20 January 2013

Thinking of shutting 'er down

It has been quite a long time since I've posted anything. I've tired of reading, writing, and talking about religion and apologetics. At first, I just sort of fell out of it and got interested in other things. After a while, I had a sense that it would be so easy to dive back in -- reading blogs, reading books, listening to debates and talks , etc. -- but wondered if I'd be any better for it.

Call me apathetic, but the only thing I can really say is that I am who I am and I'm simply where I'm at. For me, that currently means non-belief in things religious and spiritual. I'm not sure I could tell you what it would take to change my mind. I just know that after surveying the land, I find it unlikely.

I'm ready to move on to more interesting and practical things. I've got home renovations underway, a table saw to restore, programming languages to learn, data visualizations to create, Coursera classes to take, and (Oh, right) a family to love and take care of. I've been diving into R, data visualization, machine learning, d3, and a bunch of other stuff. Having lived both phases of life, I'm happier investing in the latter assortment of topics compared to when I was fully immersed in religion.

At this point, investing energy in apologetics seems like perseveration. If god wants to find me, surely he knows my threshold for belief and can do what he wants. I hold fast to the Litany of Tarski: if god is real, I want to believe in god; if god is not real, I don't want to believe in god. I'd rather focus my efforts on overall self-improvement and growth, which seems practical and beneficial, regardless of one's religious path. Should theism find me in the future, so be it.

Which brings me to this blog. I love the name, but it's become a jumbled mess. I have plenty of other (as in non-religious) interesting things to write about (and already have), but I can't really share them freely as I'd like to avoid alienating co-workers and acquaintances who stumble into this probably-more-open-than-it-should-be open book I've got going on here. Thus... I'm debating either 1) just starting a new blog and deleting this one or 2) archiving all my posts from this blog and starting over.

I'm more inclined toward #1, as I'm thinking I'd still get comments like, "Hey, didn't you used to write about religion?" or "Hey, are you still an atheist?" and I'd like to go ahead and avoid all that.

Anyway, I thought I'd at least post that much for my small reader-ship. I never did flesh out my reasons for non-belief, nor did I finish my massive and ever-changing book list. But I suppose that's life! I'm in pretty good spirits, my wife comments on feeling more cared for and loved (even thought I couldn't tell you what I did to produce those feelings and nor could I identify a key point of change in myself!), and work and extra-curricular life is just plain great.

I'm grateful to all of those I met through this blog and through reading blogs like it. It's quite the rough road, and I empathize with any who have been through a personal struggle as jarring as these types can be. At the moment, it just feels like time to move on. I'm happy to discuss and respond to thoughts... if there are any still subscribed or who check this, feel free to post and let me know what you think!

26 April 2012

Updates and a direction change

It's been quite a while since my last post. It's been an interesting period of time. Mostly due to busyness and getting interested in some various endeavors, I haven't really thought much about faith/god at all in the past month or so. For one, I got into some landscaping recently of our front yard garden. I think it turned out really well!

Before (well, after removing most of the other stuff that was in there):



My wife planted some lettuce in there, which is already starting to come up! She's going to plant marigolds along the perimeter, as we know it's the pit stop for the neighborhood dogs; don't want anything we'll eat too close to that sidewalk!

I also finally got the opportunity to start restoring the 1950's Craftsman table saw I bought last year. I have a running post at Old Woodworking Machines where I'm documenting my progress. It's a fantastic forum if you have any old, well, woodworking machines. Check out the post for lots of pictures. I'm hoping my final result will look something like this, which is probably my favorite restoration from the gallery of saws like mine.

Getting to the point. I realized a couple weeks ago that my compulsion of sorts for reading and thinking about god, arguments for and against him, and so forth just kind of stopped. Once I realized this, there was a sense that I could pick it right back up if I wanted to, but I kind of wondered what the point would be. Pushing almost 2.33 years of heavy investment in this area has been fairly fruitless, aside from the initial deconversion. Since then, all I've done is worry that I haven't done enough research to be justified in non-belief.

At present, I can only conclude that there's nothing wrong with me that I don't have whatever evidence it would take for me to believe in some form of god. When reliable, objective, universally available evidence exists, truth converges on it. We're no longer debating the shape of the earth. We are in a state that allows religions to coexist side by side for hundreds of years without one conclusively demonstrating that its god is actually real while the others are just imaginary. This is a pretty big state of affairs to ignore should one feel confident that the weight of evidence required to sway the world is there.

