Thursday, June 25, 2009

Dad's Cancer

It's funny how life will throw you ups and downs. It's amazing how we can control some things and have no control over other things. God grant me the serenity to accept the things.....
Rule Number 1: Some things can never be changed.
Rule Number 2: People cannot change Rule #1.

On Saturday morning I received a call from my 74 year-old father. He had a very somber tone on the telephone. I knew something was wrong. I thought immediately of my mother, who had been in frail health last summer. I was wondering if something happened to my brother Scott or sister Sarah. Then the words came out in their usual physician precision, but they had an air of somber like I've never heard uttered before. Dad said he had cancer, a malignant growth had been detected starting on his ear, which was previously thought to be basal cell stuff, harmless. He proceeded to state that there was a 1.6 percent of this kind of thing developing into a malignant problem. I could tell he was tearful as he spread the news, but I knew he needed to be honest with himself and to us. Tears started to well up as I asked him more about the condition. He said he didn't know how far the nodes had spread and that there was still hope of a recovery, but also pointed out that scenario may not be as positive depending on what they find.

As he was telling me this, I started thinking of all the good talks we have had, and the good times on the sailboat and the constantly receptive father he has been in my life. The only problem during my childhood is that I didn't consult with him enough. I thought of the limited time, that he may not see my son Ryan graduate and most probably will not see him get married, that he will be sad that his grandchildren's lives will forever be question marks to him and that he could only hope for the best. I told him that we would all support him and be positive and hopeful no matter what. I said I was worried about Mom and that I hoped she was able to cope with the news. Dad was the primary caregiver for Mom when she had the stomach problems last summer. Who would Mom turn to without Dad there, a frightening thought. After our tearful 25 minute call I found myself being very thankful for my father's positive outlook on life and in so many words I had told him that. Dad is so much a part of my life. From an early age he took interest in me. I remember watching the Green Bay Packers with him in the family room on our old Zenith black and white TV and talking about our idol, Bart Starr. We used to watch this show called "The 21st Century" with Walter Cronkite and dream about how great the future would be. (there is Dad's positive outlook shining through!) He would give me ideas to ponder like: Part of life is pain, and it's our mental outlook which is most important. Life gives back what you are willing to put into it. In life we are often defined by our performance, not only our thoughts but how we follow through with actions. The biggest thing with Dad was not his words of wisdom. He is a doer. Actions speak louder than words, walk the walk and talk the talk, etc.

I am also impressed by his love of politics, especially being a JFK democrat, politics which I share with him today. Dad said he crushed when John Kerry lost the 2004 election but was equally elated when Obama won in 2008. I shared his elation.

Dad is an Horatio Alger story. He was the son of a mailman, a gentle man named Carl, but who was known as Jack. (Grandpa Jack to me) Dad has his Dad's gentle kindness but combined with an intense desire to make himself the best he can be, to compete and show the world what he can do. Dad would tell me how he would stand up and put his books on the upper bunk bed in college and study so he wouldn't fall asleep. They called him "Johnny High Pockets." in high school because he wore suspenders with his pants stretched up past his waist. Humble and kind Johnny made quite a success of himself and told me a few years ago, that if he would have lived his life over again, he wouldn't change a thing.

I love you Dad.


ps. Dad is scheduled to see specialists at the Mayo Clinic next week to get a Pet Scan, chest film, some chemistry tests, ENT will do biopsy of lymphnodes, including sentinel node biopsy. They will inject some sort of dye to determine where the trouble spots may be. We are all a little on edge but cautiously optimistic. And I might add, we are all somewhat in denial that such a giant could be so mortal.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Letter to Christian Friends Updated

