Monday, January 27, 2014

Who Wants To Be Stupid?

How silly believe in that old graybeard man in the sky! Except we shouldn't forget to ask: who really believes that? Children, maybe.
Folk theology is of course simplistic. Most people aren't scholars and philosophers. They need things dumbed down a bit.
"An apple a day keeps the doctor away." Just a bit of folk wisdom or folk medicine. Don't take that too literally. Apple eaters get appendicitis or other ailments just as everyone else does.
What is being distilled there is the fact that good nutrition bolsters overall good health.
In this same vein I just finished reading one of the most ridiculous atheist articles on prayer ever. If you would like to read it click the link "The Impotency Of Prayer."
I live in a bastion of Christian fundamentalism and I don't know that I've ever known anyone who approached prayer in such a manner. It is folk theology expanded beyond what most folks ever dreamed about.
Have you ever noticed how most Bible-thumper-bashing atheists read their Bible more woodenly than the fundamentalists they attack? 
I don't say that article is totally without merit. There is some food for thought there for any God believer. But come on! Why not just say what you mean: Anyone who believes in the value of prayer is an idiot?

Atheists are wicked and religious people are idiots. And so the dialogue doesn't continue, doesn't even begin. Now that's stupid.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

How To Eat Bullshit

"Bullshit tastes better in small bites," so wrote not only a nonbeliever in the God hypotheses, but a person who is obviously an incredible boor as well.
I was reading the deconversion story of person who left a lifetime of atheism for the Catholic Church. Interesting. As I wrote last time out, I enjoy reading stories about conversions and deconversions. I enjoy trying to understand how the changes take place. 
I well remember how, at the tender of age of 10, I slid out of my pew during a fire and brimstone revival sermon and made official what had been true about me all my life: I "accepted" a particular version of the Jesus story.
Deconverting was a much longer process. It took years, with frequent starts, stalls, regresses, and stops. At last the process was complete - or was it? I can't honestly say. I'm reminded of the words of Francis Bacon:  "A little philosophy inclineth man's mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy bringeth men's minds about to religion."  
I'm more and more finding myself on the road back. But that's me. 
Bullshit in this matter, I suppose, is a matter of personal taste. To the boor I cited above belief in God is the bullshit. To the believer it is the denial which is bullshit.
For my part I've dined on both and wasn't aware at the time of the meal of a bad taste or troubled digestion with either, which leads me to believe that there's something wrong with the analogy. 
When I was a lad in church we often sang the old Fanny Crosby hymn Rescue the Perishing, with one of it's refrains being: "Rescue the perishing, duty demands it" And I suppose on whichever side of the God question one stands there is in most folks a sense of that duty.
Why else would be believers and unbelievers heckle the dining habits of each other?
Now I'm more inclined to embrace doubt and to observe the trickiness of the workings of the human mind. The boors are those on either side who think it can all be boiled down to so simple a concept as eating bullshit. It goes much deeper than that.
The real bullshit is how easy it is for us to become smug about our own worldview.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Stories We Tell