Also, I've recently contemplated what it matters anyway. If there's a god, and a compassionate one, he'll care about the state of my heart, how hard I've tried, how I've treated others, and all that jazz. Thus, my state as a human being matters the most, whether I'm a theist or an atheist. And lately, frankly, I've had a renewed desire to be a better human being. I'm not sure what did it, but Quantified Self had a least something to do with it. I haven't decided what I'll do quite yet, but I'll be tracking some things in the near future in an attempt to improve myself.

I've also managed to not snooze for three days which, for those who know me, is a pretty monstrous accomplishment. I've been reading study snippets from Barking Up the Wrong Tree and it's striking how much we control our longevity, health, and overall state/happiness/mind frame. I'm always on the run and feeling rushed. Then I get upset at myself because I'm embarrassed I'm late or worried my wife will be upset because I left work and showed up late for dinner again, which also reduces the little time I have with my kids again. Negativity brews. I'm hoping that a better start to my day can help prevent the initial momentum of rushed-ness and stress, which in turns helps me be kinder toward others.

On that note, I've picked up individual counseling again and had a couple sessions with 2-3 more on the schedule. They've been quite helpful. I think this has also contributed toward my desire to remedy some deficiency (which is good, as I should be doing some of that per my blog tag line, after all). When I'm down on myself, I tend to be unpleasant toward others, which is never good. It's funny (or not) how that works. Disappointment in myself seems to lead me to be hypersensitive toward the flaws in others, perhaps to boost my own ego and self-image (though falsely).

In any case, I just wanted to drop a line. I'm still alive and well. There's a lot of thought and reflection going on in this head. I'm not sure what direction I'll take with the blog. I've contemplated merging all of my "god stuff" into some master PDF and having that as a single link. I'm just not sure I want it to be so self-defining anymore. I'd like to shift my focus toward more practical current interests: quantified self, reflections, self-improvement, R/statistics/programming, and hobbies.

I'll end with a quote from the Tao Te Ching I recently started using as a source for some morning reflection time:
When people see some things as beautiful,
other things become ugly.
When people see some things as good,
other things become bad.

This was really striking to me, and returns to how much we control our own state. My identification of some hypothetical self or state of affairs as better/good forces me into seeing my real self and current state as ugly/bad. No good! May I always see where I am simply as where I am.

My thoughts on the DOL Child Labor Proposal

My wife told me about various posts on Facebook circulating about potential regulations concerning children working on farms that had everyone outraged. I tried to inquire about details, but she didn't have many. That's not her fault, as after logging into Facebook myself and looking at two of the articles, there wasn't much info there.

After digging around, as is my style, my conclusion is the whole thing is pretty empty. From a practical standpoint, the proposed changes appear to have been withdrawn, though this happened after all the hoopla, so no issue from me on that point.

What I do have issue with is the twisting of words and stretching if implications. Let's look some of the article from Catholic Vote.
My kids’ friends that I like the most are farm kids. It’s simple. Working on a farm makes kids hard-working and responsible...

Well now the federal government is stepping in to regulate the kind of work kids can do on a farm – no helping out in the silo, grain bins or elevators and no working at the livestock exchange or auction. While the regulations technically exclude kids working on their parent’s farm, but what if Jimmy works on grandma’s farm or Uncle Joe is paying his niece to help him out with the livestock? And where does it end? It’s a slippery slope. Like an octopus, government’s tendency is to reach further and further into our lives...

As a parent, I can’t think of a more cautionary example of the perils of big government. The sense of purpose gained from contributing to a family or neighbor’s enterprise harkens us back to a traditional American model of self-reliance, precisely at a time when nearly half of US kids and 90% of African-American kids are being raised on government food stamps.

Bold words! Rachel, the author, is correct when she admits that the regulations have nothing to do with children working on their own family farms. By "children," I believe we're talking younger than 16. Just to make sure we're clear, this is from page one of the actual Aug 2011 DOL proposal itself (does anyone writing on sites like this ever think to link to the actual texts they're criticizing instead of forcing me to use google-fu?):
The proposed agricultural revisions would impact only hired farm workers and in no way compromise the statutory child labor parental exemption involving children working on farms owned or operated by their parents.

Next, the regulations, as far as I can tell, only apply to moderate to high risk activities anyway. Nothing's stopping you from teaching your kid good work ethic around the farm. They simply don't want younger-ish folks working on things that might harm them. I don't quite understand the livestock auction clause, but there's apparently a lot of dangerous stuff in agriculture. Enough that that Bureau of Labor Statistics has it rated pretty darned high in terms of annual fatalities, and especially the fatality rate (deaths per 100,000 full time workers), in its most recent report (main report page and charts; see charts 16, 18, and 19 for occupation breakdowns).

