## 23 February 2011

### Post Series: On Unequally Yoked Marriage

Here's a list of the running series on unequally yoked marriage. It will be updated sporadically when I feel like it's time for another post. Here is the current list:

### On "unequally yoked" marriage | Part 2 of ?

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
---

It's been about four months since I last wrote about my "unequally yoked" marriage. Looking through that post, there's probably a lot that will be quite similar, but I think it would still help others who read this blog and are in similar situations to hear my reflections after some time has passed.

I'll start by revisiting some of the "intro" comments I made in the previous post. I still agree that the majority of commonly available advice from blogs or internet forums on mixed-belief marriages involves the following buckets:
• Wishy washy: of the sites and people providing advice that actually try to be helpful, most of what is provided is not very concrete, direct, or specific. "Bear with it," "hang in there," "be patient," "respect one another" and so on.
• Bail-out: A good number of posts and discussions simply ask/say this: "Do you have kids yet? No? Run for the hills." Nuff said.
• My spouse doesn't care: The ones discussing staying together often do so from the point of relating personally with the type of situation but are often in a form of it in which the other spouse is only a believer for social or emotional reasons and doesn't actually care if the spouse believes or not
I'm still not satisfied with this advice. There are others who I'd say feel similarly about such advice and who also aspire toward some better solution, like LikeAChild, DoOrDoNot, and HeIsSailing (among others). Perhaps our mutual blogging, sharing, and commenting can help not only us, but others as well. Here goes...

## Summary

I'll start by saying that this has still not been much fun with respect to the pure "Quest" aspect of things. I just don't know as much as I'd like. I'm unconvinced that Christianity is true and actually have significant doubts that it even could be true. I don't know that I'll ever be able to prove it, though. I think I've come to accept that fact more. I still find that many believing friends don't really like that fact. It seems that their approach toward me can, at times, be one of "If you can't prove it's false, then you should believe." Perhaps the insinuation is that if I can't formally prove Christianity is false, then I had no grounds for walking away. Maybe so. Then again... I just don't believe anymore. That's that. What should I so about that?

I'm still firmly in the belief-is-not-chosen-but-just-happens-inside-a-black-box camp. I feed in inputs (books, blogs, thoughts, ponderings, conversations, etc.) and out comes some resultant "yay" or "nay." So far, it's been "nay."

I'd also state that our circle of friends has pretty much dropped any contact with me outside of formal events where we are brought together physically. There are about five friends I can think of right now who still get together with me regularly and would seek me out to make something happen. With the rest, if I didn't see them or they didn't have religious engagements with my wife... I'm not sure I would really ever see or hear from them unless they wanted something (most of the emails I get are requests to events, something having to do with prayers for someone sick, or something involving donating money to the outreach I used to be a part of).

Franky, my plans to embark on the Truth-Seeker Challenge have all but fizzled. I hope to pick it back up, but it's quite difficult. I have lost much of the urge I originally had to burn through books at a rapid pace. I've begun to really get into woodworking, including making my wife a Christmas picture frame and making my good friend a cribbage board for his birthday. I'm working on another cribbage board right now and honestly find it more tangibly rewarding than going over the variants of "free" will, the nuanced opinions of what constitutes a reliable testimony when it comes to the gospels, how some violent/scandalous OT act was actually good and holy or didn't really happen like that, and so on. Wood working is satisfying; internal debate about how to interpret differing theological opinions is like the worst ice-cream headache in the world.

## Marriage Specific

---( Counseling )---
My wife and I have begun to see a marriage counselor. This is probably the most significant development since the last time. He was recommended by our Catholic friends and I was a bit cautious about this, not knowing how he would advise us in our situation. I was also cautious in general... simply because I had nothing to go on except for recommendations from a small sample size. In our first meeting with him, he had my approval. I liked his approach in general -- very specific questions followed by a great job listening with an occasional interjection of affirmation (you say, "And this makes me feel x," and he says, "Of course, because it's natural to feel x in a situation like that because...) just to show you he understands. I also was very glad he focused on specific goals toward the end of our first meeting by asking, "If we were to have 'success' in these meetings, what would the outcome look like?"