I will try to organize my thoughts as clearly as possible as to not offend the good Christian intentions and purpose of the Stephen Ministry. It is not my intention to be playing with fire here for my own intellectual benefit, but for the elucidation of key ideas and points to bring us to a stronger agreement on what is at stake here.Growing up in a non-religious home has left me hungering for a spirituality I’ve never had before. When I was a child, we attended the Unitarian Universalist Church for a year or two and that was it. As an adult before I was married, I attended the Unitarian Society in Minneapolis, finding some spiritual sustenance in the breadth and the meaning of the sermons and from some fellowship. When married, I followed my wife’s wishes to the Lutheran Church, thinking there were many ways to find spiritual salvation and what people call the wisdom and word of the Lord.Many questions have stopped me from fully immersing myself in Christianity. Questions like: If there is a God, who created God? What about infinite space and time? What does the Bible say about space or is it too earth centered? Is the Bible stuck running in place in an anti-Copernican-like geocentricism which waits not for reason but for ignorant and arrogant believers? What is the purpose of life? To question with reason or to live in happy ignorance that there is some great Santa in the sky that will save us all, that Jesus will come down during a nuclear holocaust and save us all? A good faith should not, it seems, be involved in simple minded answers but the awesome complexity of the stars, of time and space and E=mc Squared. Isn’t something like the Krebs Cycle, the infinity of the night sky full of stars or the miracle of photosynthesis just as beautiful as something like Christ’s face or the manger scene. It seems that Christianity is afraid of the some of the questions--- that is what troubles me. It seems like I shouldn’t be afraid to mention the name Carl Sagan or Stephen Jay Gould in a Bible study group that truly has an open mind about spiritual exploration. There are many ways to find beauty and sublime peace of mind, including in science.One can argue that it’s all about the interpretation of the Bible that is important---that it’s only how we see it for ourselves. But we also have to be awake to the fact that the Bible was written a long time ago and is in some sense a dinosaur, out of date and in desperate need of revision or a complete refashioning. Where does the holy word come from and couldn’t new portions be written and edited today? What would be more practical today in the age of the internet and space travel? What would be a good book for all of the races?There is a much bigger question to answer than who believes in the best religion. The real question is how we survive as a human race. To go in the direction of trying to answer that. we must stop warring between different religious factions and realize our own human decency and commonalities between us. There is a sense that the egos of the different religions all thinking they are the best are detrimental to human progress. Instead of colliding egos, we must concentrate on the goodness in all of us. War will continue to be strongly embedded in the character of mankind as long as we keep wearing spiritual chips on our shoulders. Organized religion needs to become more flexible and compassionate to the human struggle in order for it to be useful enough to save humanity.There is no question that religion has greatly enhanced the lives of millions of people across our fragile globe. People have thanked God for helping them through alcoholism, cancer, divorce and natural disasters. What I am very agnostic about is whether there is a God that has a personal interest in each and every one of us. You see sports stars thanking God for a home run or a touchdown. When you think of it, why would the king of all creation be concerned about a sports contest? There would be much more pressing matters for a deity of mankind. If there is a God does he just care about the Earth or the entire Universe? During early human inquiry, it was widely believed that the sun revolved around the Earth. Science helped us understand that the Earth revolved around the sun. We may yet learn that if there is a Lord that he/she doesn’t exclusively care about just for the Earth but for creation across the Universe. Many of the most intelligent scientists have stated that there is a good chance of life on other worlds. The most intellectually honest atheist would probably concede that we are infinitely important and not important given the sacredness of life and the infinite vastness of everything around us. Existence is a paradox. To meditate upon the Infinity of space and time and the infinite smallness of molecules makes me shudder in amazement. That is enough for me even there if there is not a God. The best way to characterize it is to say that there is infinite meaning in my world even without a deity. I admit I don’t know how to define a God as defined by many, but that there may be an entity beyond the five senses that exists and works through us in unknown ways. It is not scientifically knowable so I cannot describe it. I can only speculate about the “moreness.”As atheist writer Richard Dawkins explains, to pretend to know something and not know it is something short of intellectual honesty. He takes it further by saying that a Christian saying he/she is saved and nonbelievers will go to hell is the height of arrogance and cruelty. A Christian will feel sorry for those who do not believe because they will not go to “heaven.” What is heaven? I do know that extremist Muslims who flew the plane into the Twin Towers in 2001 thought they would get dozens of virgins in heaven if they did this destructive deed. The real question is: How much of a subtle destructive deed is belief in something so strongly that you are willing to calmly let others go to hell for your heaven? Strange indeed.Faith and reason are like apples and oranges. I'm just trying to get a clearer intuitive path to a healthy spiritual direction. I'm not saying I'm not spiritual.My father, a much more ingrained athiest than myself says he is jealous of people who have faith, who can make that leap joyfully and with a full heart. My father's mind will not let his heart take the huge jump. I empathize with Dad but think he may not be letting the whole spirit in. It's funny how I get a wonderful feeling when I hear the Smokey Robinson classic song "Tears of a Clown." It started when I was ten years old. Every time I hear that tune, I go back to that point in my life of innocence and newness. You could call that spiritual, I guess. Same thing happens when I take a bite of strawberry ice cream. I get this spiritual feeling that I cannot explain. It seems to take me back to when I was three years old tasting my first every spoonful of the stuff. This is something I tell very few people. I told my wife about the strawberry thing and she laughed. As one friend used to say to me once in awhile..."Crazy kid." (ha)I will mull over this which was recently shared with me by my friend Mike in West Virginia..."To those who believe in God, no explanation is necessary. To those who need an explanation, none will suffice." This is where faith and reason collide. You cannot reason somebody out of something they were not reasoned into in the first place.In many ways I feel like Robert Frost in the poem "The Road Less Traveled." (life can confusing) I feel sometimes like I'm daring to go against the grain of organized religion to see things in my own way. It can be scary at times too.Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,And sorry I could not travel both And be one traveller, long I stood And looked down one as far as I could To where it bent in the undergrowth; Then took the other, as just as fair, And having perhaps the better claim, Because it was grassy and wanted wear; Though as for that the passing there Had worn them really about the same, And both that morning equally lay In leaves no step had trodden black. Oh, I kept the first for another day! Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back. I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-- I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the differenceHere is a quote from an Amazon review of Michael Behe’s book “Darwin’s Black Box” which asserts that evolution cannot be correct because of the sheer complexity of the natural world, a dangerous call to throw one’s arms up and give up, sacrificing one’s powers of reason to the supernatural because the answer is just too tough. I think any God would want us to keep searching for answers to the puzzle he has put in front of us. Within the biochemistry of living cells, he argues, life is "irreducibly complex." This is the last black box to be opened, the end of the road for science. Faced with complexity at this level, Behe suggests that it can only be the product of "intelligent design."I feel it is dangerous to abandon reason and take the leap to believe whatever we want to. When reason is gone, then everyone is right, because no one is at the helm of reason. When reason is gone from the equation, we give the Jim Jones’s and the Waco people carte blanche to create their own irrational systems which lead in the long run to destructiveness of the human race. I think that any good God would want us to embrace reason with all our heart and soul, and humility. Dawkins argues that religion is the ultimate arrogance---that we are saved but someone who disagrees will suffer the infinite fires of hell. What about mentally handicapped people? Are they damned to hell if they don’t follow the rules of religious political correctness to the nth degree?? These questions just seem to be hanging out there and are not being addressed by the pious crowd. This rigidity of thought caused by a lack of reasoning ability in the brains of those who cling to fundamentalism is dangerous for the future of the world in my opinion. How many different ways can I say that? Religion can cause people to be comforted to a great degree, but ultimately it is the people who are doing the comforting in a humane and reasonable fashion.Behe’s assertations seem to me to be implying that we need to throw natural selection out of the window. And if, as he contends, that some intelligent aliens started Earth as sort of an experimental colony, then how do you explain who created the aliens? There is an infinite pattern of questions that (pardon the expression) evolve out of Behe’s direction here. Just saying…OK…..there was a creator and that’s it, gives power to those unreasonable folks who will say “See I told you. We were right all along!” To ask questions is all we can do with our brains which are the most evolved form of life on the planet. Let’s use our brains’ most highly evolved functions instead of going back to pacify more primitive regions associated with faith.I have more doubt about Behe’s claims when I hear about his the university he teaches at (Lehigh) putting a disclaimer on Behe’s website:“While we respect Prof. Behe's right to express his views, they are his alone and are in no way endorsed by the department. It is our collective position that intelligent design has no basis in science, has not been tested experimentally and should not be regarded as scientific.”Richard Dawkins says of Behe:"He's a straightforward creationist. What he has done is to take a standard argument which dates back to the 19th century, the argument of irreducible complexity, the argument that there are certain organs, certain systems in which all the bits have to be there together or the whole system won't the eye. Darwin answered (this)...point by point, piece by piece. But maybe he shouldn't have bothered. Maybe what he should have said is...maybe you're too thick to think of a reason why the eye could have come about by gradual steps, but perhaps you should go away and think a bit harder."With science there is a humility about the ultimate and complex questions. With religion, there is often arrogance about those questions.Another professor talks about Behe’s assertions:"Professor Behe’s concept of irreducible complexity depends on ignoring ways in which evolution is known to occur. Although Professor Behe is adamant in his definition of irreducible complexity when he says a precursor “missing a part is by definition nonfunctional,” what he obviously means is that it will not function in the same way the system functions when all the parts are present. For example in the case of the bacterial flagellum, removal of a part may prevent it from acting as a rotary motor. However, Professor Behe excludes, by definition, the possibility that a precursor to the bacterial flagellum functioned not as a rotary motor, but in some other way, for example as a secretory system."Going down the road of unreason certainly is a dangerous path. I’m finding reviews of Dawkin’s book “The God Delusion” interesting.A large portion of the religious reviewers of this work have obviously never read it, as they have restated objections to his arguments which he deals with in a far more elegant manner than I ever could. I respect your right to hold religious beliefs, but your arguments have been dealt with by Dawkins, yet you can still raise them, apparently with no knowledge of any of Dawkins' arguments. Please! Read the work before attacking him for his beliefs! Please! Raise intelligent points! Don't simply spout the faulty arguments he has already dealt with!Dawkins says, “I am hostile to fundamentalist religion because it actively debauches the scientific enterprise. It teaches us not to change our minds, and not to want to know exciting things that are available to be known. It subverts science and saps the intellect"Hey, guess what? You cannot fight reason with unreason. It will lose every time. You cannot just shake your Bible at me and expect me to say it is just because it is. There has to be something more than that to argue. Just believe and everything will be alright. I think people who criticize Dawkin’s book don’t like it because they have to really think when they read it. It’s far from an easy read but infinitely rewarding in my opinion.I hear things like, “Give up all of your control and God will be in the driver’s seat.” That’s kind of a scary proposition----that we can let go of the steering wheel. What if we crash? My father, who is a psychiatrist, counseled a woman who got in a car accident because she let God take the wheel. A father of an autistic son in Fond du Lac didn’t worry too much when his son wandered off down a busy street thinking that God would take care of it and if he died it was just God’s will. Comfortable thought for him perhaps, but not very logical or rational. This man’s comment bothered me.Taking the leap of faith is difficult and I’m not so certain I want to attempt it. I want to cling to reason. People who reason and use logic a lot are not cold hearted. I think this is a common misperception. Just like the geek, nerd or someone with Asperger’s Syndrome is ostracized for behavior not conforming to the norm, real conscientious thought and discussion about religion and its role in society is tossed off by adversaries as inappropriate and not what people want to talk about. People on their wavelength are simply shut off like a bad radio or TV station. Dawkins is most likely taking harsh criticism from the non-thinkers, from people who would rather watch “Dog Eat Dog” or chant “Jerry…Jerry” along with their TV sets than watch a thoughtful show on public TV about science, history or politics. It’s the mentality of the non-thinkers versus people who like to think. The ultimate battle is against a worldview that would rather bask in ignorance and some arrogance versus the people who roll up their sleeves and aren’t afraid to ask the really, really tough questions.Tonight I will go to church with my wife. I very much appreciate and respect Debbie’s ability to have faith, to solemnly believe she will go to heaven without any doubt. There is something magical about that that I’m a bit jealous of. How