2005-08-09 : The New Open House 2: Religion

I think we can serve the subject well here. I think we like and trust each other well enough. We've had really good conversations about religion before and I want more.

So please say something about your religious life and your experiences.

This is the thread where you can tell me I'm going to hell, if you want to. But if you're going to preach, only preach to me - your fellow posters are off limits. It's a hospitality thing.

Also please limit your replies to others' posts to marginalia! As we go I'll pull stuff to the front page.

I'll go first.

1. On 2005-08-09, Vincent said:

...But I'm going to cheat and just quote myself.

I wrote this for the Forge's birthday back in April:

Somehow it survived in me that what matters most is family and friends, and what matters next most is guests and hosts. Food binds all. Preparing food, eating food, cleaning up after food. Now that Meg's sister owns land and sheep and chickens and sugar maples and herb and vegetable gardens, add cultivating food too. I take my cookery as a priesthood. Keep your theologies and afterlives, for I know that Cajun shrimp recipe.

My word for God is "the monkey mind." When we get together, we have the monkey mind. We eat and laugh and play and gossip. "Eat" is the heart and "play" is the soul, and play includes games, music, art, stories, touching, discoursing, wandering, looking. Play is how we make sense of everything else.

Religion is a kind of play that I don't enjoy, I think because it involves murmuring and all facing one direction. You can take the monkey out of the trees...


direct link

This makes...
S.S. go "Whoa! I believe you just inspired me!"
ct go "Basic aspects..."*

*click in for more

2. On 2005-08-09, Jason L Blair said:

I'm Unconcerned, Orthodox.

Actually, that's an old answer. I'm not sure it applies anymore. Let me say this then:

I am of the earth, the people, society. My religion is the action, emotion, and interaction of the world. My concern of an "end game" to life or of there being anything outside ourselves is nil.

This is not to say I don't believe there could be something else, something higher, just that it doesn't fall under my jurisdiction.

Office Worker Analogy: You know how you hear about someone goofing off in another department and think "I'm glad I'm not his manager...."? Or you get a broadcast email from some yahoo chiding his workers—even though you're not on his team and this email doesn't pertain to you? That's how I feel when folks discuss their "spirituality" and their "religion."

My concern is the here, the now. What we're doing and why we're doing it. How we treat each other no matter how transitional or temporary these mortal coils are.

I guess my religion is stored in the souls of the people. My spirituality is tied to the zeitgeist. Fashion, trends, headlines, societal shifts, civil rights form the tenets of my doctrine.

I'm a traffic cop at the intersection of life and afterlife, I guess.


3. On 2005-08-09, Matt Wilson said:

I already said my stuff previously, but might I suggest Ken's Guide to the Bible for anyone who isn't too sensitive about it?

It even has icons that remind me of Luke's little imp guys in Burning Wheel.


direct link

This makes...
Yoki go "Agree!"

4. On 2005-08-09, Clinton R. Nixon said:

I believe in the idea of God. I think the idea of God is these things:

- Necessary. We wouldn't have thought it up without a reason. Personally, I think that a majority of people could not function without a concrete answer in their head to the question "Why?"

- Powerful. There's a weird one. But if we're the controllers - people, that is - and we change and affect change because of belief, then what we believe in is powerful.

- Beautiful. The imagination, wow. There's so much truth in the world, and to imagine something beyond truth and lies is amazing and a testament to what we are.

I don't believe in a God, to be frank. I think we made it up. I think that I'm a big, smart monkey, and am cool with that. But the idea of God - amazing.

Give me hours and I'll extend this analogy. The afterlife - don't even get me started.

And lastly, I think modern Christianity is a plague upon the land. I read the Bible - I grew up soaking in it. I know what Christ said. And this modern thing - it ain't it. Not one bit. The Christ I believe in - and I do believe in that person - preached love and tolerance and a primitive form of socialism. According to who you ask, he didn't even say much about being the son of God, except to tell people that they all are the children of God.

I believe in the God of these books: Only Begotten Daughter by James Morrow, and Lamb by Christopher Moore, and Reading the Bible Again for the First Time by Marcus Borg.

Wow, I could go on for days. I should start a religion or something - the Seekers.


direct link

This makes...
MW go "smart monkey"*
VB go "no way."*
CRN go "agreed with VB"*
NInJ go "Answers are a trap."*
CRN go "NinJ, at GenCon"*
CRN go "Continued..."*
XP go "Amen."*
CRN go "You know what else Christ taught?"*
BT go "Seekers"*
misuba go "One's born every minute!"*

*click in for more

5. On 2005-08-09, Matthijs Holter said:

I have several opposing views, depending on mood. These are probably the ones I visit the most.

I: Religion is a parasite. So's music. Some abstract concepts just fit like puzzle pieces to some of humanity's jagged edges, and they stick. Like hacking the brain. Just like some songs you hear on the radio are tailored to stay in your head, some religions are tailored to spread like a virus.

II: God exists and loves us. I can talk to him, and sometimes he answers.

III: When we're desperate, like when somebody close to us dies, or we don't want to die ourselves, or we want someone to help us when our lives are horrible, it's better to have an imaginary friend than no friend at all.

This is one I don't believe in: God has told other people what he wants me to do. He's made strict rules about how we all should live, and if we don't follow them, we will burn. Other people can and should judge how I and others live. We all need to pass judgment on each other to keep each other in line.


6. On 2005-08-09, Yasha said:

I've been attending a christian gnostic church, which outwardly has standard trappings of worship and inwardly is focussed on achieving a specific religious experience: gnosis.  I've been warming to it slowly, focussing more on the services and less on working towards transcendence, which hasn't made sense or even seemed desirable.

Gnosis is the direct experience and realization that our true self, the part of us that feels itself to be "I", is not who we think it is.  It's not the body and mind that we have been identifying with, which was born and will sooner or later die.  Instead, the "I" that is witnessing our thoughts, feelings, actions and the world is really one single universal awareness looking out at the universe through everyone.  And this awareness itself is not separate from what it is observing.  All One! All One! like it says on bottles of Dr. Bronner's soap.  This unity awareness is God, emptiness, existence, the now, whatever.

I believe that this experience is real.  It fits my model of consciousness—that it interfaces with the physical world but belongs to another realm, like mathematics does.  This gnosis/enlightment/illumination experience is common to a lot of different mystical traditions throughout history.  And, I have had personal experiences that have put me in distant view of this unity experience.

So, this is really consciousness hacking, finding a backdoor into infinity and then integrating it back into one's life.  It's supposedly a good thing: achieving gnosis, one no longer worries.  When you're an immortal, timeless awareness, what is there to worry about?  And when you know there is the one self looking out through everyone's eyes, you become compassionate and loving.

I like the idea of experiencing this intense love and peace and freeing myself from misery, but there are aspects of this concept that still creep me out.  I haven't any personal experience of the infinite richness of the One—it's been more abstract than that—and I haven't felt much of the joy and love.  So, actually being one, infinite awareness seems a little claustrophobic and lonely.


direct link

This makes...
AA go "Wow, sounds Buddhist"*
YC go "Sounds like Sufism & Vedanta, too"*
CRN go "Yesu Christo..."*
JB go "Buddhism != Gnosticism"*
YC go "What is Buddha-Nature?"*

*click in for more

7. On 2005-08-09, JasonN said:

My mom tells me that I was baptised Lutheran, like her, but I never had much of a religious life.  I have one fuzzy memory of going to church, maybe when I was 6 or 7.  I remember my once-Mormon dad saying grace a lot growing up, but he doesn't anymore.

Nowadays, I'm pretty much an atheist and materialist, although I observe that little voice in the back of my head which I believe comes from evolved brain structure which wants to call out to God in a time of need.  It's annoying.

I'm fascinated with the rich history and structure of the Catholic church.  I really think that, had I been raised Catholic, parts of me would be happier.  Weird, that.


8. On 2005-08-09, said:

I KNOW I'm going to regret saying anything here. I'm a Catholic. It's the religion I was raised in, and I still beleive in it. I've heard many persuasive challenges to it, but nothing that has yet persuaded me to drop it. Consequently I feel a bit the outsider in Internet circles, writer circles, and gamer circles where less traditional spiritualities are the norm.


direct link

This makes...
JM go "No worries"*
MB go "Speak up!"*
RT go "I'm with you"*
Thevai go "Keep on believing!"*

*click in for more

9. On 2005-08-09, Ben Lehman said:

I believe in God, which is essentially the same thing for me as saying that I like the world.

I'm not religious right now because of, essentially, stupid political and logistical reasons.

I don't pray to ask for things.  I figure He's got enough on His plate already.

I also believe in evil, which is essentially the same thing for me as saying I believe in stupidity.

I try to avoid it.



10. On 2005-08-09, Ninja Monkey J said:

I am a practicing Jew. The Mitzvot are a guide to my life and I give credence to Jewish thinkers disproportionately because I understand the language pretty well (the metaphorical language, not Hebrew or Yiddish). I was brought up in a Reform Jewish household by a Jewish father and a post-birth-converted Jewish mother, which meant that many Hebrew schools and synagogues wouldn't accept us. My dad thought they were petty, small people, so we started a Jewish community of our own in my hometown where we learned things from books, visiting rabbis, and other smart people.

