Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Mo' or less.

Once again, I am "doing Movember". For the uninitiated (of whom I'm sure that there has to be close to zero, but hey, who knows what kind of rock you might be living under), Movember is a yearly campaign to raise money and awareness of men's health - primarily in the battle against testicular and prostate cancer. Also known as cancer of the man-parts.

As the owner and guardian of some of these man-parts, supporting a cause like this is a no-brainer. Even though there is one little catch.

I hate moustaches.

"Do I detect something in your voice that says I am in disfavor with you?"

I don't mean I hate them on you (although I do hate them on you, and I don't even know who you are). The entire premise of grooming one's facial hair... well, it goes against my grain. I mean, if I'm going to legitimately go through the effort to shave my face, I want to get it all off. Anyone who has a baby-face like me will tell you, shaving sucks. It doesn't matter how many damn blades and moisturizing strips Gillette tries to shoehorn into a cartridge, and it doesn't matter what kind of chemists they hire to create a shaving gels and creams and lotions. It doesn't matter if I've got the temperature of the water at a perfect 36.8°C, the bathroom mirror is positioned for the optimum Qi, and I have spent an hour meditating before I take up my razor. I will bleed and I will burn.

I despise facial hair thoroughly, but not as much as I loathe shaving. This is why most people see me with a scruffy beard at all times. I like to clip it with the shortest setting on my beard trimmer about once a week. This way I can avoid shaving, but still am not required to tolerate a proper, itchy, ugly beard. The idea that someone would intentionally leave a moustache or a goatee (or as I like to call it, the "face-mullet") behind after shaving cuts against my core. I would gladly donate to a charity that puts massive research dollars into eliminating facial hair.

Pretty much how I feel after shaving. Every. Single. Time.

I am not aware of any such charity, so it is not without a sense of irony that I put my effort into raising money by growing a moustache instead. I originally did it as a bit of a joke. When one of my close friends was diagnosed with testicular cancer, it became a bit more personal for me. I am aware that testicular cancer, like breast cancer, does get a disproportionate amount of attention and funding when you consider that our society would be much more effective at saving lives and eliminating suffering if we went after more general ailments, for example heart disease. I know that, like we did with the ALS ice bucket challenge, we often tend to give our attention and dollars to causes that com eup with clever fundraising ideas rather than the ones with the greatest real impact, like helping prevent strokes. Personally, I need to be better at prioritizing my missions: I know this. But I also know I can always give more, because the need is great - and Movember's cause does represent an important need.

So here I am, villainous moustache and all. My face will suffer razor-burn. My wife won't kiss me for a month. I look like a seventies porn star - I've even got the hair to go with it this year. But, by Thor, I am doing my part.

If you want to help, you can donate here: DrWhizBang's MoSpace

Monday, November 10, 2014

Justin Trudeau, you have an opportunity

I have not been particularly active in politics up to this point in my lifetime. I have always treated it like a spectator sport. Gina regularly shakes her head at me as I tune into American election coverage like someone would watch a football game, following blogs (like Andrew Tannenbaum's excellent and other news sources, yet never lifting a finger when when it is time to make changes in my own locality. I may blather on about this candidate or that party, but I generally don't do much about it other than trudging off the the booth to mark my X for the Good Guy (TM).

This is not to diminish the importance of voting - it is certainly critically important. Someone who can't be bothered to vote has no right to complain about the result. It may seem that we only have a choice between two brands of vanilla, or worse that we are simply choosing the lesser of two evils. But if we must be faced with evil, then choosing the lesser one is still, to quote the Vice President of the United States, a Big F*cking Deal.

But things change. With my kids grown, I can see myself becoming more active in helping my larger family (i.e. my community). It will come as no surprise to people that I am a small-l liberal, and I am thinking about how I can assist the big-L Liberal party in the upcoming federal election. I have already spoken to Wayne Long, the local Liberal candidate (and a friend) to let him know that I will be on his side and willing to work for him as next year's election approaches. Even cautious polling figures at this time suggest a Liberal government will take over in 2015, although it is clearly too early to make any predictions about the outcome. I can feel a growing dissatisfaction with Stephen Harper's Conservative government over issues like treatment of veterans, impeding the work of scientists, patronage within the Senate, or favoritism towards his home province of Alberta over, well, pretty well every other region in the country.

So I believe that Justin Trudeau, as leader of the Liberal Party, has a huge opportunity ahead of him. He very well could be the next Prime Minister of Canada. What I think is more interesting is what he will choose to do with that responsibility. Trudeau's claim to fame is being the son of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, a man who many would say is our most charismatic Prime Minister. During the tenure of Trudeau père, the country was gripped by "Trudeaumania", with strong reactions from both supporters and detractors. Pierre Trudeau patriated the Constitution, and created the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Make no mistake; anyone following after Pierre Elliott Trudeau has exceptionally large shoes to fill.

Justin Trudeau may be the man who can. He is young and handsome, and speaks with a reasonable tone and thoughtfully. In fact, the only criticism that his conservative enemies have tagged him with at this point, other than pointing at a lack of experience that any person his age would have, is that he is too charming. If only I could be so harshly criticized! All this being said, his charisma may help him get the job, and possibly buy him patience, but what is really more important is his policy. And this is where I see a fantastic opportunity.

"Can he?" - Probably, as long as he can take his shirt off to do it.

For those following American politics, you must be aware that they are in a dark time for liberals. Their Republican (i.e. conservative) Party has captured a majority in both the House of Congress and their Senate. This leaves the Democrat President Barack Obama with few allies in Washington to help him pass legislation that makes up his own agenda. Furthermore, some key committees are now strange predicaments. The ranking member on the Senate Science and Space subcommittee is now Ted Cruz, and climate change denier and noted religious wingnut. The EPA, the US agency responsible for protection of the environment, is controlled by a subcommittee that is now chaired by Senator James Imhofe, who is quoted as saying that global warming is a UN conspiracy to take over the US. No, I'm not making this up.

That's quite the trophy case you've got there, Jim. Do you have one that says "Voted least likely to read a book?"

Climate change, space exploration, and scientific research in general, are areas where the US has been a world leader. However, it seems clear that an anti-intellectual wave of resistance has made its way across American politics in the last few years, leading to a "War on Science". This is really all part of greater cultural war going on in America, partially driven by floundering religious organizations, and partially in response to a swell of nationalism following the events of 9/11. This movement is so strong that even our own Prime Minister, Stephen Harper - always keen to keep in step with the Americans - has started his own war on science, muzzling scientists, cancelling decades-long and irreplaceable research projects, eliminating research grants, making the NRC cater to business interests, and abolishing the long-form census. And I could go on.

