I am not a Sinner

I had a transformative spiritual experience recently. I was driving from Las Vegas to Phoenix (about a 6 hour drive) alone on a beautiful day. I found myself surrounded by the desert, mountain valley after valley moving behind me, as I drove through this incredible landscape.

An environment which is conducive to reflection, that’s for sure. I found myself replaying in my mind an email conversation that I had with my Christian friend Ray, in which he stated that I “blamed God for all the negative things in the law”. As well as the atrocities committed in the name of Jesus by the Christian church, etc.

I realized that I did not think I really blamed God for these things. But that’s a natural mistake on Ray’s part. He was thinking as he is: A Diest Christian. So he has a personal relationship with his Creator. Most days these days, I am agnostic. Certainly I know at this point in the core of my being that the existence or non-existence of God is an unknowable fact. Certainly not knowable by me, that’s for sure! So I do not know, and cannot know, if I am in a relationship with my Creator. Thus, it would be very difficult for me to blame Him for things of which I don’t believe He is is capable. No. I think that the negative things in the bible and the acts of men in His name are simply acts of human beings. Perhaps acting under a particularly ugly form of delusion. But acts of man nonetheless.

That led to the question: So why is it that I am so pissed off about the law? Why do I get so incensed about the stupid, evil, racist, misogynistic, cruel and inhumane stuff in the law? I mean, beyond normal incredulity at the insanity which is the biblical law. Certainly, my ire seemed to me to be more intense than most folks in our time and culture.

And then I figured it out. What I was angry at was not the law. What I was angry at was sin.

Here is what the idea of sin says: The creator of the universe hates me. And He wants to kill me. And after that, he is going to put me in a terrible place when I die, where he has legions of demons who will torture me to death continuously. Although I won’t be able to die. So the suffering will go on and on and on.

And the only way out of this inevitable abyss (about which I have nothing to say, by the way) is to accept that this same Creator took his own son and tortured him terribly instead. And then if I believed, really believed, all of that, I would be saved, and God would not want to kill and damn me anymore.

Once I got my arms completely around that idea, I did get a bit pissed. I realized the real problem with traditional religion in all of its forms is this very thing: The idea of sin.

So I let it fall away. I simply determined at that moment that I am not a sinner. I have not displeased the Creator in any way. This does not mean that I am perfect. Far from it. It simply means that there is no divinely prescribed code of behavior for humans to follow, the violation of which brings divine ire. I have the right to live my own life, in what ever manner I see fit. I am both responsible and free.

This revelation (if you can call it that) was followed by several hours of driving through an incredible desert landscape with tears streaming down my face as I was bathed in an incredible feeling of love.

Was I visited by God? I don’t know. It certainly felt like it. I have been different from that day. I can feel the difference. It is quite weird, and a bit scary. But I would not want to go back to the way I was before.

More later.

Evolution

I have discovered evolution. I spent many years when enmired in Evangelical Christianity as a creationist who believed that life began in the Garden of Eden. I now know (if I know anything) that life evolved. I have studied this one extensively, and the evidence for evolution is everywhere, if you look for it. For example, I am now burning my way through The Moral Animal by Robert Wright (the author of The Evolution of God, one of the most transformational books I have ever read). Robert Wright is an evolutionary psychologist. That is, he believes that the phenomenon of human consciousness can be explained in evolutionary terms. I am finding this thesis very convincing.

I had a personal experience which demostrates the role of evolution recently. I take my dogs, Diogee and Napoleon, for a walk almost every day, weather permitting. Typically, we go for a 2 mile walk in the middle of the day, as close to solar noon as possible so that I can be exposed to natural UV light, which is really good for my health. More on this later.

I observe my dog Diogee (actually my wife’s dog, but I digress). Diogee has a behavior which Napoleon does not have: He scratches the ground after he does his business. He does so almost invariably, and he did not have to be taught to do this. He knew how to scratch the day I met him (and he was a very small puppy at that point). At the age of 10 (70 doggie years in other words), he still does this. So where did this behavior come from?