Unlike Clinton, I don't believe than answers are ever any more than a working solution. The Ultimate Answer is an idol. Anything you can think of, that's not God. Given the mystical rigor that's been required to even see God in Jewish tradition, the idea that somehow I can understand what God is through a casual understanding of the process is just, I dunno, weird.

In fact, that one, Commandment Numero Uno, is probably the one that guides me most: "I am the Lord, your God. Have no other gods before me." Many people have interpreted this to mean that there are no other "gods" in the Universe. Not only is this not supported by Torah, but it deprives us of an avenue for examination of the Universe; it makes those gods larger than they are.

What that means to me is "There is a God, a creative intelligence to the Universe. Don't think that you are smaller than anything but that. Certainly not symbols like Hermes, which are obviously powerful symbols that you control yourself."

Submitted for your consideration: there is a sign for Hermes, but no sign for HaShem; that every "name" we have for God isn't a name tag, but an arrow pointing in a direction, and that other "names" point in different, orthogonal directions. Like a sign that says "New York ->".

Traditionally, Jewish thought is pretty quiet on the afterlife - every rabbi I've ever met has said, "Well, no one's been there and back. We live Judaism so that we do the right thing today. Leave death to the dead." There's a strong tradition of reincarnation in Judaism before the 18th century, but, again, it doesn't have much applicable value, except to mystics, so it's not something that comes up much. Certainly, I don't think of Hell as anything but a Christian (and, surprisingly, Buddhist) concept.

To me, religious practice is perpetually moving closer to understanding the Universe. Scientific study is religious practice. Making things is religious practice. Playing music. Dancing. Eating. Laughing. When done mindfully, these processes are mystical in nature, in that they give us a chance to burn our idols at every step.


direct link

This makes...
TM go "Some "me toos""*

*click in for more

11. On 2005-08-09, Jasper McChesney said:

I'm an atheist and always have been: no baptism, no circumcision, nothing. Growing up, I was probably exposed to more Native American mythology than Christianity or anything else, but I remember thinking (I'm like 5) about Amerindian myths, and this "god" person the Christian believed in, and seeing no difference: both were reasonably interesting *ideas* (Yahweh less so) but nothing I believed in. It was part of culture, but that didn't make it true.

Later on, of course, I began actually using the word atheist, mostly in the face of religious friends, who did their best to tell me about how great God is.

I always have two minds about religion. It both fascinates and baffles me. I don't see how anyone can subscribe to one particular, narrow religious tradition while also being aware of the *thousands* of other traditions out there, each with competing, equally compelling claims. All those trapping and methods seem so obviously of human design, just tapping into some universal ape-man emotions and mental devices. And religion often irritates me, especially the in-your-face proselytizing and the smarmy self-confidence.

On the other hand, religions posit some really compelling cosmologies, inspire very interesting world-views, art, etc. And they help people make sense of things, especially themselves. So I've given up trying to argue people away from religion—That's the last thing I'd try. But I'm still baffled, and mostly look at it from an anthropological position now, because it's the only way it makes any sense to me.


12. On 2005-08-09, Jay Loomis said:

I think God is irrelevant. May be there, may not be. What's important is the world around us. I do believe that there are things we can't see or describe, things that we can't yet understand (and maybe never can).
I have faith in the natural world. I believe in the myriad miracles that nature provides.
I am inspired by my limited understanding of Taoist philosophy. But I'm not confident in that body of thought to call myself a Taoist.


13. On 2005-08-09, The M. said:

I have been following your previous religion thread(s) with interest, so I'll shoot.

I was raised Catholic, but in a rather lax way. My mom had us go to Sunday school and vaguely wanted us to go to church, but we didn't go very regularly. My dad was (quietly) resistant to it all almost never got involved in the church himself unless it was a special occasion. He is a scientist at heart and in recent years I've seen hints that he might be an Objectivist, which would explain a lot. I think he might approve of the cultural, aesthetic, and psychological aspects of religion...he seems to appreciate it except in its "actually explaining how things are" aspect.

Religion was very much not a part of public life in my small New England town. Most people were some brand of Christian, but the subject of religion rarely came up socially or in school except in terms of holiday events. For example, I really had little idea what other Christians did in terms of religion. Nor did I know that there was a difference. I just sort of assumed that the Christian churches were all more or less alike and that some people attended church more than others and that was the end of it.

What I personally got out of religion was this:

1) Since early childhood, I found Sunday school, church, religious events that did not involve presents or candy, and rules that had no observable impact on my life or the lives of others to be inconvenient and annoying. I didn't particularly identify with other people in the church community. I thought it smelled weird and that everyone else's moms had ugly haircuts. (For some reason, those trivial details really stick with me. I couldn't tell you why.)

2) I was deeply afraid of going to hell, despite (or perhaps because of) the above. I'm not sure why, because it was not heavily emphasized at church or in Sunday school. Maybe it's just what I saw between the lines? In any case, this fear was the only "deep feeling" I ever experienced in connection with religion. I don't quite understand what people mean when they say they can "feel" the Truth or what have you.

As you can see, for me, it was mostly stick and not much carrot.

One thing for which I'm grateful was that my parents were pretty laid-back about the whole thing. When I worried about going to hell because I didn't want to go to church, they told me to just be a good person and not worry about it. (For some reason, I only worried about these things in the dead of night...I could never care quite so much when the sun came up on Sunday.) When I worried that my Hindu friend would go to hell, they said he'd go to "Hindu Heaven" and I could go visit from "Regular Heaven" and that I should go to bed and not worry about it. In retrospect, it was remarkably pluralistic of them, considering how socially conservative they are otherwise.

So where was I at this point in the story?

1) Religion was not pushed on me very hard to begin with.
2) Even so, I didn't like it very much.
3) The only use I saw in religion was as a way to avoid hell.
4) My fears of hell were undermined by my parents.
5) I knew fuck-all about other religions.

So, while I stuck with Catholicism out of inertia and to please my mom's side of the family, deep inside I gradually turned to Deism-tinged-with-leftover-Catholicism. It left open the possibility of an afterlife, a lot of thinkers my dad respected (esp. the Founding Fathers) were Deists, and it cut out all of the stuff about actually going to church.

Late in my high school career, I learned more about history, about the church, about the Protestant reformation, and a bit about non-Christian religions.

I did start to wonder things like: "Hmm. A lot of people have been awfully sure about a lot of different things that pretty much nobody believes anymore. I guess that the fact that someone (or even LOTS of people) really, really, really believes something ultimately doesn't count for much."

This train of thought continued into college, where I learned more about history and religion in general.

I soon realized that my only remaining basis for belief was Pascal's Wager, and clung tightly to that in order to justify my Deism and assuage my lingering fears of nonexistence.

Then I realized that Pascal's Wager presented artificially restricted choices, and discarded it.

Every train of thought on the subject since then has led me quite firmly towards agnosticism. I'll spare you the further rambling that a meandering treatise on my agnosticism would enatil. Let it suffice to say that I am quite satisfied with this state of affairs. My approach to the issue of death/nonexistence is now simply: "Since I currently have no firm experience on which to base decisions regarding what happens to 'me' after I die, worrying about it is a waste of time that detracts from actually living."

I really don't miss religion at all. All I personally got out of it was a lot of bother and worry and a tiny bit of hope. I keep the tiny bit of hope just for fun anyway, and see no reason why the rest of it should be a prerequisite.

Oddly enough, I had very little exposure to the notion of present-day religious extremism until after college. I somehow didn't realize just how seriously US Christians took things until the 2000 presidential election, and while I knew about Muslim extremists, I didn't really "get it" until September 11th thrust it into the limelight.

The idea that anyone could be so certain about things that are totally outside of the experience of other people, yet affect their relations with those other people, disturbs me quite a bit.* Because of that, I often find myself slipping towards a negative view of religion in general...but I try to keep an open mind and remember the many, many people for whom religion is a positive influence.

* - I also find it fascinating, which is why I greatly enjoy religious discussions.


14. On 2005-08-09, Tymen said:

I believe in God (He, She, It, All of the Above). I was baptised Roman Catholic, but attended a Presbyterian Church.
My beliefs have evolved over the years.

I try to follow three simple rules. (These are at the root of Christ's teaching I think and if everyone followed them, I believe we'd be a fairly enlightened society right now.

1. Love God. (Which I interpret to mean try to love everything and everyone, in that peaceful kind way that the World seems to have forgotten these days. If God is in everything/body, then all are worthy of love.)

2. Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you.

3. Do no harm.

I believe that all paths lead to God, and whichever path you are on is the correct one for you to be on.

(I do not believe God endorses Holy Wars, killings in "Gods" name, or anything like that.)

I also have no problem reconciling Creationism with Evolution, if a creator got ball rolling using evolution as his mechanism, I have no issues with that. I'm not about to enforce my beliefs on anyone else.

I think Heaven and Hell are what you create, you decide where you are going to end up.

Other than that, do your best to be a good person, never let hate consume you, try to love those around you.

These are just some of my thoughts on the matter. Simple maybe, but I think that anything more complex and you begin to break down the Spirituality it.

(I have to say, I love the concept of the Roman Catholic Latin services in those beautiful churches. There is something beautiful about the rhyme and ritual of it.)