In Canada, any successor to Harper who starts to undo the damage he has affected on our scientific community in the last few years will be a hero regardless of affiliation, in my view. But I think that would be to stop short of what we genuinely need. If the Americans are bound to beat science down to the politics of idocracy as Stephen Harper has been doing, I think the world is ripe for someone else to grab that torch from them. We are known for having built the arm for the Americans' space vehicle. Why can't Canada build the next shuttle ourselves, and let the Americans' ride shotgun instead? How about not burying our heads in the sand over climate change as the Americans are doing; we can lead the charge in solutions to the worldwide energy problems? I would like to see the American and international scientists coming to Canada to get their work done, and have Canada reap the benefits of their brainpower.

Behold, the mighty Canadarm! Tremble in our majesty, oh ye nations of the Earth!

The thing about facilitating science is that it is not a liberal or conservative issue. In the US, historically the biggest funding for NASA has come from Republican administrations. This is because being a leader in technology and scientific knowledge is good for business. It is only in recent years that conservatives have become loathe to fund scientific exploration, and mostly because of ideological confusion over constituent scientific areas. Advances in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) will result in more jobs. Personally, I do not promote science from either a liberal or conservative perspective, but rather from a human perspective - I am amazed at what we have learned about the universe, and I want to give my descendants even more knowledge so that they can dominate their world. Of utmost importance is the fact that this will not work if we make the planet uninhabitable in the mean time. However, it is a happy bonus to our own generation that this will result in a stronger economy.

In the end, this issue is the single-most import to me. It helps that I agree with the majority of Liberal policies. But when I look to Justin Trudeau, if I expect to see him make himself a leader who is remembered  in Canada, this is how I could imagine him doing that. His father's own motto was "Reason before passion". I want to see cool rationality advancing our nation, in contrast to the emotional quagmire that has bound our neighbours to the south. We need to free the innovation of Canadians to find solutions to the world's great problems, and let the faltering US follow us into this new world. As (the American) Bill Nye says we must, let's "change the world!" There is an opportunity, Mr. Trudeau; let's not squander it!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Nietzsche's not dead.

I remember many years ago, as a young philosophy student basking in the newness of this internet thing, considering the following text in a signature at the end of my email messages:

God is dead - Nietzsche
Nietzsche is dead - God

I thought this to be somewhat humorous, since the irony of the quote-and-reponse works on multiple levels. As a devout Christian, I was mostly amused by the idea that Nietzsche, a man who declared God to be dead, was literally dead. The thought of placing this couplet on all my outgoing messages seemed, to me, exceedingly clever.

Sometimes thinking you're smarter than everyone else is charming. But usually not.

In the end, I didn't go through with this plan. Many more years have taught me that such an arrogant and confrontational comment would not have served me well.

The true irony is that much later in life it would be the words of Nietzsche that would have a profound effect on my personal philosophy, almost as if the man himself had come back from the dead to speak to my questioning mind. Oddly enough, it was not with the quote above; although I know now that I could not at the time appreciate what Nietzsche was trying to say, there is another passage from his writings that packs a much bigger emotional punch for me.

Oh, no - here we go again...

On a bit of a tangent; the subject of the quote "God is dead" reminds me that  I would like to take care of some unfinished business. I know I have already written too much about that ridiculous movie, God's Not Dead, but I feel that I have one more thing to set straight. After I wrote my comments on the movie based solely on other's reviews, there were some who urged me to watch the movie; so I did. It turned out to be just as much a waste of time as I imagined it would be. I honestly wish someone had just pointed me towards this clip instead. But you asked for it, so here it is (feel free to skip this if you are as sick of it as I am):

For a Christian movie, the production values (photography, sound, lighting, etc.) were exceptional - the best I've seen. Aside from that it was unbearable - the acting was wooden (especially the lead character, Josh), the dialogue was inane, and the "villain", was totally unbelievable. This is despite the herculean efforts of Kevin Sorbo. There is nothing he could do to salvage his performance because the source material was so lousy. Raddison is supposed to be an atheist philosophy professor, but doesn't seem to know anything about atheism, philosophy, or even teaching. And he's just a jerk: if this was a real person someone would have tried to run him over with a car before the movie even started. There is no reasonable motivation for his attitude: God let his mother die? Give me a break! I can accept a movie with a bad guy who is a caricature, but it would have to be an action movie - and there's no action here. The other story threads offer nothing more than an opportunity to shoehorn in cameos from Willie Robertson and the Newsboys, which serves to confirm my accusation of religious cheerleading given priority to artistic endeavor. Formal review? Zero stars. And a number of you have officially lost your privileges to recommend movies to me. As well, a serious thumbs down needs to be given to the quickly scrolling credits containing a list of court cases a the end of the film. These are, for the most part, cases in which Christians are upset that others expect them to not discriminate against or disparage LGBTQ people, as if  this is evidence of some kind of persecution of their beliefs. It seems to me there used to be something in the Bible about bearing false witness being a problem. They must have taken that out without telling me.

With that out of the way, the biggest reason why I even paid attention to that movie is the title's abuse of the Nietzsche quote - the exact same misuse that I had made myself as a young philosopher. Before we can straighten that out, we need to put things in context. Interestingly enough, this context involves a madman.

Madness. I saw this. In Boston. Blew. My. Mind.
You can read a good translation here: The Parable of the Madman

There are two important things to notice in this parable that objectors overlook. First, it is the madman who utters the words. "Whither is God?" he cried; "I will tell you. We have killed him---you and I. All of us are his murderers." This is not a smirking Nietzsche, gleefully pronouncing God to be dead, he has put these words in the mouth of a raving, distraught madman, mourning the murder of God. The second thing to note is the madman's audience is not a group of believers that he is trying to dissuade from their belief in God, but a group of self-assured atheists, mocking the madman for his claim.

It must be understood that Nietzsche, although he did not believe in God, was very caught up in the horror of His absense. By abandoning the idea that God is in control, living in Nietzsche's world became an absurdity. To Nietzsche, God did not die peacefully, He was brutally murdered. Thus, Nietzsche's statement, "God is dead" is not a pronouncement: it is a warning.

Nietzsche's just puttin' up some tape for you. He didn't dig the hole.

This, of course, does not prevent smug believers who can't be bothered to even read Nietzsche's parable from taking offense to the statement. As I have admitted, I did the same. But I needed to make peace with Nietzsche, and once I did I allowed him to speak to me.