Viewed in terms of evolutionary psychology, it makes perfect sense. This behavior is the expression of a gene which Diogee has and Napoleon does not. At some point in the evolution of the dog (which is actually a wolf), there was some adaptation which caused the animal to bury his / her droppings. Possibly there were prey animals which used the droppings to identify the location of predators. If so, then burying the droppings would be a desirable trait. (In evolutionary terms, “desirable” means that the animal will be more successful at reproducing, and thus expressing this particular gene.)

Eventually, scratching after doing your business no longer had any significant benefit. Certainly, after humans took over the job of deciding how the canine species evolved (an event which happened in the mists of pre-history), the presence of dog droppings did not help prey animals to avoid being eaten. The archeological record is replete with evidence of how devastatingly effective a human hunting party was, when accompanied by a pack of domesticated wolves. All the humans had to do was use the dogs to drive the prey animals into a difficult area, like a swamp or a stand of canes. Once the prey animals were trapped by the dogs in an area which made movement difficult, the humans moved in to finish the prey animal off using spears. In this manner, after the dog was domesticated, humans were able to bring down huge animals like wooly mammoths, elk, moose, and the like.

Anyway, this particular gene was selected by evolution at some point during the development of the wolf. Later it became irrelevant, but it did not harm the ability of the animal to reproduce. Thus, the gene persists at least in some dogs. It is not being selected for anymore, but neither is it being selected against. Thus, Diogee has the trait, but Napoleon does not.

In The Moral Animal, Wright investigates the role of evolution in the development of human sexuality and marital relationships. One phenomenon which is pretty much universal is the so-called “Maddona-Whore Dichotomy”. That is, men tend to sort women into two sets: Those who are appropriate for casual sex and those you marry. The difference is the sexual promiscuity and libido of the woman involved. In terms of long-term relationships, as Wright amply demostrates, men actually prefer women who are relatively non-sexual, and have to be wooed and coaxed into having sex. Why? Simple. Human beings are a type of species referred to as having high “male parental investment” (MPI). Thus, a man is driven by his genes to foster the success of his offspring, and will expend a great deal of effort doing so. This is true in pretty much every human culture in the history of the world.

This is in turn driven by the nature of the human species itself: Our babies are born at a very early stage of  development relative to other primates. Bonobos infants are capable of clinging to their mothers from birth, an essential trait given that bonobos monkees live in the canopies of trees. With humans, the female is typically completely devoted to the care of the infant for at least three to four years after birth. In order for this to be feasible, the father really needs to hang around and provide food, protection, shelter, etc.

In the sexual dynamic, the interests of the female and the male are in conflict: The female’s interest is to attract a male to invest in her offspring. The male’s interest is to avoid having the female mate with any other males, as that would make his investment worthless, in terms of expressing his genes. Thus, the value of virginity in females is a virtually universal human trait. The effect of cheating is different for each gender: For a male, a cheating wife is devastating: He can no longer ensure that the offspring will be his. Hence the extreme response of human males to infedility which can, and does, include violence. Female response to male infedility is very different: What threatens the female is not sexual infidelity. A bit of casual sex can be tolerated, and almost always is in many cultures. The threat to the female is emotional infidelity, because it threatens the male’s continued investment in her offspring. If the male becomes emotionally bonded to another female, he may abandon her for another family. This can, and often does, happen even in very primitive cultures. Hence the classic stereotype of jilted females sitting around commiserating about their unfaithful husbands and concluding that all men are scum.

