2007-03-02 : God Q&A

So, again with the sprawling and long.

Okay, I'll try. I'm not going to quote all your questions. Mix and match!

Matt Wilson: The fact is, I was a Utah Mormon and I see everything Mormon more blackly and whitely than Brand does, so. The real question I have isn't coffee vs. caffeinated soda, it's beer. If Brand's following church culture on the WoW, he shouldn't drink caffeinated soda either, but if he's reading the WoW for himself, he should totally drink beer. It says it right there: God made barley for mild drinks.

See! More blackly and whitely! Brand's rolling his eyes RIGHT NOW at how legalistic is my thinking.

Also, yeah, there's a thing I miss. I wish I could magic my kids healthy. I miss even trying to.

Next person, in the comments!

1. On 2007-03-02, Vincent said:

James Nostack: Did you hear that the new Christian Coalition leader guy got drummed out because he wanted to add an environmental plank to their platform?

That's what I heard, anyway. I heard it on the internet! It's probably true.

Whenever a Christian talks to me about peace and love I get all narrow-eyed. It's a lot to swallow.


2. On 2007-03-02, Vincent said:

Dave Younce: I know. We coulda been the Father, the Son, and ... that one other Son.

Maybe I can come, we'll see.


3. On 2007-03-02, Vincent said:

Larry Lade: I was trained by my dad, not by any program within the church. The ordination to priesthood authority is something that every faithful 18-year-old Mormon boy gets, pretty much. Sometimes you wait until you're 19, sometimes there are other circumstances, I dunno. All my peers and I were 18.

It includes the authority to cast out devils, as a minor component of a whole suite of authorities. Actually using your authority to cast out devils isn't fashionable in the mainstream church any more, but my dad dug it.

So I didn't have any different position than my peers did, I'd just been raised with a different take on the position than they had.


4. On 2007-03-02, Vincent said:

Matt Kimball (and later, J and Ben): Did free will or determinism make me type and erase three answers? Hell if I know.

Ooh! I have a joke. What do you get when you cross an elephant with a rhinocerous?


5. On 2007-03-02, Vincent said:

Charles S: I think that Unitarian Universalism has a history worth being part of. UUs have led the fight for same-sex marriage rights here in Massachusetts, for instance. That's a virtue of (one) religion.

It turns out that churchgoers live longer, statistically, than non-churchgoers. That's another.

I could get both of those without believing untrue things, I'm pretty sure; all I'd have to do is join the UU church.

Hey, you remember how you used to say that you're too mean a person to be Baha'i? Joining the UU church means admitting value to everyone's spiritual pursuits. I'm not capable of that; I may never be.

I think that there are almost certainly physiological and psychological benefits to personal spiritual practice. I think that there are certainly certainly physiological and psychological benefits to exercising, being vegetarian, taking up a sport, cutting refined sugar out of my diet. I'm not doing any of those things! I'm a moron that way.


6. On 2007-03-02, Vincent said:

Mal: I haven't read The God Delusion.

I think that the world would be a better place if nobody believed in God anymore. I also think that ... Here, I wrote this once before. Let me find it.

This is a longstanding, dare I say it traditional, complaint of atheists: our symbols and traditions just can't compete with the ruthless and violent ideological opportunism of religion. Religion is cynical where atheism is idealistic; accordingly, religion rules the world.
(from this comment)

Good luck to Dawkins. He'll need it.


7. On 2007-03-02, Vincent said:

Ben: "Why didn't we have the conversation I wanted to have last time I saw you?"

Free will. Wait, I mean, lack of free will. That's why! I'm pretty sure it's because of one or the other.


8. On 2007-03-02, Vincent said:

Tris: I was 17! I rationalized it by thinking about sex instead.


9. On 2007-03-02, Vincent said:

Meg: my goodness I wish I knew.

My working answer is: muddle through.

This deserves a much longer post, along with the paganism one. Into the queue.


10. On 2007-03-02, Vincent said:

I'm taking a breather. More later. Followup questions welcome, meanwhile.


11. On 2007-03-02, Councilmember Coyote said:

Vincent, a serious question that does not need an answer, but I wonder if you have thought about it. I remember some of these formative moments and events and discussions, and some of my discoveries were impacted by you and Meg and I would assume the reverse. So I can imagine the question I want to ask you bouncing around your subconcious with out it coming to form (or I am just a whack job, either way). Does it really matter to you whether or not you believe in God or any Ultimate Holy?  There are a lot of implications in that question and its worth thinking about. arf


12. On 2007-03-02, Ben Lehman said:

Hey, Vincent.