As I said above, it is not the "God is dead" quote that really moved me, but instead a passage from Thus Spoke Zarathustra:

It is true we love life; not because we are wont to live, but because we are wont to love.
There is always some madness in love. But there is always, also, some method in madness.
And to me also, who appreciate life, the butterflies, and soap-bubbles, and whatever is like them amongst us, seem most to enjoy happiness.
To see these light, foolish, pretty, lively little sprites flit about—that moveth Zarathustra to tears and songs.
I should only believe in a God that would know how to dance.

I'm pretty sure that's God on the left.

For me, this quote inspired a much more earnest quest for God than what I had participated in before. I had, for many years, thought I knew a lot about God. I had certainly been told all kinds of things about Him. I was obligated to accept a lot of this description of God because it is all that was available to me. But the truth is, I didn't really like this god that I was being told about. I was a believer, but I was uneasy about it.

Is God jealous? The Bible told me that he was. But why should He be? If He is all-powerful, then why does He need my worship? Why would He need my attention? Is there some reason that could He not amuse Himself?

Yet "the Faith" would have you believe that He would drown the earth because we ticked him off. It would have you think that if you do not (in all your ways!) acknowledge Him, or if you do not obey His arcane commandments; that if you cannot accept some intangible and incomprehensible offer of salvation, you will be cast away from Him forever.

If God is more than a cartoon character, I cannot make sense out of how evangelical Christianity presents Him. God should not need me to recite prayers to Him. God would not be required to have me sing His praises to others. God does not even need me to acknowledge that He exists. This codependent god that has been created by the biblical authors and church tradition just does not line up with what any god worthy of worship would look like.

I should only believe in a God that would know how to dance. If God is dancing, then the universe will display his performance for us. If God is a dancer, then He must dance for His own pleasure, not for an unwilling or ignorant audience.

Understanding this idea can allow us to free our minds from chains of religiosity. If we are no longer expecting God to be watching our every move, tentatively hanging on our actions or our thoughts, it becomes easier to be honest about how we should act. We can more clearly observer the world and any god we may find in it. For me, this meant I needed to reject many ideas that previously held value for me. The philosophy that I learned from the Bible needs much correction when I approach the world from this perspective. It is much easier to recognize bad spiritual advice for what it is, no matter what the source.

So can your god dance? I pray that he can, because my god would. And Nietzsche's voice (as cold as his corpse may be) is what revealed this essential truth to me. This is not the only passage from Nietzsche that I absolutely love, but it is the one that has had the single most profound effect on my theology, and I believe I have come out better on the other side because of it.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A turn of fate

It is a peculiar feeling, sliding across the asphalt. The body is not prepared for it; there is a wave of strangeness that sweeps over the skin.

The sun was beaming down through the trees. The chipseal road was dappled with shadow from the light felling through their gaping branches.

Shadows. Chipseal. And sand.

A sunny fall afternoon was perfect for riding, but the sandy turn looked just like any other to me. The pebbly surface of the pavement should have held fast to the tires. They have lots of tread and they are high quality. But there is nothing any French engineer can do to help when the ground moves beneath those Michelins. The road looked sturdy; appearances are not always honest. 

These are the thoughts you have as you are skidding across a roadway on your back. "Where did that come from? Why did I not see that?" Not, "Will I be okay?"

Some of us live to lean a motorbike, and each corner is an opportunity. If you take it too slowly, that's an opportunity squandered. Hundreds, thousands of times, you look at the turn, you pick out a line, you tease the throttle. When you reach the apex, the sweet spot when the accelerator is slacking, the bike is leaning, and it's like a skydive. For a moment, you are in a freefall, massaging the throttle to prolong the moment as best as possible. Then you flex your wrist, and pull out of the fall like a Snowbird exiting a diving stunt, defeating the awaiting earth at the last second.

This time the freefall lasted too long, and now I am on the road. I feel the padding on my back supporting me above the rash-inducing stones as the tarmac moves below me. Something went wrong.

Hundreds, thousands of times I've taken this same curve. Sometimes it was steeper, sometime it was more open. It's been asphalt, or chipseal. It's been wet, it's been dry. It's presented itself many different ways, but it's always the same curve; pick a line, feather off the throttle, lean the bike, flex the wrist and pull it back up. But this time, it did not come back up. Something went wrong.

Sliding across the ground, my thought are about this turn of fate. I do not pray. My only savior at this hour is named Shoei, and Shoei does not care for my prayers. On my back, slipping across the road, there is a satisfying clunk as the back of my helmet strikes the ground; not on my knees but on my spine I confess that my faith is in Shoei and Shoei alone. In a split second,  a few hundred dollars spent on a humble dome became the best investment I have ever made.

The Yamaha will live to see another day. It is twisted, it is scratched. But it will be repaired. And if that were not possible, it would be replaced. The rider also lives to see another day. He can also be repaired, because the damage is minor. A scraped knee, a little rash above the belt line, a couple of sprained fingers. The soreness will be gone a few days or a few beverages later.

I cannot see the Yamaha sliding ahead of me as I coast along behind it. I was sitting on it once, and I was following it next. As the rear tire shook loose of the pavement, there was nothing to do but lie down and wait. It must have pulled the handles out of my hands, as my fingers are sore from the shock. 180° spinning, and then resting in the soft grass in front of me, the bike is stopped. 

It will be repaired and so will the rider. Wear your helmets, kiddies.

Friday, October 10, 2014

On Friendship and the criticism of cherished ideas

I do not have a readership of thousands, hard as that is to believe (HA!). I do not have advertisements on this blog, nor does anyone advertise on my behalf. The extent of my promotion for my writing is to share it on my social media pages, and my only motivations is to discuss my thoughts. In a way, this is a good thing: I know that every person who is reading this is someone that I consider a friend. I am honored that so many of you care enough about my thoughts to spend your time reading them, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Danke schön, Darling, danke schön.

Because of this, for every single page you see on this blog there is a lump in my throat and a trembling hand on the mouse as I click "Publish". I am frequently going out on a limb against ideas that I disagree with, and I sometimes do it with prejudice. Yet I am loathe to hurt or offend people, least of all the people I care about.

In saying that, it wouldn't be fair to make the claim that when people are offended that the offense is wholly unintentional. My words are calculated to get a reaction to my oft contentious opinions. Since my readership has not yet grown to zero, it looks as if I have been correct in relying on  the patience of my readers. Even so, I know that many will have their beliefs challenged when they read my work, and I accept that some people may take these challenges personally.