The difference in libido is dramatic as well: Male humans have an insatiable sexual appetite compared to females. Why? Because for a male the mating opportunity presents another chance to spread those genes! A male human can mate hundreds of times a year, assuming he can get enough females to cooperate. This has actually happened in very polygamous ancient cultures like Judaism where kings like Solomon had so many wives and concubines that he could have sex with a different woman every night of his life, and not repeat for years (and possibly never repeat at all, given the acquisition of new wives and concubines!). On the other hand, a female can only reproduce about once per year (and that’s pretty aggressive), given the huge investment required by the female to bear and rear the child. Thus, once a female has mated once in a year, that’s good enough. She would rather find something to eat or catch a nap. Reproduction is not that important to her, as long as she can find a male to mate with often enough, and that does not need to be very often. The way females ovulate is very telling: Other primates have an explicit form of ovulation so that all males around her will know that she is fertile. Human females have no such cues. In biology, this is referred to as obscure ovulation. This means that the female is able to mate pretty much anytime, neatly fitting into the massive sex drive of the male. Since the male cannot tell if the female is fertile, he happily has sex with her, in the hope (at least in evolutionary terms) that she might be fertile. In the process, the emotional component of sexual love is enhanced, further ensuring the male’s parental investment.

You get the idea. Many of the characteristics which define us as a species can be explained quite well in evolutionary, Darwinian terms. I find this enchanting.

More later.

The Old Testament Law According to the West Wing

In my last post, I pointed out that the Old Testament law is “bigoted, misogynistic, and cruel”. I actually had a plan in mind to go through several more iterations of this theme: Pointing out the areas of the Old Testament law which violate (often violently) our current moral standards. However, I have been watching a lot of The West Wing lately (which portrays Christianity rather positively in most respects). I have become quite fond of Jed Bartlet, and like his character immensely. I just saw Season 2, Episode 3, called “The Midterms” in which Jed Bartlet (played by Martin Sheen) comments on the Old Testament law far more succinctly and eloquently than I possibly could. In this scene, President Barlet is responding to a radio journalist who has just pointed out that homosexuality is an abomination, according to Leviticus 18:22. Here’s an excerpt from the show containing President Bartlet’s response:

I wanted to ask you a couple of questions while I have you here. I’m interested in selling my youngest daughter into slavery as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. She’s a Georgetown sophomore, speaks fluent Italian, always cleared the table when it was her turn. What would a good price for her be? While thinking about that, can I ask another? My Chief of Staff Leo McGarry insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly says he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself or is it okay to call the police? Here’s one that’s really important because we’ve got a lot of sports fans in this town: touching the skin of a dead pig makes one unclean. Leviticus 11:7. If they promise to wear gloves, can the Washington Redskins still play football? Can Notre Dame? Can West Point? Does the whole town really have to be together to stone my brother John for planting different crops side by side? Can I burn my mother in a small family gathering for wearing garments made from two different threads? Think about those questions, would you?

Which just about says it on the Old Testament law. So here’s where I am: I cannot conceive of a God who would condemn me to a terrible death, by declaring me permanently unclean, because I have psoriasis, a skin disease which in the ancient times was commonly confused with leprosy. My NIV study bible contains a footnote for every single word in the Old Testament which is translated as “leprosy” which reads:

The Hebrew word translated as “leprosy” refers to a large variety of skin diseases, not merely leprosy.

That’s because an ancient Hebrew priest could not distinguish between a person who has leprosy and one who has psoriasis. Or eczema for that matter.

I know that the argument against this particular law is not as strong as the one against slavery, stoning a woman on her wedding night because she is not a virgin, forcing a girl to marry a man who raped her, stoning people because they violated the sabbath, or any of the other ridiculous, rascist, misogynistic and cruel things in that law. That’s because this one had to do with protecting people from a terrible disease, misguided and wrong though they might have been. But this one law happens to be personal. It affects me. So I will stick with that one.

More later.