Here's one which is just for you since you're getting all ideological about atheism:  Given the vast amount of horrible suffering perpetrated in the last century in the name of Atheism, from where do you get the high horse about Atheism being inherently better than Theism?

(The argument that you're following from seems to be: 'People do bad things to each other in the name of God, therefore the world would be better if people didn't believe in God.'  The problem with this argument, from my view, is that people also do horrible things to each other in the name of not believing in God.)

This is something that really cheeses me off about atheists, but you're basically the most reasonable atheist I've met, so I ask.



13. On 2007-03-02, NinJ said:


I don't care about free will. Its existence or lack thereof can't have any impact on my behavior.


14. On 2007-03-02, Avram said:

Ben, who exactly perpetrated horrible suffering in the name of atheism in the last century? I'm aware of horrible suffering perpetrated in the name of racial purity and nationalism, and various economic models, but atheism? Could you name names?

I should point out that I'm also not aware of any suffering in the name of theism, though I am aware of suffering committed in the names of specific theistic belief systems. Nobody ever held a sword to anyone's neck and said "Profess belief in a deity—any deity—or I'll kill you!"


15. On 2007-03-02, Charles said:


Both the Soviets and the Chinese (among other communists states) were atheistic and hostile to religion. In both countries, religious groups were persecuted. However, in both countries, the major forms of persecution and killing were not based on atheistic opposition to religion.

None the less, the "Lot's of people have been killed in the name of God, so we shouldn't believe in God anymore" argument has always struck me as nonsensical. Lot's of people have killed for many other reasons, including advocating for an egalitarian economic system (millions killed last century for this). I don't think that means we should give up advocating for an egalitarian economic system.


16. On 2007-03-02, Charles said:


Yeah, your reasoning is pretty much my reasoning. Interesting point on why you couldn't be UU.


17. On 2007-03-02, Baron Samedi said:

Ben Lehman's opinion is refreshingly moderate. People kill themselves for any reason - God, communism are pretexts for temporal power.


18. On 2007-03-02, Vincent said:

Just for me, Ben said! You guys.

"Congratulations, Vincent, you're the king of the world! You get one chance to make the world a better place. Behind door number one, everyone stops believing in God. Behind door number two, everyone stops killing each other for money. Which do you choose?"

"I choose ... door number one!"

Yeah, no, I don't think so.


19. On 2007-03-02, Brand Robins said:


I've totally made that argument myself, V. I don't actually drink beer, but that's because I hate alcohol as much as anything else. Stuff is nasty.

So do you like the booze?


20. On 2007-03-02, Ben Lehman said:

Hi, guys.

The Cultural Revolution, for one that I'm personally pretty close to.

Yes, it wasn't a bunch of high-minded rational intellectual atheists.  High minded rational intellectuals, religious or not, rarely massacre anyone.  But it's decidely a decidedly atheist religious/social movement massacreing anyone and anything that goes agains the party line.  Including the slaughter of monks, nuns, and holy men and the desecration of nearly every temple in China.



21. On 2007-03-02, Vincent said:

> So do you like the booze?

The booze, not so much. I like food a lot, and sometimes that includes beer or wine. A few times a year I'll drink a beer or something just for its own sake.

My friends have been beer snobs my whole adult life. I've never had a lame beer. I don't think I've ever even had beer out of a can - wait, I had Guinness in a can one time.

When I went to Berlin last year, I drank more in the long weekend than in any 12-month period in my life. Most of it on the plane, actually; every couple hours they'd come by with something new that I'd never tried. I'm a sucker for things I've never tried.


22. On 2007-03-03, Tris said:

I don't think atheists should be on a high horse.

I think it's possible to point to many many more atrocities committed in the name of religion than in the name of atheism (and I haven't seen an example of one that was really about atheism, and not something else), but then that doesn't reflect on me as an atheist, just as I don't think my christian friends are bloody murderers because I know about the crusades.

Also, how many people can list massive acts of good that have been inspired by atheism?  Because I think there are a lot that are inspired by religion.