"Of course you're hurt. But it was not my intent."

So even though injury may be an inevitability, I still think a lot about the most respectful way one should criticize perceptions or suppositions that may be misguided. Obviously, the easiest way is for a person to simply keep his of her mouth shut and bypass critical correction altogether. But that is neither interesting nor productive. So the question remains, how do we tell someone we care about that we disagree with something they strongly believe is true and/or good?

One would hope that the listener can keep in mind that criticism of an idea does not equate to criticism of the person who holds to the idea. To keep these things separate, we would be best served to never say anything that could be viewed as a personal attack. Yet as diligent as we may be in this practice, sometimes these slights can slip past our outgoing filters. In my case, I am both a writer and my own editor; so I'm sure you can see how (despite best intentions) such an error can work its way into a piece. The probability goes skyward when we are talking with someone face to face (although it's easier to get the feedback required to make corrections). It's best to make it clear that insults are never the intent, and always be willing to apologize or otherwise make up for instances when we misspeak.

"You do that, you go to the box, you know. Two minutes, by yourself, you know and you feel shame, you know."

On the other hand, sometimes it is next to impossible to not to be interpreted as insulting. There is a line of thought that goes like this: "My critic says idea x is foolish, but I believe idea x; therefore my critic is saying that I am a fool." To be honest, this is not an irrational line of thought, but it does overlook a couple of important details.

Firstly, it does not take a fool to believe foolish things. I know this, because I am pretty sure that I am not a fool, yet I learn new things all the time. If I am learning something new, this means that I was formerly ignorant and therefore my position was possibly way out of line. Every one of us holds opinions that are based on incorrect data, and each of us believes things that are simply not rational: and we are often simply not aware that this is the case. None of us are immune, but we should all be trying to keep an open mind so that we can be brought to the side of reason.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was no fool. But he honestly believed this this was a legitimate picture of fairies. 

Of course, that may be little comfort to someone who's opinions have been insulted. To quote Tyler Durden, "You wanna make an omelet, you gotta break some eggs." Toes get stepped on, egos get bruised. This can be unsettling for us sensitive types, because we always want to set things right. But no one wants to hear a faux apology, so we should not apologize for simply having a difference of opinion and the bravery to express it. It is unfortunate that people are sometimes wounded in this way, but it's not reasonable to change one's mind for the sake of hurt feelings.

I have to think that this should only happen when there are true irreconcilable viewpoints. The onus here needs to be on the person offering the criticism to be both informed on the subject, and open to changing his or her mind if presented with a reasonable rebuttal. I have noticed that I have a weak area in my writing in these instances: not that I fail to be informed, but that I attempt to "sell" my reader on my knowledge, as in "you should listen to me because I know what I am talking about, I've read a lot on this subject, yada yada." Reading these back, it seems I am trying to deflect reader refutations by offering up myself as an authority. Bad form, Joey! It is better if our knowledge in a subject area is evident in our communication; if not, maybe we shouldn't be speaking at all. Citing external sources is a acceptable method to improve an argument without having to pretend to know everything. I usually provide sources, but rather than trusting my readers to follow the links I have provided I frequently pull rank. For my part, I will try to improve on this, because I want to be a better writer.

Another thing I have to confess: at times I will actually overstate my objection to an idea intentionally. Call it a literary device if you will; it can be easier to make one's point stick by applying a "shock" to the reader. In my experience, a person may refuse to look closely at their precious viewpoint until they are actually told that it is garbage. Even if they do not come to reject their conclusion in the end, the practice of mentally defending it will help them understand why they have chosen to put their eggs in that particular basket in the first place.

In general, though, when using strong language to make a controversial point: the objection should not actually be as controversial as it may seem. In other words, I may have eaten your sacred cow; but in my defense, I found it for $4.99 a pound at the Sobeys, somewhere between the chicken breasts and the Italian sausage. We don't want to be the one responsibly for killing a sacred cow, but must not shy away from its carcass. This is not to be dismissive of deeply-held beliefs, but is simply to point out that the we often put things on a much higher pedestal than they deserve. When an objection is radical, the evidence for that objection should not be radical. Despite my use of this "shock therapy" to jumpstart critical thinking, overall the practice of inducing cognitive dissonance is not a great way to make oneself understood. It is essential to be confident that the data behind an assertion is accurate and accessible, even if disagreeable.

"D'ooooh, this sacred cow is missing the onions and mushrooms!"

It is a precarious and intriguing situation that I find myself in. Whereas most of us develop a set of ideas and values as we approach adulthood and maintain them for the rest of their lives, I re-examined a lot of my beliefs at a much later stage in my life. At the same time, I have had a lot of years to cultivate friends who believe the way I used to about things. With that kind of audience, it is hard not to rub a few people the wrong way. However, I see this as a huge opportunity for growth: both for those who get to be challenged by my new ideas, and for me to play out my thought experiments on live test subjects. Win-win, amirite?

I am usually hardest on thoughts and opinions that I used to find the most compelling. I want to reassure people that when they feel targeted by anything I say, I am also aiming at myself. If I say a thing is absurd, it pretty likely that I used to believe it was perfectly reasonable, and I am trying to come to grips with my new perspective. It's helpful for the reader to know this, since they will accept that I can see things from their point of view.

Of course, we can't add disclaimers to the end of every sentence we write or speak. There has to be a level of trust in the audience. I am certain that some people hear things that they dislike and they quietly slip away without a fuss. Yet I am delighted that many of my friends know me, and have the patience to bear exposure to my thoughts even when that may be uncomfortable for them. I am blessed that they keep coming back for more of this. As Plato records Socrates saying, "The unexamined life is not worth living"; it's a comfort to know that I have so many platonic friends.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014


What with ISIS chopping heads off of journalists and forcing conversions of Christians and Yazidis to Islam, it is easy to lose track of the fact that may formal nations in the world still have laws on their books that condemn and penalize blasphemy. In some cases these laws can cause real hardship for people, like in the case of Raif Badawi who is currently in prison for criticizing his country's religion, or Mariam Ibrahim who narrowly escaped a death sentence for refusing to convert to her father's Islamic faith.

Today is Blasphemy Day; a day to raise awareness about these crimes against humanity committed in the name of one god or another. Although we enjoy a much greater amount of religious freedom here in Canada, we are not immune to these inane types of suppression of speech. Even so, I feel little threat of being jailed or executed for exercising my freedom of speech as others around the world do.