Going in, I was apprehensive about paying >$100/hr for a high priced "friend" to listen to us dialog. I wanted to pay for what he was skilled at, not what I could have someone else do for us for free. Discussing goals and targets reassured me that his focus was on results and outcomes, not just on the process itself. Some goals that came up were: • Improved communication: when discussion religion related issues, we both tend to get pretty upset. I get defensive if I feel challenged on my non-belief, and she gets hurt if I insult her belief or imply that it's ill-founded. • Unity: I have noticed that we both retreat to outside sources of comfort. She typically seeks comfort from other married women when she's having a hard time with the fact that the marriage and life she envisioned isn't happening. I tend to retreat toward other non-believers (blogs, my parents, or Minnesota Atheist activities) because it's the only forum where I feel like I can speak my mind, discuss objections to Christianity/religion, etc. without offending someone. We've certainly lost some common ground that united our relationship, but we both voiced a desire to "rebuild" around something or anything in order to mend this issue. I don't know what the solution in this area would look like, but we both recognize the lack of closeness that used to be there. She probably feels it far more, as she has lost the part of me that could comfort her "spiritually" (say by praying over her for healing or bringing up some inspirational passage to help her through hard times) and lead our family as a Christian (call her on to serve god, teach our kids the faith, etc.). That's a big hit to take. I realize that something was lost, but I'm hoping that the counseling can help us recognize that a) perhaps the "hole" doesn't need to be a "hole" (perhaps there were reducible components to what the religious common ground provided and we can redirect there instead of fixating solely on religion being lost), b) we can acknowledge the hole but side step it and wander off into new territory together (some new topic, books, games, method of sharing/consoling), or c) I don't really know where else I was going. The point is that anything to rebuild the connection and mutual bond/comfort provided through our relationship was a huge goal of the counseling. • Kids: my wife raised the issue of how to raise our children. This was an interesting one, and increased my opinion of the counselor, because he denied addressing this as it was not really his specialty. I liked that he didn't have any qualms about immediately making that known. He said he could provide some book suggestions and perhaps discuss the issue slightly but didn't want to make it a focus. Thumbs up for humility, honesty, and not taking my money for something he doesn't think he can help with. • Acceptance:I brought up a theory that some kind of acceptance of our situation would help tremendously for both of us. For my wife, I think of my non-belief like a bruise. Every time she sees a couple who are friends of ours and is reminded that we don't have that kind of relationship anymore... I think of it as someone whispering in her ear, "You don't have that anymore, your husband isn't a believer" or the like. Because the situation is so raw, it's like a bruise and it hurts to get poked. This leads to tears and upsetness. I have mine, as well. I get quite defensive when challenged or when I think others think something is wrong with me, that I'm stupid, or unjustified, etc. in my non-belief. I'm not comfortable in my "new skin." I suggested to the counselor that "true acceptance" would produce the same reaction to these religious situations as being told that the sky is blue. They are simply a fact of life and are what they are. Maybe my view was too simplistic and the sky will never have the emotional impact of changed beliefs in a relationship, but nevertheless I thought that something like this would help a lot. Or, if not (and the counselor didn't seem to agree with my model but I don't recall him suggesting a different one at the time)... something that could help give the emotions some cushion in these situations so that they weren't as "charged" as they currently are for us both. • I'm sure some other things came up, but I'm not thinking of them right now. These were the biggies We've been to two counseling sessions so far. The last one went quite well also. We discussed how things go when I'm attending something religious. I talked about how it was awkward for me to see all these people we both know and how my wife typically does not empathize with me but typically tells my why the events shouldn't be awkward, which gets me upset. We also talked about a conversation we had which went very, very well. My wife talked about an experience she had in her woman's group in which she didn't think she had shared her thoughts very well, and I mainly asked a lot of questions to better understand why she felt like she did, what she thought the cause might be, and how she might avoid that happening in the future. While apparently I made the classic mistake of actually trying to help her fix the situation... she nevertheless really, really enjoyed that we had the long discussion. I talked about how I think I share my thoughts constantly with her but how I don't think she does the same with me. I said that I really wanted to know what was going on in her head and life but that it just didn't seem like she was motivated to share much unless I actually asked and kept the conversation going. She shared that it's usually that I'm busy and she doesn't want to bother me for fear of me getting annoyed. Fair enough! I do think that most of the times when I share, it's when I track her down and start a conversation no matter what she's doing, or over some common event like dinner in which I dominate the conversation with respect to time. And, yes, when she interrupts me woodworking or on my computer, she usually gets a sigh of