The Law of God

My friend Ray and I have been having an interesting discussion on the Old Testament law. You see, the Christian gospel relies upon the OT law to establish the standard of sin. The basic elements of the Christian gospel are as follows:

  • God exists, has a personal interest in each of us humans, and also has a standard of behavior which He has prescribed for us, commonly known in the bible as the law (in Greek usually the word logos, and in Hebrew almost universally the word torah).
  • Because of the disobedience of Adam and Eve in violating the law of God, sin entered into mankind, and we fell. Sin is defined as missing the mark, i.e., meaning failing to meet the standard laid down by God, again the OT law.
  • Jesus Christ is the solution to this problem! God the Father decided to sacrifice his own son, Jesus, so that the OT law could be abolished, and we could enter into a relationship with God, free from the constraints of the law.

There you have it. Note that God must meet three requirements in order for this gospel to be true:

  1. He / She must exist. I actually do believe in God most of the time, more on this later.
  2. He / She must be capable of communicating with us humans, and care about our affairs. I refer to this as God being personal. This is not actually as trivial as it sounds. Many intelligent folks (including Thomas Jefferson, for example) have long believed in a God who exists, but is not capable of communicating with us. Christians generally ascribe all sorts of human-style emotions to God. (God is grieved by the state of moral decline in our country, etc.) Other religions frequently consider Christianity to be a form of idolatry for this reason. More on this later. Many physicists believe that if God does exist, He / She would be completely outside of our normal space / time. Thus, the likelihood of something that great having concern for us is not a trivial question, like I said. Nonetheless, Christians do believe generally that God has intimate concern and awareness of our every action, including our thoughts.
  3. He / She must have an opinion about human behavior and morality. I call this God being moral. This one is a big stretch, actually, but if you buy the general idea of God having a standard of behavior for us humans, then you have to deal with the core issue of this post, which is:

Does the law of the Old Testament qualify for something you would regard as divinely prescribed?

And this question is very important to Christianity because, again, the law is the standard which is raised by God in order to define the concept of sin. As Paul pointed out, without the law, there is no awareness of sin. Also, of course, the Old Testament is replete with praise and adulation for the law. (Many examples could be cited, but Psalm 119 pretty much says it all.) Thus, certainly, most conservative Christians would agree that the law as laid down in the Old Testament is the standard of God which defines the concept of sin.

Thus I propose to examine the Old Testament law and determine (at least in my own mind) whether it qualifies as a candidate for a divinely prescribed law. I will begin with the law of rape, which is contained largely in Deuteronomy 22. Here is the basic gist:

If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, he shall pay her father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives. (Deuteronomy 22:28-29 NIV)

OK, let me get this straight. A man rapes a woman who is a virgin and not engaged. For this he has to pay her father 50 coins and then marry her? In other words, a woman is required to marry her rapist, and live with him for the rest of her life?

No wonder rape is not included in the proscriptions in the 10 commandments. In the Old Testament law, rape is simply not considered to be a very serious crime!

So there you have it. Do you consider this law of rape to be divinely prescribed? Would you live in a society in which this was the law?

As usual, comments are welcome.

Reasonable Christians

I met a reasonable Christian today. It was a bit weird, actually.

My wife wanted to visit a local Anglican church where my Christian friend Ray and his wife attend, and I thought: Sure, why not? So we went. There you have it. I actually set foot in a Christian church today. And I have no doubt that many of the Christians in that room would be offended by the things that I say on this blog (although I would certainly love it if they would read it).

Be that as it may, I was immediately drawn to a young woman when we arrived. You are probably thinking that this was due to my (admittedly) heterosexual nature. But, no, in this case, I was not attracted to this person in that way at all. For one thing, she was dressed in a very traditionally religious manner, which is about as sexually unattractive as it is humanly possible to be. And she had done absolutely nothing to make herself attractive, as that standard is described in our current culture. (Not that I find that necessarily attractive either: More on that later.) It was not that she could not have made herself attractive in our terms, had she tried. She simply did not care to try.

What drew me to this person was her absolute, visible and obvious rebellion against the direction of our modern culture. As soon as I started talking to her, she explained to me about how the Anglican church we were in was “officially a mission of the Anglican Church of Rwanda. You see, the Rwandans decided that America was an evil, secular, and godless place that was in need of evangelizing. So they planted this church.”