Even in the U.S., there is currently a teenager who is facing prosecution for putting himself against statue of Jesus in a, uh, "compromising position". I doubt that these charges will ever stick. Even so, I firmly believe that no person should have to face potential criminal charges and harassment for a teenage lapse in judgement and/or good taste; least of all when no person is hurt and no property has been damaged by their actions or words.

I look forward to a day when worldwide, we can openly discuss our ideas without threat of harassment, persecution or violence. In that vein, I would like to offer up some of my own words of blasphemy in an act of solidarity with those around the world who are oppressed.

If your god is potentially insulted by anything that I might have to say: you've made him up. Any god too weak to stand up for himself is obviously not real, and any words to the contrary are not offensive to a god; they are offensive only insecure followers.

And on that note, I offer the following blasphemous cartoon that some of you might find amusing, and others of us will probably hate me for.

Cartoon courtesy of Jesus and Mo

Friday, September 26, 2014

The two worst verses in the Bible.

Let me start with an apology.

I'm sorry that you have to listen to me talking about the Bible so much.

Maybe I should just settle down with a nice warm cup. Of something.

I'm sure some of you wish I would stop. Sometimes I wish I could. But I am compelled. It may have  to do with the fact that I spent most of my life thinking that the Bible was more than just a book. Now that I have gained a more objective view of things, I find that I enjoy examining it the way more like I would any story, be it the myths of Zeus or the adventures of Batman. The Bible is an important part of my culture and my worldview. As well, it will always be a point of reference to analyze ideas that I hear and actions that I see. I have read it cover to cover, memorized many passages, and meditated on it at length.

And now, there are some parts of it that I hate to read. Parts that I hate to thinks about, even. Yet so many people around me still want to use its words as an authority in their lives. Sometimes these are people who haven't read it all, or haven't thought through what it implies. I want to show people that things may not be as simple as they believe them to be, and I want to get people to think about the Bible in ways that they may have never before. I want to discuss these things, and writing in this blog is the way I coax people into these discussions. Um, yeah - sorry about that.

Expected result of critical discussions about the Bible in western society.

So, the Bible: it is full of all kinds of things that people read and use as arguments for the appropriateness of their actions. This happens even when the Bible itself doesn't really say what these people claim it does. Honestly, I can understand that - I used to do that myself. But there are some passages, the predominant interpretation of  such I may not dispute, which I simply don't agree with. When I do disagree with an interpretation, (or with the text outright), I frequently stew on these verses. There are many of this kind  of passage in its pages, but a couple in particular are ones which I would like to point out because I find them to be particularly vile.

These are not the passages you likely have in mind. I hate to make assumptions, but I imagine you would suggest something from Leviticus or Deuteronomy; telling us that we should stone gay people or mandating that a rape victim must marry her rapist, or that you may beat your slave as long as he doesn't die from it. I mean, there's a lot of that to choose from. However, I think  these ones are simply too easy - I don't think I need to explain to people why a commandment to murder gay people is wrong.

I don't want to talk about this guy any more.

What I do object to are the passages that seem innocent, but promote a certain worldview. These kind can direct a person how to think, and this flawed thinking can manifest in terrible actions. We may end up with a group of people running around, oblivious to the fact their well-meaning action is not innocuous. There are two passages in particular that I find, when added to each other together, make Christians hard to swallow for the rest of the world; and here they are.

John 14:6New International Version (NIV)

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

So let's get this out of the way: yes, I have chosen the words in red letters to object to. No, I do not like what Jesus is reported to have said in this verse. I realize that I may alienate a portion of my readership with this admission. So be it: it would not be the first time. This is the verse that creates the exclusivity of Christianity. None of the other gospels have Jesus saying this kind of thing: only the Gospel of John. I do not believe it is a coincidence that John was also likely written a generation after the other Gospels, and that it contains an excessive amount of material that does not agree with any of the earlier New Testament writings. Am I saying that Jesus never said this? Perhaps. I am certainly saying that I don't trust the author of John to be historically accurate or honest. Even if Jesus said this (or something like this) there is a high possibility that the context is wrong. In any event, I would rather that the words of Jesus didn't contain such a statement.

Jesus, pictured here showing little concern for past PR disasters.

There are several billion people on this planet, most of whom do not know about Jesus. In general, religion is a geographic phenomenon: When someone is born and raised in a Muslim country, they will probably revere the Koran and praise Allah. A child raised in Japan will probably have no religion at all. The idea that a loving and all-powerful God would have his most important message fail simply because of geography is absurd.

Additionally, there is a slippery slope here; someone has to define what it means to "come to the Father", and "by Jesus." I have been pretty clear in my writing that I have a low tolerance for confusing a metaphor with a real thing. A metaphor requires interpretation, and can effect one listener different from the way it effect another. If Jesus was offering to physically escort believers to a literal throne that the Father is sitting on, then the effect of this verse would be different. But people have all kinds of divergent ideas on what it could mean for Jesus to connect people with the Father.

Yet here we have the Bible telling believers that they belong to an exclusive club. Christians use this verse as evidence that they have special knowledge, a connection to the divine that no other group of people can have. It fools believers into thinking that all those who are not Christians (whatever that means) are in denial of some kind. It leads  believers to show utter disrespect for those who have differing beliefs. It is the greatest of follies.

This is bad, but it gets worse:

Matthew 28:19-20New International Version (NIV)

19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Now what happens if someone holds a special belief; a unique piece of knowledge that is thought to be essential to life; and that any person who does not have this knowledge will die. Additionally, they are told that it is their duty to ensure that all people are given this news. Is that not a recipe for creating a group of obnoxious people who think they have an allowance to subject their ideas and values to everyone? Let me help you out with that answer: yes, it is.

Do you ever wonder why evangelical Christians are bent on being allowed to discriminate against gay people? It's because they think that the gay person needs to believe like them, and it's their duty to tell them so. How about Christian employers trying to reject coverage of contraceptives for their employees? How about trying to have Christian mottos and artifacts placed in public venues despite opposition from other religious (or non-religious) groups? Or sending Bibles to developing countries when they really need food, shelter, clean water and healthcare? These things are nonsensical and offensive to those who do not share the belief.

On top of this, any person or any thing that opposes evangelism becomes a threat to all of Christian belief. After all, if the Bible is true, then it must be true for everyone. Therefore, if someone claims that it is not true for them, then they must be in denial, or ignorant. The true evangelical believer must think that people in their position is inherently entitled to greater rights. Their knowledge and their judgement comes from God, whereas those who disagree with them are simply wrong.

