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The Misadventures of Quinxy von Besiex truths, lies, and everything in between

27Jul/120

The Odd Similitude of Christian & Atheist Grief

Considering that Christians and Atheists have wildly different beliefs about what happens when we die I've always been deeply perplexed that both grieve quantitatively and qualitatively similarly.  The Christian suffering loss believes that he or she will be ultimately re-united with their dear departed in Heaven (barring any grave infractions that might lead to Hell) in a way that will replicate to a significant degree the relationships here on this Earthly plane; your mother in heaven will still be your mother and will recognize you as her son.  The Atheist generally believes that there is no afterlife, that the unique qualities of the dead person are permanently are irrevocably lost.  As such I would have imagined that Christian and Atheist grief would be quite dissimilar.  How could they not be?  To the Christian death is a misty, "Until we meet again."  While for the Atheist death is a bruta and unyielding, "Goodbye forever and ever."  And yet in my own observations of grief (and personal experience of grief) there seems little difference in people's experience of death.  Everyone (barring rare exceptions) finds the loss of a loved one to be miserably and inconsolably intolerable.  And so I can't help but wonder how this is possible?  How can the belief in an afterlife reunion not spare a person a significant portion of their grief?

These are the best possibilities I've been able to come up with to explain the lack of qualitative and quantitative difference...

It's possible that the most significant elements of grief are associated not with what we imagine happens to a person after death but with the impact their removal has from our current and expected life.  A person suddenly being removed from our world will force painful adjustments in our life, in our thinking, in our ability to cope, in our expression of love, in our expectations, etc.  While these elements and experiences do absolutely make up the bulk of our spontaneous experiences of sorrow and misery which last for days, months, and years, I still think it doesn't explain the situation fully because the severity of the experience seems ultimately tied to our perception of the other person's state.  For example, if I knew that my close cousin was forever gone from my life, having set off with others in a one-way light-speed rocket ship ride to the star system Trixolopy, I would feel vastly more comfortable with my loss than if I knew him to be dead.  The mere knowledge that he is alive staves off the bulk of my grief.  I would still wistfully think of him when I passed by his house on my way to work, I'd still instinctively look for him when I headed over to the baseball field, I'd still feel a twinge of emptiness as I put away my cell phone after reaching for it to tell him something, but I wouldn't be devastated in the same way I would if he was known (or expected) to be dead.  Thus the impact of death can't simply be tied to individual alterations made in my life by a person's absence.  And this would seem inadequate then to explain Christian versus Atheist mourning, since I would liken their belief about the present state of the loved one to be so radically and comfortingly different.

Another possibility is that the parity in grief experience is created by variation of two factors: Christian grief being reduced by their belief in Heaven while Atheist grief is reduced by their inability to fully recognize the value and therefore loss of human life.  Christians often use arguments which suggest that Atheists are incapable of are are limited in their ability to appreciate or understand the world because of their refusal to accept its God-given value, without which (from many a Christian's perspective) nothing has value.  I reject this option because it's just silly and simplistic.  It is too convenient to imagine two things are adjusted and both rendered equal by two wholly different mechanisms, and I reject the idea that God solves the value problem (at the very least because of the who created God argument).

It's also possible that the grief of Christians and Atheists exceed what the biology of the human brain can support.  It may be that we cannot see qualitative or quantitative differences in the grief of people with wildly different belief systems because even though they may quite significantly both experiences of grief so far exceed or biology's ability to express grief that they appear similar.  I liken it to the clipping which occurs when you try to record a very loud sound with a microphone and recording equipment that's not up to the task; the sound of an atom bomb and the sound of a conventional bomb would be recorded identically even though the actual events are vastly different.  I like this theory because it is elegantly simple and makes a certain sort of intuitive sense to me, but I'm not sure if it's part of the solution.

And ultimately I come back to my earliest suspicion, the one I first thought over as a teen, that Christians may not believe in Heaven in the same absolute way that they might believe in a place like Bismarck, SD.  Christians might feel okay with a loved one being prolongedly incommunicado in Bismarck, SD because they feel entirely secure in the concept of a geographically placed American city located within our plane of spacial and temporal existence.  Heaven might make them nervous and feel too wishy-washy and abstract, even if they entirely believe (in a theoretical sense) in its existence.  Of course it's also possible they suspect Heaven may not be real, in the same way a child might suspect Santa Claus isn't real years before being willing to call him out; I reject this because I am willing to accept that Christians believe as they say they believe and are not engaged in this piece of self-deception.