15. On 2005-08-09, Meguey said:

My mother was raised a very strict Fundamentalist Baptist. She left the church in her teens. When I was born, she very purposefully read me a ton of other myth-systems, with Greek, Norse, Egyptian, and Native American being fore-most, and a fair smattering of Indian/Hindu, North African/Islam, and Asian.  Although I didn't learn this until years later, I wasn't allowed to spend time alone with my grandmother until I knew enough other myth-systems, and had heard enough other Bible stories, that I was inoculated against her rabid form of Christianity.

Throughout my young childhood, great attention was paid to the natural world, the turning of the seasons, the patterns of farming, and plant and animal planting/birth and harvest/death and consumption. The world of spirits, fairies, devas, etc., was accepted as part of life, especially for a young child under 7 years old. The meditation and relaxation techniques she used to help me sleep, calm down after an excitement, handle discomfort, or check in to see what I deeply needed are ones I still use and use with my boys.

When I was in 3rd grade, we went to the local Unitarian Universalist church for the first time. I keenly remember her nervous, distracted energy that morning, and when I asked her what was wrong, she said "What if I go and I like it?" I shrugged and said "Then we'll go back?" At this time, I was ready for a broader community to talk about myth, belief, experience, and religion. I found that, plus a congregation spanning many generations, walks of life, passions, and religious backgrounds or outlooks. I studied Sufism briefly, and had my first truly transcendent spiritual experience while taking part in the Dances of Universal Peace. I played outside a lot, and made shrines to Artemis. I read the Bible, the Complete Works of Shakespeare, and the great distopian writers (Brave New World, Animal Farm, 1984, Fahrenheit 451)

In 1983, I moved to California. I was 12. I was just beginning to really feel a part of the youth community at the UU church in upstate NY, and I came to the HUGE UU church in San Diego. I felt really lost, and spent a few years really angry at just about everything. Never God, because God was still not an active part of my lexicon. In 8th grade, I rediscovered the UU youth group, and went on to spend the rest of my school years deeply involved in UU activities, which usually involved worship of some form. The worship was more about connection and respect and community and personal path than anything else. This was when the idea of Divinity began to have any meaning, although still very distant. Also at this time, in my public high school, my friends and I were spending a ton of time talking about metaphysics, chi, ESP, and the like. Remember, this was the mid-80s. We were highly suspect, because we were talking about deeper matters than the school was ready to handle, and we periodically got rounded up and 'talked at' about having a positive attitude, fitting in, etc.  Once we even got a big, overblown and under-researched write-up about "Satanic practices in our schools." Which was bunk, but, like in Salem a couple hundred years earlier, the adults were ready to pin their fears on the teens, and not bother to check facts.

September 9, 1990. I met Vincent Baker, this cute Mormon boy. Mormon!?! Fascinating! I don't know very much about that myth-system. Tell me all about it. I want to know.  You all know where that got me (and him, I guess.)

So now I have two (and a half) sons, and it matters to me that they grow up with some of the same things, which I find in part in the UU church. So, this is why I'm an Eclectic Pagan Unitarian Universalist:

• I do believe in the inherent worth and dignity of all beings, and in the interconnected web of which we are a part. These are the first two of the UU principals.

• I do find deep value in following the cycle of the seasons, and by this I mean not just the four you may think of, but all the changes of the world around me through the year. A few days back, I noted the first changed leaf on a tree near me, and welcomed it. I love the pagan eight holidays of the Equinoxes, Solstices, and cross-quarters, and I have intentionally brought them into my children's school, showing them the science of the dance of Sun and Earth. And also, it helps bring their important holidays in to the wider school world, that is dominated by Christian theology, even if only by mass culture.

• I do believe in the personal quest for understanding that fuels most religion, and in the notion that there are many, many, many paths to this understanding of the How and Why of one's life and experience. I think people can access parts of their understanding from many paths, and so I value respectful experience of religious and spiritual traditions other than my own.

• I do believe that the Earth, although perhaps not sentient, is a self-correcting organism, and balance will be made, even if that means we get moved aside as the dominate species. I also believe reverence for the Earth, the water and air and land and resources, is a Good Thing, and being in harmony with that local environment will bring deeper happiness.

• I believe there is more to the world, and more to life, than I will ever know. I believe that some portion of us survives death, even if it is only in the minds of those we leave behind.

• I have no fear of Hell, and feel the idea of 'Devil' is misused. I act in accordance with my conscience as best I can, and try to follow my beliefs as above.  I am not afraid of death in itself, but have any parent's desire to not leave my children bereft, any lover's desire not to leave the beloved bereft.

• I believe in the pagan creed "And it harm none (including yourself!), do as thou will". None is a lot of people, so I try to be mindful and careful in my actions.

• I believe in karma, and also in being proactive towards my own growth, happiness, and well-being.

I've had a ton of various spiritual and religious experiences, but this has gone on long enough for one post.


direct link

This makes...
Drew go "Sounds like we had similar childhoods!"*

*click in for more

16. On 2005-08-10, Avram said:

I'm an atheist, raised with a Jewish education. Religion seems like bizarre craziness to me, but sometimes it looks like the good kind of craziness.

I've been cooking up a crackpot theory these past few years, about how gods are actually memetic beings living in distributed processes running in the heads of populations of humans. But it still needs work.


direct link

This makes...
MB go "Ask me about Cosmic Mulch"*
Jasper go "Blackmoore?"*
larry go "It's "Blackmore""

*click in for more

17. On 2005-08-10, Jim Zoetewey said:

I'm a Christian, specifically Christian Reformed. That's a little known Dutch Calvinist denomination formed by Dutch immigrants to the US around the middle of the 1800's. My family has been some variety of Dutch Calvinist for at least 300-400 years, coming out of what you might call the Dutch Bible Belt (i.e. Friesland).

I'm not sure how to best describe my faith at this point. I was a religion major in college, attended seminary in the hope of eventually moving on to get a doctorate in Old Testament Biblical studies (i.e. Hebrew and the social world of ancient Israel).

As it turned out, I left seminary before finishing and went off and got a second major and master's in sociology. I was particicularly interested in the sociology of religion and social movements, ultimately doing my masters thesis on the Promise Keepers' ideology.

In the meantime, I've done some reading (and taken the odd class about) other religions—particularly Islam, Buddhism, and the various religions of India. Recently, I've been paying attention to neo-paganism.

Despite a great affection for (and belief in) the theology of John Calvin, I'm not particularly dogmatic about it. It's hard to be. I'm very conscious of the many options out there and the methods of creating and maintaining belief.

I guess the upshot of this is that I still believe and intend to raise my children within Christianity, but, I'm quite aware that I could be wrong. It's a risk you take in every part of life.


18. On 2005-08-10, xenopulse said:

I got baptized as a baby and confirmed as a Lutheran Evangelical at age 14 after two years of weekly church youth group, but only because that's what most people in Northern Germany do. They are also generally very very lax about religion and have no understanding for fundamentalism whatsoever.

It's hard believing in the benevolent God when your culture is responsible for the Holocaust (which the church didn't do jack shit to prevent).

So at age 14, I thought I had a soul. I wanted to wear a cross, and my parents were all weirded out. Only cultists actually take religion seriously, they thought. That's pretty much the mainstream belief there.

I knew one girl in high school who was a strong Christian. She held bible study during breaks with the three other kids at school who were believers. Everybody thought they were really strange. Not in an evil way—that girl was the nicest, most peaceful being I've ever met. She also lived in a commune and was waiting for marriage to have sex. Again, 99% of the people around her were confused why anyone would do that.

As you can see, being from such a background did not exactly prepare me for the extent to which Christianity is a part of the US way of life. It still shocks me at times. If you are trying to become chancellor in Germany, and you tell people you let your decisions be influenced by your Faith, the bible, God, or whatever, your chances sink to less than nil.

Personally, I've started going to the UU church around here, and I like it. Lots of sensible people there sharing community and caring. I have a somewhat pseudo-Hegelian belief myself that's based on diversity as the expression of, well, whatever it is; God, Life, Meaning.

- Christian


19. On 2005-08-10, James Holloway said:

I'm a skeptical atheist, raised as a liberal Catholic. My mother was a Scottish Presbyterian, and she waited until after her mother was dead to convert to Catholicism. Marrying a Catholic was one thing, but becoming one...? I dimly remember attending the occasional Church of Scotland service when visiting my granny as a child.

I remain fascinated by religion, and specifically by the Roman Catholic church. I don't feel like I understand it, or have ever understood it, but I can see that its philosophy, its structure, its changes over the years are vitally important. I find the dynamics of conversion fascinating. I study medieval funerary practice, so I spend a lot of time thinking about belief and practice as far as religion is concerned.

I find the question of whether or not there's a supreme being, a non-human intelligence of some kind that made the world or governs our lives or judges right and wrong, very uninteresting, as I do almost all metaphysical questions. I think I may not be wired that way. I find moral questions, however, very fascinating, and they do tend to bump up against metaphysics, don't they?


20. On 2005-08-10, Tobias said:

Just lost my post (own fault).

Born in 1975, raised "Gereformeerd" (Reformed, but not "Dutch Reformed"), a couple of church visits a year and bible-reading at home, including 2 seasons of "Catechism", which means a weekly hour of discussion on the meaning of religion in the world and personal opinion, etc.

Supposedly, Gereformeerd is fairly strict Calvinistic Protestantism, but that's by Dutch (Liberal) standards, and my parents were always open-minded enough to allow me to have my own opinions.