impatience. I told our counselor that the "short sighted me" is definitely impatient, but that the "big picture me" needs no convincing, whatsoever, that communication and listening to my wife is extremely important (hence me being aware that I already want my wife to share with me but don't feel like she does as much as I'd like). Anyway, my homework was to schedule time to talk so that it was not an interruption but a planned activity and hers was to simply hear me if I said something was going to be awkward to attend. If he hadn't moved right into the next appointment scheduling, I would have added that I could do a better job of not being a pain in the ass at such events... not only are they awkward, but I make it far more obvious than I need to that I don't want to go (or be there when we're actually there). I guess I am still a little kid at heart... ---( Kids )--- This is still a recurring theme. We somewhat pendulum swung since the last time. Originally, my wife felt very strongly that she wanted to raise our children Catholic. I didn't like that idea. I discussed this in my last post when I said: The alternatives? She insists on raising our children Christian and me having no say. Or I insist that she doesn't even teach them about her faith while I only teach them secular/naturalist principles that can be established via science. Both of these are win-lose scenarios, but I hypothesize that these types of situations will actuall kill the marriage long term. I honestly don't know if I could stick around were I in a relationship where my spouse literally asked me to keep my mouth shut about something I put so much work into for no other reason than she believed in it. I equally don't expect she'd put up very well with me telling her to keep something extremely important to her completely to herself and to never speak of it. I still think that some kind of agreement to teach only universally agreed up on and proven foundations of human knowledge (science, logic, philosophy, mathematics, inquiry, etc.) while teaching them about (not as fact) various religions makes the most sense. About a month ago (or perhaps less), this came up again and she said that she wasn't planning on raising our kids Catholic. I was about speechless. I couldn't believe it. She said that she had decided that if our kids asked her what something was or what she was doing (she prays in front of them and we have various religious artifacts around our house) that she would teach them about such things/actions but not teach them such things as facts. Wow! Fast forward a few weeks and she's back to really wanting to raise them Catholic. We got into a pretty good argument over this that was quite similar to the others we've had, which brings me to setting aside an entire section toward it... ---( Belief based "right of way" )--- So... spouses hold mutually exclusive (mostly) beliefs x and y. Who wins? What do you teach the kids? My wife quite often returns to the statement that she really wants to raise the children Catholic because... she thinks it's really important. I remind her quite often that this issue is quite important to me as well and am uncomfortable with raising them Catholic because I don't know what kind of hindrance to free thinking this will produce in the future. My wife, however, is quite pained by the fact that she values her faith so much but might not be able to share it with our children. She expressed that she just wanted to be able to share the faith with them so much that it made her miserable thinking about suppressing that desire. I don't know if I helped or hurt the situation by beginning to ask child-like questions... - Who is Jesus? Jesus is god's son. - Who is Jesus' father? Jesus has two fathers. - Which one got his mom pregnant? God did. - Where did the sperm come from? There was no sperm. - Really? How did a baby come about without sperm? Hey -- our daughter would never ask these questions! - Fine... Why did god flood the earth and kill everyone? She wouldn't ask that either. You get the point. Or maybe you don't? My point, I guess, was that when my wife says that she wants to teach our daughter(s) the faith, I take that to mean a kind of generalized feel-good theology that makes a kids eyes wide about how awesome god is, how he can do everything, that Jesus is a super-hero for saving the world, and how god is just so darn ooey-gooey filled with buttery goodness that we should love him more than our night-time teddy bear, popsicles, or bath time. No one teaches their children "the faith" -- they get them started with a completely blind opinion of someone, and that opinion is completely formed by the parents. Anyway, then my wife brought up something quite interesting... my original promise was that I would raise my children Catholic. I promised this in our wedding. She suggested that this gave her more weight in pursuing that end than my say in some other direction and asked what I thought of that. I'm still working through it but have two ideas: • First, unfortunately I'd have to say that I made the promise in ignorance. I'm not sure how else to say it than that. I made the promise under the belief that Christianity was true and that it was the right way in which to raise children. What do I do now that I don't believe it? I'm not sure how a prior promise, made completely upon the foundations of a belief can be binding if such a belief system is now believed to be false. I tried to illustrate this with her by asking what she would do if hypothetically, Catholicism was definitely true, but at one point she thought Mormonism was true and made a promise to raise her children as Mormons prior to discovering that Catholicism was true. I think she actually might have said she'd still be obligated to raise her children Mormons. I disagree. Or what if you promised to kill some enemy of the US as a soldier and then discovered that you had been set up to kill someone purely for financial gain -- would be obligated? I'm