can one completely abandon reason to embrace a loving God with no questions asked. Maybe some of my religious friends will think I will go to Hell for questioning religion, but if they are true friends they should be infinitely compassionate in relating to my own special spiritual journey.When I go to church, I will happily participate in the hymns. There will be at least a half-dozen of them! A hymn has a way of getting me into such a joyous mindset. I like the melodies and the deep conviction on the faces of the believers. I feel good for them that they have found a mindset that is comfortable that helps them overcome life’s downers and travails. It may very surely be seen as a form of brain washing, but I guess a clean brain is close to godliness. My grandmother used to say she felt “cleaner” after going to church. I don’t doubt she did. We can wash our hands of all of the day’s problems and just keep it simple and contemplate a relationship with salvation, or what we conceive of what salvation is.I also like the part when people move about and shake one another’s hands. We greet each other and recognize the God within each other. This is a principle of goodness in action. That is something I DO BELIEVE IN---that if there is a God he works through other people. People can say the most profound things at certain times which makes me sometimes hunger for the hope of there being a messenger connecting that thought from the person that comes directly to us. That there is a possibility that a human thought is divinely inspired is kind of a cool idea. But, there is no scientific proof that any of that is happening. So why think about it? It is fun to use our brains, to be alive and to think of all of the possibilities. If objective and rationale Carl Sagan thought a lot about extraterrestrial life, then I can have the luxury of thinking of the .0000000000000000000000000001 percent chance of receiving a divinely inspired thought.I am a little troubled by the fact that religion is so deeply ingrained in the human psyche that it cannot be surgically removed like a tumor. But, then again, why can’t it peacefully co-exist with superior forms of thought? After all, humans exist with lower forms of animals and are able to live together peacefully. Look at all the useful and positive compassion that comes from members of the Humane Society. Why can’t people with differing thought patterns admit their differences and accept and be infinitely compassionate? That’s one great thing about Jesus. He preached this infinite compassion for the poor. That is a wonderful direction to go in if we are to survive as a species in the long run.Reviewer Harvey Ardman sums up my feelings very nicely:There are or might be moments when I am jealous of those capable of faith. I would love to believe, when a loved one dies, that he or she is going to a better place and that we'll meet again some day. What a lovely, comforting thought. Would that it were true, or that I could believe it. But I don't--and it makes this life and every moment in it more valuable to me. I once asked myself how a person totally unfamiliar with religion, might choose among the world's offerings, might decide to adopt one of the world's thousands of religions. I could find no way. They all claim they're right and all the other religions are wrong. But are any of them right? Now I'm thinking similar thoughts about God. I saw a website recently that compiled the names of all of the gods, worldwide and throughout history. They found 3800 different gods or supernatural beings. If I were inclined to believe, which one would I choose and why? Richard Dawkins points out that we're all atheists. We don't believe in Zeus, Thor, Apollo, Odin, etc., etc., etc. He just goes one god further.There is also the question of abortion. At what point does a soul become embedded in the a mother’s womb? When is it completely unethical to consider abortion? Author Sam Harris presents a critique of the pro-life belief that “a soul (person) is created at the instant of conception. Is an additional soul created when a 100-cell blastocyst occasionally divides to become identical twins?Humanist writer Paul Kurtz says in his book “Affirmations” that good conduct and wisdom in living can be combined in a person to make him or her a decent person with or without God. When I look at humanist values in “Affirmations” I hear ideas like “taking care of the Earth for future generations,” “transcending divisive parochial loyalties based on race, religion, gender, nationality, creed, class, sexual orientation, or ethnicity to work together for the common good of humanity,” “the cultivation of moral excellence through rationality,” “nourishing reason and compassion in our children,” “supporting the disadvantaged and handicapped so they will be able to help themselves,” “enjoying life in the here and now and developing our creative talents to the fullest,” and “choosing hope over despair.” It seems that too often religion chooses the laying on of guilt rather than the building up of hope.The concept of skeptical inquiry is a good one. People should not just accept ideas at their face value because that is the way “they are supposed to think.” Children should be taught critical thinking skills in school, not just how to conform. It seems like the people who need religion the most are the ones who have religion as part of their lives. Those who can stand independently, at a higher level of moral reasoning, do not have to lean on the parent in the sky we call God.The leap of faith is a very tough hurdle. A reviewer of the writing of Christopher Hitchens says:“Anyone of intelligence would not believe because "taking it on faith"means believing in something without evidence, substantiation or support. Therefore, those who profess such belief do so without intelligence! Moreover, by implication, such a person cannot be critical of someone who "believes" in, say, the most absurd thing the imagination can concoct, say, the tooth fairy or the Easter bunny. It is time to take the next step in evolution and jettison the mystical explanation ("god") now that science has finally progressed and triumphed.”Another writer who likes Hitchen’s rational view of the world states:“Today's typical "justification" for religion involves charitable or humanitarian work - obviously this says nothing about the veracity of the belief systems involved. All religions must, at their core, look forward to the end of this world; atheists, on the other hand argue that this world is all we have and that it is our duty to make the most of it. It is one thing, per Hitchens, to believe that the magnificence of the natural order strongly implies an ordering force; quite another to say this creative force cares for our human affairs, and it is interested in with whom we have sex and how, as well as the outcome of battles and wars (and even athletic contests). Even accepting Jesus' birth, it still does not prove he was more than one among many shamans and magicians of the day. Einstein took the view that the miracle is that there are no miracles.”Is Christopher Hitchens just an arrogant ego-maniac commentator or his he helping us look in a new brave and brilliant direction? I think the latter.“People who are generally well read are much less likely to take to a fundamentalist reading of the Bible, whereas it is my observation that for many people who do adhere to the literal truth of the Bible, it is possibly the only book they have ever read, and so have no critical reading skills whatsoever.”Anonymous Here we go again with the concept of critical thinking skills, or are we talking about pure intelligence here? Should we follow blind faith or reasoned discussion based on critical thinking skills? The answer seems obvious. Follow the intelligence. Following a God with an unclear definition makes about as much sense as voting for a president with a 95 IQ instead of one with a 195 IQ. Let’s get out of the stone ages and find new ways to find awe and wonder. We can find feelings of wonder and amazement and humility just by looking at the Big Dipper on a clear summer night. The fact that it is not all explained for us makes it even more wonderful I think.I believe that the human race is attempting to evolve past destructive thought patterns. My hope is that we will choose reason over antiquated ways of looking at the world. Just like war must be abolished, “good” versus “evil” type thinking must also be abolished if we are to survive on the Earth. But, the troubling question is, “Is religion far too embedded in our biology?”Gabriel Michael, a Yale divinity student who wrote an impassioned article about his deep concern about rabid atheists who are preaching physicalism, is actually practicing faulty thinking, He appears to shut out any possibility of comparing the patterns of thought coming from scientists and from theologists and postulating about the details. Scientists and theologians have radically different world views, and we cannot just push this aside as if it were the politically correct thing to do at the Yale Country Club. As I see it, Michael wants to have it both ways, to have the philosophy of science and of faith peacefully co-exist, when one is obviously a more advanced form of thinking than the other. What he calls evangelical atheism is actually so close to the truth that it hurts. He says I quote:Evangelists for atheism who link their philosophical positions to science end up doing that same science a great disservice by fueling the fire of fundamentalism here and around the world. Calling them evangelists is warranted, because if their true goal were the propagation of the acceptance of science, they simply wouldn’t focus so much on non-scientific implications. Instead, they spread their various gospels, pander to the popular hobby of religion-bashing, and even invoke a persecution complex — you can purchase a “Scarlet Letter” T-shirt at In reality, though, Dawkins and his cohort are mostly preaching to the choir. In this argument, both sides lose: Reactionary religion marginalizes itself in the face of the modern scientific world, and evangelical atheism helps to produce more of the very enemies it most despises.I guess if everybody was nice, we could abandon reason and everyone would live in ignorant bliss. Is that what you want Mr. Michael? You are simply afraid of the scientific method and how faith is endangered by reason.I also believe in the concept of ahimsa, the principle of non-violence which motivated Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi. I believe in sort of a karma that develops when ahimsa is practiced optimally. I see a bit too much violence in the Bible for my own comfort level. Even though Christ is portrayed a very peaceful man---some of the stories of the Bible seem to contradict his passivism. That is a contradiction that is interesting and definitely worthy of much more study.I think we should all be more tolerant of different world views. It disturbed me to hear that a classmate of my 12 year-old son Ryan told him he was going to hell because he didn’t believe that Jesus was his personal lord and savior. Ryan was hurt by that and I tried to explain to him that his friend was probably taught that in church, that he was not being tolerant of those who question. Ryan proceeded to tell me that he believed that each of us makes our own heaven or hell right here on Earth. (Pretty bright for his age I think.) When I was Ryan’s age, my friend Bobby Weber told me I would go to hell if I didn’t believe in God. I remember asking him if being a good person was enough. He replied, “No, It is not enough. There is much more to it than that.” About 3 days before my Uncle Charlie died I tried to express to him about how Christmas gave me a sublime and mystical sense of hope. He said, “I don’t believe any of that Jeffrey.” I said I respected that and I knew he respected my inclination to fully search out my own spirituality. Deep in my heart I DO NOT believe that kind and generous Uncle Charlie is going to hell. Charlie was a great person, always willing to give me advice when I needed it, always willing to help in any way he could. If there is a God that would send him to hell, we live in a cruel world. I’m not at all convinced, though, that we do live in a cruel world. There is much beauty and truth to reach out to. We can create our own heaven on Earth, and it is totally up to us.I have a continuing debate with my good friend Craig S. ho is avout believer. Craig is a person of excellent character who cares deeply about other people and about the Earth.Dear Friend Craig,you said:Creationists, of course, have not the slightest problem with naturalselection...creation and evolution are actually both outside therealms of science and, to know this, you need to know what scienceis...neither "process" is currently observable, testable orrepeatable. I have a problem with a statement saying that evolution is faroutside the scientific realm. Evolution is science and God is faith.They are two different things as far as I'm concerned. Becauseevolution is not testable directly doesn't mean we cannot use carbondating, fossil discoveries to sharpen our pool of evidence toapproximate the best possible understanding given our humanlimitations. It is arrogance to think we have all the answers. Whatreligion says is..."We can stop thinking now. Let's throu up ourhands because this world is too scary and complicated." That is acop out I think. Let's use the reason we were given biologicallyand use it to the utmost limit. We only use 5 percent of our brainsright? Religion may be an outdated part of the cortex. Logical rflection is the advanced part in my opinion. You quoted this:I am also talking about the appearance of life startingfrom inanimate chemicals. When I am talking about evolution, I am nt speaking of natural selection." This statement also doesn't make sense. When one speaks aboutevolution one has to speak of natural selection. It is the principleupon which it is based. It's like saying, "When you are talkingabout culinary arts, you cannot talk about recipes." Of course Iknow where he is going. He is trying to make a deeper point...thathe is in touch with some sublime insight, that science must beinadequate given the conversion from inanimate life to animate life. What if there were 10 to the Google Plex years to get this done, itmay have happened this way. Humans cannot not grasp the concept ofinfinite time or space. It's with science that we humbly take thesteps, not with gross generalizations. If there is a God, I thinkhe would want us not to assume but to make one great discovery afteranother, walking not running.What about the scientific method of carefully testing hypothesis anddisregarding if there is the slightest inconsistency? Science isthe best method we have given our limited five senses. Having faiththat there is a creator and that nothing more needs to be looked intomeans we can just throw up our arms and say "God is in control." What is the purpose of Free Will then? I’ll stick with science because it’s the best we can do to understand the world and how it works. I would rather have a cardiologist perform heart surgery on me rather than a priest. The cardiologist has science on his side. Let's continue the debate. This is fascinating. Your Friend, Jeff---- Original Message ----From: csather To: jeffdeb@milwpc.comSubject: RE: Yale Daily News - Popular anti-religion creates falsedichotomyDate: Sat, 26 Jan 2008 16:47:47 -0600Dear Jeff,In the book, "In 6 Days - Why 50 scientists believe in Creation"there is a statement by one of the scientists, "Creationists, of course, have not the slightest problem with naturalselection...creation and evolution are actually both outside therealms of science and, to know this, you need to know what scienceis...neither "process" is currently observable, testable orrepeatable. Please note that when speaking of evolution, I amtalking of the appearance of new (not rearranged) geneticinformation. I am also talking about the appearance of life startingfrom inanimate chemicals. When I am talking about evolution, I amnot speaking of natural