I still cannot tell if this statement was dripping with irony or not. If so, she delivered it very well, and very straight. She had me immediately.

I confessed that I was an extreme theological liberal, and told her about a bit of my journey. How I had made a terrible mistake: I decided to read the bible as a work of human literature, and put my faith on the shelf for a while. As a result, my belief systems traumatically collapsed and left me as you see me here: A spiritual wreck. Of course, the irony in my case was more obvious.

Interestingly, she understood. Turns out that she is studying the New Testament at a major university in Israel. (A very interesting place to decide to study the New Testament.) She said she had been through a similar journey. She was, as she put it: “Aware of the difficulties.” That is, she has a place at the conversation because she is at least familiar with the material concerning the origins of Christianity, the bible and the rest, and is not simply deluding herself, as many Christians do. The good news, she said, was: “You can make it through this to a better place.”

I did not get to continue the conversation past that point, although I would like to. Is it possible for a person who does not even believe in Hell, or the concept of sin (as in failing to meet the standard set out by God in His law) to be a Christian in some way? Perhaps it is, so long as it is clear that I am also a Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim. As well as an agnostic, and in times of deep despair, possibly even an atheist.

But the Christian might be the better part of me.

One thing my friend Ray pointed out to was the 10 commandments, as a part of the standard raised by God. Unfortunately, I was not persuaded by that very much. If I had to come up with a set of human laws to live by, I would have created a very different list than these. Especially when you put it in the context of the rest of the Old Testament law. Like the commandment against adultery. I would certainly not condone the form of marriage described in the law of Moses, which was, as I have pointed out frequently, polygamous, blatantly discriminatory against women, and fundamentally a form of slavery. I would have certainly added a commandment against rape. (Want to get your hair raised? Read the laws in the Old Testament on rape.) And I certainly would have added a law encouraging compassion and empathy towards every human, regardless of race, gender, age, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation. Which is obviously missing from the Old Testament law, as it is completely bigoted in favor of the children of Israel, and against the rest of the human race.

So there is the challenge: Can a man like me fit into a community of Christian believers? Not sure. I guess we’ll see.

More later.

Selling God

I watched the documentary Selling God last night. (This is also streamable on NetFlix.) While I did not find it perfect, certainly (at times it seemed a bit over-the-top), I did resonate with the overall message concerning the dominant form of Protestant Christianity, commonly referred to as Evangelical Protestantism. I have a lot of experience with this particular brand of religion. I was a member of what I commonly refer to as an “LRO” (Large Religious Organization) for about 9 years in Chapel Hill, NC. It was during this period that I performed the maneuver that I refer to in this blog (reading the bible, not as a sacred religious text, but as a work of human literature) which resulted ultimately in the traumatic collapse of my belief system. But I digress.

OK, Selling God. I guess the thing I really liked about this movie was that after showing these butt stupid Christians (like Greg Laurie of Harvest Ministries, one of the most annoying, offensive preachers I have ever seen, and believe me, I have seen some doozies), they would show some Christians who were actually not too bad. Pretty good, actually. I particularly liked this guy who had this very nuanced view of the part of the sermon on the mount which Evangelicals refer to as the “end time prophecies”. You know, how there will be wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes, and so forth. His point was that these were not to be taken as signs of the times (as has been the case for generation after generation of Evangelicals, all of whom believed that they were living in the “last days”). Instead, he said, that Jesus was saying: “The Kingdom of God is like this: There will be wars. (When in human history have there not been wars?) But with My help, you will still overcome. And in the overcoming, My Kingdom is there. And there will be earthquakes. (When in human history have there not been earthquakes?) But with My help, you will even overcome that too. And in the overcoming, My Kingdom is there.” And so on for each form of natural or man-made disaster.