Around 14 that lead to my rationality not accepting all this any more, and going atheist. By now I understand many concepts about 'the idea of God' as well, and I think there are some effects going on in this reality which have been associated with the supernatural or religious of which science has no understanding yet, but should be open-minded about.

I'm a secular humanist, but like books such as 'the akashic field' and have read far & wide.

Religion does increase the survivability of a (section) of the species.


21. On 2005-08-10, joshua m. neff said:

Oh, let's see...

I was raised by a family who were, for the most part, ethnically Jewish (with some Irish and other bits thrown in) but were spiritually Secular Humanist Communists. When I was born, my father was finishing up his seminary, becoming a Unitarian-Universalist minister (which he got into through the Civil Rights movement). He did this for some 25 years before he got burned out on organized religion and quit. I grew up going to UU church every Sunday, but it never really spoke to me. Since I became an adult, both of my parents have abandoned the UU church. My mother started going to synagogue (although no one in my family has done that in who knows how long), and my younger sister had a Batmitzvah, but my mom has stopped going now, and even when she was, she admitted that she didn't believe in G*d, she was just going to be part of the Jewish community.

So, now you know where I come from. For me, personally, my spirituality tends to be close to Jason L Blair's: I'm not concerned with what happens when I die, I don't care about the spiritual, cosmological implications of my actions, or other's actions. I care only about how my actions affect other living human beings, and how their actions affect me and others. It's not that I don't really believe in "God," it's that I simply don't care whether or not God exists, or what It wants. It has no real bearing on my actions or how other's treat me. When I walk into a church or temple, I don't feel anything (except appreciation for the artwork and architecture). (The exception is when I'm exposed to Taoist and Zen stuff. I feel a slight tug, my breath tends to catch. I've been in Buddhist temple complexes and felt something. But it's not really my culture, and I'm suspicious of trying to appropriate another culture's spirituality except on a private, personal level.)


22. On 2005-08-10, La Ludisto said:

Religion is to Belief as Corporations are to Entrepreneurship.  Some guy cooking hamburgers and selling them to feed people is great; somewhere in the process of turning the one guy into McDonalds, something (usually) goes wrong.

I went to a little Christian college by the name of Westmont, full of nice white upper-middle-class Christians who were so full of their faith that there wasn't any room for anything else.  Anything they attempted was inevitably twisted up and destroyed by that faith.  Rational arguments turned into apologisms (explaining why dogma is actually correct and all other opinions are wrong).  Charity turned into self-serving feel-good exercises.  My favorite example is an event where students go to Mexico over spring break and build houses and give dental exams and suchlike; backed by the considerable weight of the Alumni, the program would take multiple semi trucks of supplies down there.  They didn't bother registering the medical supplies with customs, however, and so when they were stopped at the border, they waited until nightfall and crossed the border illegally.  Later they praised eachother for 'going the distance' and I was just generally disgusted.

Organized Religion severely traumatized my wife as a child, and the effects of that abuse still linger today.  Her grandparents were Molocon (which isn't spelled right), her mother married outside of the church, and so my wife and her sister were shunned, had to sit in the back of the church, were told to do things in Russian (which they did not speak) and blamed for not minding their elders, and the like.  She wants nothing to do with religion, and it's difficult to generate any interest of my own seeing her still dealing with the fallout of her experiences.

Technically speaking, my big beef with Christianity is the Problem of Evil, which I cannot resolve to my personal satisfaction.  That's the one where a omnipotent, omnibenevolant God created a world in which suffering exists.  If I can conceive of something better, and God is unable or unwilling to explain how I'm mistaken in terms that I can understand, then I really don't see any basis for worship in such a god.

It only gets worse once people rally around the notion and start telling eachother what to do and arguing over it.  Religion has killed more people throughout history than just about anything.  I wouldn't be surprised if Religion beat out Hunger and Cancer for leading cause of death.  For those it did not kill, it has made their lives into excessive suffering.  And yet it must appeal to some corner of our monkey-brains, because religion never has a lack of adherents.

I know I'm trailing along the line of criticizing other posters and their beliefs by portraying any religious belief as untenable, but in all truth, I envy the lot of you a great deal.  It would be very nice to believe in something big and noble and pure—I just can't bring myself to believe in such a thing, given what I've seen and experienced.


direct link

This makes...
MH go "Burgers!"*
BT go "Customs"*
JB go "Evil!"*
BT go "Awesome, BT"*
NInJ go "Christian concepts do not define religious concepts."*

*click in for more

23. On 2005-08-10, Matt Schlotte said:

There is a long answer to this that I wrote, but it was maudlin and rambling, and while I do ramble, I am not in fact a maudlin person, so I will now try to write a less rambly answer sans the maudlin.

Currently I hold no religious view regarding myself. I respect other peoples religion and hold their belief as inviolate. This means I respect Catholics like no ones business. They have a solid line of faith with the Culture of Life which is consistent and that impresses me, even though it is the opposite of my own personal political decisions. I do not say "amen" when I am in a church. In my mind it disrespects everyone else who is there and who believes in the faith they are acting on. Its like a petition signer getting one hundred legit voter signatures and then up walks someone who can not vote in that state and signs the petition. Let me get back to this point.

I also do not personally hold truck in magic, as magic is faith as well and I for reasons beyond my knowing only hold faith in the interesting but, in my mind, un-magical and un-religious reality around me. However I do believe that other people have faith in magic and/or religion. I do my best then not to step on their toes when they are acting on such. I lack the faith in magic and religion as it effects me, but there is a lot of proof that it does affect others.

So back to the people in the church singing and saying amen. In many of their minds they gathered in a place of worship and it is their collective voice that allows them to get closer to the divine being of their choice, so adding in a disingenuous humming along and "amen" would be the stepping on toes I mentioned earlier.

Some of this has to do with how I was raised, which is as a Jew. Collective religious faith comes from minyan. Liking Catholics because they are consistent is from getting beaten up for being a Jew by people who told me they believed in "love thy brother" and that my g-d is a vengeful g-d. Also because the Catholic kids were never the ones fighting me.

I still consider myself culturally Jewish, but I no longer hold to the tenants.

Let me finally address the faith issue. I'm not sure if I ever had faith in a diety. The Jewish community I grew up in was small and surrounded by people who didn't like us. The Jews my family spent time around were very academic, so my look at the religion was always academic. My family also converted, so we had to be "more" Jewish then the other average Jews at our conservative Synogogue. The people around us, who weren't Jewish though were often claiming they had spoken or heard from g-d or felt its hand guide them or touch them, and I never had an experience like that so perhaps that eroded my faith as well. The idea that other people were off having ecstatic communions with g-d and I wasn't. It never made me want to convert though and often it made me think they were soft in the head, but I was a young kid who was pushed in the dirt often so I can forgive myself thinking poorly of others from time to time.


24. On 2005-08-10, Brennan Taylor said:

I'm a Quaker, or the Religious Society of Friends. I was raised in a family of Friends, and when I turned 18 I could have automatically taken a full adult membership in my meeting. I decided not to do this, because I wanted to find what was right for me at the time. I did a lot of thinking, and looked into other faiths, and in the end decided that I was, indeed, a Quaker. I went through the whole process of joining the meeting, just as if I had come to it as an adult, because this was important to me.

In my personal philosophy, I am very Deist, and I have a lot of respect for Daoism, which I have incorporated into my own philosophy. The nice thing about being a Quaker is that these beliefs are totally legitimate, and there is no barrier for me to reconcile this with my membership of a Quaker meeting. Quakers believe that every person can be in direct communication with the divine (and is, even if they don't realize it). That means that I can look inside myself and find what is right, which suits my strong independent streak. I could never be a member of a more organized church that grants authority to someone over me.

The basic Quaker values of pacifism, honesty, and equality are all things I can really get behind. I looked around, and decided I liked where I was.


25. On 2005-08-10, Judd said:

I was sent to Hebrew school until I was thirteen.  I knew I was a spiritual person but had some guilt that it had nothing to do with Temple.  Looking back, Temple had more to do with convincing us that we should marry a nice Jewish girl and continue the cycle than anything spiritual.

Looking back I think I got Bar Mitzvah'ed more because of my parents and grandparents than anyone else.

But I liked it.  I liked learning Hebrew and I liked learning what they were willing to teach me, which wasn't much.

I went to my cousin's kid's, Howard's, Bar Mitzvah and it was amazing.  The kid talked about what his piece of the Torah was about and it was fascinating stuff.  I have no idea what my Bar Mitzvah havtorah was about, not a clue.  Why did they teach me to sing it but not to understand it?

I was a voracious student.  I don't get it.

My cousin's kid had to go out into the community and do a mitzvah, make a difference.  Rock the fuck on!

And now what?

Now I'm a non-practicing Jew who still calls himself a Jew even though I don't go to Temple and don't feel any real link with the Jewish community.

I have no idea what I'll tell my children if and when I have any.

And I still feel some greater force, some bigger dingus at work in my daily life.  I'm not sure what that means.

Fuckit, let's game.


direct link

This makes...
jmn go "I call myself a Jew, too, even though I'm not religious and don't have much connection to other Jews I meet."

26. On 2005-08-11, Sven Seeland said:

Well well... I usually don't go around talking about my religion and stuff but I'll take this opportunity to put thoughts and feelings into words since it usually helps me clear things up for my own understanding.

I was raised as a casual protestand christian. My mother and I never went to church much though I did go through all the formal steps that a young protestant christian can go through (don't care to translate them now since it doesn't matter for the greater picture).