I enjoy reading conversion and deconversion stories. I've told my own several times over my years of blogging. Honestly, it seems I have changed emphasis over time. In the deepest of my anti-religion days I emphasized the intellectual difficulties I had with my faith. Now that years of living have mellowed me out a bit on the subject, I am more willing to admit the weight my emotions have had on my story.
In no way was I consciously trying to misrepresent my story. But I recognize that where I stood at the time heavily influenced how I narrated my journey.
Always I was aware we humans are great rationalizers. I don't think it is different in how we form or adhere to our worldviews. The person who is deeply inclined to believe in God will find a way to do it. Likewise, I believe, those who are strongly anti-religious can pull together the full force of emotional and intellectual arguments against their God belief - and they will often have little patience with those (like me) who don't see things the same way.
My best lady friend has been an interesting study for me. She is totally apathetic about religion. It never played the slightest factor in her upbringing, and she never dabbled in it as an adult. She is not at all anti-religion, denies being atheistic, but has frankly told me on a number of occasions that she doesn't understand religion, especially the Bible - which she has never once read. Although she freely admits she just doesn't know about God (probably tends to accept the concept in some vague manner as a default mechanism), I don't think it be fair to call her agnostic because she has never given the matter enough thought to even say "I don't know whether or not it's possible to have knowledge of God."
She is, however, a firm believer in the popular notion of Karma, or "what goes around comes around."
Back to my own story. It was simple enough for me when I wasn't aware of the alternate worldviews out there. Actually, always being a bit of a freethinker, as a youth I was quite animistic. However, my parent's religious fundamentalism overlaid that somewhat. I always had my youthful questions and problems ("who made God?" and so forth), but accepted the obvious fact that I was young and largely unlearned.
The major life-events I experienced (my parent's divorce and then years later my divorce from my high school sweetheart and "soul mate") really led to some soul-searching. My religious impulse is deeply ingrained. It is who I am, who I always was, even in my most rebellious and doubting times. I've finally come to a peaceful acceptance of that fact. But my religious impulse or spiritual nature can be summed in one thing: my feelings about how I personally relate to the greater reality. Thus "organized religion" can be problematic for me personally, although I understand full well the power of religious community (or even non-religiously speaking, community of like-minded thinkers).
Perhaps I just don't remember my story so well. It's hard to condense a life's journey into several short paragraphs, or even a few blog posts. There are many strands of thought that are woven into the tapestry of who I am emotionally and intellectually.
I suppose that's why I'm not keen on trying to convert others. It's easier to speak for myself and to link up with others who have felt some of the same things I have felt or experienced some of what I have. And I don't mind linking with those of a different bent so long as we all recognize how complex is the human mind from which we attempt to make sense of things. The older I get the more distaste I garner for rigid modes of thought.
But that's just me...

Monday, January 20, 2014

MLK Jr. On The Roles Of Science And Religion

I'm old enough to remember when Martin Luther King Jr., was a force on the American scene. Well do I remember that sad day in April 1968 when his life came to a tragic and violent end. We children were sent home early from school as the smell of unrest hung thickly in the air.
King's liberalism - both socially and religiously - was not widely admired here in the southern United States. In fact, it isn't widely popular here today. But our country remembers King at this time every year, and I do too - although I only came to really appreciate his wisdom years after his death,
MLK Jr. was a religious leader, moral philosopher, as well an activist for civil rights. It is fair to say that his spirituality gave an impetus to his his broader objectives and work.
As my remembrance I'm posting the following words of his, which so eloquently resonate with me:
Science investigates; religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge, which is power; religion gives man wisdom, which is control. Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals mainly with values. The two are not rivals.
That is where I stand. That is how I view the matter. I want to do what I feel is important because it is the right thing for me to do. King's spiritual outlook was his driving force. He can serve as example. 

Friday, January 17, 2014

Christian Naivete

Recently at another blog I used my fundamentalist Christian mom as an example of Christian naivete - unquestioning, totally immersed and comfortable in her faith. A reader left a response that I didn't particularly care for. Not that I was offended, really. But it did get me thinking about Christian naivete.
My parents weren't scholars. Most people aren't. They were in large part a product of their culture. So was I.
They weren't cowards for not looking outside the confines of their faith. They placed great stock in the ability of well-versed Bible scholars and theologians to iron out the logical difficulties of their faith. They accepted religious authority. Neither of my parents were afraid to admit they didn't know the answers to perplexing religious questions. But that ignorance didn't persuade to them to bail out of their religious community.
No, they didn't spend their little free time reading "infidel" literature or listening to atheist or agnostic apologists. I don't think this was fear on their part at all, nor a desire to remain ignorant. It would be more like a believer in modern evolution theory taking the time to read creationist literature. What would be the point? They weren't "anti-science," even though they had no patience with science as a weapon to use against religion. (Of course it goes without saying that this line wasn't very well defined.)
Religious apologists have read the masters of unbelief and have "answered" their criticisms already. Those perplexed can look there. And sometimes my parents did.
Apologists for non-belief have tackled the works of the authorities on religious faith and have responded adequately for their community of nonbelievers. The average atheist or agnostic spends little time reading religious apologetics nor have they a real need to. .
Evangelical atheists and agnostics know their Bibles (at least superficially) better than the average Christian. They take great pride in that.
They also miss the point. Christianity is a religious tradition based on an attitude about life instead of logical postulates. It is a matter of the heart (emotions), not the head (logic). Jesus summed up the whole of religious belief in two points: (1) love God supremely and (2) love your fellow humans. Christians are followers of Jesus.
As I read and reread the orthodox version of Jesus (that is to say, the Jesus of the four canonical gospels), I am struck with the thought that Jesus would not have made a good fundamentalist. His religion was more practical than theological. And even an atheist philosopher like Betrand Russell could offer: "What the world needs is love, Christian love, or compassion."
Yes, there is a Christian naivete. My mom is naive, so was my dad, and so was I at one time. But I can embrace my mom and did my dad because I believe compassion is of greater value than mere knowledge alone.


