There was this cute girl at Liberty University in 2004 who introduced herself to me as an orphan. She even had a cool orphany name. Patches.
Patches was a sweetheart to everyone at school and for whatever life threw her way, she seemed stronger for it. She struck me as an old soul, someone with a good sense of perspective and maturity. Maybe she had a tragedy or a crisis in her background that afforded her a little bit of a cool head.
She flattered me of course by purchasing my book, Preacher Boy late last year. She had some questions for me which I promised to answer, of course. However her list of questions did not hit my radar until I posted something in the vein of “I believe in core values like humility, grace, mercy and love, empathy etc.” on Facebook.
As a well-read, educated Christian she might have been surprised to see me using their words, kind of like a white rapper using homie or the dreaded combination of NGGIRE (which can also spell Ginger, for all you redheads)
Her question is as follows. Hey Tim! So, I have a couple questions that I find would be best asked in a message, not a post.
If too personal, I understand a “skip” for an answer.
1. do u feel like ur personal struggle(s) was so great and the “church” so judgmental and condemning that it left u vulnerable and angry?
The church is often the scapegoat for atheists. One has to be careful in assigning blame. John Loftus, Dan Barker and others have written numerous titles in which they blast the church for being a misanthropic, bloodsucking social scene that ruined their lives and wasted their time. I don’t feel that way. I thought I made it clear in Preacher Boy t hat the church was not to blame. Ignoring me on that point is helpful to defend the Bible, the source of my problem with Christianity. When I was an evangelical I was rigorously trained in the art of defending God. “I know the church let you down, dude…but Jesus loves you! The church is a group of flawed people and sometimes we screw up, but God! But Jesus! But the Bible! But, but but!!!!!”
It was never God’s fault. It was never because the Bible is an antiquated book of lies, nonsense and useless as a mesh condom.
I am using this correspondence as an example of a loving, sincere and wonderful girl asking a loving and sincere question. Patches is not some succubus, screeching bitch, guys. Patches is someone who would go to the ends of the earth for an absolute stranger. Her questions are coming from a good place in her heart that many atheists lost touch with in their quest to become ivory tower, iconoclastic and condescending pricks.
But even though Patches is a total sweetheart, her question implies an accusation that could possibly be used to rationalize away my intellectual problem with the BIble. She mentions that I am angry and hurt. I said in Preacher Boy that a famous mudslinging tactic of the church is to paint the atheist in the ABC light. Angry. Bitter. Confused. I wonder if Patches is (with the kindest of intentions, mind you) trying to spin the wheel and see which letter I am on. I assure you, I may have been somewhat angry and a tad bitter, even a little bit confused but I don’t feel any of those feelings apply now nor should they affect the veracity of my book or message. The church taught a rather moronic worldview that has secret compartments for hate and intolerance, recessed into a veneered paneling. Very modern, very sleek and bulky. Not like the obtuse 80’s hate and bigotry. The 2013 fundie crowd is like an iPod to your Pioneer boombox from Montgomery Ward that collects dust in your gramma’s house.
2. As an atheist, when u speak with words like compassion, grace, love, etc….from where do u determine these derive?
This is what you call a softball. This is a question I would strongly consider paying someone to ask me at a public speaking engagement. But before I answer this, I must dispel a notion that irks the hell out of me. Imagine the following exchange.
CHRISTIAN: without God, how can you have morals?
ATHEIST: what? you mean without believing in your sky daddy I have no reason to be good?
Stop stop stop stop and please for fuck’s sake, stop it. This is a terrible debate I see on facebook and tumblr and reddit all the time. The Christian is not saying morality is impossible on the part of the unbeliever. The stupid atheist need not get his or her panties in a bunch and get offended. We can rephrase it with more respect to the difference between ontology and epistemology thusly.
CHRISTIAN: We both believe in morality. We try to be good. I think that potential in humanity comes from God. We are made in his image, and Adam ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. That’s how I account for morality.
ATHEIST: are you saying I’m not moral? Of course that wouldn’t make sense.
Now I borrowed this observation from another blogger with an article called “how christians and atheists can understand each other” or something similar. I don’t mean to plagiarize.
It was written by a Christian, actually, which makes me happy. It is true nonetheless.
Now to answer Patches question without being a dick and getting offended. Patches is not saying I am not moral or incapable of grace.
DEAR PATCHES– Grace is undeserved benevolence in regards to our understanding of herd morality or social contract. Mercy is withholding some negativity. Mercy is, going easy on someone by choice. Humility allows both of these. Compassion is the essence of all of them. Those are my core values as a spiritual humanist. I find it odd that a God who has commanded genocide, slavery/human trafficking and in technical terms, condoned all out rape and abuse throughout multiple escapades in the Old Testament should be viewed as the author of mercy and love. He is disqualified from being Anselm’s “most perfect thing of which anything could be thought” simply because of the glaring problem of his temper. He is a God of a short fuse who tells his people to cut off a woman’s hand and show no mercy, to stone children for disrespect, to kill atheists and homosexuals without trial. Just stone the fuckers to death.
As a Christian these impediments to social progress never bothered me because I cared only that these laws were “not for today.” End of conversation. End of thinking about it.
But what if there were a terrible regime like Saddam Hussein’s Bath Party in power today. Suppose they are nice. Would it be satisfying to hear them denounce the atrocities of te 1970’s and 80’s ? What if Saddam Hussein said, “these ways are not for today.” It is not enough to just say God’s horror show in the Old Testament was for a bygone era and now we do something new. One must say that what God did in the Old Testament was objectively wrong. My moral rubric is based on human wellbeing and I do make assumptions about what is self-evident. When you and I talk about morals, I am talking about what is good for the wellbeing of sentient creatures (Sam Harris, the moral Landscape) and you are talking about the whims of a genocidal, invisible person.