Nowadays things have changed a bit for me. I'm still a member of the church but simply for sentimental reasons. I just couldn't get myself to part from that part of my life yet.
That being said, I don't believe in the church. I don't believe that people need an organization in order to believe and to live their faith. A community to share the faith is a good thing but most churches/religions in these days aren't communities but rather highly structured hirachies (spelling?). In order to probably explain these thoughts I have to digress a bit. I'll try to be brief.

I always thought of myself as a scientist type of person. I look at things in a very practical and realistic way. We don't know anything about god, whether there is a god and if there is one what he's like.
I don't believe into "The One True Way" that every religion claims to be, in the sense of being "the Truth". A religion may claim to be the "Best Way Of Life Known To Date" but actually telling people that "God says you have to do this-or-that" and "The Afterlife is like this" is just bullshit.

I do believe in the bible as a guideline. I do also believe that any religion is just that: a guideline. A metaphorical way to spread a certain mindset. I generally consider this a good thing, since most religious mindsets are rather peaceful and generous. Religion helps people to cope with their lifes and problems. Of course this is a bad thing when this turns into extremism but extremists have usually strayed pretty far from their religion. Islam is a very peaceful religion at heart. It's the extremists that twisted it.
That and many of the original thoughts and intents have been lost in the various translations of the religious texts and in the mindless practicing and preaching of them over the centuries

So much about my thoughts about other religions. Now about my own beliefs.
I stand here in my life, in this world and I look around and can't help to wonder. I wonder about the sheer beauty of the world! What amazes me most is the wonder of life! There is nothing more stunning than watching a child being conceived, beeing born and grow up. I look at physics and mathematics and I am amazed by the beauty and the genius of the laws that are at work around us every second of our lifes! Seeing how such simple sets of laws create such amazingly complex and well working systems is mind-boggling! Nature is amazing all in it self. Nature has survived any catastrophe. It has brought forth organisms and systems that are amazingly complex and "just work".
As a information science major (I tend to call it system theory) I can't help but be stunned by everything I see around myself. It makes me think that it can't just have been an accident. If at the time of the big bang there had just been a tiny change in the mixture of particles, a tiny little, subtle change in the proportions, the universe as we know it wouldn't exist. We wouldn't exist. And then there is the big question: what happened before the big bang? Where did it all start?

As you can see my "religion" consists mostly of questions. My concept of "god" is a very blury one. For me, god is a set of natural laws that we know very little about. God is the spirit that created life. God (in the previously mentioned forms) creates a sort of universal justice.
I don't know whether God is actually sentient. I wouldn't rule out the possibility but I believe that if God is sentient, he is so in a way that is totally alien to mankind and can not be compared with our way of thinking and feeling and our concepts of justice in any way.
I also don't think that if God is sentient, that God is in any way focused on humanity. We are God's children no more than all the rabbits, monkeys, snakes, fish, cockroaches, mosquitoes, trees, flowers and backteria. And before God, all humans (just as all non-humans) are equal, no matter their skin-color or faith.
How do I know this? It makes the most sense to me. Since God is (by definition) not human, I don't see why he should prefer any form of life to another. Looking at life around me makes believe that the concept of God is a lot broader than represented by christianity.

I believe that life is a great accomplishement and should be honored as such!

And death? Is there a life after death? Well, I don't know. I can't rule it out so I'll acknowledge the possibility. To be perfectly honest: in the darker passages of my life, which I have luckily left behind, the only thing that kept me from killing myself was the thought of an afterlife in which I could be punished for throwing away the most valuable gift: life.
I had no evidence that this could be the way it is but I had no evidence against it either, so I had to consider the possibility.

Damn, this turned out to be a lot longer than planned.
I hope any of this makes sense. I would really like to debate this further, if anyone wants to. You can contact me at sven dot seeland at gmx dot de.


27. On 2005-08-11, Kirk said:

I have essentially discarded all notions of a Christian God. I put no faith in an afterlife, although it certainly would be interesting when I finally get around to it. I think that there might be something out there that is bigger and more important than we are, but it doesn't really concern me, as I probably wouldn't concern it (the universe as one massive being? Perhaps. Its plausible)

Instead, I concern myself with philosophy and cooking (although not to the extent that Vincent does though. Besides, my cooking isn't that good, although I can make some mean Italian...) Much of my philosophy is actually based around a mish-mash of stuff like The Satanic Bible by Antoine LeVay, various Bhuddist texts, and Babylon 5. I consider life to be life, and that is a good enough reason for me. If I want to go into reasons for existence and such, I get very fatalistic and start viewing people as walking machines, so I tend to try and stay in a human point of view. Although being objective does put things in perspective from time to time.

My own perception of religion is a means to an end. To find a reason for everything. A way to find truth and understanding. Hey, each to his own. If you find truth and understanding by navel gazing, praying, performing pagan rites or watching Babylon 5, all the power to ya. It is when things start to get a bit out of hand when religion bothers me (The concept that only one religion can be true, the Spanish Inquisition, punishment for not believing). Truth is my goal in life, truth and understanding of myself (which, to my mind, is the only thing that I can have any perfect understanding of) and as much as I can of the world.

In the matter of religion and morality, they are connected but not exclusive to each other. You can be moral without a religion, and you can be religious without having any morals. I define morals as being a guide for behaviours. There are certain aspects of morality which at some point we can call "human morality" but not quite yet. Being in love generally feels much better than hating someone, helping someone feels better than hurting them (partly based upon social upbringing, partially evolutionary).

Half-formed ramblings, I know, but I understand it in my head. I have a more cohesive (and lengthy) essay around the house, but I don't think I'll put it up.


direct link

This makes...
IMAGin go "What - you took your philosophy from Babylon 5 too?"*
KM go "I was being slightly facetious..."*

*click in for more

28. On 2005-08-11, Chris said:

My thoughts in a nutshell:
- There is a Creator
- The Creator is a hella cool sort
- There's a big purpose to all of this (I don't know what it is)
- But exact things that happen aren't all "part of the plan", just stuff that happens, as much as whatever happens between bacteria as you eat a piece of food has very little to do with your plan of eating
- You can go through life not knowing or not caring about it, and the purpose still gets fulfilled (you get what you're supposed to, whatever it is)
- And all the whoo-hah about everything else is pretty much people's invention and using the idea of God to abuse each other.


29. On 2005-08-11, ScottM said:

Baptized Catholic, but never attended services as a child.

When dad remarried (I was 10), we went to uber-conservative Methodist church.  I gave it a go and kept chunks that seemed good, but as a whole the story seemed to have too many flaws.  There was a year or so of teenage "prove yourself God", which didn't happen, so I drifted away.  It became clear that Dad was in the church mostly because he enjoyed singing in the choir, which undercut my enthusiasm.

After his divorce, we gave up church again, which had devolved to mere obligation.  Every once in a while someone will point me at something inspiring (last was Mere Christianity), but I'm not really looking for religion, so I rarely stick with anything for long.

Despite all that, many of the ideals (compassion, feed the poor, stewardship of the earth, etc.) remain important to me—I've decided that they're "right" and don't need a religion to back that up.


30. On 2005-08-12, Ginger Stampley said:

I was raised among but not of the Southern Baptists. My mother was the only person in her little town in East Texas who never got baptized: they got the town drunk but they never got her! The preacher told her when she was five that her dog wouldn't be waiting in heaven for her, and I think she decided not to go. I can tell I'm her daughter.

I did attend religious schools (Episcopalian & Baptist) so I've had my share of chapel and preaching and being told I was going to hell. I was never baptized myself. I was married to my ex in the Methodist church by my high school history teacher because I had to have a religious officiant to use the chapel at our university, and as my mother said, he was the only preacher I could forgive for being a Christian.

My ex was a raving atheist who would not shut up about it. I think he's the one who made me reconsider spirituality and religion because he was so obviously wrong about it.

I went through a phase of identifying as neopagan, but I am not a very good magician and I'm at peace with that. Philosophically, I'm closer to a lot of the neopagan tenets than I am to most of what I identify as Christianity based on my childhood experiences. I would call myself spiritual, not religious, and not in need of $DEITY to tell me what's right and wrong. I admire people who get Jesus (or Allah or Buddha) and lift up their own lives and other people's based on that, but it's not going to happen to me.

The tension in Dogs between modern religion/ethics and the religion/ethics of the characters is one of the compelling things about it for me, probably because it reflects tensions in my own spiritual life.


31. On 2005-08-12, GB Steve said:

My Mum's Church of England and a believer, albeit in a rather idealised God. My Dad's a catholic atheist. A condition of their marriage was that I be brought up Catholic. So I did all the Sunday school stuff, learnt the words, prayed. And then when I got to about 10 I started asking questions about religion. And the only answers I got from the Catholics were "because that's the way it is, and if you think any differently, you're going to hell."

So I stopped being Catholic and started looking around and pretty much moved into atheism and reading philosophy.

Then when I was about 23, I had this epiphany that my own personal happiness only really depended on me. That is, regardless of external circumstances, I can choose to be happy. And that's pretty much how I am. Atheist and happy. Sure I'm going to be wormbait one day, but who isn't?


direct link

This makes...
km go "agreement, and such"

32. On 2005-08-12, T. said:

I believe that I can create games. I can imagine people whose names I created, whose thought I generate, I know their instincts, and desires, their failing and their triumphs.