Also, there's already regulations about operating this type of equipment. Like, right now. Like, with the same force as minimum wage regulations, as in everyone is supposed to be following them. Go read the current Child Labor Standards Act and you'll see that the proposals above, from what I can tell, only bump up the age from 16 to 18 for the same exact tasks already regulated (to be fair, I don't see mention of helping with livestock transport/auctions in the current FLSA). To pull the actual text:
The Secretary of Labor has found and declared that the following occupations are hazardous for minors under 16 years of age.
1. Operating a tractor of over 20 powertake-off (PTO) horsepower, or connecting or disconnecting an implement or any of its parts to or from such a tractor.

2. Operating or assisting to operate (including starting, stopping, adjusting, feeding or any other activity involving physical contact associated with the operation) any of the following machines: [a bunch]

3. Operating or assisting to operate (including starting, stopping, adjusting, feeding, or any other activity involving physical contact associated with the operation) any of the following machines: [a bunch]

4. Working on a farm in a yard, pen, or stall occupied by a:
a. bull, boar, or stud horse maintained for breeding purposes;
b. a sow with suckling pigs, or a cow with a newborn calf (with umbilical cord present).

5. Felling, bucking, skidding, loading, or unloading timber with butt diameter of more than 6 inches.

6. Working from a ladder or scaffold (painting, repairing, or building structures, pruning trees, picking fruit,
etc.) at a height of over 20 feet...

It goes on until #11, but you get the point. The comments I've seen about all of this make it sound like the government is just now preventing 10 year olds from pitching in by driving the tractor at harvest time. And if the backlash is because family farms already break those regulations... then who cares about a change to something that isn't followed and isn't enforced? Regarding the comment about little Jimmy working for his aunt or uncle... he already couldn't do that unless he was 16. At most, his aunt and uncle lose some portion of two years of part time work. The stuff above already doesn't apply to family farms... and, again, wouldn't have under the new proposals either.

The bottom line is that there's nothing preventing anyone from helping out around the farm; there's simply a proposal to prevent doing certain things. This isn't about "big government;" they're just regulating a potentially dangerous set of tasks. One quote from the initial Department of Labor announcement concerning machinery regulations I found interesting was as follows:
Additionally, the proposal would prohibit farmworkers under 16 from operating almost all power-driven equipment. A similar prohibition has existed as part of the nonagricultural child labor provisions for more than 50 years.

In other words, we figured out 50 years ago that children probably shouldn't be working on certain types of equipment. This proposal seems to have just been extending it to farming as well.

I truly don't want to use scare tactics, but I was curious as to how hard it would be to find instances of children dying while conducting farming work. Turns out, it's really not hard at all. Not even close.

03 March 2012

Next-to-final draft of my coming out!

It certainly took me a lot longer than I'd hoped, but I've finally put together what I think is a next-to-final draft of my coming out statement. I'm sharing it to collect some final input and then hope to send it out to most who knew me in a significantly religious context. I have a few motives for this:
  • Many in my circles still do not know that I no longer believe in god. This can make for awkward interactions based on a now-false assumption. It would be nice to remedy that
  • Similarly, when my wife attends religious events and is visibly upset, she feels torn when others inquire between saying what I might not want her to say or outright lying. Thus, if everyone were on the same page, this would be much easier for her.
  • Simply helping me move on. I think getting out in the open and just being done with it will help me move on toward other endeavors. I'd like to spend my life doing more than thinking about apologetics.

In any case, have a read and let me know your thoughts. How does it read? Is it too short/long, wordy, obscure? Is the message potentially offensive to a religious audience? Was it enjoyable, entertaining, and/or captivating? Pretty much any thoughts or comments you have will be greatly appreciated!

As a forewarning, it's 10 pages single spaced. I hope that's offset by the interesting nature and hopefully wonderful writing style :)

Download my statement in pdf!

Leave comments below or feel free to email me at jw [dot] hendy [at] gmail [dot] com.

26 February 2012

O Satan, Satan, wherefore art thou Satan?

Some time ago, I dropped the expectation for my research into theism to be simple. In fact, my underlying view of religion is that it's specifically because of explanatory muddiness that so many religions are able to happily coexist alongside one another with minimal friction. Apologetic explanations are consistently just credible enough that the believer can find them convincing, while remaining suspect enough that an outsider can happily dismiss them.

I've recently been toying the apologetics related to prayer. It's one of these practices that has just-credible-enough apologetics behind it that believers seem resolute concerning it's benefits and support for god's existence. Upon any mention of failed prayer, believers have plenty of reasons to offer: God's ways are higher than our ways, god has a greater good in mind, god knows best, one's faith must not have been sufficient enough, god won't "perform" on demand, etc.