assuming that most of us would say, "no" to the second. Maybe the fact that it involves more of an "evil" consequence strikes us stronger than simply two beliefs in the same category. But the second has a similarity to my position -- I literally think that raising children to believe something as true may forever affect their ability to choose otherwise in the future. • Secondly, I think that one could view a promise as having underlying reducible components, such as "it is right to raise one's children to believe in the truth." In that sense, promising to raise them Catholic is really a continuation of the underlying component. The one I listed, coupled with "Catholicism is the truth" leads to the conclusion "it is right to raise one's children to believe Catholicism." If such a view of promises can be true... then not believing Catholicism is true undercuts the conclusion and thus it is no longer binding. Perhaps others will disagree, but that's how I've been thinking about this As a side note, I'll still add that despite not having read as many books as I would have liked to... I've still busted my a** over belief and theology more than almost everyone I know in my circles. I find it somewhat insulting and frustrating to be told that one has more of a right to proceed with instructing a child on something which is believed, essentially, out of ignorance. I don't think I'd say that I've even read myself "out of ignorance" at this point, so I have a hard time believing others who try to convince me that they have justified their stance. Most of them believe based on personal experience or because someone they respect and have confidence knows more than them believes and thus those respected persons can't possibly be wrong, which leads to a confidence-umbrella provided when basking in their shadow. ---( Conclusions )--- I think that about wraps it up. I think we've become more stable, but I still think we "stumble" into both bad times and good. I'd like to find a more predictable "recipe" for marriage success given our situation and be able to achieve the goals listed in the counseling section. I also would like to find some resolve about children. What do you think? What is your view on the question of "right of way" based on prior promises and beliefs no longer believed? Lastly, I've recently entertained the idea of stopping to learn about religion altogether and simply focus on self-improvement, loving, doing, and living. This could be an unbelievable time-suck and frustration. So far it has been. I know a lot more, but I can't say that my study has produce a tangible positive return quite yet. I'm thinking I may go hard toward the truth-seeker challenge again and then may quite reading about religion altogether for quite a while and simply focus on living my life. I guess I've obviously been doing that somewhat all along, but I've felt a bit paralyzed to apply principles without knowing what they should be based on (secularism or Christianity). Maybe the time has come to take up my desire to get into meditation, finding a practical set of moral principles/moral system, etc. rather than floating in the wind. I'm still sorting that out, but thought I'd add these thoughts in as well for any comments about how you have or have't found balance, what you think the end result of your studies will be, etc. Where are we going with these long book lists and taxing drives to read tons of blogs and expend effort in commenting? What's the result? My goal is certainty but I don't know if I'll ever get there. If it's not realistic and no matter how much energy I put toward this I'll never attain it... perhaps I should cut my losses and develop other relationships or skills instead? Thanks for reading -- I realize that these posts on marriage and life in general can be quite long. ## 20 February 2011 ### Recent woodworking [2 of 3]: cribbage board Continuing on from my last post, I wanted to post some pictures of another recent project. I made my first cribbage board for a friend of mine's birthday and was really pleased. I played cribbage with my father-in-law over Christmas and got the idea to make him one for his birthday (which I will). My very, very good friend showed some interest in cribbage shortly after while were were talking about it and, I thought I'd get my feet wet by making him one first for his birthday. I looked around for some ideas and got most of my ideas from the designs of a guy named Minnesota Mitch. I created a pattern using LaTeX and TikZ and designed my dimensions around that. When playing with my father-in-law, we were actually playing four handed cribbage, which is where you play on teams of two. My wife's grandma and I were on the same team, and my wife's siter's husband (brother-in-law-in-law?) was playing with my father-in-law. There were a couple of instances where I couldn't believe how far ahead we were and it made me wonder if grandma had started pegging the wrong direction (when playing on a board with two tracks of 30 holes each, you go down and back twice -- if you were supposed to be doing down and suddenly think you're on your way back already... you can suddenly have quite the advantage!). Due to this, I decided to put in some helpful yet decorative inlays to indicate track direction, up the outside, down the inside. Without further adieu, here's the final product: The middle inlay was completely unfinished and rough on top when I glued it in. I was incredibly pleased at how figured it ended up being when I sanded it down! I made an end cap and threaded receiver on the lathe and inserted into the end of the board. There is a deep drilled hole behind it for peg storage: I need to make special mention of the pegs here. I got them from tchristy0 on ebay. I just searched for "cribbage pegs" on ebay and found some called "Irish crown-top" pegs and just loved them. They come in a set of six, three brass and three stainless steel and just look amazing in the board. Better yet, they were only$5.00!