It is easy to see the reverse—that I a small creature of this world can imagine others, shows me that somewhere it is possible someone exists who imagined me—and knows me as well as I know those others I created. The difference is subtle that it has the power to make it "real" as it imagines.

I believe in Christ's teaching, that he came to show a better way, lived and died for that better way, and in that he was the son of God, because the imagination is the key to God, and he imagined a path for all of us that was better than the one we were one—caring for others, loving others—even the Bible says that Faith, Religions, are unimportant without love. Love is about respect too—and that flies in the face of many proseltyzers, they don't respect others.  I disagree that a given theolgian may know another person's understanding of scriptire and claim it is wrong. You don't know that they didn't get what they needed from that verse—only when they try and impose it like vise on another, or becomes harmful (for all things can be harmful if taken to far, especially religion.)

That doesn't change that I believe God loves, God creates, and that it is because his love is vaster than we can understand that is seems harsh to us—because he does love the viruses that kills us, as he does the sparrow, the wolf, and man.

It was Percy Shelley I believe who said "Imagination is Morality" and the whole romantics as a movement hit upon something—that being able to imagine, to LOOK even a moment through anothers eyes gives us a vast insight into morals we might not see otherwise.

God can see all points of view.

That is something even we cannot truly imagine.

We try, but we're still limited to mere flesh and blood.

And yet through all those points of view, God still loves, still inspires love.


33. On 2005-08-12, Kevin Heckman said:

I was raised in the American Protestant tradition now known as "Evangelical", in the heady days when the Moral Majority was just starting to become a prominent player in the sociopolitical landscape.  As I came of age I started getting into apologetics and was pretty slick with it.  At one point I had the entire book of James, and most of Proverbs, memorized.  I read a lot of books from Christian apologists (Plantinga and W.M. Craig, mostly) but decided that to better "know the enemy" I should read books by non-Christian philosophers, and therein began my downfall.  I slowly moved from Christian, to generic theist, to deist, to agnostic, and to atheist.  Religion had rarely been a source of emotional or spiritual connection for me, so once the rational side of my belief was gone there was really nothing keeping me there.  Nonetheless I still went to church to avoid having "that conversation" with my parents.

Ultimately I decided I was tired of deceiving my family and told them.  They were pretty shocked but, contrary to my fears, didn't disown me or anything.  Since then it's been a struggle to have a meaningful relationship when we have such wildly divergent views on things.  Talking about superficial subjects gets really old after a while.

My own views have transmogrified back and forth over the years.  Sometimes I feel pretty atheistic, but usually I don't really care if there's a god or not ("apatheist").  I figure that if he's worthy of the "God" classification, then he's not going to be a complete dick and punish people for sincere nonbelief.  If he's not worthy of the title, and is just an insecure metaphysical bully, then I doubt it really matters what anyone does, since his decisions would all be arbitrary anyway.


direct link

This makes...
Lud go "So Familiar"*

*click in for more

34. On 2005-08-12, Drew / rrr said:

Essentially I'm pretty much atheist, but I have always felt a kind of affinity for Buddhism / Daoism since I was a kid.  I was however brought up with a fairly open viewpoint on most religious stances.  There have been two powerful turning points which have helped bring me to this "Atheist with Daoist leanings" position.

Turning point 1:  I was about 11, we were on holiday, and I met a Buddhist monk.  I was intrigued initially by his robes and weird food... he only ate vegetables..! How wacky!  But why?  He basically told me a little about Buddhist beliefs and their reverance for life.  I was sufficiently impressed by this that I decided to be like that.  I became quite interested in Buddhism and read many things about it.  I never really would have called myself a Buddhist, but at that point I decided that actually I felt a strong respect for many Buddhist beliefs that I didn't really have for other religions.  Basically I decided if it was good enough for Buddha, then it was good enough for me, and I started to attempt to live a more buddhist life.  I became a vegetarian and decided not to drink or take mind altering drugs, and have stuck to this for the past 18 years.

As a teenager I kept this interest in Buddhism, and it expanded into a fascination with the Dao De Ching of Lao Tzu.  Still this book is something which I regard as a very profound exploration of human existance and the nature of life.

Up until my mid twenties I kind of felt like there was some kind of "god" or higher power.  I felt that most religions were probably all reflections of this "higher truth" in some sense.  I felt that the harm caused by religion is what happens when human stupidity or greed or malice gets hold of these noble ideas.  I was quite naive and idealistic as a youth.

Anyway, Turning Point 2:  I became obsessed with the novels of Dostoevsky.  Reading in quick succession "Brothers Karamazov" "The Idiot" and "Crime and Punishment" shook my world view to the core.  I became very depressed.  I started to question everything I previously believed.  After about 2 years or so I came out the other side an atheist.  Funny, Dostoevsky was christian to the core, but he made me an atheist.  Not because of what he might have believed, but because the sheer power and insight of the psychology of his novels shook the very foundations of my beliefs.

Now I kind of don't believe in any "higher power" any "ultimate truth", but that's not to say I don't believe there is good and evil or that I don't recognise the spiritual aspects of life and what they can give to us.  I do, I just think that good and evil are moral concepts which are independent of some deity.  If life didn't exist would good and evil?  Not in any real sense.  We create our morality, but that doesn't mean it isn't worthwhile.  Yes there is good and evil. Personally I choose good.  I choose reverance for life, respect for others.  Not because some god tells me so, but because I feel it to be the correct path.  I still think the ideals of Buddhism and some of the ideals of Christianity are worthwhile, but I do believe that the idea of a father god we should all worship is quite a destructive one.


35. On 2005-08-13, TonyLB said:

Are people seriously not going to take Vincent up on his offer that we can tell him he's going to hell?  I mean... really, people!  Limited time offer!

Vincent, you're going to hell.  Puppies aren't want to hurt any one, so why would you want to kill them that's bad.  You should write a game called "kill roleplayers for puppies."  With pit-bulls.

I'm going to hell too.  We should have a convention.  HellCon.  ConDemonium.  I expect that in hell you're only allowed to game with four-sided dice, but between MLwM and high-Fallout Dogs, we should be good to go.


direct link

This makes...
km go "I'm there."*
lud go "You can only play Sinnibar there"*
larry go "i want to kill puppies for satan"*
Yoki go "I'm TM'ing ConDemonium"

*click in for more

36. On 2005-08-13, T. said:

Nope. Because I am not the judge of who or who is not going to Hell.

Even if I am Christian.


direct link

This makes...
XP go "Seems to me..."*
km go "Punishment..."*

*click in for more

37. On 2005-08-14, James Nostack said:

I don't want to bore anyone with my speculations about theology and metaphysics, which to me is not a particularly interesting topic.  "What we cannot talk about we must pass over in silence."

With that in mind, I'm rendering this as sociological data:
* I was raised atheist

* When I was in my teens I was obsessed with being a "good" person, which was vaguely associated with the Christian value system but I never identified as a Christian per se.

* In college I suffered either a direct, full-bore, double-barreled contact with God, or a temporary schizophrenic experience.  It lasted about a week, and it was the scariest thing that has ever happened to me.

* I have some sympathy with Taoism and Zen Buddhism, but I still regard myself as an atheist.


direct link

This makes...
larry go "What we cannot talk about..."*
James go "Yeah, but I haven't :)"*

*click in for more

38. On 2005-08-23, Tony Pace said:

Religion is a strange subject for me. I was raised pretty much atheist, and in a way it left me unprepared for North American culture. All these things that touch most people in all these strange and deep ways leave me just??? cold. Curious but unaffected. Waiting for the punch line I guess.

I???ve never played Dogs, but I wonder if this might happen to me there too. I mean, a lot of people all around me seem to have a lot of unresolved issues with religion, from my wife to my fellow gamers and beyond. But me??? just not much feeling. Maybe there???s some sort of Creator, maybe not. Seems impossible to prove either way, short of glowing letters in the sky (I think my teen religious thoughts were shaped by Douglas Adams as much as anyone else).

I just wonder if the power of the game is derived from all that unresolved tension. And if it is ??? I suspect it just wouldn???t work on me.

I???m an economist by schooling, and in a way that???s a religion of its own ??? well more of a worldview really. I???m skeptical of it as well, but the heart of the dismal science is a diffident, reductive, ???just the facts maam??? skepticism which I find repulsive yet ingrained in my thinking.

I live in Taiwan now and I do find the Buddhism and Daoism very affecting, very exciting and colorful (sometimes I wonder if the Buddhism and Daoism professed by some of the other correspondents here has anything at all to do with those religions as they are practiced here). Daoism here is more like magic in a kung fu flick than anything you???ll read in a book. Full of swords and people chasing down the street with a bell on a pole and burning paper money and all sorts of perfectly irrational almost Catholic ritualism. Still, it affects me somehow ??? at time I almost feel as if there is truth hiding around the corner, behind the flashing fireworks and smoking incense.

But in stronger light I dismiss it as the cheapest sort of exoticism, the hazy appeal of the dimly understood.


direct link

This makes...
BL go "[OT] Taiwan?"*
TP go "Yeah, sure!"*

*click in for more

39. On 2005-08-26, Gordon said:

(Finally, I have the time to give this the attention it deserves.)

