. Which Bible? Who decides which bits are true and which are mere stories? Etc. etc. I have never got past this impasse except through my current beliefs (some would say a lack of belief).
I hope this makes some kind of sense?
Stone
P.S. I will be away from 23rd Feb for a week, and may not get a chance to monitor the blog.

Friday, 1 February 2019

Your mission, should you choose to accept it……


Sorry guys, girls and other genders (whatever that means?), you may recognise the title of this introduction from Mission Impossible, and I suppose that what I am asking may well be that, but let’s see what happens.  I have to admit that I just don’t get it?  I mean religion and all that.  It’s not that I don’t know what it is about, I was brought up in a strict, Christian household, I attended their Sunday schools, church and all that, but couldn’t see what there was to believe in.  My father was involved in the running of the church so we, his children, were told all the stories, had the bible readings etc. but as a child all I saw were the solemn faces and the abject boredom when the sermon came.
Yet in a recent TV program I watched, the statistic that 20% of Brazilians now identify themselves as evangelical Christians came up.  That surprised me; I mean one in five people?  There is evidence everywhere that religion in our society is alive and flourishing, and I cannot help but wonder if I have missed something?

There was nothing joyous about the church I grew up in, and I saw too the contradictions as only a child can.  The teachings about renouncing wealth that were flaunted by the list produced in the church magazine each year showing the highest donors, few of whom chose to remain anonymous.  We were being taught that only our religion was the true one, but this was the 60’s and the world was opening up to Buddhism, Hinduism and a whole host of other religions.  I could not understand how you had to believe in Christ to be saved, yet so many people in so many countries over so many years had never even heard of him so never had a chance.  I saw too that the reason I had a Christian upbringing was because I lived in a Christian household in a predominantly Christian country.  Had I been born in India, my religious training would have been very different, so how could I know if what I had been taught was even true in the first place?

What too of the plethora of Christian denominations?  If there was one truth, why was there this variety, and how could they all be right?  Then there is the difference between the old and new testaments.  Why did the rules change when God is supposed to be omnipotent and the truth eternal?  And, if he created everything, where did evil come from?  Next came a big question when I was old enough to realise that this choice even existed.  Which Bible?  There is more than one Christian bible, and the books included or excluded from each differ.  Why?

So, in my teens I decided to read the Bible (the King James Version, because that is what I was brought up with), because I had been taught that if you read this book with an open heart God would give you the answers.  I came away from that exercise even more confused than before!  Eventually though after a huge amount of thought I came to the belief that I now have.  Being based on the refutation of what I was taught it’s pretty nihilistic.  These are a few of the more important conclusions that I came up with.

Firstly, I have to admit that I agree with Creationists on one point.  I am not qualified to decide which parts of the Bible are to be believed and which bits are untrue or are mere stories (parables excepted here of course, because that point is made clear in the book).  This means that either the whole book is true; in every word and nuance, or none of it is.  Here the Creationists and I part company, because there are far too many contradictions in the Bible for me to believe it.

Secondly, an obvious truth brought about by a recognition that the Bible is unbelievable.  There are some things that you cannot know.  Our knowledge is expanding, but neither I nor anyone else on this planet knows everything.  For example on one key religious argument, creation.  I have rejected the Bible, so do not believe that God created the world, but I have nothing to substitute in place of that.  At a simple level, either God or something (the Universe perhaps?) has always existed.  Just as Christians cannot say why God has always been there, I cannot explain why the other something has always been there.  The only difference between Christian belief and mine is that I do not ascribe a spiritual element to that something.  There is a second implication in this.  All Christian belief is based on the Bible.  If it is not true, neither is Christianity.

Obviously the discussion above is based on Christian belief.  This is because I am familiar with it.  I am open to trying to understand other religions (other than Klingon or some of the other more ridiculous ones), but if you would like to try to explain those beliefs to me you are going to have to start at a very basic level.

So, back to the title of this introduction.  Your mission, should you choose to accept it is to show me the error of my ways.  If you can provide a good killer argument in favour of belief, I am more than happy to hear it, just don’t expect me not to ask further questions should the need arise.

RULES OF ENGAGEMENT

1)       Keep it polite and non-confrontational
2)      I have set the blog so that all comments are moderated to ensure that rule 1 is adhered to.  However I guarantee that if your post is on subject, understandable, and does not break rule 1 it will be posted for all to see.
3)      I’m using the name Stone here (as in Stone the Disbeliever; a Monty Python reference for those who do not know).  I also thought this name had another angle, since Peter was supposed to be the rock on which Christianity would be built.  So if you can come up with a good reason that will convert me from Stone to Rock, I’m  waiting.