Do you see any problems coming out of what I describe in the paragraph above?

If it sounds like I have a growing disdain for evangelical Christianity, I can't deny that. I am way past anguishing over the threat of being labeled a heretic by people who know the Bible less than I do. What I do care about is that people are treated with dignity and respect, and I find it hard to see how one can hold respect for another who they believe to be like a lost sheep, especially when one has been commanded to change that person's mind.

This approach also squelches any thinking that might violate the orthodoxy. The church becomes an echo chamber, where ideas - if they have been mainstream long enough - can simply go on unchallenged. For a lot of years, I could not speak up or question things that seemed odd to me, lest I become a "project" of someone who needed to ensure that I was on "the right path", or someone that others avoided talking to. If you want to see this at its extreme, look at the crusades or the inquisitions. Many believers think that the core of Christianity is clear-cut, but I have come to understand that that is simply not so. Yet nobody wants to hear that.

If you have this mindset, you would probably consider me to be gravely mislead despite the enormous amount of thought I have given to this subject. I have received words from friends to that effect when they have commented on my writings. I do not hold it against them: their comments sound condescending and dismissive, yet I realize these are caring people who are just driven by bad ideas.

Lieutenant Dan and I invite you to hang on!

And so what? I would rather be an informed heretic than a blind follower. I do know that I have studied the Bible considerably, and I know that many portions of it are of dubious origin. If Jesus is credited as saying something in the Gospel of John when none of the other gospels have noted a similar saying; maybe it's John who is the heretic and not me? (Especially if his work doesn't jive with what Paul wrote - since Paul's letters were composed far earlier than even the synoptic gospels he deserves precedence.) I personally don't grant that being critical of the Bible is heretical, rather it is only practical.

Of course, there is a lot more in there for me to disagree with. Much is of a personal nature, affecting how a person views themselves and their own philosophy and spirituality. I choose these two verses because I believe they impart the greatest effect on how Christians treat other people. If Christians refuse to play nice with everyone else, it is because these two verses have ordered them not to.

As for the reset of us, we would like to say: Jesus is not the only way to anything, so please just leave us alone!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Engineering well-being

Try to think about one of the simplest engineering problems there can be: how does one replace an empty toilet paper roll. Normally, when we think of engineering, we think of examples like building bridges: things that are complex projects requiring quite a bit of study, rigorous planning, and a requirements list that includes financial considerations, available building materials, measurements and traffic studies, and any number of other factors that the engineer or engineers need to take account of. In the end, though, for all it's complexity building a bridge is really just installing toilet paper writ large.

Personally, I like to think that I am a qualified toilet paper roll engineer. You may be interested to know that when I place a toilet paper roll, I put the paper hanging "over" and not "under". Just like an engineer constructing a bridge, I arrived at my conclusion by examining the mechanics of the problem and choosing the method with I could see had the most benefit. For your convenience, a fellow toilet paper roll engineer has written up a nice summary of his own analysis which I totally agree with.

...and then there's this guy.

Of course, I settled in my mind that "over" was the right way to place the toilet paper a long time ago. I have proceeded to share this information with a few people since then. Most people can't argue with me since, after all, I had studied the mechanics of the problem and they had not. That is until I finally found one person who informed me that "over" did not work for them: they needed to place the toilet paper with the paper facing the wall. Curious as to how this could be, I asked them why. They replied that if they did not, their cat would unwind the entire roll onto the floor. (Another solution would be to eliminate the cat, since cats are evil - unfortunately not everyone understands the danger they present. But I digress.)

This just goes to show that, in engineering, there is not necessarily a right or wrong way to perform any one task. There are only solutions to problems, some of which are more fitting than others. For example, it may be a valid solution to set the roll on the window ledge and eliminate the dispenser altogether. Such a technique is not ideal in my world, but in a certain scenario (e.g. no tools available to mount dispenser) it may actually be the only viable plan. Despite these exceptions,  I believe the world would be a better place if most people placed the toilet roll in the "over" position as I suggest. This is how we create rules and normal practices.

Building a bridge is a much more complicated endeavor, and has many more variables that an engineer must account for; but it is essentially the same as changing the toilet paper. An engineer assesses the mechanics of the problem using the well-known laws of physics. An engineer also has the benefit of standard patterns and research into how good bridges are designed. Science has given us a lot of information that we can use to solve these problems: there are a set of laws that govern how the world works (like gravity will always pull down), and experience shows us what works and what doesn't. There have been a lot of bridges built: some held up well and other did not. We learn from our failures and our successes.

"Let's make a few changes next time, mmmkay?"

Note that it is not the scientist who designs the bridge, even if the scientific discoveries are essential to proper bridge building. What this all comes down to is our proper application of scientific knowledge. As we understand how our world works, we can apply what we have learned to confront challenges we face. Engineering is this action.

However, some areas of science are further behind others, though. Newton explained our basic laws of motion  and gravity in 1687. This allowed our engineers to be able to calculate forces on an object for the first time. In the 1860s, Maxwell published the equations that led us to harness electricity. Just before this, Darwin published "On the Origin of Species", which would lead us to our modern understanding of biology, especially after Watson and Crick discovered DNA in 1953.

"Did somebody mention science? You can trust me, I'm an engineer!"

The science is well defined when it comes to building bridges and hanging toilet paper rolls. But there are many things that we need to manage in our lives that can also be informed by science where the science is not as developed.

Can we compare a healthy person to a well-built bridge? I don't see why not. The more we understand about the science of biology, the better equipped we are to engineer health care solutions. Essentially, the science of the biology following Darwin and Pasteur created the practice of modern medicine. What our doctors are doing can be described as an engineering process : using the information that our medical researchers have come up with to solve problems with our physical well-being. Once again, there may not always be one answer to a question since there are many variables to the equation. That doesn't mean that a doctor cannot know the best course of action. Just like with the toilet paper roll problem, there may be an action that is generally good. Any conscientious doctor with good scientific information will know to follow the consensus of other medical experts, but will still be attentive to any additional variables that are specific to their patient.

This guy knows what I'm talking about.

What this means to you is that stuff like vaccination is a no-brainer: all the scientific data shows that we should vaccinate our children, and almost every doctor agrees. There is no anomalous data, despite what Jenny McCarthy might tell you. It also means that chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery are better treatments for cancer than whatever mixture of water your naturopath would like to give you, or some dosage of hemp oil, or whatever. Scientist continue to study treatments that show promise, and will update our doctors accordingly. Some practices have been studied scientifically and are shown to have a degree of effectiveness - and some practices have not. The ones who know which ones are the doctors.