Wednesday, January 15, 2014


How much better off financially I am today over those hardscrabble days of my youth!
I know where my next meal is coming from (not sure for how many days I can make that boast....). I am warm, sheltered, and dressed. I have a little (literally a little) money in the bank.
I think I am rich compared to my childhood.
One childhood memory which is deeply etched in mind was a certain evangelist who often preached revivals in the Church of God my family attended when I was young.
I can't remember the theme of single sermon he preached. I guess they were too similar to the steady diet of holiness theology we feasted upon. But I do remember that at least once in every revival (and usually more often) he would find a place in the middle of one his sermons to sing this little ditty (in his off-key manner) about being a millionaire. "My father is rich in houses and land and I'm his heir." And at the point of the song he would lift his bony finger to point towards the sky (or at least the ceiling of the church), while the motion lifted his suit coat and displayed his ill-fitting dress slacks, which hung off his butt like a floppy cape.
Don't ask me how or why that is the memory I have of old Preacher Giles, but it is. Kids notice the oddest things.
At about this same period of my life my mom, who was a vocal soloist at the church (as well as part of the lady's trio), used to sing a song that said she was "poor as a beggar, but I'm rich as a king." She sung it a lot. Again, with a child mind's I heard "I'm poor as a baker...." I didn't understand that one. But looking back now I can understand how pained my mom was that her family didn't have nice things (or even often enough to eat) like most of her friends at the church. Mom and Dad took care of her parents until they died after lengthy illnesses.
My hungry youth left a mark on me. I'm a saver. My ex-wife used to jokingly call me "Squeaky." Truth is, I never want to go to bed cold and hungry again. Not if I can help it.
At the same time, my happiness doesn't come from things. I've been trying to whittle down my abundance of possession for some time now. I rarely buy a book anymore (my biggest weakness), unless I really, really want to read it. I don't keep a deep wardrobe, desiring rather to be neat instead of fancy. I keep staples in my pantry but only "stock up" if I find a good sale. Time to simplify. I may live for many more years or I may not. But I'm wanting to travel more lightly now. I don't want to leave a mess for others to clean up when I die.
I'm rich. I have what I need and many more of my wants than is reasonable. We often forget in these wealthy nations how well we have it compared to much of the world.

You know what? When I think back to my childhood, to that drafty and very poorly insulated house of ours, where we piled every blanket in the house on our beds and then Mom would get her dress coats and lay them on top of that, when our meals consisted sometimes of oatmeal every morning for breakfast, sugar sandwiches for lunch, and beans, potatoes and cornbread for supper  - when I think back and recall  how I felt having my family all together - I wasn't poor at all. Oh, to be that rich again!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Arguing With Atheists