Interjection to Christian readers: what follows might be disturbing to you. I don't think that satan exists, and thus will discuss ideas such as willingly offering oneself for possession very lightly in what follows. I realize that this is a grave issue in Christianity; if you will be disturbed by reading discussions of this nature, abort while you still can!

I have a twist to offer, and it involves satan. As ruler of this world and one constantly mucking about seeking the ruin of souls, satan is an interesting object of thought. Satan's primary objective, if my theology is still accurate, is to prevent as many people from eternal happiness (separation from god) as possible.

When I was involved with Saint Paul's Outreach (SPO), a campus outreach group, one of the pinnacle events held was called a Fan into Flame retreat. The retreat always followed the same pattern of talks, and one of them focused explicitly on repentance. Part of the talk explicitly listed notable sins to repent from (just in case students weren't able to call any to mind), including forms of occultism and activities that might open one up to evil spirits.

In googling around, there's support over at CARM for this same concept: What kinds of things can open you up to demonic oppression?. The list just seems kind of silly when I read it as a non-believer, for example:
  • "To dabble in [false religions] is to directly dabble in demonic activity."
  • "Emptying the mind, centering prayer, repeating a single word or phrase for long periods..."
  • "Sometimes... people... will curse you or your family. This can focus demonic activity on you."
  • "...Ouija boards, tarot cards, and astrology can open up a person to demonic oppression."

My point with this list is to illustrate that there's what seems to me to be a hypersensitivity with respect to satan and evil spirits... Other religions (perhaps as a news flash to CARM) are practiced, like Christianity, with the purpose of attaining holiness and pleasing god. The other activities range from silly superstitions to party tricks. Thus, this got me thinking:

What reasons would satan have not to possess someone who asked?

If using a ouija board, chanting "Om", or even curses (really??) can open one up to demonic possession, what about a full out proper request? A pledge of allegiance to serve in his minions? A resolution to call upon his world-ruling power to keep others sick, prevent food from reaching the poor and needy, and for the deconversion of souls? Having read bits and pieces of C.S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters, that's got to be enough to make the hellish hordes salivate!

We have three possibilities should one offer himself as a servant of the devil:
  • The devil exists, but has reasons not to possess him and thus will not
  • The devil exists and will possess him
  • The devil does not exist and thus will not possess him

I'm interested in support for the first option: What greater good (evil?) would be served by satan denying such a willing body? If none can be found, then a possession request that isn't answered leads us to the conclusion that satan isn't real, which implies under most Christian theologies that god also isn't real.

Perhaps this won't be such a difficult task after all. In skimming some Catholic Answers forum responses concerning ouija boards, one responder said:
Do people or demons in Hell always answer Ouija board calls? No. Sometimes they like to sit back and watch you make a jackass of yourself without their help, and if you're busy falling on your own, they can enjoy the show while working on someone else...

Do yourself a favor - stay away from the stupid thing. Either you won't get an answer, in which case your "conversations" with the dead will only be you fooling yourself, or you'll get an answer you really, *really* won't like.

So apparently there are some reasons out there already about why demons wouldn't take advantage of a perfectly good ouija board possession opportunity. Whether or not the answer holds up to scrutiny is another question, I suppose. It reads as though demons are too busy to possess every ouija board user and thus need to optimize their time utilization and fiddle with some other unwilling spirit. I'm not sure I buy that; I don't think evil spirits are bound by time and space, just like god isn't. Thus, it would be a nonsensical apologetic to suggest that god can't answer all prayers because he's too busy to do so.

In any case, it at least got me thinking and so I thought I'd turn it into a post. I particularly like intersections of apologetics and tangible reality. It's about the only time where two people can propose an experiment in which the outcome has something to say about which belief is more evidentially supported. I offer this particular thought experiment as a creative attempt to bring religion into the light of the real world and out of the shadows of non-disprovability.

12 February 2012

Responding to a comment and some analogies

I received a comment one one of my Letters to a Doubting Thomas posts and thought I'd respond to it in a new post, as it stirred some interesting thoughts. I'll reproduce the comment here, inserting my thoughts inline.

Hi John, I hope you aren't offended that I prefer to remain anonymous. First, I'd like to say that I'm impressed by your transparency.
Not offended at all. I stayed quasi-anonymous for some time. It's only recently that I've started to try and spread my wings a bit and stop being afraid of the world. I also share as much as I do in that this has been a lonely road. I hope others find this and are inspired, or at least feel less isolated.

It seems this quest is one on which your find yourself due to your highly analytic nature. I would suggest that perhaps others - atheistic or religious - do not often find themselves so entrenched in the search due not to ignorance or brain-washing but rather because their brains are wired differently, in other words, they have different aptitudes.