Ultimately I'm not sure which of these explanations is sufficient to explain the observation, perhaps other explanations are still required.  I suppose the reason I come back to this question so often is because I wish someone had a meaningful and lasting solution for grief, a means to rid ourselves of what becomes for most a bane of their own existence.  The longer we live the more grief we are made to experience, how nice it would be to recognize loss without being wholly undone by it.

^ Quinxy

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7Apr/113

Reasons I Don’t Believe: Disclaimer

I want to make clear what is surely already clear: I am not a biblical or religious scholar. I am just a regular guy who tries to understand the universe around me and my place in it.  My beliefs are fluid and based on the information to which I am exposed.  The best I can say is that it seems unlikely I will be swayed from my present position of agnosticism, unless I find new information that shifts my understanding.  Given that I have been exposed to so much already, truly new information of real significance is hard to come by.

As for my background, I was raised a Christian (Episcopalian/Protestant), attended an Episcopalian grammar and high school school, served as an acolyte for a few years, went weekly to services through high school, was also exposed (through my dad) to a syncretic new-age church during visitations with him.  I have read most (if not all) of the New Testament and much (but not all) of the Old Testament (all in my youth).  I have read a few books on Christianity, but only a few.  I have read quite a bit more about unusual faiths (e.g., my dad's church/cult, Scientology, Mormons, Branch Davidians, Ramtha School of Enlightenment, etc.).  My favorite religion, the one which feels most true for me, is Zen Buddhism, but though I have read several of their books, and attended several of their services, and dabbled in some of their meditations, I cannot call myself a Buddhist.  Religion, it's meaning and influence on people, has always been profoundly interesting to me. If you disagree with me or find fault with what I say I encourage you to respectfully tell me where I have made any factual or logical errors. I am always eager to correct errors, or my own thinking (if I feel it is necessary).

While my present position is that I do not believe in God, I am not what you'd typically consider an atheist. Atheists by common definition know with absolute certainty that there is no God.  They have a confidence about their position that can only be described as religious.  As for me, I do not know if there is or is not a God, I know only that I have not found sufficient reason to believe in one, and instead found reasons not to. I fully acknowledge that there is ample space within the framework of physics and quantum physics for Him to operate, I simply find no proof that He does.

I enjoy discussing these topics with all people who are confident enough in their own divergent views to find our discussion enjoyable rather than frustrating and heretical.  Despite what some may think, I see us as all looking for the same answers, trying to resolve the same mysteries.  If you've found your answers, congratulations!  I am still finding mine.

These blog entries are not meant to de-convert anyone, they are simply my exploring my own thoughts and observations in the public view.  Greater minds have covered these topics, covered all topics, but that doesn't mean we lesser minds don't enjoy our time in the sun. :)

^ Quinxy

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4Apr/116

Reasons I Don’t Believe in God #99: JesusNeverExisted.com

The other day I stumbled across the site JesusNeverExisted.com and was blown away. The site is fantastic! It puts the words to my own rejection of Christianity and backs words with facts I only vaguely knew/suspected. The site and its author brilliantly attack the foundations of Christianity and its many claims through logical and historical arguments, most of the time using the church's own writings/teachings to make the points.  The site also offers fascinating contextual information about how the bibles were shaped, and upon what other documents and religions they were based.

I wanted to hate this site, when I first clicked the link to get there I expected the worst, the title being so "in your face".  Arguments against Christianity (from atheists, especially) usually feel exhaustingly and frustratingly religious (in their own way), without any real facts, but this site instantly had me hooked because it lays out the arguments and the facts so well (and the facts are often conflicting quotations from the bible).

This site is unlikely to convince any true believer that they have been mistaken, but it surely would give a nudge to someone already on the fence.

^ Quinxy

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24Mar/112

Reasons I Don’t Believe in God #10: No “Faith” Required

Christianity (in particular) puts quite a lot of emphasis on "faith". Preachers love to talk about how faith is a requirement, that we cannot require or expect proof from God, at least not in the same way we might expect and require proof from a scientist talking about his new discovery. To be a true follower of God you must believe in Him, largely on the basis of faith.