I was raised in a small episcopalian church that was an odd mix of tradition and modernity - significant parts of the mass were still said in Latin until the mid-80's, but women were . . . well, it may have been the late 80's before we had an actual female priest, but I had seen so many women in robes and such, reading from the bible, carrying wine and all that that I just assumed some portion of churches out there were presided over by women.  And tolerence of other religions seemed to be an unquestioned, bedrock principle (with the fact that there was a conflict between that and things like the Nicene creed simply ignored).

I consider going to sunday school and etc. as a child to have been a good thing, though I can EASILY imagine it being pure (pardon the pun) hell in a more, uh, authoritarian environment.  Still, as I grew up there was so much about church doctrine that didn't make sense (Ghandi is burning in hell?  WTF?), I was left with a vague affection for that Jesus guy having said some cool stuff, but little or no "faith" in most senses of the word.  Maybe there's a God out there, but a scientific mindset is just a more useful thing than worrying about the Creator/Creatrix from day to day.

Around '86 or so, I met a neat old guy who was into Celtic spiritualism.  Or, well, he was into Celtic music, and I and some buddies were into Guinness and redheads, so our paths kept crossing at various bars and clubs.  He was in his 60's, and could tell you all about the various myths and stories the bands were singing about or naming their songs for (which - gasp! - weren't always the same as what Deities and Demigods said).  He'd also been a stage magician back in the UK.

He'd somehow managed to blend a complete and total understanding of the way us humans fool ourselves with the weirdest crystals-and-tarot New Age nonsense I had yet encountered.  Before I moved out to CA (where I of course encounterd much less interesting crystals-and-tarot weirdness, but that's a different story), he invited me to join him in a little ceremony he put together, using meditation, a chunk of South American amber, and a neat looking quartz crystal of some sort ("what's Celtic about crystals and South American amber, Duncan?" "Nothing, kid - you think anyone knows what Celtic shaman did?  I'm making this up.  Now start meditatin' on that crystal.")  At the conclusion, he gave me a box containing the amber and said I should wait a few years and open it.

When I did, years later, the box contained both the amber and the quartz crystal.  Now, I'm under no illusions - the magician put one over on me.  His skill kept me from noticing what he was up to - nothing "magical" about it.

But is also true that what prompted me to finally open the box was the news that Duncan had died, and somehow he gave me a gift from beyond the grave.  There was a short note in the box, providing a bit of advise I found quite useful in that moment (also not a hard trick to pull), and . . . I felt him there with me.  I don't mean literally - but that's the point.  For him, that there was "literally" not a (for example) conection between what he did and "real" Celtic shamanism was an uninteresting side issue.  That it helped him and his friends in their lives was all that mattered.

I can't get to that place, quite.  My girlfriend has occasionally brought me to various Native American sweat lodges, fire walks - weird California shit, which mostly doesn't do anything for me.  But every once and a while I can get into what I (unsurprisingly) consider the Duncan-mindset, and can experience a connection to - something.  Myself, as I'd be at my best.  Maybe.

Sometimes, I can think that that's what the Jesus-guy (and his various accomplices down the years) is doing - reaching out from beyond the grave to trick us into being better than we normally are.  Prompting us to trick ourselves, for our own good.

The problem is, there's also the tricking yourself and others for absolutely no good - for power, or control, or self-righteousness, and many, many more reasons, few of them actually "good".

And I guess that'll have to do as a summary of my views.  Glad to have finally gotten them into the thread,



direct link

This makes...
CRN go "That was awesome."*
GcL go "Wow.Thanks."*
NinJ go "Excellent story, Gordon."*

*click in for more

40. On 2005-09-13, chris moore said:

I'm definitely a polyatheist.  For me, that means two things:

1)  I don't believe in your deity, or anyone else's.
2)  You don't have to believe in the gods and goddesses to love them.

No attempt at cute cleverness intended.


41. On 2005-09-16, Collin M. Trail said:

I'd describe myself as an athiest.
I'm not absolutely certain that the popular Christian conception of God doesn't exist, but I'm not absolutely certain that werewolves don't exist, either. I just think they are both so unlikely that I don't worry about either.
I suppose that some ineffable being could exist, and could be described as a God, but it wouldn't be the kind of thing you could trust or have a relationship with.

I'm very interested in ethics and developing a sense of purpose. I've noticed that many people assume, because of my atheism and scientific training, that I must think these things are meaningless.

I was effectively raised atheist, as both of my parents had fallings out with the church. I can't remember either of them talking about religion much.

I'm attracted to the less supernatural interpretations of Buddhism and Taoism, since many of their tenets match my own personal experiences. I once tried meditating while staring at the ceiling, and had the experience of losing the sense of differentiation between the contents of my mind, and my awareness of the environment. I'm also interested in learning more about naturalistic pantheism, which seems to be about reverence for nature and seeking out religious experiences without adopting superstitious beliefs.

I've always been attracted to the community aspect of churches. They seem to have some of the best social networks still surviving in a very alienated society. But I haven't ever found a religious community I've had much common ground with.


42. On 2005-09-20, Green said:

I've tried talking about religion before, and most of the time I feel drowned out by evangelicals and atheists because my beliefs diverge from both.  Recently (as in, less than five years ago) I have discovered that I am an Animist.  To many who do not share my understanding of things, that is translated as "superstitious," "primitive," and "regressive," but as time goes on I'm less and less concerned about that.  I suppose it would seem more respectable to label myself as Shinto or Yoruba or something similar, but my personal belief is that the core of animism transcends our understanding of time and geography.  It is about recognizing and honoring the eternal through the transient, the divine through the profane, the transcendant through the immanent.

Unfortunately, I cannot provide a precise point in my life where I realized I was Animist.  I can only say that the word revealed itself to me after a long period of contemplation and exploration.  I believe that I have always been Animist and always will be, and the more I learn about it, the more I reject contemporary Western demands to make it look and sound and feel like other religions.  There is a constant pressure to make idols despite my being a natural iconoclast, to elaborate with words what is best expressed through action or observation, to make static what is by nature dynamic, to make claims about truth and goodness, wholeness and happiness.

On the other hand, I believe I am being called to walk between worlds both within and without.  Maybe this makes me crazy.  Maybe this makes me inspired.  I don't know yet, and somehow I doubt I ever will.  As you can see, confusion is a perpetual state for me with regards to my nature and my purpose.  Yet some part of me believes it is the nature of the process of transformation.


direct link

This makes...
NInJ go "I'd like to hear more about this."*
Green go "In-depth about which part?"
NInJ go "Explain what you mean."*
Green go "OK"*

*click in for more

43. On 2005-09-21, Green said:

Someone asked me to clarify what I meant when I described myself as Animist, so here I will explain as clearly as I can.  I will begin by saying that the things I express here are difficult at best to verbalize, and it is probably extremely foolish of my to try, but in the interest of fostering understanding, I'll do my best.

Animism, as I have come to understand it, means that all things that exist in the physical world is a manifestation of spirit, that this spirit is autonomous of its material form, and that is has a nature that is unique to it.

Aside from that, I can only offer speculations about exactly what spirit is and how it does what it does.  I strive to remain open to the possibilities, for I am skeptical about my ability to know and perceive "The Truth" to any great extent.

It's hard to say how Animism influences my thinking because as I said earlier, Animism wasn't so much a decision as it is a recognition.  Yet, I can speak of how certain attitudes and behaviors reflect an Animist sensibility.  If I could say that Animism provides moral guidance, it only lies in how I strive to honor the spirit of each thing, be it my dog, my car, my computer, a tree, a rock, a fellow human being, or myself.  Sometimes that means keeping a place in my home for a beloved pet who passed away a few years ago.  At other times it is stepping aside and letting things fall as they may.  Then at times a little judicious discord is just the thing.  Yet it is all done with a certain respect that rests not on ceremony, but on a genuine appreciation for the spirit in every thing.


direct link

This makes...
NInJ go "How do you show that respect?"*
Green go "Not particularly"*
NInJ go "Pretty rockin'."*
Green go "Interesting"*
NInJ go "This isn't the right format for that...."*

*click in for more

44. On 2005-09-22, Thevail said:

Wow, this was an amazing and refreshing read! I don't think I've ever really seen religion discussed openly without either long scary silences or the emotional equivalent of a flame war going off. Way to go you guys and gals! Extra enlightenment points for all invoved.

As for me, I'm trying to come to grips with what religion is supposed to be. I mean what, at its core, is it supposed to do. Surely it's got to be more than a cheap way to control people and societies.

And shouldn't you be able to know, not just guess, think about, or presume that what you're doing and the path you're on, whatever path that may be, is, if not empirically, at least personally the right way for you?

So for me religion/spirituality (whichever you call it) is about moments when I know. Like tossing a flat black rock into the surf under a full moon and watching the ripples spread the rocks darkness forever across the sea. I don't know what it means, or maybe at that moment or later I understand it. But for just that moment somehow it was the only possible course of action. It was right. I felt it deep in my soul. Just like seeing a bon fire struggle, smoke, and then spring to life is always glorious. It needs no language to explain it. No hymns to re-enforce its sacred leaping joy. Old people, small children, even babies know that that was special, that was sacred.

I think therein lies the part of religion, that gets called faith, that is usually so sadly lacking in modern interpretive religion.

