I tried to believe, but...

Sent in by Josh

I cannot say I ever was a true Christian. I grew up fascinated by religions, and fascinated by the natural world. My family showed me Carl Sagan's Cosmos at age 5 and later The Demon Haunted World. I loved Sagan's expansive view of life, his respect and tolerance for the wisdom gained through religion, and his staunch support of empirical evidence and the scientific method. I consider myself thus a Sagan-style agnostic. Show me the evidence!

Thomas Jefferson once wrote, optimistically:
And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter. But may we hope that the dawn of reason and freedom of thought in these United States will do away with this artificial scaffolding, and restore to us the primitive and genuine doctrines of this most venerated reformer of human errors.

--Thomas Jefferson, Letter to John Adams, April 11, 1823


What can we do to ensure his optimism continues to shine? I believe it is up to us. We must speak a unified voice of reason louder than the voices of fundamentalism speak various voices of dogma in disarray. We cannot afford not to speak out. And, we must do it with greater patience, poise, reason, and compassion than fundamentalists, and we must reach out to moderates, the kind of people who fully accept the germ theory of disease rather than the demon spirit conjecture. They do have ears to listen. They mostly use religion as a community-building tool, and it does great things for them in that regard. Yet, none of them would trust a doctor or mechanic that advised them to simply and only pray for a severed limb or a flat tire. No fundamentalist would think this either, yet they compartmentalize their beliefs in so many other areas.

As for my background, I tried so very hard to believe in some kind of literal interpretation of the Bible. I took a 13-week Bible study course a few years ago, but I always told the class leader something like "The historicity question is what prevents me from 'accepting' Jesus as a divine being that created the universe."

I really enjoyed the "fellowship" aspect of people just coming together regularly and supporting each other as friends, and I think that this is the best thing about religion and religious communities. But, I did not like the lack of open discussion and the lack of skepticism. I just could never see any reason to believe that those events depicted were literal, physical events that took place. There is no way to distinguish those claims from the claims of Muslims or Hindus or anyone else that lived in the days before widespread acceptance of science and empirical methods. When you ask them why prayers don't heal accidental amputees, (more at http://www.whydoesgodhateamputees.com) you get indignant looks or snide comments, yet if prayer can affect cancer, then I find it a fully reasonable question to ask whether it can affect accidental amputees too. Call my reasonable, call me inquisitive, but don't call the question crazy, because the question is perfectly within reason and everyone knows it.

I worked at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for four years and learned up close how peer-review and empirical evidence is used to guard against self-deception. What could be more certain than the fact that people make mistakes? Even religions accept this fact. Thus, true science must be peer-reviewed and undergo blind and double-blind experiments. I knew people who traveled to Africa for public health projects, but still there were people there who believed that demons and curses caused illness, rather than bacteria. Reason is not easy, science is demanding on minds and hands, but as Albert Einstein wrote:
"One thing I have learned in a long life: that all our science, measured against reality, is primitive and childlike -- and yet it is the most precious thing we have."


While my immediate family is not religious, I have a large extended family that is moderately religious, and even had one very loving person try to convince me about Jesus and the accuracy of the Bible recently. She means well and I love hear dearly, but I do feel it is my right to speak my mind and not let the rising tide of fundamentalism sweep away the first amendment and other freedoms.

I don't like the growing walls between religious and non-religious people. I appreciate Hemant Mehta's approach, from http://www.FriendlyAtheist.com, in which he actually goes and speaks with churches and religious people. I want to do something similar. I love people and I love open discussion. I don't mind if strangers try to convince or convert me, so long as we have some ground rules of civility and respect. I don't hope to change anyone's belief, only to educate them about the other side of the story.

Yet, at this time I do feel a bit discouraged and down because of the trends and world events. I love life and love my family and friends, and I don't want to see our freedom swept away by fear and dogma. I can hardly believe that Thomas Jefferson's hopes of reason sweeping away superstition are not actually coming true. I've written much more about Jefferson and others on my blog .

Those who enjoy Sagan may also enjoy this essay I wrote about him.