But what seems so odd to me is that few of the figures mentioned in the Old and New Testaments were required to have the sort of faith we are now expected to. The key figures in both Old and New Testaments all had direct and unambiguous contact with God, Jesus, and angels. This direct contact was not made only to the deeply faithful, it involved those who had no faith, those who had only marginal faith, and those with whom the concept of faith didn't even apply. God proved Himself to Moses by His appearance through the burning bush. God spoke directly to Abraham. God (as Jesus) proved Himself to the Apostles and many an average citizen by walking among them and performing indisputable miracles in their very presence. God (as Jesus) proved Himself to Saul (who became Paul) by converting Him through a personal appearance. God appeared, sent angels, or sent visions to most of the other major figures in the Old Testament (Adam & Eve, Cain, Abraham, Job, Isaac, Mary, etc.). How could these people in the Old and New Testament not believe in God when He was directly interacting with them, proving Himself to them by His words and His deeds? If Jesus appeared before me today and raised someone from the dead I, too, would absolutely believe. If God appeared and spoke to me tomorrow through a burning bush (that was not consumed) I would surely believe. If God spoke to me from the heaven's to ask me where my brother was, I would believe. How could anyone doubt what was so self-evidently true? But why are we now expected to forgo the proof and/or validation provided to all these figures we are taught to respect, emulate, and admire? Why did God or religion change these requirements? Why are we expected to be more "faith"-ful (in the sense of believing without proof) than the Apostles, than Saul (Paul), than Moses, than Abraham. I do not believe I can or should do that.

23Mar/110

Reasons I Don’t Believe in God #9: Only Through Jesus

Mainstream Christianity's reading of the New Testament says, "You can only get to heaven if you've accepted Jesus Christ." If this had come in the form of an announcement delivered in a booming voice from the heavens to every living creature back in 32 AD, fair enough, but what about the billions of people who were born and died since 32 AD without ever having been exposed to a Christian, let alone Christ's message? God would have known how fast and far His message would spread, having only introduced it to one specific region (the middle east) at one specific time. He could have set and explained the new rules to Noah and his family during their time on the ark, so that all people would be informed and could choose their fate with full knowledge of their options and consequences. He could have set and explained the new rules to Adam & Eve in the garden so they could instruct their children and thus all humanity. God is all knowing, so how could he not know he would want to implement these rules at a future time? I find it hard to believe in a God who would knowingly create a situation in which large numbers of his beloved children would be doomed as a result of geography and a lack of world-wide communication networks.

(From what I understand, some believe that on judgment day everyone gets a second chance at giving their final answer about whether or not they accept Jesus as their lord and savior. If this is true then that is marvelous, and alleviates some of my concern, provided those souls are allowed to make an informed choice, presented with information which would reasonably allow one to conclude Jesus truly is real. Regardless, what puzzles me a bit is that if anyone can accept Him at this final moment, why then is it important that people accept Him during their life here on Earth. It would be preferable, sure, but so many Christians seem truly frightened when the relatives they love die (or look as though they may die) without having accepted Jesus.)

^ Quinxy

22Mar/110

Reasons I Don’t Believe in God #8: The Doomsday Cult

Christians (including the apostles) have been proclaiming the end of the world since the very early days of the church. Jesus' return, and the apocalypse He'd bring, was expected within a generation of His resurrection.

Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour.
—1 John 2:18

But the end of the world hasn't yet come, despite the many dire predictions of mainstream and splinter groups over these last two thousand years. Most Christian groups have now wised up and stay well out of the prediction game, but some still swear it's going to happen any day now (next prediction for the end of the world is May 21, 2011).

The fact that the original church was wrong on this profoundly important point, and that many generally accepted as legitimate (as well as wacky) derivations of the original church have been wrong about this profoundly important point, makes me question how right they can be right about the less important issues.

^ Quinxy

21Mar/110

Reasons I Don’t Believe in God #7: Happiness and Goodness are Areligious

It seems reasonable to me to expect that people who love and follow the Lord would be happier and better people than those who don't. If God was real, and His laws were real, and His lessons were real, and faith in Him manifested changes, and prayer to Him worked, and His love was powerful, then how could His people not enjoy better lives and be better people? If His intervention was not a factor then simply their living a life in sacred resonance with a universe He made and they better understood would seem to guarantee some improvement.