selection." The man who wrote this is Dr.Stephen Grocott, who holds a BS in Chemistry and a PhD inorganometallic chemistry from the University of Western Australia. He holds 4 patents, has published about 30 research papers. He is anelected fellow of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute.This book is quite interesting, and points out the patently falsestatement by Dawkins about scientists not subscribing to creation.All 50 contributors have an earned doctorate from a state recognizeduniversity in Australia, the US, the United Kingdom, Canada, SouthAfrica or Germany. If Dawkins is wrong about this statement, howmany other statements are being made on his faith that God does notexist? It takes faith to believe in either proposition.CraigThis is what it all comes down to. It’s looking up into the night sky full of stars and becoming infinitely humble looking at the mystery of it all. In theological terms, every day is a miracle. The fact that we can live, love, think, care for one another share a laugh or a smile, that we can evolve toward peace using our minds. That is a miracle to me, that I was born during this time of history. That is fascinating to me.Are most with the atheist world view lacking compassion? A fair question. Most probably misinterpret atheists who have a deep sense of compassion and ethics. Some use the atheist label for themselves to express anger against overly religious parents or wrongs done in their lives such an aborted fetus, an uncle who died suddenly, or relatives dying in a car accident. I believe atheism can be a superficial reaction to authority or a carefully reasoned philosophy. The later I respect infinitely more.I think a lot of us are just plain uncomfortable with the idea that we evolved from apes and from lower forms of life. We cringe at the amoral laws of nature and that we came from that random primordial soup. Can we see the logic in why God would have designed snakes, scorpions or spiders. Charles Darwin said of wasps:"I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living body of caterpillars."But as Darwin would remind us, the evolutionary process has produced wonderfully designed creatures, and that there are always new mysteries to uncover. We take the good with the bad, but what a wonderful mystery this Earth is. So much to discover with so little time. Some Christians who are mad at Dawkins say that evolution will always be a theory because we will never be able to directly observe what happened millions of years ago. One reviewer of Richard Dawkins wrote this:It is the grandest insult to human knowledge - to suppose that we have to observe something visually in order to know it sends us straight back to the Dark Ages. You can ask questions of this kind all you want and nothing will ever constitute a sufficient answer if you have already supposed that the answer must be mystical in some way.Again, you cannot reason someone out of something they were not reasoned into in the first place. Science uses exact terms and definitions in debate and the debate is rational. Faith uses inexact terms in debate and the discourse is often times irrational and directionless.This sudden intuitive dawning, this ah-hah experience at the age of 48 that I appear to be experiencing brings some mixed feelings. I feel like I have lost an innocence after having faith in a protector in the sky just a short time ago. The death of my Uncle Charlie is bringing on a feeling(stronger than ever) that an unexamined life is not worth living. To examine life to its fullest is to search out the most important question. The most important question right now is the God question, one we as humans seem to be the most conflicted about. I too am deeply conflicted about this question. Reading Sam Harris, Carl Sagan and Richard Dawkins gives me hope in the rationality possible in the human race but also brings a sense of longing for spiritual belief, more than ever. It’s like a void that needs to be filled with something, but with what? This Amazon reviewer talks about how his life has gone into a sort of depressive tail spin after reading Dawkins. He talks about how his once pure spiritual outlook has been “battered.” It is interesting that he admits that Dawkins is “too convincing” in his arguments against supernaturalism:The book renders a God or supreme power of any sort quite superfluous for the purpose of accounting for the way the world is, and the way life is. It accounts for the nature of life, and for human nature, only too well, whereas most religions or spiritual outlooks raise problems that have to be got around. It presents an appallingly pessimistic view of human nature, and makes life seem utterly pointless; yet I cannot present any arguments to refute its point of view. I still try to have some kind of spiritual outlook, but it is definitely battered, and I have not yet overcome the effects of this book on me.Richard Dawkins seems to have the idea that religion and spirituality are not only false, but ultimately unable to give a real sense of meaning and purpose in life. Their satisfaction is hollow, empty, and unreal, in his apparent view, and only a scientific understanding of life can give a real, lasting sense of wonder and purpose.Iwould question this. While I am not sure what (if anything) there is spiritually, I know that a scientific view of life cannot offer the slightest hope of life after death, and since we're all going to die and most of us don't want to, this is a crippling drawback to the kind of scientific vision Dawkins wants us all to have. If there is nothing beyond death, no spiritual dimension to anything, and everything is just a blind dance of atoms, I fail to see how this by itself can give one a real sense of purpose, however fascinating the dance that Dawkins describes - and it *is* fascinating; let there be no mistake about that.Because of this, I have the curious feeling of dichotomy about Dawkins' book that it is certainly fascinating on one level, but that I cannot give even qualified emotional commitment to the outlook on life that seems to lie behind it. I would in the end rather have the hope of something wonderful and purposeful that only some spiritual outlook can offer, even though it may be a deluded fantasy, than the certainty of a scientific vision that eliminates any possibility of long-term hope, that condemns us to an empty, eternal death of nothingness in the end. This scientific view may be completely rational; but rationality is not the only important consideration to shape our outlook on life.Anyone who has a narrow religious view of life, who is absolutely sure their religion is completely right, would be best off avoiding this book like the plague - it probably won't change their views, but they will quite likely get very upset and outraged. And anyone with an open-minded spiritual view had better at least be prepared to do a lot of thinking, and perhaps be willing to change some of their views, because this book *will* challenge almost any spiritual or religious viewpoint I can think of - whether it is of the open-minded or dogmatic sort.Some critics of this book have found its reasoning unconvincing, its materialist reductionism too superficial and shallow. But, from my perspective, the problem does not lie here; the problem with the book is that it is *too* convincing, that it is *entirely* convincing. The book makes it very difficult to continue to believe in anything that contradicts its basic premise, but which might be more comforting, and might give a greater sense of hope and inspiration, and provide a real sense of purpose in life.Such have its effects on my life been that, in my more depressed moments, I have desperately wished I could unread the book, and continue life from where I left off.It has been said that each of us has a God-shaped hole inside, and that we spend most of our lives trying to fill it with the wrong things. I firmly believe that God-shaped hole is there, that we have inner longings of a wonderful sort almost impossible to describe in words. Whether a God exists to fill it, I do not yet know. But what I am sure of is that, as wonderful as Dawkins' view of nature and of life may be on its own level, it will not fill that God-shaped hole.The question is---what to do with that spiritual hole. I say, fill it with wonderment about the natural world, be thankful for every single day, every single hour you are on the planet. Whatever this is, it’s more than kind of neat Just think of the scientific discoveries that await us having to do with time, space, genetic memory, etc. etc. The emperor has no clothes and conventional religion cannot begin to answer our questions anymore.I’ve started a book by John Updike called “In the Beauty of the Lillies.” It is about a pastor who is losing his faith and cannot in good conscience go on preaching, because it is not what he feels in his heart. To the chagrin of his wife, he says he wants to quit the church. His life is in a tailspin because he cannot face the possibility of being a fake to himself, thinking that any meaningful life has to be grounded in truth first and foremost. This is a sort of the bind I feel like I’m in right now, to be true to myself or politically pacify my family.“A Letter to Christian Nation” inspired me to write this essay. Here is an interesting comment about the book by a reviewer:The author's points about embryonic stem cell research and creationism in the public schools are extremely important for anyone who embraces modernity and progress. While a handful of other authors attempt to feebly argue the ridiculous idea that modern science was produced by Christian thinking, Harris explains what should be obvious -- that religion is now, and has always been, a serious impediment to science. Some people are currently trying to force public schools to teach our children that their ancient creation myth -- a fantastic story for which there is only contradictory evidence -- is a good viable alternative to evolution, a well established scientific explanation of human development for which there is a mountain of supporting evidence. These same folks also wish to impede embryonic stem cell research, which could potentially result in cures and treatments for numerous human diseases and afflictions, simply because their prudery-inspired anti-abortion agenda has forced them into the absurd logical conclusion of contending that a 3-day-old blastocyst in a petrie dish is a full fledged person possessing the same rights as anyone reading this sentence. Now, these religious opponents of progress will insist until they're blue in the face that they're not against science. But watching them make every attempt to stop the advance of very important science like stem cell research and evolution while at the same time insisting that they support "real science" is like watching an obese man deny that he has a weight problem while he dines on a bucket of fried chicken.There are many very real contradictions in religious thought, because it is not logical. It is not rational.I find scientific statements like this fascinating….A sugar cube of neutron-star stuff on Earth would weigh as much as all of humanity!There is so much we don’t know about our universe. Why isn’t the Bible more humble and why isn’t marvelous universe addressed in this book of knowledge? There is no evidence of intellectual curiosity in the Bible. Maybe we need a new book. Why isn’t Michael Behe more humble when he throws up his hands and says everything is irreducibly complex? In “The Origin of the Species,” Charles Darwin wrote:"If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down. But I can find out no such case. No doubt many organs exist of which we do not know the transitional grades, more especially if we look to much-isolated species, round which, according to my theory, there has been much extinction. Or again, if we look to an organ common to all the members of a large class, for in this latter case the organ must have been first formed at an extremely remote period, since which all the many members of the class have been developed; and in order to discover the early transitional grades through which the organ has passed, we should have to look to very ancient ancestral forms.”Albert Einstein once said, “The most beautiful emotion we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead, a snuffed out candle. “ He also differentiated between types of atheists, saying, “What separates me from most so-called atheists is a feeling of utter humility toward the unattainable secrets of the harmony of the cosmos.”In his book “The End of Faith,” Sam Harris says,“Our willingness to ignore reason and scientific facts as we maintain our beliefs, not based on sound science and reason, will lead the world into more peril because these beliefs not only legitimize intolerance, but they have also invaded most aspects of political and secular life and threaten to become apocalyptic in a world with weapons of mass destruction.”Harris, who is now working toward a Doctorate in Neuroscience, seems genuinely concerned about the ability of mankind to save itself through rational means, inferring that no supernatural God is going to bale us out of current problems we have like over-populuation, terrorism, poverty, disease and pollution.A Mensa study in 2002 showed a very strong correlation between intelligence and the choice to have fewer religious beliefs. It found that the higher the intelligent or education level, the more probability that the person will not clinging to some preset religious rules for one’s own salvation. Studies also proved recently that there is no evidence that prayer helps people. A double blind study was done and it found that the lives of people in hospitals who were prayed for did not improve appreciably and sometimes got worse. The people who were not prayed for did not show any deviation from any normal curve of recovery and other health variables. Now, here is the very ironic point. Religiously inclined people tend would probably be chomping at the bit to interpret information that let’s say would prove that Jesus’s birth could not be tracked to any sexual intercourse before hand. Say that science was able to analyze the body of Jesus’s mother and determine that she could not have received sperm from any male contributor in order to give birth. The religiously inclined would flock to the evidence. As Richard Dawkins infers, one cannot see a fundamentalist Christian stating that it is “just science, I have enough proof in my own mind to know it is true.” Something tells me that they would not ignore the evidence and that Pat Robertson would have it as a top story on his 700 Club, using science to prove his hazy points. Ironic. Truly ironic.Jerry Coyne recently wrote in the Guardian magazine:“Why is God considered an explanation of anything? It’s not. It’s a failure to explain, a shrug of the shoulders. An ‘I dunno’ dressed up in spirituality and ritual. If someone credits something to God, generally what that means is that haven’t a clue, so they’re attributing it to unreachable unknown sky fairy. Ask for an explanation of where the bloke came from and odds are that you’ll get a vague, pseudo-philosophical reply about having always existed or being outside nature. Which of course, explains nothing.”I have used the argument with deeply ingrained and somewhat militant atheists that there could be something outside of the five senses that we are not perceiving that could be true. But they counter with the argument that how can we know anything outside the realm of science? Good point. We can only speculate. We can speculate that there is a gigantic teapot that steams away up in the sky ruling all of our sub conscious experiences. There could be a huge banana in the sky that peels off pearls of vitamin-laced molecules of wisdom. You can make up anything if you don’t have logic. That’s the serious problem mankind is faced with here. Logic is our only way out even though we can speculate beyond logic.What’s so dangerous about belief in irreducible complexity or intelligent design is that we give up using our brains(which are most