I don't.
The most I will do, usually, is just explain my reasoning for not considering myself one.
I have a conviction that the will to believe or disbelieve is one which is much, much deeper than intellectual argumentation. Some don't believe that, but I do.
At one point in my life I've been on either side of the fence in the God debate. My brief bout of atheism was brief because it was a violent reaction against the form of theism I was raised in, which formed the basis of my religious ideas at the time. (That form of theism no longer serves as the bedrock for my belief system.)
I have atheist friends and we get along fine. I respect their beliefs, am challenged by some of their more searching problems with religion (although I think most of them rely too much on cliches and stereotypes), and am pained to add that they don't seem quite so kindly turned towards my beliefs. In fact, I find the most dyed-in-the-wool atheists to be every bit as evangelistic and condescending as the fundamentalist religious believer.
There is in my thinking no room for an idea of God which has it that there is a single way to believe; that if one is unable to "find the right path" that person will damned eternally because of that inability. I have no patience with forms of religion that divides humanity and encourage hate.
There is another aspect of the way I think. I seriously doubt we humans are as smart as we think we are. Doubt is an ever present element of my thought processes. I'm reconciled to the fact that my best thinking may be in error, and I'm fine with that.
That being the case, why would I undertake to argue with atheists or, for that matter, any hidebound believer in a system of thought?
Atheism holds no fear for me. My favorite kind of atheists, however, are those who are also committed humanists. And with that variety of atheist I am more than willing to link arms and walk. So should any believer in liberal spirituality.

There may be more to existence than meets the eye and again there may not. Either way, that the human family is one should be obvious to all. I really don't enjoy arguing with my brothers and sisters.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Seeing The Hand Of God

(Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/McGill) 

Strange it is that after posting what I did yesterday about connecting the dots in order to arrive at a spiritual outlook on life I awoke to see on the news this story about an amazing picture from space.

Some have dubbed it the Hand of God. For rather obvious reasons, if you think about it. In reality what we see in that picture is the result of an exploded star, and not God's literal hand emitting fire from her fingertips.
Did you roll your eyes when you first saw this or heard about it, perhaps thinking how silly some of your fellow humans are?

Or did you look at it with a sense of awe, as something of deeper symbolic significance?
I'm thinking of something Carl Sagan once said:

The beauty of a living thing is not the atoms that go into it, but the way those atoms are put together.

That's what blows me away. I can't help wondering if that mustn't be the result of cosmic intelligence. Not an anthropomorphic hand in the sky, but instead a deeper order that makes possible you and me, yea, even our ability to even think about deeper significance possible.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Religion As Purpose

Ask ten different people to define what religion means to them and of course you will get ten different answers. Consulting a dictionary will yield a good sampling of what religion means - actually, and more to my point, it gives popular usage of that word.
People who have been burned by religion will tend to define it weakly, making out of their definition more or less a strawperson argument against it (how did you like that for gender neutrality?).
People who have found strength and solace in religion will define it in a most positive light, and if possible shield it from criticism in defining. Truthfully that can often lead to quite mushy definitions.
I once would have placed myself in the "burned by" category and would not have had very nice things to say in defining it.
Over time I have re-embraced - not religion so much as - spirituality; but then again, that stands or falls in defining what I mean.
Then I recently ran across a definition of religion that struck a chord with me and so I saved it for future reference. (Which is now, I suppose.)
It comes from a book titled The Gospel Of Emerson. by Newton Dillaway. I love Emerson, and all the Transcendentalists, really. Anyway, the quote or definition is:
Religion is the emotion of reverence which the presence of the universal mind ever excites in the individual.
I'm more comfortable talking about a Universal Mind or Logos than I am God (as such). What inspires me to do my best (even when no one else is looking) is that I do feel a sense of purpose about life.
Now maybe that sense of purpose is a conjuring of my own mind. The animal mind just naturally tends to "connect dots" (metaphorically speaking).
I'm reminded here of that old joke about the fellow who was undergoing psychological evaluation under Rorschach testing. The psychologist shows him a seeming mishmash of dots and asks the man what he sees.
"I see two people copulating," the man tells the psychologist.
Another splotch of dots is shown the patient, who then says he sees two horses copulating.
The psychologist shakes his head and brings out one more page of dots.
"What do you see now?" he asks the patient. And when he is told by the patient that it is a picture of a naked woman, the psychiatrist can take no more and exasperatedly tells the man he is a sex maniac.
The patient calmly tells him: "Well, you're the one that keeps showing me those dirty pictures." 
Where was I? Oh, yeah - maybe it's just me seeing what I want to see (although in fairness, the overwhelming majority of us humans have seen meaningful connections of the dots - but not exactly the same picture; more like the same kind of picture.)
I think the central theme of the dots picture most of us see is purpose; that is, that the Cosmos seems to make sense. It is an amazing thing in itself that it is sensible.
But I can only speak for myself. And what I can say is that I do feel a sense of reverence about the organization of matter into all that we see. In fact, that forces on me a sense of reverence and respect for the blobs of highly organized matter that are you and me and all our fellow creatures. 