This idea of engineering well-being also extends to emotional well-being (i.e. mental health). And what about societal well-being? Adam Lee writes a great piece in more detail than I have using health science as an analogy for how science-base evidence can be applied to morality. The canonical reference for this thinking, though would be "The Moral Landscape" by Sam Harris. In it Harris argues that we can clearly determine that some moral actions lead to well-being and some do not based on measurable consequences. Sometimes multiple possible actions could be beneficial, and we must choose between them. He compares the consequences of these actions to hills and valleys in a landscape, and we can choose moral laws that yield the highest benefits.

Picard detects a moral low-spot.

Often we get these moral laws wrong because not all the data is in when they are written. We used to think that homosexuality was immoral. As it turns out, there is no reason to think this, and we even see that it naturally occurs in many mammalian species. After studying our world, we can see that we were mislead because of a paucity of scientific data. We are in the process of re-engineering our morality to compensate.

On the other hand, we used to believe that it was beneficial to punish children corporally. "Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them." We know now from our studies of psychology and neuroscience that this is simply not true. Maybe that doesn't stop all the people like Adrian Peterson from continuing to administer the same abuse to his children that he received from his parents. But the outrage the erupted when he did shows that we have changed our minds on that subject. Our understanding of the consequences of our actions is continually making us re-calculate how we are to act.

Or maybe you'd rather the thing just give up on you?

Morality is so problematic because the science that allows us to measure our responses to moral actions is very new and immature. fMRI allows us a new view into our minds. Communication technology allows us to exchange ideas instantaneously, and see the effect of people's actions all over the world. Psychological studies accumulate and show us the effects of our actions. Even ten years ago, we couldn't do these things or have much of this data, yet some of our moral laws were written thousands of years ago.

The other problem we have is choosing who gets to interpret this data. Who gets to engineer our morality? We don't all design our own bridges, so should be let someone else tells us how to act? Traditionally, we have let our religious leaders do that, but this solution doesn't work well. Most of those leaders are trying to interpret morality based on centuries- or millenniums-old texts that do not apply to us. We could turn to moral philosophers, but they are usually too enamored of philosophy itself to examine the scientific data itself. And our lawmakers are even worse, usually pandering to whoever can pay them in the end.
Quimby says you're doing it right. You paid the bribe, right?

No, in the case of morality we must follow the lawmakers out of necessity, we must tolerate the religious leaders out of tradition, but ultimately it is each of us who must learn whatever we need to know to design our morality.

Sciences only makes observations, and submits theories. It cannot determine correct actions: this is applied science, or engineering. In applying this to morality, we can paraphrase Hume, "you can't get an ought from an is". We all have a responsibility to make decisions that affect the well-being of ourselves and other. Hopefully, we all can find the correct data and surround ourselves with others who are rational and can do what we must for the benefit of ourselves and others.

I have hope that we shall. To understand how we have changed over the lifetime of our civilization, I would recommend Stephen Pinker's book "The Better Angels of Our Nature". It's a very thorough analysis of the historical decline in violence. If Pinker is right, then we are learning these lessons as we go, and as frustrating as it is that we see some people who continue to live using outdated information, the trend is going in the right direction as a whole.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Why people are leaving the church: part two. What Joey Reid thinks.

So you know that I don't agree with anyone who claims that the recent decline in church attendance is in any way related to church programming or actions, that it is something changing in the apostates themselves. I came to this conclusion by examining a totally unscientific sample of one (i.e. myself). Of course, I am looking around at others who no longer participate in church, reading their blogs and their books, listening to them speaking, and trying to compare their experience with my own. In the end, I readily admin that anything I say here will be completely biased by my own experience. But enough dithering, and on to the real issue. I have been waiting for quite some time to get this off my chest.

The problem I see in Christianity is it's failure to deal with reality.

Deal with it. Reality, that is.

To put it bluntly, the whole religion is off in la-la land. But you're not reading this for me to leave it at that, are you? I will explain. I will also concede that I see some inroads among certain groups to incorporate attention to real-world-type "social justice" issues into their church, and some churches have come out on the right side in terms of human rights (specifically gay rights) and to monitor other secular issues. I'm proud to say that the last church I participated in was progressive when it comes to many of these things. Yet even in such a liberal environment, there is an ignorance that is sustained by both members and leadership that separates them from those outside the walls.

Years ago, there was one time in my church assembly when the floor was open for testimonies. One woman in the church who spoke up used her few minutes to rail against the teaching of evolution to our children. This is a pretty wacko point of view in my mind, but not one of us spoke up to correct her. We just let her craziness remain uncontested.

Now I understand that people can bicker over theology unendingly. Jesus has been gone nearly 2000 years, and Christians can't agree on whether you should  be sprinkled or dunked. But evolution is not a theological discussion: there is adequate scientific evidence to confirm it, and there has been for quite some time now. If a believer feels that evolution conflicts with their understanding of the Bible, then it's time that they had a new understanding of the Bible. And if other believers let that believer continue in their folly, they are making themselves look like idiots as well.

Yet churches I see still will not correct their people, even on unassailable matters of fact. It's not as if  I don't understand the reason why. If those in the church felt the need to administer a dose of reality to others in their midst, then they would have to take some medicine themselves. Every believer knows that there are ideas they believe geniunely which they would find indefensible if they looked it up. So in general, churchgoers set pretty wide boundaries around the things that they will not bother to question.

Alice laughed. "There's no use trying," she said: "one can't believe impossible things."
"I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."

But for me, this honest questioning blossomed into an unraveling of my faith. I came by this honestly, and unexpectedly.

I was attending a church where belief in healing is a core doctrine. Indeed, the entire denomination was founded on what they called "Power Evangelism", the idea that God would demonstrate His power through healing, and this would in turn lead people to God. Fortunately, our pastor had a more diverse tradition, and spoke intelligently rather than hammer on the key principles of the denomination. Often he would verbalize things that many would consider off-beat. I still keep up with what he has to say online, since he is everything but mainstream :)

One morning during his second tenure with our congregation, he made an admission that I had never heard before. He confessed, "I have never seen a miracle".

Not a miracle.