ironically the most highly evolved tools we have to reflect and logically analyze this beautiful diversity we have here on Earth.) I think if there is a God(oh, there I go again) he/she would want us to use every single cell of our brains to comprehend this complex and wonderful, beautiful world. Traditional faith, you are going in the wrong direction. Let’s appreciate the marvelous complexity of the one-celled animal or what salt looks like under a microscope or the colors of the rainbow. Even the religious could be taught to appreciate the 10 to the googleplex power of biologic beauty that has been dumped on us in our very very very short lives here on the planet. There is no time to waste reading and exploring all one can to get in touch which what we could call “the miracle of just being here.” Where? On Earth of course! We are living in heaven right now. Let’s wake up and smell the coffee.Let’s for a moment bring the anthropic principle into the mix. At face value, it would seem that this would bring in more ammunition for the ID inclined. But the relativism which is inferred by it, only deepens my scientific curiosity. The fact that life could have evolved in a google-plex number of combinations lights the fire of my imagination perhaps like Douglas Adams was awe struck by the world beyond God. With our limited scientific minds, we are given the chance to figure things out. Truly amazing.This morning I prepared for a meeting with my Stephen minister. I picked out about a dozen Bible verses out of about 90 on a Christian calendar that I got from Miles Kimball. The key was finding things that were meaningful to me. I picked out several that really struck me as having some meaning that was applicable to real life. Words of the Bible must not be taken literally, but highly figuratively. It’s what it means to you and how a person can shape the ultimate life path. My song “Beyond Belief” to my wife Debbie has a line about meeting in heaven. It is figurative. I don’t really believe that I’m glancing at Debbie at the pearly gates. It means that in the infinite time there is a chance of anything. My mind is open to the remote possibility that we may see each other again.I picked out some psalms the other day and gave my interpretation to each one and then my Stephen Minister Tim and I had a very spirited discussion about their meanings.This is the day which the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be gladin it." Psalm 118:24 Be happy about each day, each minute for that matter on Earth. Thisis a very special experience...more special than you would everimagine. Rejoice and enjoy the entire experience! Live each dayto the fullest. That's the idea."And the angel said unto them, Fear not; for, behold, I bring youtidings of great joy, which shall be to all people." Luke 2:10 Don't forget about the great potential for giving that all peoplehave, that angels can be seen in the eyes of almost everyone in theright circumstances. Good things happen and good does notdiscrimminate between the lucky and the needy. We can all recognizeand take solice from our angels of mercy."For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shalllose his life for my sake and the gospel's, the same shall save it." Mark 8:35This simply means keep the spirit alive. The old future is gone,but it is up to us to shed the old unproductive ways and develop lifehabits that make sense for the long run. The Christian would say tobe come more completed in his/her faith. We are losing our oldselves in favor of the newly evolved self. New ways to interact andto think and to act. We are hopefully improving until the day weare 80, 90 or 100. If we save our life for our own sake withoutintegrating with a combination of our fellow human beings then it'sall worth nothing. We must be highly integrated in helping. Wemust learn to tap into the energy that enables us to rush ahead withlife with a high level of meaning and momentum and not wallow in selfpity when down or over involve ourselves with our own ego when up. Share the joy with others and your life will mean infinitely more."And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath givenhimself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savor." Ephesians 5:2 To walk in love....what a beautiful thought. For truth alone withoutlove wiil perish and love without truth is naive. To hear infinitelove and truth will propel us to greater heights and help us touchthe face of God. You will encounter the slings and arrows ofmisfortune when taking the hard road, but it will all be worth it ifwhen a higher purpose is embraced. Each person must choose his/herown spiritual path, but must be highly integrated with goodness andrighteousness. Have the courage to take your own brave. That iswhat that is saying to me."A scorner seeketh wisdom, and findeth it not, but knowledge is easyunto him that understandeth." Proverbs 14:6 Have a good attitude and important life wisdom and knowledge tends tostick. Wisdom accumulates on wisdom and becomes infinitely morepowerful and yes I guess you could say closer to God, whatever yousee him/her as."Where no counsel is, the people fall; but in the multitude ofcounselors there is safety." Proverbs 11:14 I'm not sure what this one means. Maybe Tim or Craig can help me with this one. Maybe it means we have the responsibility to choose good friends who can be great counselors in the time of need."And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of thefirmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars forever and ever." Daniel 12:3 Sharing wisdom is as true and beautiful as the stars in the sky. Reach out with faith and it becomes infinitely more meaningful andpowerful."Seek the Lord, and his strength: seek his face evermore." Psalm 105:4 Seeking out the face of goodness; that has a very spiritual meaningfor me. We are continually looking for God in others. Seek thegreatest truth and beauty every minute of our lives. We must allfollow our own roads to spiritual truth. It is truly the road lesstraveled. A Christian would always believe that the power of God isalways with him or her. That one is never alone----what a powerful feeling."For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world,and lose his own soul." Mark 8:36 This is a powerful one for me. If we don't follow our ownconscience...that angel on our shoulder, then we are doomed to do thepleasureable thing, but not necessarily the correct thing. Life isseries of decisions. Jesus always has patience even when we fall offthe ladder. Worldly prizes don't mean anything in heaven. My purpose for writing this is to attempt to examine severalimportant passages in the Bible, throwing most out but keeping theprecious. Hold onto the precious ones dearly. I write this as Iprepare to meet with my Stephen Minister at Starbucks today. I continue to ask a lot ofquestions and Tim is very patient with my spiritual development. Oh, by the way, What exactly is spiritual development?Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around –Leo Buscaglia.Ryan(who just turned 13) decided to join us for church yesterday. It was an amazing turn around for Ryan who has rejected taking in the experience for some time. I have always emphasized the fellowship aspect of church to him and maybe he is realizing it will not kill him to experience something that Mom highly cherishes. Ryan willingly participated in sharing the peace and even in reading verses and singing part of the hymns. It was a grand effort from Ry and I deeply respect it. We talked to one of the church leaders(Paula Draves) after the service and Ryan was very appropriate with our friend. Does religion fill a gap in the brain, a need that needs to be satisfied whether God exists or not? Or is it more about love of this life in this world and the intense need for friendship. I like the talking before and after the service and of course, the sharing of the peace. It is about the “Namaste” of the experience. This is the word that Tim and I were trying to remember as we savored our caramel coffee at Starbucks. According to Wikipedia, Namaste means:Namaste is one of the few Sanskrit words commonly recognized by Non-Hindi speakers. In the West, it is often used to indicate South Asian culture in general. "Namaste" is particularly associated with aspects of South Asian culture such as vegetarianism, yoga, ayurvedic healing, and Hinduism.In recent times, and more globally, the term "namaste" has come to be especially associated with yoga and spiritual meditation all over the world. In this context, it has been viewed in terms of a multitude of very complicated and poetic meanings which tie in with the spiritual origins of the word. Some examples:"I honor the Spirit in you which is also in me." -- attributed to author Deepak Chopra[citation needed]"I honor the place in you in which the entire Universe dwells, I honor the place in you which is of Love, of Integrity, of Wisdom and of Peace, When you are in that place in you, and I am in that place in me, we are One.""I salute the God within you.""I recognize that we are all equal.""The entire universe resides within you.""The divine peace in me greets the divine peace in you.""Your spirit and my spirit are ONE." --"That which is of the Divine in me greets that which is of the Divine in you.""The Divinity within me perceives and adores the Divinity within you".The concept of Namaste means that we infinitely respect what is in others, the beauty they perceive and the hopes, dreams and innocence that still exists in their soul. In a recent Deepak Chopra book, he talks about the rose. If we perceive a beautiful rose, our senses send signals to make it real in our mind. So literally, much of the beauty of that rose exists in our mind. It brings up the argument of how much of the world’s beauty is perception and how much is actual reality. A religious person may say the beauty of the rose is a gift straight from God. Of course, give our complex brains some credit, right? But, Namaste, means to respect the infinite worth in all living things, especially the God that exists in the world’s most highly evolved creatures, human beings. It is a concept like Namaste that can be extremely powerful in the world. It has the potential to counteract what is worst in human beings, like war, arrogance, greed, and selfishness. It has the potential to help us see the tremendous potential in each of us to achieve peace instead of conflict, elevating our quality of life in every way on this fragile planet of ours. If I remember correctly, it was the great Gandhi who used this when greeting everyone, respecting the very best everyone brings to life.He that hath a numerous family, and many to provide for, needs agreater providence of God. --Jer. Taylor.Providence is such a powerful concept, that implies that the greatlife force has a sort of empathy for us and that we are being watched and cared for. This is what makes athiesm so dangerous, that we riskbursting the bubble of people who happily and confidently believethat there is something greater and that there is a force of somekind protecting the good, the righteous and the ethical. It seemslike a gigantic mystery, but there is certainly no scientificevidence for this being true---but it is something that many "feeldeep in their hearts and souls." Hard core athiests would callprovidence a delusion a simple trick we are playing on our own mindsto feel safer or more protect ourselves. Hard core athiesm has the potential to bring on some very heavy andpossibly dangerous paradigm shifts in the minds of the believers,maybe some huge let downs. I guess my only advice is that we must bevery courageous in the hour of our extreme uncertainty. God is nothing you can prove by science. A good friend of mine recently recommended a book called "A Case for Christ" by Lee Strobel. As one reviewer said of the book, "Some of Strobel's points, I think, are irrefutable: Jesus did exist, his life is muchbetter documented than that of any figure of the same era and he didnot merely swoon on the cross, but actually died there.However, I found some of the key arguments for his divinity,resurrection and miracles less than convincing. For instance, one ofthe scholars interviewed, J. P. Moreland, argues that the bestcircumstantial evidence for Jesus's resurrection is the conversion of"an entire community of 10,000 Jews" to Christianity within fiveweeks of his crucifixion. This is all the more striking, he says, asthe Jews' extremely resilient beliefs and religious practices havesurvived over the millenia." It seems like some directionless tripto prove some literalism of the Bible's events from a man hell-benton making a point. Not real journalism at all I don't think. Itsmells like a heavy dose of pseudo science! I have just picked up "The Blind Watchmaker" by Richard Dawkins fromthe local library. I like the way Dawkins writes when compared tohis overly pious and serious minded counterparts. It's more eloquent and poetic where people like Behe and other right winger evangelicals posing as scientists seem to always be straining to make a point andtalk in less exact terms. Like the writing of Stephen Jay Gould, Bill Nye, Isaac Asimov or Carl Sagan it is easier to digest because it is not so pretentious. It doesn't try too hard to be goodwriting, if you know what I mean. Since life is too short and Ihaven't finished the book yet, I will go to just the 5 star reviewsof the Dawkins masterpiece. This reviewer was impressed with Dawkins' honest and direct writingstyle: "It's pretty obvious that a fair few people criticising this bookhave not read it - and have no intention to. Or if they have attempted to read it they simply haven't grasped the most basic concepts. General assumptions that a pro-evolution stance is just an"opinion", or that evolution is "just a theory" (a complete misunderstanding of the meaning of the word in a scientific context),or statements like "given enough time, dirt can turn into people."show that clearly.One person even takes one of the central aims of the book - where Dawkins takes Paley's watchmaker analogy and attempts to show how a complex object like an eye could evolve byselection - and berates Dawkins because because he apparently doesn'tgrasp the fact that because a watch or computer has a designer, thatlife must have a designer as well! Awe-inspiring. If I remember healso accuses Dawkins of circular reasoning! The whole case of the book is that this "it's all chance" thing isprecisely the opposite of what Darwin and Wallace said. As Dawkinswrites in the prologue "The trouble with evolution is that everyone*thinks* they understand it". If one thing should be taken from thisbook, it is the realisation that Natural Selection is *anything* butchance. I used to think I understood evolution. I did Biology as anelective at university but I didn't really begin to understand thesubtleties and elegance of the theory until I first read this book 10years ago. It's genuinely one of the milestone books of my life - and not because I already had an opinion before I read it - unlike the creationists." A reviewer of Sam Harris's book "Letter to a Christian Nation" isprobably firing on all cylinders when he says,"Letter to a Christian Nation" is a call to everyone of faith to move past their belief systems and progress toward a future world where humanity can solve its most pressing problems using intellectual honesty and without having to resort to irrational and superstitious lines of reasoning (or lack thereof)."Let's think about that term---intellectual honesty. We need to behonest with ourselves and others if true communication is to takeplace right? If we hide in delusion using words that we alone havemeanings for, then we never connect with each other. I think weshould ponder what this "intellectual honesty" means to us and whatvalue it should play in our lives. As the reviewer implies,"irrational and superstitious lines of reasoning" only get us further into trouble. We need to interact with each other on clearly defined and honest terms and I don't think religion always lets us do that.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Movie Reviews