A peg close up:

They are tapered and probably fit down about 3/8" of an inch, leaving about 3/4" of an inch above the surface.

I got started on the board kind of late and had to make the holes and peg storage "chamber" pretty much "blindly" since the pegs hadn't come in the mail yet. I can now report that all six fit into a 31/64" diameter hole that was 2.5" deep. To make it, I actually drilled a 3" deep hole 31/64" in dia and then used a 5/8" end mill to counterbore it 0.5" deep. The counterbore then received the metal insert I made via woodglue (after using a punch to mar up the outside of the metal a bit for some texture for the glue).

Anyway, the board turned out fantastically and the pegs were just an awesome touch at the end. I don't play much cribbage, nor have I surveyed the cribbage peg landscape before this. I had no idea you could get such cool looking pegs for one's projects! I highly recommend tchristy0's selection -- he has quite a large one (Christy's Cribbage Supply). I was also incredibly impressed that he included a handwritten note in my package, wishing that 2011 would be my "29 year". I'll be buying a lot more pegs from him in the future!

Lastly, thanks to where I work... I happen to have access to a CO2 laser which came in quite handy :)

Maybe I can sell these for money for all the books I want to read. That and solid state hard drives, tools, and whatever else :)

### Recent woodworking [1 of 3]: Christmas picture frame

I've become somewhat of the woodworking hobbyist over the last few months, mostly due to my dad's gift of a table saw over Thanksgiving (early Christmas present) when they visited us from Florida. As you can see from my most recent story post, I'm somewhat of the artsy-craftsy type. I'm not sure if that's atypical of the analytical/engineering type, or not!

Anyway, I thought I'd share some of my recent projects. I conceived of the idea of a picture frame for my wife for Christmas sometime shortly after Thanksgiving (kind of a late start!) and had a vague idea of making it from bands of two different woods. Kind of a layered construction. Being an absolute woodworking novice, I was hoping to find some instruction as to how to cut the thin strips the best but didn't even know what to google. For some reason I must have searched "inlays" because I found this instructables post. That changed the whole game. I quite love guitars and happen to have a handmade one. I'm familiar with beautiful inlay work but never knew how they did it. Once I went through that post, I could't believe that the method shown was how they actually did it. Moreso, I wondered if I could do it... and what better to try on than the picture frame! I found one more instrumental video by The Wood Whisperer that was absolutely what I needed to be confident I could do this. It's HERE.

I think my original design was going to be a single frame -- four sides and a picture in the middle. To pull of an inlay, however, I needed somewhere to put it. I adjusted my design to be a two-up 8x10" frame -- two pictures side by side with a wide divider between them where the inlay would go.