I suppose there are worse philosophies I could embrace. 

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

When Death Isn't The End

My old, trusty computer finally died. Well, sort of, I guess. It might as well be dead. I lost power the other day (thank goodness just briefly) during the much-talked about Polar Vortex and my computer would not reboot no matter how much I coaxed it.
I can't complain. It was old and well used. And I had even got a good deal on another computer very similar to it a few years ago (gosh, has it really been that long?) and had it packed away. I thought then the end was near for my last computer and was waiting for it to croak. It held on much longer than I expected.
So, when my computer finally quit, I thought it would be no big deal to get the other one going.
Well, first, bear in mind that I'm no tech whiz. Second, when I did get my "new" computer out of its box and hooked everything up, I first had to install AOL so I could get online. Yeah, I'm one of the three percent (or whatever it is) who still has old-fashioned dial-up internet. I plan on changing that when I go to a laptop or tablet next. Someday. Maybe.
Anyway, I got my AOL installed and then found, to my dismay, that the browser was old and outdated and wouldn't display much of the internet I use. In fact, I couldn't even get into my blog. Okay, I thought, I would just update my browser. But I found through repeated attempts and failures that the old browser wouldn't support the downloading of an update. There's probably more to it than that, but the help program for that browser was no longer available to assist me. It ceased support a couple of years ago. (I guess buying a computer and keeping it "on hand" isn't such a good idea.)
Now, while I was doing all that in trying to get back online and back to my blog, I was also having to work around the hardships the Polar Vortex presented me and my loved ones. So I could only work in spurts.
Finally, today I installed Google Chrome (after several false starts) and was able to make it back to my blog. Obviously. Here I am!
So Doug's Dribblings is now resurrected in a "new" old computer that is - like with most of my stuff - years behind the times. (I just hate doing away with things that still has "wear" left in them.)
Ah, the weather has finally broke and my part of the sunny south has finally made it above freezing after a couple of days below, and one day down to nearly zero. My pipes made it through, my old truck didn't let me down (you can't beat those old Chevys!), my loved ones had some close calls but are fine now. And I'm back to blogging.  Life is good again.

And I bet you guys thought I was going to discuss post-mortem survival or near-death experiences, didn't you?

