Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Why wait? Good question

This article talks about studies that indicates "80 percent of unmarried evangelical young adults (18 to 29) said that they have had sex."  Wow.  Clearly the abstinence movement is failing bigtime, even among fundamentalists.  And as the article says, this really makes sense.  When most people don't get married till ten or fifteen years until after the onset of adolescence, they are naturally disinclined to postpone sexual activity for all those years.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Hell is the hardest question

For any thinking Christian (or any Christian with compassion), an eternal hell is probably the hardest doctrine to accept.  As I said below, it was the question that really started me on my journey toward atheism.  Here's an article about a pastor who's leaving a megachurch to further promote his book, Love Wins (and, one guesses, because his message is not striking a chord at his church). The article says that "he wrote the book because the Christian message that God is love seems to have gotten lost."

Understandable.   It's hard to reconcile "for God so loved the world that he gave his only son" with "believe, or fry in eternity!"  Universalism makes Christianity a whole lot more palatable, frankly.  But some of the reviews on Amazon point out the obvious (which my daughter pointed out to me)-- it's Jesus who said we go to hell if we don't accept him.  If you have a problem with that concept, then you have a problem with Jesus.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

What a wonderful world

One of the most common arguments for intelligent design is the declaration that the world is so wonderful that God must have created it.  As John Rutter put it, "For each perfect gift of thine to our race so freely given...Lord of all, to thee we raise this, our joyful hymn of praise."

There are indeed many wonderful things in this world.  But sometimes I suspect our perspective is warped because we live in the relatively safe and pleasant confines of the modern world.  How wonderful is the natural order of things, really?  In earlier eras, humans usually died by age thirty or so.  Something like fifty percent of our young didn't survive.  Many, many people died long, suffering deaths from horrible diseases.  Our teeth rotted out of our heads, causing us excruciating pain.  We were ripped apart and eaten by other animals.  And so forth and so on.

Are these really the "perfect gifts" a god would bestow upon his creation?

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Of God and rain

In a CNN article on the rain in Texas:

Hall [a Texas rancher] turns to religion for his source of explanation.
Perhaps God is punishing people with the bad weather, he said, and if more people turned to the church, the rain would come back to stay for a while.

Even the rancher who supposedly explains the rainfall via "chance" invokes God:

"Oh hell, I just write down what happened -- I don't make predictions," he said. "The good Lord is the one that does the predicting and he sends (rain) when he wants to."

The article concludes, Maybe he'll send it again soon.

It's amazing what people will believe. So God withheld rain because people aren't going to church? So presumably he sent it (on a Friday night) because in his almighty view, enough people had finally gotten the message and gone to church. In that case, why on earth didn't he send it on Sunday afternoon or Monday, right after all those good, God-fearing people went to church?  Does he just like seeing cattle die, or what?

God sure comes across as a big meanie sometimes.

Friday, September 16, 2011


This post on the Friendly Atheist made me think, particularly about myth #3, "atheists are aggressive and rude."  It would be nice if we could keep discourse between Christians and atheists civil and courteous, but the truth is that's not too likely.

Here's why. The atheist position (no matter how kindly stated) boils down to this: "Religion is false."  When a religion constitutes someone's most cherished beliefs, s/he is bound to see that as an insult.

The Christian position, on the flip side, is, "Atheists are going to hell because they don't believe in god."  Certainly not every Christian believes this (liberal Christians may not even believe in hell), but many do.  There's no way to put that really politely, either.

So we can strive for courtesy, but odds are, Christians will perceive us as rude no matter what.  And odds are, the conversation between Christians and atheists will always be marked by a certain rancor.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Why this title?

So why would an atheist use the title of a hymn as the name of her blog?

Well, in church last weekend, we sang "Earth and All Stars."  It's always been one of my favorites, because it's a catchy tune, and because of the incredibly goofy line "loud boiling test tubes."  But as I sang it, it occurred to me that it must be the most humanist hymn in the entire Lutheran hymnal.  Most of it (classrooms and labs, loud boiling test tubes... knowledge and truth, loud sounding wisdom) is really about what humans have accomplished, via hard work (engines and steel, loud pounding hammers) and science.

Of course, at the end of each stanza, all that we've accomplished is attributed to God.  But I found myself rewriting a bit in my head, and thought it made more sense this way:

Knowledge and truth,
loud sounding wisdom,
sing to the world a new song!
...We have done marvelous things.
Sing to the world a new song!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Who I am

I'm a widowed mother of four kids.  I grew up an agnostic (the product of an armed truce between a lifelong Episcopalian and an atheist), but when I got married, I decided to adopt my husband's faith and become a Lutheran.  Ours was the liberal sort of faith, the sort that doesn't accept the Bible as inerrant, that mostly ignores the Old Testament, and that handwaves over most touchy theological questions (such as the problem of evil) by saying, "Oh, God knows better than we do."

But a few years after my husband passed away, even liberal faith became too hard for me to believe.  My oldest child (who has a strong tendency toward freethinking) set off my crisis of faith by pressing me on what I believed and didn't believe.  I struggled, but couldn't manage to come up with a coherent explanation for why I believed some parts of the Bible, and not others.  The hardest thing to explain was why I believed that in the long run, God would save everyone, and that no one would go to hell.  I quoted the Bible: "For God so loved the world..." and said that if God loved the world enough to give up his only child, then surely he loved us enough to save everyone.  She countered by pointing out that Jesus himself had said that nonbelievers would go to hell, and didn't I believe in what Jesus himself said?

That was the beginning of it.  From there I started reading the usual books on "the new atheism," and rapidly realized that I no longer believed.  The hardest part was giving up my belief in the afterlife-- I really wanted to believe I'd see my husband again, one day.  But eventually I realized that what I wanted wasn't the issue; what mattered was what was.  And so I fully turned away from my religious beliefs.

The problem was, however, that I had married into a family of stalwart Lutherans.  In order to keep the peace, I didn't particularly want to go public with my atheism-- it might set off a very ugly familial war.  Also, my children, particularly the older two, were brought up going to church every week, and they prefer to remain a churchgoing family (even despite the oldest's freethinking ways).  They like the community of church, even if they're somewhat cynical about the actual meaning of worship.

In any event, I don't want to brainwash my children with my beliefs one way or the other.  So I continue to go to church (reluctantly), even to the point of hypocritically taking communion-- which to me is merely bread and wine, anyway.  But I also try to clearly convey my cynicism about religion to my children.  It's an awkward, messy compromise, and I don't think it will work forever.  But right now, it's the line I'm trying to stay balanced on.