Race to Witch Mountain

“I will get you to your destination, because that is what I do.” Which mountain is that?Dr. Alex Friedman, a discredited astrophysicist UFO expert, enlists the help of Jack Bruno, a Las Vegas cab driver, to protect Sara and Seth, two young siblings with paranormal powers, from the clutches of an organization that wants to use the kids for their nefarious plans. It turns out that the kids are extraterrestrials and that in order to prevent an invasion of Earth, Jack the cabbie must help them reach their spaceship which is buried within Witch Mountain."

Movies like this are rediculous. I really don't buy a movie that is so scientifically implausable. What a silly story. I don't buy the premise that a UFO expert has any creditibility at all anyway. And anybody with paranormal powers? The only slight concilation would be "The Rock." It's a script consistent with his intellectual ability.

Confessions of a Shopaholic

Shop until you drop addiction, or toxic asset? A cautionary tale for the bill collector is onto the scent.Rebecca Bloomwood is a sweet and charming New York City girl (cute as a button) who has a tiny, little problem that is rapidly turning into a big problem: she's hopelessly addicted to shopping and drowning in a sea of debt ($16,000). When she shops, “… the world seems better.”While Rebecca has dreams of working for a top fashion magazine, she can't quite get her foot in the door -- that is, until she snags a job as an advice columnist for a new financial magazine published by the same company. Overnight, her column becomes hugely popular, turning her into an overnight celebrity, but when her compulsive shopping and growing debt issues threaten to destroy her love life and derail her career, she struggles to keep it all from spiraling out of control -- and is ultimately forced to reevaluate what's really important in life. Yes, and there is a little romance at play here as well.

Wow, this looks silly. Making crass materialism look like innocent fun. This silly superficial character how gets a silly superficial job (and probably laughs just like Ann Coulter). When is cute little Rebecca going to get over being 11 years old and join the world of reality? Oh, but she is so cute. She looks like a Republican cheerleader I used to know. Isn't it cute that the movie has a nice little moral lesson that will let little Rebecca evolve from an 11 to a 12 year-old, all in one movie! This is movie is pandering to the uneducated; the director should know better.

Last House on the Left

It is only a movie, a very nasty movie.The night she is to arrive at the remote lakehouse of her family, Mari Collingwood and her friend Paige are kidnapped by Krug, a prison escapee, his lover Sadie and his brother Francis. Brutally raped, terrorized and left for dead, Maria’s only hope is to make it back to the house of her parents John and Emma. Unfortunately, her attackers unknowingly seek shelter from the authorities at the one place she could be safe and are taken in by her parents. When her family becomes aware of the horrifying story, suppressing their rage they lure the killers into a trap. Can they succeed, and will their vengeance make the three strangers curse the day they came to the last house on the left?

I wouldn't want my 14 year-old son to see this movie. even though he would say, "Cool Dad!" He is addicted to "24" and that is enough that he idolizes Jack Bauer, HA. "24" does allow us to talk about it together, but I'm sort of divided on it. Back to the movie, this is as the "R" warning says, "R for sadistic brutal violence including a rape and disturbing images, language, nudity and some drug use." Sadistic brutal violence. There are much better movies out there, and until my son sees the subtle evil going on in these movies, there is no convincing him. As an adult, I hope he will learn to discern on a higher ethical plane, but until then..... Please don't go to this movie, but I know the mainstream(including a lot of Christians) will be salivating over it, completely controlled by the Id of Hollywood. Sorry for the Freudian slip Craig.


Former government operative Bryan Mills begins the longest 96-hours of his life -- and the hunt for the fearsome organization that has taken his 16 year-old daughter Kim. Mills had only recently given up his government career as what he calls a “preventer” to be near Kim, who lives with Bryan’s ex-wife Lenore and her new husband in Los Angeles. To make ends meet, Bryan joins some former colleagues for special security details (like guarding a pop diva), but most of his time and energy are spent re-connecting with Kim. Bryan’s familial goal is nearly derailed when Kim requests his permission to spend time in Paris with a friend. All too aware of the dangers that could lie ahead for Kim in a foreign land, Bryan says no, but Kim’s disappointment leads him to very reluctantly relent. Bryan’s worst fears are realized when Kim and her friend Amanda are suddenly abducted in broad daylight from the Paris apartment at which they’ve just arrived. Moments before Kim is dragged away by the as yet unseen and unknown assailants, she manages to phone Bryan, who begins to expertly piece together clues that will take him to the darkness of Paris’s underworld, and to the City of Light’s plushest mansions. He determines Kim and Amanda have been taken by Albanian traffickers, who kidnap unassuming young women and, usually within 70 hours, ship them away forever. Bryan Mills will now face nightmares worse than anything he experienced in black ops -- and let nothing and no one stop him from saving his daughter. Once the central characters are introduced, “Taken” morphs into a highly-charged brutish and loud action movie driven with frenetic energy.

Taken has that "24" energy, that paranoia that makes you believe that the "evil" is superintelligent and that beating it is nearly impossible. The suspense formula( which is usually predictable in general) proceeds getting people killed in the process, but justifying the warlike behavior of justifiable homicide. It plays with us by pushing the envelope of justifiable homicide. In a recent show of "24", Jack Bauer says that innocent life sometimes needs to get snuffed out in the cause for freedom. The same rationale that calms the unformed consciences of Iraqi soldiers no doubt propells the confidence of the warlike, justifying their warlike impulses.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Quotes to Remember

I found a great website for atheist quotes. Bill I think you would like these:

I thought this one was cool too:

And some quotes on God and religion from Woody Allen?

"If only God would give me some clear sign! Like making a large deposit in my name at a Swiss Bank." Selections from the Allen Notebooks," in New Yorker (5 Nov. 1973)
"Not only is God dead, but just try to find a plumber on weekends."
In his autobiographical movie, Stardust Memories, Allen's character is called an atheist. He responds "To you, I'm an atheist. To God, I'm the loyal opposition."
"As the poet said, 'Only God can make a tree' -- probably because it's so hard to figure out how to get the bark on."
"How can I believe in God when just last week I got my tongue caught in the roller of an electric typewriter?"
"If it turns out that there is a God, I don't think that he's evil. But the worst that you can say about him is that basically he's an underachiever."
"I do not believe in an afterlife, although I am bringing a change of underwear."
"The chief problem about death, incidentally, is the fear that there may be no afterlife -- a depressing thought, particularly for those who have bothered to shave. Also, there is the fear that there is an afterlife but no one will know where it's being held." The Early Essays," Without Feathers (1976)
"I do occasionally envy the person who is religious naturally, without being brainwashed into it or suckered into it by all the organized hustles."
"Death will be OK, as long as I'm not around when it happens."

Find more atheists' quotes on this link:

Oh, and one more:

And for something completely different. Have you ever had your feelings hurt?

Nine Things to Remember When Your Feelings Get Hurt

If you were a sensitive child chances are you are now a sensitive adult. Everyday events may affect you differently than someone who is less sensitive. Other people do not understand this many times and will tell you that you are just being "too sensitive". How we feel each day can have a powerful effect on our self-esteem. Maybe they are just being "too insensitive". To effectively cope in our world you must remember these things:
Remember that what people say to you or about you is really about them and has nothing to do with you
If someone says something to you that hurts your feelings tell them that you did not like how they spoke to you
See if sometimes you are misunderstanding what someone else says to you
Realize that many people talk just to have something to do and don’t even know they are being insensitive
Stay away from people who have been hurtful to you in the past
Spend time building you your self-esteem
Focus on your own interests and beliefs and do not become involved with other people’s opinions Celebrate the fact that you are sensitive. You are most likely also a very creative person.
Look for other people who are also sensitive and form friendships and alliances with them. They will understand how you feel and be better friends to you in the long run
Many people will tell you that you are being too thin-skinned and should just let insensitive comments roll off you “like water off a duck’s back”. But only you know how you feel and you will feel better if you acknowledge your emotions and feelings. We all have an emotional guidance system that lets us know at every moment how we are feeling. Look for situations where you feel good and avoid those that make you feel bad. You are a special, unique being that deserves to feel joy and happiness as much of the time as you possibly can.

My Brother In-Law the Christian??

My brother in-law, who is a Christian, sent me this.

I need your advice on how to react to it.

Here it is:

Official Announcement:

The federal government today announced that it is changing its emblem from an
Eagle to a CONDOM because it more accurately reflects the government's political stance. A condom allows for inflation, halts production, destroys the next generation, protects a bunch of pricks, and gives you a sense of security while you're actually being screwed!

He then says, "Damn, It doesn't get more accurate than that!"