It's very possible, but I do think brain-washing (if one might call it that) and ignorance can both play a part. In my discussions, it's quite clear to me that many theists meet one or both of these criteria:
-- They are ignorant of the many issues surrounding Christianity's various truth claims
-- Once aware of this ignorance, it is not followed by a sense of urgency to remedy the situation

A massive amount of extremely devout believers literally have no idea what fields play a part in apologetics and the battles of thought and mind that rage therein. My quest took me into surprisingly diverse fields of knowledge: philosophy, biology, astronomy, physics, literary criticism, and history to name a few. While I'm still an absolute novice in these fields, it did surprise me that most of my circles would not even have been able to summarize the general arguments that both sides use.

Hence my support of the term, "ignorance." Most Christians are confident in their belief; they don't spend their nights and days wondering if it's true. They spend their time trying to deepen devotion and holiness because they are confident (one will at least admit that this is implied confidence) that it's true.

Similarly, my lack of interest in woodworking is not an indication that I have been brain-washed against it, or that I am too ignorant to appreciate the intricacies of the craft, but rather that my greatest attempt at woodworking would lead to a frustrated lump of chipped wood. I'm perfectly happy not attempting it, but knowing that there are people that are great at woodwork. I choose to enjoy their work.

I only addressed ignorance above. I'll bring in brainwashing here as it goes with your analogy. Literal "brainwashing" might be a bit extreme, especially with the cultish connotations this evokes, at least in me. I more mean a predisposition to favor one's beliefs for psychological reasons that don't track back to objective facts, data or reasons. In other words, the resistance to a foreign belief is much greater than the reasons one has supporting the current belief or opposing the foreign one.

The "brainwashing" aspect comes along in that the resistance is based on things learned during childhood and supported by social structures. The believer is sold out for the belief for reasons not grounded in facts or logic.

The woodworking analogy is a fantastic one! To summarize the core: there's a topic out there that a bunch of people debate about in terms of the best tools and techniques, what qualifies as "beautiful" art, and so on. It doesn't interest you and thus you aren't going to invest your time and energy into studying Woodworking Magazine just to get up to speed and feel intellectually satisfied. Fair enough, and I really do like the analogy. Now I'll introduce a couple of my own :)

My first objection is that the woodworking analogy doesn't capture the fact that theism is something people are living in, not looking at. To adjust your analogy, a theist more like a professional woodworker who spends no time examining the best practices for safety, quality and efficiency. He doesn't wear a respirator because he's ignorant that certain wood dusts cause cancer. When he's informed of this, he thinks it sounds like a ridiculous idea. He's a gruff, strong guy and this way has worked just fine for him his whole life; there's no way that some silly tree is going to give him cancer. After all, his dad never wore a respirator and that's good enough for him to know he doesn't need one either. Moreover, he only knows how to make one style of furniture. People ask for other styles, but he feels confident that they don't know the true best style, so he chooses not to learn about how to make them or why people disagree with his idea of "best." They're wrong somehow and that's that.

There's some "brainwashing" in that the woodworker has a set of embedded ideas about reality that are stubborn to outside evidence. Whatever can be tracked to reasons (I've been successful so far, this is how I learned, I respect my dad and this is how he did it) are all relativistic: they can apply equally to radically different styles and practices and thus justify any set of beliefs equally well.

I also think my adjusted version gets at the pertinence factor a little more. Woodworking is a trivial hobby. Some like it, some don't. It can take up as much or as little of your life as you want with little matter. But we're talking about a religion that shapes peoples minds and lives. I don't think they can take the same "take it or leave it" attitude with respect to the reasons it is or isn't true.

The magnitude in the original analogy also isn't right. We're talking about what is supposed to be someone's eternal life. While I'm well aware that no one knows what happens after death and any religion's god could be merciful and allow for some type of post-death conversion or atonement, all religions believe that subscribing during mortal life offers some sort of advantage when it comes to death. Thus, there's little excuse not to investigate (as opposed to a hobby).

To sneak in another analogy, let's say I design a new airplane with wings that are half as long as those used today. Will you ride it prior to finding out if it's been shown to actually fly? No. You can't afford not to care or invest some mental energy into this problem; the consequences are too grave. This is my other issue with the topic of religion. Anyone "gets" the idea concerning the plane. We have a plane; it either flies or it doesn't. No matter how much I tell you that I believe it will fly or think we should ride it because I really like the way it looks... you aren't going to bite.

What about religion? It's either true or it's not. It gets you to heaven or it doesn't. A god is either tinkering with reality in response to intercession or it isn't. Why the universal agreement that the plane should be examined but the religion doesn't need to be?