23. On 2007-03-03, Brand Robins said:

I know a lot of civil rights folks who are aethiests, inspired by their secular humanism. There are many, many secular humanist martyrs in the history of the world.

I don't personally think anyone should be on a high-horse because chances are if you believe something that a significant number of other people believe the chances are excellent that someone else has used your belief to do a) something better than you will ever do and b) something more terrible than you will ever do.

Cause thats how the smart apes work.


24. On 2007-03-03, Nate said:

yes, "smart" apes.
i like to think of us as only somewhat different apes.
by creating a positive you create it's exact opposite as a negative.  i'm not really talking about the "apes" thing here, i'm talking(well, actually writing)about what certain aspects of religion boils down to me.  when someone says, "this is good" they're also saying "this is bad".  and it's that opposite "this is bad" that gets people upset.
how much of religion is sociology?  so many beliefs have a sociological basis, like the whole kosher food thing.  beyond this whole "big bearded man in a chair thing" there's a real reason for this coming about, and the "this" is religion.
i was thinking about how the whole notion of romantic love came about.  and how currently it's very similar in my mind to this word god.  maybe i've just grown cynical.  when my mom says she loves me, what is she really saying?  because i've been unable to really use the word LOVE and mean it.  i'm not sure what is means to me.
how is the word "GOD" different than the word "LOVE"?  i should say, how is the concept of God and love different to you?


25. On 2007-03-03, NinJ said:

Love is something you feel. Every human (and probably hominid and hominin) forever has felt love, or at least had the capacity to. I'm quite certain it can be denied, but it comes up in weird ways when you least expect it. It's usually not fireworks, but something more akin to reliance and understanding someone. The fireworks part that they go on and on about in movies and stuff seems to be about the first two days of a relationship. The part where you discover that you can fuck three or four times a day.

Not every human forever has felt God. It's a newer idea. It's a complex idea. Even if all you believe is the literal translation of one of the two creation stories in Torah, the humans don't meet God for a while.

So I don't consider them similar at all. I love my wife, I love my friends, I love my sister, I love my mom, I even love my cats, all to varying degrees and in different ways. But I don't love God; God's too big and weird to love, really. It's like loving Jupiter (the planet, not the god) or electrical polarity, or the Second Law of Thermodynamics. God is also responsible for the worst things to ever happen; for the Holocaust, for Lake Pinatubo, the Great Extinction, the Little Ice Age, and car accidents. Love just isn't the issue. Even if you take out the ones with human agency, the wars, genocides, murders, insults, deprivations and misleadings, you still have a universe where the criteria for goodness are met much less than the criteria for badness. I can't say that I "understand" God at all; it would be blasphemy to say so, not only from a cultural perspective, but from a personal, mystical perspective. It would also make God quite suddenly useless as a philosophical goad.


26. On 2007-03-04, Vincent said:

Y'know, I take it back anyway. I have no idea whether the world would be a better place if nobody believed in God.


27. On 2007-03-04, Tris said:


Is there a difference between being inspired by secular humanism, and being inspired by atheism?

Civil rights folks who are atheists is fine - of course atheists do good things.

That's not the same as doing good things because they are atheists.


28. On 2007-03-04, Jeff Z said:

Vincent, maybe it's more like: if the world were a better place, nobody would need God.


29. On 2007-03-04, NinJ said:

Eh. That depends on what you think God is about, Jeff. If God's a punisher and rewarder, then you're right. But only if, and that's not a very compelling position anyway.

If God stands outside of the moral structure, but is a cosmological being, an avenue of inquiry, or a literary device, then no.


30. On 2007-03-04, Matt Kimball said:


I have trouble seeing the use in a God outside the role of judge / punisher / rewarder.  (Lousy Utah Mormon blackly/whitely thinking on my part, surely.)

So, what use is God to you?

Also, about that black/white thinking that Vincent mentions above.  I have a (non-Mormon) aunt who was doing social work in Utah for a while, and I remember her complaining to me once that normally someone in that position would inform cases that black/white thinking is an undesirable thought pattern, but in some cases in Utah it is a cultural value, and it is important for someone in her position to respect cultural values.  So, she felt she had quite a dillema.

And I was like, "Obviously black/white thinking is bad!  Tell them that!"  Which, you know, is kinda funny because it is black/white thinking on my part.