I can live with my “faith” in my definition of morality.
To paraphrase Harris, Patches, I liken morality to health. I don’t know what should be on your plate to the exact mg of sodium per se, but I know that a salad is healthier than a Big Mac and a Big Mac is healthier than a donut and a donut is healthier than cyanide capsules. We have an idea of health and maybe I don’t know all the answers but I know enough to make informed decisions for me and help others. How fast should a person run? How fast should a 78 year old man run? Or a baby? Health is relative to the individual but we as a society understand what we mean by health. The same goes for morality, or so I think. I know that marrying 9 year old girls is not good for 9 year old girls. I know having sex slaves (concubines) is not good for society. I know genocide is not good for the children and elderly, pregnant and mentally disabled people who were knifed to death in Jericho, Moab and etc. The fact that God doesn’t want you to stone a gay man to death in 2013 is well and good. The fact that God said it was ideal 5,000 years ago is a problem. A problem that the church has whitewashed. And it’s not just the gays. It’s the straight boys and girls who want to have sex outside of or before marriage. They got in a heap of trouble, if I recall, falling under the condemnation of the King.
3. Why or what caused you to look around at others (life experiences, etc) to determine the truth or existence of God, as opposed to the other way around?
Thank u for taking time, if u do, to respond. To be clear, I am not seeking to “win u back to Christ”… I merely want to further understand u. So, I may state some thoughts, if this conversation continues beyond the questions I’ve posed, but I will not preach at u with Lu bubble jargon or biblical facts u probably already know. Just wanted to clear that up so that we were on the same page. Hope to hear from ya, friend!
Experience is subjective. If someone tells me (and believe me they try everyday) to tell me that God talks to them, they are positing an objective truth assertion about the existence of God based on a personal sensation. If experience is everything, than my experience should cancel theirs out when I say God is not real. As a Christian I fucked around with the psychosomatic, emotional and trancelike powers of prayer and meditation and scripture memorization. I felt the buzz. I felt the brain chemicals juicing the Holy Spirit through my vains. It felt good. I would be at a prayer service and feel like my heart was about to burst out of my chest. The problem, Patches, is your typical Christian isn’t moved by the experience of a Jehovah’s Witness or a Mormon or Siek having similar experiences. A typical Christian isn’t going to listen to a devout Muslim about how a prayer was answered. At that point, the Christian argues towards a singular meta-narrative about the existence of God and how answered prayers are at best a product circumstance or coincidence. I was a Christian who had ruled out all other Gods in favor of the Abrahamic God. I wasn’t a Jew. I wasn’t a Muslim. That left Christianity. I know not everyone who believes in Christ is a Jerry Falwell type, but again, it wasn’t the method by which Christianity was delivered to me, or the style in which it was portrayed. My problems are with the source material. Not the wording of a verse or two. The concept of the evil God of the Old Testament and the evidence of God today. It is no comfort to believe in a God who sits on his hands while little girls are circumcised in Africa. It is no comfort to believe in a God who lets women in Detroit get raped on a public sidewalk. God just allows terrible things to happen every day and then we go to church and I have to listen about God intervening in the events of human history, rending time and space to help someone get his tax return a day earlier than expected. A woman asks God to help her with a common cold while sitting next to a man who has no legs. I am sick of the church and a tad bitter because of ridiculous bullshit like that, but don’t wag the dog by the tail. It was the Bible itself, God’s supposed love letter to white Republicans that turned me off. Not his people. Those are diseased cherries on top–with a notable exception–you, who are the epitome of patience and grace and who exudes friendliness so effortlessly. You are a good person and I don’t want to see you post anything on your facebook wall about how you are some kind of worm that needed forgiveness and “why does God love me” kind of stuff. Everyone should love you. You don’t need to be forgiven. You don’t need to be validated. You have worth because you are a human being, and a damn good one at that. You are not more interesting to me because an invisible hand guides you through your life. You are precious in your weakness and frailty because we are all weak and frail and our love for each other makes us something we could never be alone. You needn’t sing worship songs to a God who nukes people in hell for being, I don’t know, a Catholic. Love is pure and there shouldn’t be strings attached. You needn’t love a God who commands you to love him and worship him while listing a litany of threats if you don’t. My mind is free of this sick, sick, sick, sick, sick, sick, sick, sick, sick character in my imagination torturing me and making me second guess myself. So my advice is, live a life marked by grace like the atheist Bill Gates who spends bajillions of dollars on malaria research. Be marked by compassion. Those things are accessible to all human beings. We don’t need a God to have them, and their existence is not incumbent upon the existence of a God who for the majority of human history doesn’t seem to know their meaning. So Patches, who would you burn in hell forever. Whose prayer for protection against a sexually abusive parent would you ignore. Are you starting to realize that your own frail sense of morality is much kinder and altruistic than God’s? Are you ready to stop viewing his ways as so superior to your own? Which fatal car accidents would you allow and which ones would you stop? Oh yeah, I forgot God works in “mysterious” ways. I am hoping against hope that 500 years from now someone doesn’t excuse Stalin and Hitler and Pol Pot with such drivel. The only thing mysterious about God is how smart and kind, beautiful girls believe in him and his asinine stories about talking animals and misogynistic supermen. Short out.