We can complicate it a bit further by bringing in a tidbit from your woodworking analogy: "I'm perfectly happy not attempting it, but knowing that there are people that are great at woodwork."

We could take this to mean that one is happy not attempting to master apologetics, knowing that there are those out there who are great at it. Or that one might know an educated apologist for his religion who he trusts. Thus, if he takes a question to this apologist and receives an answer, he'll accept it. He might not grasp the answer or internalize it, but he hears a stream of words emitted from a trusted source and feels confident knowing that his teacher had something to say and wasn't stumped. That's sufficient.

What about the plane analogy? To replicate the situation of theism(s), let's say that there are many world experts who all disagree on what will happen if we fly this plane. Some say it will fly, some say it will crash. Others say that we'll quantum leap into another dimension. Some say that it will fly, but only if we believe strongly enough. How do we decide? Surely we can't just pick the expert who happens to support what we already believe and judge him to be correct!

To wrap up, the issue with religions is that at the fundamental level, there is no objective, reproducible method to establish one over the other. If there were, guess how many religions would still exist today? (One. Or only the ones with objective evidence supporting them.) Instead, we have absolutely laughable ideas that at least somehow people are made or brought to buy into. I conclude that the issue is the human mind, and not with the fact that the required evidence exists but most humans are simply ignoring it. Conclusive and objective data tends to obliterate falsehood.

I would also like to speak to your frustration on having so many book titles suggested to you from those with religious beliefs. Having had a "going from one belief to another" experience in my life (though not a "deconversion") I can empathize with this frustration. I felt as though I wasn't free to change belief systems until those around me were also convinced, and I knew that wasn't going to happen. I felt their offering of book titles was a symptom of that. However, it's important to note that this wasn't always the case.

Thanks for sharing this and I absolutely relate. I spend my emotional energy these days feeling that two years is enough to move on, while constantly doubting that I've really been objective, that I know enough or have read enough, and/or that the place I've settled is intellectually justifiable. It does bother me a great deal that I feel rather discounted in this area, especially given that I have a track record as the sort of geekish researcher rational oddball of the group. I've written about this before.

For instance, if one of your daughters asked you a question that you did not know the answer to, would you say:
a) I don't know, don't ask me again. (I'm feeling challenged and intimidated by your questions)
b) I don't know, hope you find your answer somewhere (I care about you but I'm not personally interested in that topic at all)
c) I don't know, but let's find out together. (I care about you and I'm also suddenly very interested in the same question, let's work together)
d) I don't know and I'm swamped with work right now, but I do know there's a pretty good explanation in the encyclopedia. I haven't read the whole thing, but I trust the information. (I care about you and I've skimmed across similar questions in the past, or know someone who did, here's what I found/hear is helpful)

I guess I'd ask you where most of your religious friends fell/fall *and* where you wish they fell? Sounds like the book offer-ers were either a or d. It's probably important to make the distinction as to which, since a and d are coming from very different places.

Interesting and great summary. My one correction is that C might sometimes be sacrificial in that I'm not embarking with my daughter because I'm suddenly very interested, but because I think it might benefit her. I'm not really interested but will still be willing to help.

I can think of some who probably fall into both categories. Some might even shift back and forth. I had one guy dialog with me quite a long time fairly reasonably. Then we shifted into talking about the gospels, and I said something that was probably too much for him or indirectly insulting and he said he thought I was crazy and left. That was a situation where I think it shifted from D to A.

There may be another category -- the person who just throws out more and more books because they know that there's no possible way that someone could be intellectually justified in holding a position contrary to their own. I've been in situations where this was my read of the book suggestions. Were I to complete the books and remain unconvinced, it would not have increased the respect the other had for my position. Instead, more books would have come, or simply challenges aimed at whether I was really open minded or objective.

This might be more about the book suggestor than the doubter. Suggestor presents books under the guise of remedying what he claims is ignorance in the doubter; "If you really understood the subjects, you'd be intellectually justified in forming an opinion." What might be occurring is that the suggestor can't cope with someone who both knows a lot (or enough) and still doesn't believe. Thus, the books serve as a perpetual barrier to obtaining respect.

An interesting extension of this requirement to be justified in non-belief is whether our book suggesters in categories A or D apply the same standards to those who do believe. In other words, is there a higher burden of education placed on dissenters than assenters? If I don't have enough education to doubt a god, do believers have enough to worship/follow it? From my experience, the answer is "No." I consider myself more well versed in the field of apologetics (at least being aware of it) than most in my circles (who are almost all devout Christians). Adam Lee, author of Daylight Atheism, just wrote about this on his blog, citing an email exchange we had early in my doubts and puts things quite well.