I find that a much, much more satisfying explanation for those verses than anything I had ever heard before. Certainly, a much, much more interesting interpretation than the typical Evangelical view. This was a very positive picture of a very intelligent, sensitive, and compassionate Christian. Which is surprising, for a movie which is billed as being basically about simply bashing Christianity.

The thing that I found compelling and familiar about Selling God was the idea that modern Protestant Evangelical Christianity has become simply a big business. There is certainly an enormous amount of money being made here. (Interestingly, although I can find the GDP percentage for just about every form of human activity, I cannot find it for religion. If anyone has this, I would love to know about it.) It is certainly the case that most of the current crop of Protestant Evangelical churches are simply a form of capitalism. And the product that they are selling is, from all appearances, invisible, without substance, and completely internal. If they would admit that they are selling anything, they would say (per the title of the movie) that they are selling God, or possibly selling Jesus or salvation. (Not completely far-fetched as one of the evangelists in the movie had run the numbers and figured out that after costs he had been able to “save a soul for 47 cents”. Effectively buying salvation.) In my view, though, what they are really selling is not really salvation, per se, but rather a sense of significance, purpose and meaning. A feeling that your life matters, and that you are part of a loving community.

Interesting, in that Jesus preached against just this sort of thing, as Selling God points out.

Having said that, I have come to believe that there is a form of Christian religion that is actually not bad, possibly even good. If a Christian church produces what they claim to produce (a truly compassionate, loving community), then it can be wonderful, as I myself have experienced at various phases of my life. The aggressive form of Protestant Evangelical Christianity definitely does not fall into that category, though, at least in my view. The entire time that my wife and I were at the last LRO we belonged to, precisely one family (lead by my Christian friend Ray) reached out to us. And Ray and his wife are no longer members of that LRO either. Otherwise, the folks in the LRO were among the most deluded, unconscious people I have ever known. I became involved in the Christian 12 step program there, and I had several moments of stunning clarity when I looked around the room and asked myself: “Do I want to be like these people?” To which I responded with a resounding: “No!” With the exception of Ray and his lovely wife, my Christian friends were largely intolerant, insular, bigoted, misogynistic, and closed minded.

I heard a piece on NPR that resonated with me. The woman being interviewed had written a novel and was describing the main character as: “A middle-aged Christian, white, southern, heterosexual, married, Republican man who thinks he’s good, but isn’t.” The main reason this man was not good was because he was only empathetic with people like him: I.e., folks his own age, religion, race, geographic region, sexual orientation, gender, and political view. He had no empathy for liberals, the young, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists, people of color, feminists, and, most of all, gays.

That was me. At one time, I fit that description perfectly. But no longer: I have flipped in many of my views from my fundamentalist religious days. As I told my friend Ray: I have woken up, and to a large extent, that cannot be undone. I may engage again with the more positive forms of Christianity, but I will never again believe that the bible is the inerrant “word of God”. That’s over for me now. And I have developed deep, abiding empathy and compassion for all human beings at this point. Even those who do not agree with me. That’s for sure!

More later.

Strength

I have had several transformative conversations with my wife recently. One had to do with strength. She wanted to know why I have it, and what well I am drawing from.

You see, my wife is very, very sick. Her situation has gotten serious, and we are now trying to figure this out. In the process, my resolve has been tested, that’s for sure. I will say, amazingly, that I am holding my own. I do cry a lot. I won’t lie about that. However, crying is not necessarily so bad. I am kind of getting used to it.

Anyway, I used to have a pretty pat answer for the question of where my strength comes from: God of course!. Now, I am not so sure.

It is kind of like prayer. I pray a lot these days. I guess it goes with the territory of being a spouse of someone who is seriously ill. Oddly, in the process, I have kind of figured out why prayer works, and what religion is all about, at least for me.

You see, to me at least, prayer is not for God. Prayer is actually for me.