Thursday, January 2, 2014

At Least I know That I Don't Know

What world famous skeptic, do you suppose, said the following:
An unfortunate fact is that scientists are just as human as the rest of us, in that they are strongly influenced by the need to be accepted, to kowtow to peer opinion, and to "belong" in the scientific community. Why do I find this "unfortunate"? Because the media and the hoi polloi increasingly depend upon and accept ideas or principles that are proclaimed loudly enough by academics who are often more driven by "politically correct" survival principles than by those given them by Galileo, Newton, Einstein, and Bohr...Religious and other emotional convictions drive scientists, despite what they may think their motivations are.
Actually, those words came from James "the Amazing" Randi a few years ago, as he was turning his skeptical eye towards the case for Anthropogenic Global Warming. He was taken down a button hole or two by the skeptical scientists (Randi isn't a scientist) and subsequently back-peddled a bit.
And such it is for anyone - even if that person has legitimate scientific credentials - who questions current scientific orthodoxy. That is why some more open-minded thinkers feel that said scientific orthodoxy is not unlike religious orthodoxy, and thus can only agree with Randi in saying that scientists, like every human, are driven by emotional convictions.
So as long as we are talking about orthodoxy, we might as well throw out that shibboleth, faith.
Scientists, as well as those folks who hold to the scientific worldview, operate on the principle of faith just as religious believers do. Obviously, because even the wisest human isn't polymath enough to understand everything there is to understand about everything. Most of us try to keep abreast of the current thinking regarding the subjects that most interest us, and then put our faith in certain authorities (depending on how closely they represent our personal opinions) who supposedly do understand these subjects better than most of us do.
When you think about it, we humans just couldn't function effectively if we didn't place faith in the authority of other people from time to time. And of course a good, healthy consensus only increases our faith.
Now I'm not patient with blind religious faith at all. I'm not making an argument for that here. I've been there in my youth and am done with that now. But neither am I willing to trade the High Priests of religion for the High Priests of science.
I'm agnostic about a lot things and skeptical about many more than that. 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

That Bright, Shining Temple Of Truth

One of the reasons I ended my last blog (which as most of you know was dedicated to examining the intricacies of the various worldviews) is because I came to the conclusion that I was running a fool's errand - both for myself and my readers. While it may be fun, even intellectually stimulating, to "grope the elephant" before us in our present state of darkness and ignorance and then compare notes with one another, in the long run not much is accomplished other than momentary diversion from the elephant itself.
When all is said and done we must still live our lives one day at a time, and that with the sum total of wisdom we have accumulated up to that point of the journey.
As a book lover from way back I have spent more than my fair share time digging around the dusty shelves of used bookstores. Old textbooks are always fun to peruse, and mainly for this reason: knowledge increases at such a rate that it is humorous to note the air of certainty with which (now) old ideas are presented as truth. And now we know that some of the old "truths" were just wrong and perhaps the majority of them we now seen as having only been partial truths. The big picture keeps getting clearer and textbooks become obsolete rather quickly.
And so it goes.
Therefore I'm abandoning my search for THE TRUTH. I guess I will just learn to walk according to all the light I see. I recognize I may see it differently than you and vice versa, but that's the beauty of diversity. Any worldview we espouse only makes sense when certain perimeters are first rigidly assumed.
Besides, I've come to believe that compassion is better than knowledge (not that I'm antagonistic towards knowledge - just the arrogance of those who mistake opinion for fact and then call it knowledge). I'm thinking that a kindhearted fool is better than a cold-hearted genius. I can't help noticing that the majority of people I know and come in contact with are well between the poles of FOOL and GENIUS.
It seems to me that great harm comes about if we mistake the search of truth as an end in itself rather than a means to an end. Gee, we've made so many advances in the field of medicine, but much of it avails little because human greed puts the good that can come from those advances out of the financial reach of so many people. And I'm also of the persuasion that some of our knowledge is being manipulated by pharmaceutical companies in an effort more to fatten purses than help humankind. But that's another story....
We bemoan the fact that scientific knowledge is abysmal overall here in the good old US of A. Some rationalists, I see, are outraged that so many Americans still doubt the science of human evolution over the religious notion of divine creation.
It truly is a sad thing not to keep abreast of the current state of scientific knowledge. But not nearly so sad a thing as that we as a people have become so selfish overall that the human family seems hopelessly divided.
Conceding for the sake of argument that coming into possession of THE TRUTH is actually possible, I ask if it is a thing to be more greatly desired than the cultivation of an altruistic spirit?
For me that answer is a resounding "No!" That's the approach to life I feel most comfortable adopting. My circle is broad and includes everyone who has a kind heart, regardless of how simple or sophisticated they may be.
Knowledge is good, but the state of it constantly changes and increases over time. Kindness is ever the same and, unlike the current state of knowledge, never goes out of style.
I think that bright, shining Temple of Truth standing someplace on a high hill is itself a myth. Not necessarily a bad one, but certainly one that needs to be kept in proper perspective.