31. On 2007-03-04, NinJ said:

God, for me, is a challenge set up by my ancestors. The idea represents a bunch of complex questions, like these:

??? How come schizophrenics have visions? What's the difference between these and prophecy, and if there is none, doesn't that mean that our whole religion is based on the words and actions of people who we'd now institutionalize? And/or does that mean that we should figure out some other way to view schizophrenia than as mental illness? Why do schizophrenia and epilepsy so often go alongside mystical visions and genius?

??? Why does the Universe appear so orderly if there's no intelligence within it? And how else could the Universe possibly exist, given that the very concept has to do with that order? That is, is the question"Why does the Universe have order?" a tautology?

??? God is represented in wildly different ways in Tanakh. Does this mean that God has moods? Personalities? Isn't the point of monotheism that the Universe has some sort of Grand Unification Theory that makes it all work together? Obviously, different personalities are written by different authors, all of whom had sociopolitical agendas. How does this influence the truthfulness of the impressions given in those documents?

??? Humans clearly have agency to act with or without God. Doesn't Occam's Razor state that we require substantial, non-assertive evidence to say that God has anything to do with anything?

??? When I have a mystical experience, and given that it's God I'm talking to in a meaningful sense, does it matter if God exists?

??? A particular mystical tradition states that Torah gave God the letters of the alef-bet with which to build the Universe. This is deliberate mystical paradox and it's a koan I'd like to crack.

??? If the existence of God makes me act more morally, then thinking that God exists will make me act more morally. Ergo, God is irrelevant to the discussion.

??? God exists outside of, yet permeates the Universe. Like Julia Child exists outside of, but has her fingers in, a pie. This is a powerful exercise for visualizing the scale of the Universe and God. It makes me pretty certain that God doesn't care if I jaywalk.

??? Great scientific minds ??? Mosheh ben Maimon and Isaac Newton, for instance ??? have been motivated mystically and have achieved great things with those tools. Occam's razor says that they were onto something.

??? ?? and phi. Are these messages? Do they only appear that way because my brain is built to find messages? Does the fact that my brain is built to find messages only add that fact to ?? and phi? Is apophenia a way of truly seeing God because we're using the tools God gave us to see God? Or is apophenia a malfunction in my nervous system that builds order out of Chaos? Does that mean that all order is a malfunction of the Universe? What does it mean for a Universe to malfunction?

Without the concept of God, these become unaddressable questions. If you consider yourself an atheist and still wonder about the self-ordering principles of the Universe, I think that you're confusing medium with message. The beauty you see in the spiral of a galaxy and the spiral of a shell is the mystical experience. To so much as wonder why they're that way is religious study. To apply those questions to action ??? even voting for someone because you think they'll fund the NSF ??? is religious practice.

(Vincent, a long time ago, I said "God is a question, not an answer," but I didn't elaborate. This is what I meant.)


32. On 2007-03-05, GB Steve said:

Is it possible to be inspired by the absence of faith? I'm not so sure. You can be inspired by whatever replaces the function that is filled by faith, be that the scientific principal (a dangerous one given that it has no moral component), secular humanism, misanthropy (general or specific) etc. but not by a void.


33. On 2007-03-05, NinJ said:

Steve, it's not the void, which can indeed be inspirational. It's that it's a void defined by another thing. It's not an infinite wombic space; it's a hole punched out of another idea.


34. On 2007-03-05, Blankshield said:

Where is the fruitful void in atheism?


35. On 2007-03-05, Ben Lehman said:

Also, note that having faith in science immediately means that science stops working.

This isn't a huge deal, unless you're a practicing scientist, in which case you need to possess a deep and abiding faith that everyone else got it wrong.



36. On 2007-03-05, NinJ said:

... plus a deep suspicion that you did, too.


37. On 2007-03-05, Vincent said:

Travis: Does it really matter to you whether or not you believe in God or any Ultimate Holy?

The truth is that it's not very important to me at all. I haven't lost sleep over God-or-not since college. Now I go days and weeks without it even coming to mind.

No, I think way more and way harder about roleplaying.

My dad's death, and so now gradually I'm feeling the need to write stuff down. I think that's what's going on.

When I write about paganism, I'm very curious what I'll own up to and what I'll leave under the rug. Very curious indeed.


38. On 2007-03-06, GB Steve said:

Well, wherever you look, you find yourself, whether you're aware of it or not.


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