And yet, I can find no significant evidence of this. I've known bad people of every faith (and lack therein). I've known unhappy people of every faith (and lack therein). All I've noticed is that the happiest and best people seem to be those who question and explore their religious beliefs (whether they believe or not). I certainly can't argue that the atheists or agnostics might be barred from entering heaven upon their death, but here on this good Earth God seems to show them no particular disfavor in the form of excess misery, death, poverty, etc. This lack of a strong difference between the lives lived, in or out of accordance with His wishes, does not encourage me to believe.

^ Quinxy

20Mar/110

Reasons I Don’t Believe in God #6: Where Did He Go?

The God of the Old Testament made his presence directly and unambiguously known in many people's lives. He spoke directly to various Biblical figures, sent angels to speak on His behalf to various others. He was a very hands-on God. And while He changed His interaction significantly in the New Testament (sending Himself in the form of His son to directly interact with people), he was still very hands-on. But for the last two thousand years His approach has been decidedly hands-off. Now admittedly it depends somewhat on which faith or at least sect you subscribe to. There are Christian sects who believe in the visitations of other prophets, visitations of angels, and miracles, but even among these groups I think it's fair to say that fellow parishioners would look askance at any one arriving Sunday morning claiming a previous night's visitation by an angel bearing a great revelation. Something changed in God's interaction with us, or perhaps in our interaction with God. In either case I find the change hard to reconcile, and belief discouraged as a result.

^ Quinxy

19Mar/111

Reasons I Don’t Believe in God #5: Old Testament God Versus New Testament God

One trouble I have accepting Christianity as truth-based is the stark differences between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament. These differences seem peculiar to me. I would not have imagined an omniscient God would experience dramatic shifts in expressed personality over a span of a mere few thousand years. Our human personalities evolve greatly over our short lifespans because we acquire knowledge, we come to understand that knowledge, and we struggle with hormonal fluctuations that accompany the delicate process of growing and dying. God would have seemed immune to those issues, being both omniscient and omnipotent. And yet He seems to change.

This Old Testament God did a lot of punishing. For their disobedience Adam & Eve were cast out of Eden with all of us now suffering decay and death as a result. For man's growing wickedness all but Noah and his kin were killed in the flood. For their impenitent sin, everyone in Sodom and Gomorrah was killed except Lot and his two daughters. And for their enslavement of the Jews, all the first born males in Egypt were killed. And beyond all the punishment there is an awful lot of testing of men, including the horrible tale of Job and Abraham's near sacrifice of Isaac. And there are ever so many rules laid down in the Old Testament about the behavior we adherents are required to keep lest be kept out of heaven or deserve to be stoned to death. And of course there is the curious fact that Old Testament God is not described as a trinity.

The New Testament God is markedly different. God does not engage in widespread punishment, does not kill those who transgress upon Him or His son, Jesus. And God seems little interested in testing people's faith, except perhaps that of His son. And the New Testament seems to relay a doctrine primarily about love, tolerance, and the need to focus on the core Biblical principles (e.g., love thy neighbor) and less on the minutiae (e.g., don't eat shellfish). And somewhat surprisingly, God also revealed Himself to be a trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

How can these two very different experiences of God be reconciled, without either admitting God Himself radically changed over a period of a few thousand years, or if God is the same then admitting that man's account of God must be wildly inaccurate? Both possibilities strongly discourage my belief.

^ Quinxy

18Mar/110

Reasons I Don’t Believe in God #4: Religious Texts are the Creations of Men

If thousands of years ago the Old or New Testament had descended slowly from the heavens as a blinding light, settling on the ground and revealing itself to be universally intelligible words (readable by all men of every language) printed on indestructible paper as yet unexplained and unreproduced by scientists, then I would be strongly inclined to believe its contents are the unerring truths and wisdom of God. That's not what happened, however. Instead the Old Testament was thought to have been composed over some thousand years, from the 12th century BC to the 2nd century BC, passed down for much of that time by word of mouth. Not surprisingly subtly and significantly different versions of many of the stories/books exist, and various churches have different opinions about which books are valid and can be included. Thus it's very hard for me to imagine the Old Testament is the inerrant and factual testament of God. The New Testament has a similarly complicated history, not having been begun until well after Jesus' death, and then composed of varying, evolving books coming into and out of favor for some 1500 years or so, until stabilizing somewhat in the 16th century. Again, hard for me to see an evolving text subject to the apparent whims of various ages being the inerrant and factual testament of God. I cannot understand, knowing what biblical scholars do about the creation and evolution of the bible, how anyone can believe the bible is literally true.

^ Quinxy