It is scary that Bill actually thinks this is funny. Wow. How world views can be different. How do I diplomatically tell Bill that I totally disagree with him? His most likely response will be, "Oh, I'm just having a few laughs. Don't get so uptight." Wish me luck :)

Monday, March 9, 2009

Hitchens vs. Wilson

This article from Christianity Today gives you a flavor of what the chemistry is like between Chris Hitchens and Douglas Wilson when they go on their Christianity Versus Athiesm tours.
Day 1, October 29, 2008
Last year, Christianity Today hosted a lively online debate between pastor and author Douglas Wilson (my father), and Christopher Hitchens, popular author and leading atheist. Both authors have a flair for the humorous and the literary, and the popularity of their debate led to its publication as a book (from a Christian publishing house). Is Christianity Good for the World? was released last month, and now both authors are on the road, debating and discussing the topic in New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. Because of the uniqueness and value of their exchanges, a documentary film crew is following them, led by MTV music video director Darren Doane.
As for me? I'm tagging along. Day one was remarkable. The two men met in the morning over coffee, debated in a town hall-style encounter at the King's College in the Empire State Building, signed copies of the book in the Union Square Barnes & Noble, and then divided for different events of different flavors in the evening. Hitchens debated Rabbi Wolpe in Temple Emanu-El — said to be the largest Jewish house of worship in the world — while my father addressed the atheist clubs of Columbia and NYU in an event called "Stump the Preacher Man."
But to be honest, the most interesting moments have all been outside the formal events — discussions over meals, in cabs and elevators. Both men share a love of poetry (over lunch, they gave an antiphonal recitation of "Jabberwocky"), a love of the English language and the well-turned phrase, and have spent a good ten minutes spouting favorite lines from the British writer P. G. Wodehouse to mutual laughter. And both men have a respect for each other — though clearly not for their conflicting opinions of God and the nature of the world.
At the King's College debate, Hitchens professed disdain for the biblical admonition to "love your enemies," calling it total nonsense. And yet, as he appears in Christian forums, wrangling with a Christian man, that is exactly what he is experiencing firsthand. The exchanges are heated. No punches have been pulled, and no one is pretending like the gulf between atheism and Christianity is anything but dark and profound. Yet underlying it all, there is an affection shown to him that is just as profound.
Hitchens said he wanted all his enemies destroyed. Wilson countered with qualified agreement, saying that God destroys all his enemies, but doesn't only destroy them in the traditional way, as understood by man, but also destroys his enemies by making them friends.
Next, the two will debated "Beauty and the Existence of God" at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.
The morning began with New York City heaving its traffic in the normal way. With cameras tagging along, Hitchens and Wilson found themselves a coffee shop and settled into conversation. But before long, they were shuffled into a cab, and were off grid-locking their way to a heliport, a chopper to Philadelphia, and a debate at Westminster Theological Seminary.
The Phillies had won the World Series the day before, and it was evident everywhere in the city—even in Van Till Hall, the venue for the debate. Phillies jerseys, tees, and caps were crowded in beyond the room's capacity. Both men were given Phillies hats beforehand and Wilson produced his early on, promising the audience that he would put it on if he began to lose the debate (as a sure-fire way to win back the crowd).
After two days of travel and laughter, agreement and disagreement, meals and missed meals (in plenty and in want), the men began their debate with a stronger mutual rapport than the previous day. They both drew laughter from the audience throughout the discussion, but also regular laughter and acknowledgement from each other.
Substantively, Wilson began by claiming that if you deny the existence of God, you banish any standard of beauty or aesthetic criticism from the world. Nothing is more beautiful than anything else. In response (and ironically) Hitchens waxed eloquent about the marvels of reality. He became positively poetic as he paid tribute to stars and black holes and what he believes to be the inevitable destruction of our planet (at the hands of the Andromeda Galaxy).
But he didn't stop at poetry. When describing the Event Horizon of a black hole, he ceased to sound like a rationalist and began to sound more and more like a mystic—referring to the transcendent majesty of the thing itself (as it is imagined by some modern scientists) and reveling in the sci-fi idea of being able to simultaneously see both the past and the present, standing and ceasing to exist at that brink where space and time and light descend into darkness. It was odd, coming from the empirical rationalist, and he seemed unable to believe that in Christians, such thoughts (or visions) would stir up the desire to worship and obey the Artist behind such astonishing art.
Christopher Hitchens and Douglas Wilson both marvel at the same creation, and they turn to the same words and poetry to describe that creation and its effect on them. The difference, and never so stark as in this debate, is that one man reacts into extreme gratitude and thankfulness for the marvels of reality, while the other struggles to prevent that reaction, but is unable to even check his use of religious language and vocabulary in doing so.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Legislature Doesn't Want Dawkins in His State


State Rep. Todd Thomsen has filed a resolution to keep Richard Dawkins out of Oklahoma. Well, not the whole state. Presumably they would not try to arrest the good professor if he wandered across, say, the Arkansas border. But he does want to keep Dawkins off the grounds of the big university there. From House Resolution 1015 (RTF file):
. . . the Oklahoma House of Representative strongly opposes the invitation to speak on the campus of the University of Oklahoma to Richard Dawkins of Oxford University, whose published statements on the theory of evolution and opinion about those who do not believe in the theory are contrary and offensive to the views and opinions of most citizens of Oklahoma.
Well, since most Americans don't accept the fact of evolution, it surprises me not one iota that the majority of Oklahomans do not either. But what on Earth could be Thomsen's reasoning here? What is the basis upon which he objects to hearing from someone who thinks differently than he? Perhaps there is a clue in the language of the resolution:
WHEREAS, the University of Oklahoma is a publicly funded institution which should be open to all ideas and should train students in all disciplines of study and research and to use independent thinking and free inquiry; and . . .
WHEREAS, the University of Oklahoma has planned a year-long celebration of the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin and the 150th anniversary of Darwin’s theory of evolution, called the “Darwin 2009 Project”, which includes a series of lectures, public speakers, and a course on the history of evolution; and . . .
[Head scratch]
. . . THAT the Oklahoma House of Representatives encourages the University of Oklahoma to engage in an open, dignified, and fair discussion of the Darwinian theory of evolution and all other scientific theories which is the approach that a public institution should be engaged in and which represents the desire and interest of the citizens of Oklahoma.
So in the name of tolerance, free inquiry, and open debate we want Got it. According to the resolution, Dawkins demonstrates "intolerance for cultural diversity and diversity of thinking," so the solution for Rep. Thomsen is to rub out an example of diversity of thought. Nothing could be more representative of diversity of thought in Oklahoma than atheism! I'm going to guess that Mr. Thomsen is not grasping the irony of this. Thomsen, a football playing alumnus of the university in question, was responsible for another resolution that would undercut the authority of the State Textbook Committee, allowing for the infamous stickers that would "disclaim" about evolution's "controversy." (If anyone has a link to the actual language of that resolution -- HB 3375 -- I'd appreciate it.) He is also a local coordinator of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, which touts on its website:
Influence...FCA uses athletes and coaches to reach youth and adults with the adventure of following Christ.
No mistaking their intentions there! I particularly like the inelegant and blunt choice of the word "use." But hey, that's their thing.I have to admit, if this resolution goes anywhere within the State House, I'll be a little surprised. I know there is some antipathy toward atheism in Oklahoma, but if they applied this "ban" across the board, there would be very few biologists left in Oklahoma's centers of learning.But I think the thing that troubles me most about this whole thing -- Thomsen is the chairman of the Education Committee. Shudder.It's a shame that he's taking this odd position, even in light of his religious views, because in the things that I have gleaned about him since learning of this, he does seem to be a guy who is genuinely concerned about the quality of education in the state. Just a little hung up on some specifics regarding content, I suppose. I'll be watching this to see where it all goes.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Who's Your Guide? Nonreligious Conscientious Objectors?