I'm not ignorant of my finger pointing leading to three pointing back at me, either. Or at least I admit that this is something I need to be aware of as well. Should someone read something I send them and not be convinced, my reflex shouldn't be that the really didn't get it, or that they decided ahead of time not to be open to it. I should stick with the facts: they read a piece of literature and were not convinced by it.

To wrap up (wow, this got long...), my current take is that one should be very cautious of being confident in this realm. After two years of investigation almost night and day, it's the muddiest topic I've ever tried to research. The world stage agrees with me much more than anyone who thinks that their religion is clearly correct and that other believers are either deceived, ignorant, unjustified, sinful, rebellious or stupid. One of the things I found quite eye opening was listening to a gentleman named Joshua Evans who converted to Islam from Christianity. I couldn't believe how passionately he talked, how clearly educated he was, how serious he was about his faith, and so on. I've heard the same at any retreat I've been at. Clearly he knows his stuff and yet it has taken him to a different place. To of his videos are Top 10 Reasons Jesus is not God and How the Bible Led me to Islam. Check them out and soak in his journey!

On a *completely* different note, I do have one question for you - this is absolutely not in any way a challenge or the beginning of a debate, I'm simply curious as to what your perspective is, since I'm positive this must be something that you - with your highly analytical mind - have already asked:

As an atheist, how do you approach the concept of mathematical infinity and space/time eternity both past and future?

I don't think too much about this, at least anymore. Listening to many debates in which William Lane Craig was a participant did have the obligatory effect of familiarizing me with his flavor of the cosmological argument which includes discussion about infinity a la Hilbert's Hotel. My current take is that I'm not sure the concept of mathematical infinity is/was intended to track with reality. It's useful, but doesn't mean that being able to write "" and think "the most that can exist" means that such a concept exists in reality. Our brains think sequentially; iteratively stacking is bound to produce issues, as one can always add one more... and thus infinity always brings about paradoxes and issues when trying to imagine an actual infinite set of discrete components. In the sense of counting numbers, no, I don't think an actual infinity exists.

Regarding time, we may very well live in a time block, not on a time line. Thus, all the time that exists might already exist. We experience it as a continuum, but this doesn't mean that's how it is. In that sense, it might not suffer from the same issues of infinite regression/extension that numbers do (in the counting sense).

23 December 2011

Unequally yoked marriage | A hopeful note

This is a post among an unknown number of posts to come about "unequally yoked" marriage. Googling for "unequally yoked" produces an absurd amount of hits. I've found most to be about what to do before marriage. I'd like to write a bit about what it's like from within marriage.

Here's a link to the index for this series

My last post was a pretty sad story. Things were really tough for me. In talking to several people as well as my parents, I think things have eased up a bit. Part of it has to do with my personality. I tend to ignore or literally remain unaware of messes for sometime and then go into full-out-attack mode and clean like a madman until I'm satisfied. Perhaps that's what's happened over the past two years. On and off, I've had glimpses that something isn't right. But I've not really dug in to figure out what it is. Thus, I continue to have recurring bouts of acute negativity toward my situation.

Well, I thought I'd write whilst singing a different tune. I had a bit of a change in mindset driving home from work the other day, and I thought I'd share about it. Before explaining the change, there's some background. I expressed my hesitancy and feelings of emptiness about my social group and marriage to my wife last week. Perhaps not a great move, but it was being honest. That led, as expected, to quite a bit of marital strife and hurt feelings. Perhaps I overreacted. On my behalf, all I can say is that the last two weeks have been extremely difficult. I've had a massive feeling of being drowned in things like:
-- Thinking no one really respects me because I believe differently
-- Extreme intolerance of attitudes that seek to exert belief-based outcomes on others without having justification for said beliefs
-- Feeling like I would experience relief if I just ran away and started over in terms of a new social group
-- Feeling very, very, very alone, not understood or related to, isolated, etc.

That was an ugly situation. I still have those issues and will be seeing a counselor of some sort (either our previous couple's counselor or Marlene Winell) to attempt some resolution. I realize that my instinct is to run away. It feels like if I just left all of my past behind, I'd also leave behind the pain of separation/differences as well. This doesn't take into account future pains, though, such as loneliness, time delay in rebuilding friendships, and frustrations in trial and error in new-best-friend-finding. Anyway, my point is to paint the picture that I felt like I was in a burning building and thus wanted to run, but there wasn't necessarily a lot of thought about which way to head.