Since I have lived in a state of total doubt for some time now, I am not sure if God even hears my prayers. That’s another one: My wife asked me recently why God was a mystery. (I replied: “Wait! I know this one!”) Eventually, I did come up with the answer: Since God is completely unknowable, He / She is a complete mystery. Every experience I have ever had with God (and believe me, I have had some doozies) has been completely subjective. I mean, how can I be sure that my subconscious mind didn’t simply make it all up?

You get the idea. Since I don’t have much of what religious folks would call faith (which I regard as uncritically believing  propositions that are at best harmless lies), it may surprise you that I pray. But, again, I realize now that prayer is not for God. It is for me.

You see, when I pray for my wife, I let go of the problem a little. Since this is a problem over which I have absolutely no direct control (much as I would like to!), I simply must let go or I will take the problem onto myself. Therein lies the path which I cannot tread.

So, in a sense, I need divine help and guidance. I need the Strength of The Goddess. I rely on Her now. Even if I am not sure She hears me.

More later.

The Way of Assisi

I have found a way. This way is working for me. Perhaps it can work for you too.

It is the way of Saint Francis of Assisi, one of the Christians whom I most admire. It seems very simple to me now. Strange that I did not see this for so long.

The essence is:~

  • Focus on this present moment. This, after all, all I have.
  • Forgive yourself and everyone in your life. Live in a state of continuous forgiveness. This is harder than it sounds. You cannot fake this one. My good friend Les Floyd is good for this stuff.`
  • Perform many small, simple tasks with a loving heart.
    • Give myself over to taking care of someone other than myself.

    That’s it. This is certainly the way Assisi lived. He washed the lesions of lepers. He supported the poor, but he did so in a very direct way: He did not write a check to an institutional ministry. No. He handed a loaf of bread to a hungry person.

    I have now looked deeply into the eyes of a person who needs my help, and found myself caring about her. This person is my wife. My love for her is palpably strong now. I find myself moved to tears frequently by the power of it. Right now, as I sit in the cariologist’s office, watching my wife’s echo cardiogram, I am struck again by how much I love her, and how connecte I am to her.

    You see, my wife is ill. She has been having some strange symptoms for a long time now, and we are trying to get a handle on it. In the process, I have become responsible for her care. I am with her all the time. I make her food. I get her a pillow.

    This has led to me become her servant. I do this gladly. In the process, I have found this way.

    Right now, my wife is the only person that I love in this manner. But, I can see that this compassionate, active and devoted love could spread to others. My children come to mind.

    More later.

Faith

What is faith? The bible describes it as:

Faith is the now the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1 KJV)

I will actually accept that definition with no problem. It says exactly what I believe faith to be, what it has been in my own life: Believing passionately things for which there is no physical evidence, and which may actually violate the laws of the physical universe. These things we believe are not provably untrue, mind you. They are simply profoundly unlikely.

Now, how is it that really, really, really believing stuff which is really, really, really improbable makes you a better person? I just don’t get it. Does it, like, spruce up the old brain cells somehow?

Please help me out here.

Stephen Hawking

My wife just posted this exceptional quote by Stephen Hawking:

The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.

In the context of religion, this statement is very compelling, at least to me. I have been awash in knowledge about doctrine, theology, and all the rest, for much of my life, and all of it seems to be illusion to me now. I thought I was so intelligent and well educated, when actually I knew nothing. Now that I know that I know nothing, I am much happier, oddly.

I asked my wife an interesting set of questions last night:

What if you could simply decide that the things that happen in church buildings on Sunday morning are precisely the same thing as going to the Durham Performing Arts Center to see the Nutcracker Ballet? What if you could simply decide that it is all simply a human invention, and nothing more? What would that mean? Wouldn’t you then be able to stop believing what another person (generally a religious authority figure) told you, and instead start believing whatever seemed real, meaningful, and comfortable for you?

Hawking is famously an atheist. I have read several books by Hawking, and he has been instrumental in my understanding of modern physics, a subject about which I am very passionate. While I respect his position as an atheist, I do not share it. I may blog more on why I am not an atheist at a later time.