Most people would like to believe in something, anything, but human interpreted doctrine and dogma ( now there was an awesome film) leave them cold. But most religions say that is the FAULT of the person for not having faith.I believe that faith is not willpower. You can't make yourself have it.Just like you can't stop that moment of glee when the fire catches or the moment of calm contemplation of the ripples. So my quest for religion largely revolves around exploring what is meaningful to the human spirit about those things which are nearly universally true.

Sorry if that's bit convoluted, but sometimes there just don't seem to be quite the words we need to explain something.



direct link

This makes...
Green go "I understand completely"*
NInJ go "I think I disagree with your premise..."*

*click in for more

45. On 2005-09-22, Vincent said:

I'm going to cheat again and quote myself again. I put this in the mouth of a character in a short novel I wrote. He's talking about neopagans, but I think the point applies more broadly:

"Well, it's like here's Nature, glorious and various and undeniably true, and it's all around them all the time.  And they're compelled to, I don't know, worship it or something. Compartmentalize it into all these gods. This god and this god and this god, but not this god, and this isn't a god it's some other kind of made up thing.

"...Maybe they can't believe that Nature doesn't care about them," he says. "Isn't that why anybody makes gods?  To be worshipped themselves?  To be a Creation instead of just, you know. An honest animal."


46. On 2005-09-25, Thevail said:

Disagreement noted NInJ.
But I'm not sure the guilt anf fault are so much Catholic ideas, maybe generally Christian ones, but Hindus also do a lot of things as "tests" of faith. So do some Muslim extremists.

I do agree though that not all religions do. So conceptual religions like Taoism for example may largely be excused from the following diatribe   :)

I think though that it seems to be a part of some human condition to first realize that you can think about thinking, then try to develop some sort of system for self monitoring. Which seems to inevitably become a part of society and gets applied to all people not just an individual, and then becomes sanctified as a religion. I mean did we really need any "prophet" to tell us not to harm others, or kill others, or not to take other peoples things. I believe that most people have parents who point that out before we can read, much less cognitively participate in any religion.

But most of the "major" religions of the world seem to place an awful lot of emphasis on an individual believing unswervingly and having "faith" not only in whatever the main concepts of that religion are, but also in all the social status quo defending codicils that get written into it by people over time. That's where Faith and Guilt usually rear their pointy little heads. Because if you think deeply about what you REALLY believe you may very well not believe that some of those codicils are all that necessary.

And that's when the guilt sirens go off, for a lot of people. In an "Oh GREAT OMNIPOTENT BEING, please forgive me because I don't believe everything I'm supposed to!" sort of way.

And I still think forcing yourself to have faith is impossible, without, I should say, turning your whole existance into something based on an initial lie. Well, or possibly going crazy.

Which is not to say that there aren't people who do have faith. And if it works for you stick with it by all means! I'm so glad that there are people who are at peace with themselves. It must be a really comforting thing.
But because those people do have the faith that they and others feel they should have, they don't really have to deal with the whole guilt thing.



direct link

This makes...
NInJ go "What major religions?"*

*click in for more

47. On 2005-09-26, Iskander said:

Neither of my parents is particularly religious, although I was christened in the Church of England, and for ten years at boarding school I attended Anglican (~Episcopalian) services daily. I love giving King James bible readings, OT or NT, although anything with a jawbone of an ass or someone pissing against the wall naturally gets bonus points; Jericho, too. I found some sense of peace in evensong services and considered confirmation in the Anglican church, but realised that, when it came down to it, I simply did not believe in God, and backed out.

I travelled for a while, and had my first real encounter with Buddhism in Thailand where I lived briefly, teaching English. Nowadays, if asked, I will usually say that I'm Buddhist, but that's not strictly true either: Buddhist values come closest to the external expression of my view of the universe, so it's the most convenient handle when I'm not at leisure to talk about faith in full, and I've used it often in the fifteen or so years since then.

Three years ago I yearned for some understanding of what I was doing with my life, and its apparent purposelessness. By chance, I read an article (in Time Out, NY of all places) about

Vipassana meditation as taught by S.N. Goenka

, and the ten day introductory course. The challenge of going ten days without communicating or reading, and spending most of the waking day in meditation was deeply frightening, but I reasoned that I would learn something about myself, even if it was only that I was incapable of going ten days without reading. The course is, in essence non-sectarian: there were muslims, hindus, catholics, christians, Buddhists, atheists, spiritualists... a very wide variety of faiths represented. The techniques taught are described as being the techniques that the Buddha taught, carefully preserved for centuries in Burma. The experience was wonderful, and indeed revealed a lot to me. While giving me great tools to find peace in myself, the teaching reaffirmed and helped crystallize how I view the world. Again, I found that I simply could not give credence to the supernatural aspects of the faith; it just doesn't fit in my head, and no matter how hard I try, I can't honestly say I believe in anything supernatural.

In fact, I find I believe positively in nothing, and that:
- De facto, life is utterly and absolutely meaningless.
- There is no God, gods, spirits, architect, motive force, ghost, afterlife, gaia, Nature, earth mother, sprite, pixie, soul, or anything except the cold hard material, the void, and the weirdness of the physical universe, which is mostly explicable, and science tells us where it is not.
- When we die, we are as dust. No more.
- Humans are sentient meat.

For some time, this filled me with despair and ennui. After all, if life is meaningless, why bother? Suicide is as valid a choice as murder or not-suicide. I then realised that choice itself was key for me, as the hallmark of sentience. We have the capacity (possibly unique on this planet, but probably not) to choose how we act. Given that choice, it behooves us as sentients to act morally and ethically; for me there is no alternative. What those morals and ethics are for an individual cannot be proscribed, but as a self-aware society, we can consensually agree on some fundamentals, but probably not that many. Here are some of mine:
- Don't harm other people deliberately, especially don't kill them. This covers stealing, too.
- Don't add to the misery of the world.
- Be nice to people, it can make your and their lives better.
- Look out for the defenceless and weak. Help where you can.
- If you disagree with something, say so. Demonstrate if necessary.
- Look after the world around you or face the consequences of inimical parasitism; notice that ecosystems route around damage, too.
- Respect knowledge, try to increase it.
- Have fun. If you're not having fun, you're wasting your life. Try to maximise the fun you have by sharing it with like-minded people. (Deferring fun now for more fun later is a reasonable choice, but can suck, as I know from bitter, bitter experience).
- Be mindful.

The key to life, for me, is choosing to live it, and to live well. Our sentient choice gives our universe the only meaning it needs. The bleak truth of the absolute void is only bearable if we choose to live, and choose to live morally.


48. On 2005-10-12, Carrie B. said:

I was raised by parents who were very accepting of whatever I chose to believe. As a child I was very full of belief and perceptions about G-d, very little of which related to Judaism.

Like Ninja J, my parents were and are a part of a Haverah (a non-hierarchical Jewish group for all of the parts of Jewish religious practice), but unlike him their Haverah is heavily left-leaning and my parents were also a part of the Synagogue where I grew up.

My mom is Jewish, of deeply assimilated parents. She went searching for Judaism, found it, connected to it spiritually, and still strongly dislikes all organized religion. My father is Jewish, from New York, into Judaism and even more into spirituality and enlightenment. He has integrated several kinds of meditation into his spiritual practice, which is supported by, and partially provided by, the Jewish communities of which he is a part. I think my mom's favorite thing is enjoying Nature and my dad's is no-mind. My dad sees no conflict with Judaism in this and my mom sees very little.

When I was young I thought a lot about free will and G-d, I believed there was a balance between a true existence of G-d in every thing and free human will. I also believed that my soul was made up of my life force and that when I died, as my body was broken down my consciousness would pass into the living things which consumed me. I had times when I felt unsure of G-d's existence, and a few times I experienced joyful ecstatic communion with G-d, which felt like an awareness of the oneness of all things passing through my body as energy.

I was sent to Sunday School (Jewish) and I hated it and thought it was totally bunk. I was also sent to Hebrew School, which I also hated with a passion.

I often questioned the existence of G-d and the value of religious practice, which was considered a part of Jewish practice by everyone around me (although I'm sure there are Orthodox, Modern, and other Jewish communities where such things are either not accepted in the same way or not discussed). My mother and sister still deeply question organized religion and the existence of G-d, and are respected and accepted by the communities we participate in, although I think there are times when both my mom and sister decide they are outside of Judaism. I feel that I am very lucky that there is support within Judaism to question one's own faith within the religious system.

I had a very good experience at my Bat Mitzvah, even though I really hated preparing for it and believed I would feel like a phony, since I didn't believe in all of the prayers I was required to say, and often didn't believe in G-d. I was sure that I wouldn't feel spiritual and would have to fake it. My parents assured me it was ok not to feel faith while practicing the religion, and that if I wanted nothing to do with Judaism, that was fine. They wanted me to go on with my Bat Mitzvah, though, since people were coming from far away. When I performed the requirements and experienced the support of the congregation and people who traveled to be there, I saw the value of religious practice as providing spiritual expression sometimes, but always providing tradition, community, and continuity with the past.

Over the past few years and months, I've been reflecting a lot on how unpleasant and unsatisfying most people's experiences with religion are. It is often hard to communicate with people, particularly Christians, who are unaware how much Christianity informs the culture in the United States and their own understanding of what religion is. I think a major difference, and one that links faith to guilt for many people, is the Christian conception of sin. I have been thinking a lot about this today, because Yom Kippur begins tonight, and I posted some things about it here.


RSS feed: new comments to this thread