by Karen Frantz

Published in the Humanist, March/April 2009

On September 2, 2006, Agustin Aguayo--an army specialist who had gone AWOL the day before while his unit was gearing up for deployment to Iraq--emerged from hiding to engage in an unlikely activity.
“I’m about to turn myself over to the MPs,” he told his wife, who videotaped his statement while the two sat in a parked car beside an army military police station (you can find the video on “It’s 8:32. And I don’t know what will happen. I think I’m just going to stay here all day or part of the day and someone from the unit will come by and pick me up.” He then added a message to his twin daughters, who were eleven at the time: “Hi Raquel, Hi Becky. I love you guys and I miss you guys always when I’m not with you… take care of each other, take care of yourselves. I’ll be fine. And we’ll be together again.”
Aguayo faced a court-martial and prison time for going absent without official leave and avoiding deployment. But after a year of military service he had developed a profound moral objection to what he was doing and realized that he could no longer stand to be a part of war.
An agnostic who believed in a higher power, Aguayo was raised by a father who was a Jehovah’s Witness and an extreme pacifist. Aguayo grew up with reverence for people like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. and always favored nonviolence. He enlisted in the U.S. Army partly as an avenue to medical school.
During his training in arms and military operations he began to feel a “crystallization” of belief--and this belief was causing him anguish and guilt. He knew he couldn’t use a bayonet against anyone. He knew he could never shoot someone. As Aguayo would later recount in an official military document:
The more I was indoctrinated the more I realized it was not me. My upbringing, my training, and my personal beliefs had all become conflicted…..I have always had strong feelings about war. I didn’t like the idea of people killing each other. However, it wasn’t till I joined the army that those “feelings” changed into full-fledged objections. I realized after I joined that I could not hurt, injure, or kill anyone under any circumstances.
And this new crystallization of belief was so strong that he’d sooner go to jail than act against it.
He was a conscientious objector.
Aguayo’s story might have ended that day with the military police. It might have ended years before when he had applied for a discharge from the military. Yet the nightmare continued long after he turned himself in on September 2, 2006. Because although Aguayo met many of the requirements of a conscientious objector according to military policy, he failed to meet one important non-official requirement: his belief system wasn’t Christian.
Aguayo wasn’t court-martialed that day. Instead the army told him he was going to Iraq whether he liked it or not--even if he had to be forcefully carried onto the plane. Soon after, Aguayo went AWOL again.
The history of conscientious objection in the United States is one that fluctuates between progressive and repressive. Massachusetts became the first colony to pass legislation protecting “non-resisters,” followed by Rhode Island and Pennsylvania. At the beginning of the American Revolution, George Washington exempted “those with conscientious scruples against war” from the draft. During the Civil War, both the Union and the Confederacy allowed conscientious objectors to buy out of the draft. In World War I members of “a well-recognized sect or organization …whose then existing creed or principles forbid its members to participate in war in any form” were granted conscientious objector status. And in World War II objectors were allowed to serve as noncombatants or to volunteer with the Civilian Public Service camps. However, despite these accounts, objectors to war were often treated harshly. At best, they were considered cowards. At worst they were punished--cruelly. During the Civil War, some objectors were starved, others hung by their thumbs. In World War I many draft resisters were arrested and imprisoned, the vast majority of them receiving life sentences and some sentenced to death.
Despite a tradition of exemption for those who belonged to pacifist religious groups, those who were of no religion, non-traditional religion, or even simply of a non-pacifist faith were generally denied conscientious objector status. Only slowly did that change. In World War II the definition of a conscientious objector was broadened to include those with “religious training and belief,” expanding the definition to include adherents of non-pacifist faith. And then in the 1965 Supreme Court case, United States v. Seeger, the Court ruled that an individual’s understanding of his or her own beliefs was relevant in determining qualification for conscientious objector status. Thus, those who didn’t have any formal religious training were now eligible to qualify, as well as adherents of “nontraditional” (read: non-Christian) religions--Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism. Finally, in 1970, during the height of the Vietnam War, the Supreme Court ruled in Welsh v. United States that “depth and fervency” of beliefs qualified a soldier for conscientious objector status, regardless of whether those beliefs were religious in nature.
Current U.S. military policy allows conscientious objectors (COs) to either apply for transfer to a non-combatant post (known as class 1-A-0) or to be discharged from the army (class 1-0). The application process is long and tedious--applicants must fill out a written questionnaire that explains the nature of their beliefs. (Because the United States currently has an all-volunteer army, an emphasis is placed on proving a change in belief system after joining the military, and the burden of proof lies entirely upon the applicant.) The case is then assigned to a range of officials for review, including a military chaplain and an investigating officer. The application is then kicked up the soldier’s chain of command until finally a review board either approves or denies the application. If an applicant is denied they must return to their unit and resume their former duties.
As defined by current military policy, conscientious objection is “a firm, fixed, and sincere objection to participation in war in any form or the bearing of arms, by reason of religious training and/or belief.” (DoD 1300.6) Although this policy allows room for moral objection manifested internally rather than through religious training, there remains a burden of proof.
Agustin Aguayo had stopped loading his weapon. It was in 2004 and he was in Iraq serving as a medic. He was put on guard duty--after he had already applied for discharge as a conscientious objector in February of that year. His conscience was weighing on him heavily.
He had been assigned an investigating officer: Captain Sean Foster. After Aguayo and other witnesses testified at his hearing, Foster recommended that CO status be granted. “It seemed clear to me that PFC [Private First Class] Aguayo is absolutely sincere in his stated beliefs that he is opposed to ‘war in any form’,” Foster wrote. “PFC Aguayo’s stated beliefs that he is internally incapable of participating in any form of war without being in a constant state of personal moral dilemma is absolutely sincere.”
The application went through the chain of command. Aguayo’s company commander recommended approval, but the next four officers to review the application disagreed, recommending disapproval. Many reasons were given, including the assertion that the timing of his application--just before his deployment to Iraq--was questionable. But there was also contention around the nature of Aguayo’s beliefs. The staff judge advocate who reviewed Aguayo’s application wrote:
PFC Aguayo’s convictions do not appear to be sincerely held…PFC Aguayo did not identify any specific ways he has altered his behavior to accommodate his beliefs. Although practicing a religion is not a requirement for CO approval, PFC Aguayo has not discussed any equally significant source of his beliefs other than he was raised in a kind and respectful family.
The Department of the Army Conscientious Objector Review Board (DACORB) then conducted the final review. They denied his application in July 2004. He was to stay with his unit in Iraq.
In August 2005 Aguayo tried again. He petitioned the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia for a writ of habeas corpus, arguing that he had never been given the chance to rebut the negative recommendations from his commanding officers, as is standard regulation. Aguayo was allowed to revise his written application and the army agreed to have the DACORB reconsider.
In the revised application, Aguayo explained his beliefs more thoroughly and how his beliefs had changed in training:
As the trainings progressed I knew I could not stab anyone with a bayonet…And when I felt the earth tremble beneath me after firing an M-16 I felt and I now know there’s no way I could point it at someone and shoot…My convictions are strong and are deeply rooted based on my upbringing, morals, and the experiences I have had in the army.
His application was again denied in January 2006. DACORB stated that Aguayo did not present “clear and convincing evidence” that he was a conscientious objector.
In March 2006 Aguayo tried a final time with an amended habeas corpus petition in the district court--again to no avail. But this time DACORB filed a memorandum listing the reasons why he was denied, which included (but weren’t limited to) the opinion that he “lack[ed] the religious foundation; the underpinning that supports conscientious objector beliefs” and that he didn’t “[provide] any significant source of his beliefs; conscience or moral views that would warrant conscientious objector status.”
So two years after first filing his application, Aguayo learned that the reason he didn’t qualify as a conscientious objector--even though he was utterly sincere in his moral objection--was because he didn’t arrive at this belief through “traditional” channels.
The difficulties some nontheists and adherents of non-Christian faiths face when claiming conscientious objector status haven’t been well publicized. Perhaps the most famous case was that of boxer Muhammad Ali during the Vietnam War, when he claimed military service was irreconcilable with his Islamic faith. The draft board, in similar fashion to Aguayo, found Ali’s beliefs to be insincere and sentenced him to prison. (The era was not kind to Muslims in general--hundreds were sent to jail because their faith wasn’t accepted as a basis for CO status.)
Perhaps the only way to understand how it was that a man who would rather go to jail than go to war, a man who even refused to carry a loaded weapon in Iraq, was found to be insincere in his moral aversion to war is by considering the emphasis on religion in the process of applying for CO status, and the fact that there is no objective, equally applied standard for determining sincerity. Christians in the military far outnumber those of other faiths or no religious faith at all, and non-theists are especially challenged in that they must prove their beliefs or worldview constitute a similar place in their lives as do the beliefs of traditionally religious soldiers.For example, a nontheist might have to demonstrate that they engage in activities similar to attending church to prove a place for belief in their lives. But to someone who is religious, any activity that is not church may be a very poor substitute. An example of this might be seen in Aguayo’s case--the military chaplain who was assigned to assess his application wrote, “PFC Aguayo seems to be sincere in his beliefs…It is difficult to assess the depths of his beliefs because they rest solely within his own thinking and personal values without the support of background, family, or faith group.”
Then there’s the case of Specialist Katherine Jashinski, who enlisted in the Texas Army National Guard in 2002 and filed for CO status in 2004. The army denied her request and ordered her to report for weapons training. Jashinski refused and, in a public statement at Fort Benning on November 17, 2005, explained:
When I enlisted I believed that killing was immoral, but also that war was an inevitable part of life and therefore, an exception to the rule.… After reading essays by Bertrand Russell and traveling to the South Pacific and talking to people from all over the world, my beliefs about humanity and its relation to war changed. … I developed the belief that taking human life was wrong and war was no exception. …The thing that I revere most in this world is life, and I will never take another person's life. Just as others have faith in God, I have faith in humanity. I have a deeply held belief that people must solve all conflicts through peaceful diplomacy and without the use of violence. Violence only begets more violence. Because I believe so strongly in non-violence, I cannot perform any role in the military. Any person doing any job in the army contributes in some way to the planning, preparation or implementation of war.
In May 2006 Jashinski pled guilty to refusal to obey an order. She was sentenced to four months jail and received a bad conduct discharge. She was released and discharged two months later.
It should be noted, however, that nontheists and nontraditionalists are certainly not the only ones who bear the burden of proving their sincerity. Likewise, those of a Judeo-Christian tradition may also come up against difficulties when trying to demonstrate their sincerity to a military officer of the same religion--one who simply might not understand how their own faith could allow for conscientious objection to war.
Nevertheless, it stands to reason that non-traditional and nontheist COs likely face a higher burden. The Center on Conscience and War, a nonprofit anti-war organization founded in 1940 to defend the rights of COs, reports that non-Christians “statistically have a greater difficulty submitting and proving their sincerity to a chain-of-command…who self-identifies as Christian.” And one successful CO I spoke with told me that he believed he had an easier time discharging from the military because he was Christian (and white). Whether due to misunderstanding or due to prejudice, other faiths or a lack of religious faith may simply make little sense to the Christian majority. And, frankly, it’s no secret that prejudice against nontheists and non-Christians is present in the U.S. military. One need only look at the tribulations of PFC Jeremy Hall, who endured discrimination, alienation, and even death threats for his atheist views.
It was after Agustin Aguayo turned himself in and learned he would be sent back to Iraq instead of being court-martialed that he fled once again, jumping out of a window on a military base in Germany. He resurfaced on September 26, 2006, holding a press conference in Los Angeles, California, where he spoke out against war and then turned himself in again.
This time Aguayo was sent into confinement at Coleman Barracks in Mannheim, Germany. While he was there, the circuit court of appeals in Washington, DC, upheld the original denial of Aguayo’s habeas corpus petition. On March 6, 2007, Aguayo was court-martialed and convicted of desertion and missing movement. Although he was facing up to seven years for the offence, a judge sentenced him to just eight months. Aguayo’s attorney, David Court, said:
I believe that Agustin in his closing comments was compelling enough that the judge probably came to the conclusion, he thinks he’s a CO regardless of what the army says and because he believes he is a CO that’s why he did what he did . . . It appeared that at the end the issue was: what is the punishment for a conscientious objector who follows his conscience and not the dictates of the Uniform Code of Military Justice?
Aguayo was released from Mannheim on April 18, 2007, and his general court-martial went through an automatic appeal process as is procedure in a bad conduct discharge. His appeal was eventually denied by the circuit court of appeals, and a bid to the Supreme Court was denied on March 17, 2008.
Conscientious objection is a contentious issue, particularly given that we have an all-volunteer force. Many people argue that conscientious objectors are in fact soldiers who realized they got in over their heads when they discover what’s involved in combat. Others think that if “easy outs” are provided from the military we put our country at risk when we face security threats.
However, the fact remains that current military policy does allow for conscientious objection, and therefore it should be applied impartially. Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Wiccan, humanist, atheist--these labels shouldn’t matter when it comes to applying for CO status. What should matter is the sincerity of a moral objection, if we are to allow any moral objection in the first place. It isn’t fair for a Christian CO to have the process made easy, while a non-Christian CO might be denied discharge because she quotes Bertrand Russell instead of the Bible or because he is unable to cite sufficient (read: supernatural) sources.We live in a pluralistic society that, by definition, should recognize equality between allfaith and non-faith. And when it comes to assessing a conscientious objector, our military should take pains to make sure an emphasis is placed on having faith in that individual--rather than whether or not they agree with that individual’s faith.

Karen Frantz is the policy and advocacy associate at the American Humanist Association.