The other day, however, I had a shift in perspective. Rather than just focusing on the problem (burning building -> run), perhaps this could be a problem to solve. I love studying and analyzing things. I tried to get this across in my multi-level marketing analysis series. I used google scholar to track down 45 published scientific papers about marital success/failure predictors and factors. Rather than remain hopeless, I can be informed about the factors affecting satisfaction. Specifically, perhaps common interests and/or religion will turn out to be dominated by some other variable(s). If I know those variables, I have some knobs to tweak.

You may be reading this and thinking, "Yeah, right. This is ridiculous!" Maybe so. But for now, using my innate drive to fix problems and research is a good thing. It keeps me able to envision a future self that can share the results of this research to help others, especially if I've helped myself, not to mention an increase in relationship satisfaction if I succeed. I bought a John Gottman book at Half Price books that day as well. I also plan to finish a book recommended by our couples therapist as part of my research. Anyway, it's hard to exactly convey my change in state, but just know that it's far different from where it was, and in a good way. I'm up to the task of trying to invest time and effort into the practical applications of research on romantic relationships.

To testify to a bit of positive fruit that resulted from this change in mindset, I present you with Exhibit A, my Christmas present for my wife that I just gave her as a sign of my investment in our relationship:

We were on a budget this year, so this gift was one that had extremely high value, but not in the monetary sense, exactly. I was inspired to give my wife a bunch of things I probably should have been giving her all along. There were something like 40 coupons in total that she can use in 2012. They were things I knew she's really appreciate, but more importantly, I wanted to convey that I'd be around to redeem them. There was quite a bit of shakiness in our marriage recently; this was my way of trying to recommit and display my investment in making this relationship a success:
-- A fun night out x 6
-- A sweet back rub x 4
-- A rockin' foot rub x 4
-- Breakfast in bed x 4
-- Breakfast/coffee out with a friend x 6
-- A Saturday sleep in x 12
-- A weekend at the Santry Mansion or The Cottage (two local bed and breakfasts)
-- Beginner Lindy swing dancing lessons via Twin City Rebels Swing Dance Club

That's a lot of coupons :) I also tried to summarize my thought in a card. Here's an excerpt:


These gifts are my way of recommitting to you. You shouldn't need to be recommitted to; there shouldn't have been an "uncommitting" in the first place. Thus, I'm trying to do something I hope will help.

I had a change of mindset yesterday. While my study in one area has brought about significant issues, perhaps my gift for study could instead be advantageous. My disposition shifted yesterday on the way home from simply seeing a problem to seeing a problem to solve.

I plan to wrap up a couple of my current books and then turn my gaze toward relationships. I spent quite a bit of time hunting for scientific literature on relationships. I have 45 published articles on factors affecting relationships satisfaction. Perhaps if I knew the variables involved, I could improve myself and our relationship.

I think I panicked about us. Two years of on and off awareness of something no being right caught up to me. My instinct was to run -- perhaps "starting over" or just leaving the situation would help, I thought. But perhaps that's not necessary. I just don't want to hurt and to be happy. If that can come about by changing me and/or some variable in our lives, problem solved.

This gift is my way of showing you that I'm still here and still with you. I plan to work very hard on trying to understand my/our hurt and issues to try to make us work. I'm sorry that my issues hurt you so badly.

You shouldn't need coupons for most of this stuff -- a good husband would already having been giving them to you. Nevertheless, maybe I need a bit more push than the average good husband. this is my way of pushing myself for you. Here's to you -- my loving, tender, caring, fantastic wife.

Merry X-mas,

Long journey ahead. Nevertheless, I thought I'd post again with these updates. This is hard stuff. I continue to share as I think more people might benefit from reading the raw data on how this can go, the ups along with the downs. There's a horrid amount of ugly stuff when googling for "unequally yoked marriage." Most of it is hopeless and depressing. I, too, as evidenced by the last post, have my depressed and doubtful moments. But there's also changes in heart that can come about. I'm off next week from work, so I hope to finish my couple of [a]theistic books and get cracking on relationship information.

At the end of the day, I just don't want to be miserable. I want to thrive and be happy. It's helpful to just keep those in mind without any qualifiers. The temptation is to look at my situation, realize that there's some potential sources of unhappiness in it, and just think, "causation." That's not necessarily the case. I don't know why, exactly, I'm unhappy... just that I'm unhappy. If the issues lie in myself, there's nothing to be fixed or upset about with respect to my circumstances! If there are some independent factors coming from the situation itself, I'll have to look at those down the road. To combat my inclination to just run, I need to keep hopeful and optimistic, hence my act of pre-committing myself with coupons. I also am going to apply my desire for knowledge and self-improvement to this, just like I have with god, power tool purchases, and multi-level marketing schemes. I'll stay in touch.