This may seem like a small thing, and at time I didn't see anyone else in the congregation react. But it hit me like a ton of bricks. Despite all my charismatic blather over the years, I had to think about what healing, what supernatural visions, what prophecy; and what these spiritual phenomenon really amounted to. As I listened to him explain himself, that he was specifically conceding that he had never witnessed a supernatural event that couldn't be reasonably explained as natural, I was instantly faced with the realization that neither had I. I had believed in it, but had never asked myself why I believed. Despite a degree in philosophy that necessitated a familiarity with the writings of Hume, I had persisted in believing something that I knew was not true.

This is how it started for me. Penn and Teller will explain that every magic trick is 100% trick, 0% magic, why should other miracles be any different? I've written in the past that I don't believe in magic. Miracles are magic. Healing is magic. Not in a metaphorical sense, but in the real sense that they violate the physical laws of this world. Newton described the mechanics of our world over 300 years ago, laws we have been testing ever since; we know that the miraculous simply doesn't happen.

Still inserting images to divert from the heavy subject matter by injecting a little humour. Is it working?

Healing, of course, is a key part of charismatic churches. Never mind that there is no evidence that people who are prayed for heal better, or that there has never been a documented instance of spontaneous healing via prayer. It is mandatory to believe that God can heal, and if you question this in those circles, your questions are usually dismissed by some anecdote about so-and-so's bad back improving after somebody prayed for them. We have a psychological desire to think God's helping us out, so we associate any improvement with the prayer that preceded it. Never mind that it makes no logical sense for a God to allow us to suffer, and then intermittently choose to alleviate that suffering for some, but not others - seemingly at random. Tim Minchin explains this exceptionally well in his song "Thank You God" (NOTE: If I haven't offended you yet, then watching this video should do the trick).

No one in the church wants to deal with the reality that healing is an imagination, because it will cause them to ask other, deeper questions. In this day and age, if you are willing to ask questions, and humble enough to admit you could have been fooled, there is no dearth of information available to work out the answer to those questions. There are studies on the effectiveness of prayer in healing (spoiler: it doesn't work). There are also lots of stories, as you would expect when people want to believe in something. But no evidence. Of course, if someone is just looking for answers that affirm what he or she has already decided, that can be found too. But for those who are honestly seeking, with a critical eye, the truth is easy to find.

So I can't believe that God heals. I've seen no evidence of it, and it wouldn't make sense anyway. But this is really only one item of many where believers are expected to ignore their better judgement. Evangelicals think they needs to tell everyone about Jesus, despite the fact that any useful God should be able to administer his own communications, especially with a matter as important as eternity. Catholics believe that bread and wine turn into flesh and blood (or they are supposed to). There's a whole lot of nonsense that just gets accepted without hesitation. There are often convoluted explanations to back these ideas up, but they are generally more difficult to defend than the initial proposition. In the end, it all comes back to the Bible.

It's not even what the Bible really says, it's what everyone thinks it says. Those who are in the church seem to only use a small selection of phrases from the Bible. Ever. If they spent too much time on some other verses, they would have to be confronted another problem with their faith: there are lots of things in the Bible that God could not have possibly written or inspired. These writing are flatly wrong, and it is not a matter of interpretation. When a writing contradicts known history, known archaeology, known science, and even itself, yet is still being held up as the word of omniscient, all-powerful god; there has to be an intellectual disconnect. But this information doesn't seem to have gotten back into our churches. I could write a whole series about how the church misunderstands the Bible - maybe a part three will be pending.

Maybe I do this to a Bible next. Who knows?

To be fair, it's not like the general populace is immune to accepting wrong ideas as fact. Far from it. I see unreasonable stuff whizzing by on my Facebook feed from all kinds of people daily. Not everyone is a good researcher. Not everyone is a skeptic. There are even non-religious people who still think God wrote the Bible (which blows my mind!) For my part, it would be naive to claim that I am not in the trance of any illusions myself - I'm sure I must be. But at least outsiders don't have a built-in reason to deny reality like the church does in the Bible. I personally want to believe as many true things as possible, and as few false things. When there is a book that claims to be the truth and all are discouraged from questioning it; this is a recipe for willful ignorance.

I hate writing this. It was painful for me to come through this process myself, and I know that just describing my own changes to others is going to seem like a personal attack on people in the church. Please believe me, it is not. Remember that I am talking about myself here, because for many years I was there too. The church is an institution with a set of beliefs that will not be questioned. When I was a part of the church I lied to myself, I ignored things that I knew were true, all because that is what was required to take part. That was easy to do when my experience of the world was smaller, but I couldn't keep it up in the information age, and neither can many others. These are the people that the church is losing and who they will never see again.

Another former believer, riding off into the sunset.

I went through a period where I felt like a hypocrite, standing in front of my dearest friends and playing in the church band, sing songs of praise to a Jesus who I didn't believe was a god, if he ever even existed at all. For a while I kept playing and simply stopped singing along. I couldn't tell anyone how I was feeling about it. There are prepared words that they have in the church for those who have doubts, but not for those who simply reject the message - they don't know what to say to those people; it's keep your mouth shut or get out. In the end, I quietly left. I was forced to keep either my beliefs, my standing, and my social network, or my intellectual honesty. I chose the latter, and I do not regret it.

I still maintain close friendships with many people from my church family. But I have avoided discussing any of these things with them. It's a shame, because I love to talk about the Bible. It is a fascinating book, and so misunderstood. I revel in debating philosophy and morality and science and history, and for better or worse the Bible is a source on all of these subjects. There are so many smart people that I know from the church but they won't be able to have an honest discussion on those subjects, because they are required to pay tribute to a book above their better judgement. Maybe by publishing this I will be making myself visible to church people who are open to examining these things. I hope so. Either way, I will continue to write about these topics, because it's what I love. Now that I'm laying it all out, perhaps it will be easier for me to share more of what I think.

You have been warned.

I think it is possible to be honest about the nature of the Bible and the nature of our world, and still have a faith of some kind. Bishop Shelby Spong seems to be a teacher who is willing to cope with the Bible honestly, and I know that there are others. My friend David Hayward is someone who manages to reconcile these ideas and who helps others to do the same. But I don't know how to do it myself. For the most part, whenever I find a Christian author or blogger that appears to "get it" (and I have tried), I find myself waiting until they open their mouth and insert their foot so far they could kick their own behind. To be honest, I am simply no longer interested in belief in Christian theology. I am certainly interested in it in an academic sense - it is part of my culture, and do and will always find it fulfilling to unpack the different components that make it up. But I am not looking for something to believe, because I am happier when I am dealing in reality.

Some of us just want to know what's real more than we want to believe what might be.