Anyway, just another human grounded in the real world, a world full of superstition and unreason.

I'd appreciate any kind words of encouragement and support!

Thank you

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9 comments:

RubyHypatia said...

Great post, Josh! I too am a huge fan of Carl Sagan. I read his Demon Haunted World not long ago. We should all have his attitude of respect for all people.

Gus said...

Carl Sagan is my hero too... may the no-god bless his no-soul

freethinker05 said...

A mind opening testimonial Josh; I too try hard now to enjoy life as much as I can. Outside of alot of humor, I try to love all believers and non-believers alike. As far as I'm concerned, this is the only life any of us will see, but, if it makes christians feel better otherwise, then I'm ok with that too. Peace, roger A/A

Anonymous said...

i dont see how anyone can say that christanity is a lie. this country was founded on it.to say that christanity is a lie is like challenging the whole legal system.where do you think we got most of our laws today?the bible

.:webmaster:. said...

Anonymous,

Where did you get your information that the U.S. was founded on Christianity and the Bible? Please share your sources.

Thanks.

Yule Goat 2 Hell said...

If I were so ignorant of American history as to claim that this is a christian nation and that our laws are based on the bible, I'd be anonymous, too.

Treaty of Tripoli, Bi-atch

trancelation said...

Josh:

Thank you for your ex-timonial. You seem like a very intelligent person, referencing Carl Sagan and even quoting Thomas Jefferson. Very cool. Be proud of your intellect; do not hide behind the guise of liberal Christianity as so many others that are afraid of the response to their intelligence in this nation full of lunatics are.

Anonymous Buttplug # 3:

Of course this country is founded on Christian laws, as you pointed out. That's why every single parent in America takes their child to the town gates and has them stoned to death when they are disobedient.

They don't? Oh. Well . . .

At least no one works on the Sabbath! after all, that law is even more important to your God than any law pertaining to . . . well, to anything, really.

Wait, the Sabbath is actually Saturday, and I'm working on Saturday? Along with millions of other Americans, whom no one is actually going to try and kill?

But . . . but you said this . . . this is a Christian nation.

Lemme 'axe' you something, Anonymous Buttplug. If this is a Christian country, then WHICH DENOMINATION OF CHRISTIANITY is it?

AtheistToothFairy said...

trancelation wrote:
"Lemme 'axe' you something, Anonymous Buttplug. If this is a Christian country, then WHICH DENOMINATION OF CHRISTIANITY is it?"
---
Tran,
You do realize that Anonymous Buttplug # 3 will NEVER answer you. They never do when presented with real-life hard questions, like you asked here.

It's interesting how all xtian sects will gang-together when confronting the atheists, jews and us ex-tians, yet, they try and hide the fact that they dislike each other's take on the bible and will bicker about it amongst themselves....sometimes in forceful ways.
This bickering fact should be enough evidence ALONE, to prove there is no holy spirit making direct contact with ANY xtians; supplying the secret understanding of the bible meanings.

If we lacked the mounds of other evidence to disprove their bible (which we don't), this one fun-fact alone would be enough for me to realize that their god has been either off making new earths in some other part of the universe for the past 2000 years, or, as the NY TIMES headlines proclaimed long long ago...."GOD IS DEAD".

It would be interesting (well, kind of) to see which flavor of christianity would win the internal xtian war, if there weren't other non-xtian around to keep these fundies in-check and from trying to make their religion mandatory.

One does have to wonder how each sect can **FEEL** so sure they have it right and rest of the xitans are merely talking to god's deaf ears etc..


AtheistToothFairy

Anonymous said...

I was fortunate to have a father who, though religious, was also a skeptic who loved the books of Sagan, Eisley and Campbell. When I was 12, he took me out with the telescope one night, and I saw the moons of Jupiter and the Andromeda Galaxy. I too loved Cosmos, Nova, Nature and other great programs on PBS. My agnostic journey began early.

Now I am an atheist, and can appreciate spirituality and the role or science and skepticism in my world view. And I agree, we must look for ways to appeal to the moderate Christians to at least realize they can raise their children as skeptics and free thinkers.

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