I went and got some wood from a nearby lumber store. I didn't really need much, and wood can be expensive. After wandering through their short/wide scrap bins and not finding anything long enough and not wanting to buy a full board (8-12" wide x maybe 10' long which would have been a lot), one of the employees showed me their rip scrap (cutting a board long-ways leaves a long, skinny piece as the excess). They were perfect -- he gave me a piece of maple, a piece of walnut, and a small piece of mahogany (for the inlay) for 6! I got to work. I put the main pieces of wood together with the following pattern: 1/8" walnut, 1/4" maple, 1/8" walnut, 1" maple, and 1/8" walnut. Here's the pieces all glued up and in the rough layout: I also wanted a very thin strip of wood between each piece of walnut and maple, just for an added effect. I think it drew from my love of guitar woodworking, where thin strips of alternating materials/colors are often used for the banding around the body of the guitar or fretboard. I had the idea to use iron-on veneer strips, intended for covering up the edge of plywood: With the rough layout done... onto my first drawings (left) and final design for my inlay attempt: The next step was to cut the design out into pieces and get it traced on the middle piece of the frame: I also went out and got a coping saw and, after tracing the outlines onto the inlay wood, I started cutting my inlays: The next step is to double-side-tape the inlays onto the receiving wood and trace them with an X-acto knife to make nice outlines to follow when routing. I have two of the leaves traced here and ready for routing! After some careful routing and cleanup work with the X-acto knife, I had two leaves (hickory) and the tip of the flower in: Some more work brought me to this point: A quick note on the darkened edges you might notice. In the Wood Whisperer video I linked to above, he talks about "sand shading." This is a technique where sand is heated in a vessel of some kind and the inlay piece is inserted into it. The hot sand creates a gradient charring of the wood to create a shadow-like effect. I used that on my petals to give them some depth and was pretty happy with the results. Well, after one more petal and a loooooooot of work on getting the 45 degree corners cut and everything glued together, I had a heck-u-va Christmas present. Here she is: The whole package: An inlay close-up: Another: And a close up of a corner, showing the banding I was talking about: There you have it. The back of the pieces have material removed along their inner edges so that a piece of 8x10 glass fits right in. Still have to get pictures in it and then I'll use some little "tabs" I found at Rockler Woodworking to secure the picture, glass, and probably some thin cardboard in place. I'm going to pick up a "sawtooth" shape hanging mount at some point and get that attached, too. Obviously... the frame isn't finished finished. But the hard part is, by far, over. Just thought I'd share the project. ## 19 February 2011 ### imgur, my new image hosting solution I'm not sure what the rest of you use, but I have been using various google services for my image hosting. I started with google sites but then switched to google docs due to it allowing me to arrange things into "collections" (folders) as well as set individual permissions rather than having to have the entire site public. My temper has been flaring as of late, however. It seems that no matter what I do with the permissions (setting "anyone with the link can view" or "public on the web" or checking the "anyone can edit without signing in")... the image links keep asking for logins. When I email, this is just an annoyance for those trying to view them. On a blog, however, they just show up blank. It's hard to test these, as I need to log into google docs, get the links open in a browser, then log out, quite my browser, and then re-open to see if the links are still viewable. If not... log back into google docs, fiddle with settings and start again. Well, enough with that. I have settled on imgur. I think I actually ran into it via one of Luke's News Bits posts at CSA but I can't find the post. Anyway, the site is ridiculously simple. The links are amazingly short compared to the ridiculously long google docs links (though, I suppose I could pipe them though something like tiny url). In reading through their FAQ, things seem pretty straightforward. They cut down sizes to about 1MB upon upload, keep your images as long as they get 1 view every three months, and you can upload as many as you want. I dig it. Oh, the other thing that has irked me with google docs is that I have proven that after fiddling with permissions, they change the link address to an image. This means if you email someone a picture, realize there was an access issue and then change it... the link you sent is useless. With imgur, you can edit the image and the link remains the same. I'm loving it. P.S. What do you use and are you satisfied with it? Have I been hassling myself with google docs unnecessarily all this time? ## 10 February 2011 ### What, exactly, is belief? I've had a lot of conversations with friends about my situation and the nature of "belief" seems to come up quite a bit. I'd like to re-create a conversation I recently had with a friend in which he was quite adamant about the nature of choice in belief. In one discussion, we had this exchange (paraphrased, but quite accurately): Me: I wouldn't describe my situation as a choice, exactly. I'd say that it's more like I've simply begun to ask questions, looked around, and what I've learned combined with however my mind receives the data has formed my non-belief. I'd say that I've more been led or brought to a state rather than looked at a fork in the road and freely chosen an outcome. I'm not convinced that there's much choice involved in belief. --- Him: Sure there is. --- Me: Well, let me put it this way. What if I asked if it was possible for you to choose to believe in Islam right here, right now. Do you think it's possible? Maybe... but I don't think it would really mean anything to you. Do you agree? --- Him: No. I could choose to believe in Islam right now if I wanted to. --- Me: Really? But what would it mean to you? Would it mean anything? --- Him: Absolutely. I'd start reading the Koran and going to services. --- Me: But those are external things, not belief. Do you think you could really choose to believe in Islam right now? --- Him: Absolutely. I can choose to believe anything. --- Me: Hmmm. What about this: could you choose to believe that the sky is green? --- Him: Yes. I can choose to believe anything. I have free will. --- Me: But somewhere inside you're not going to be able to ignore the fact that your eyes see blue. On some level, wouldn't those just be words or a statement? You couldn't possibly actually believe it, could you? --- Him: No. Absolutely, I could. I have the will to believe anything. I pretty much couldn't believe my ears. Perhaps it's obvious that I strongly and entirely disagree. Put so strongly as he did (my hunch is that it was purely or mostly out of defensiveness, not as the result of an actual cognitive processing exercise), belief essentially means nothing. If one can literally believe that the sky is green simply by choosing it... then what does it mean to say that he believes in Jesus Christ as Lord? Less intensely, I also had a discussion with a very close friend recently about the more "subtle" nature of belief-choice interaction. I re-proposed my theory that "belief" is more like a definition of a state, comprised of available facts, my biases, whatever causes certain interpretations/reactions to those facts, etc. The inputs are what they are... I'm the "black box"... and "belief" is what pops out. The objections that he kept bringing up were along the lines of scenarios where people seem to make a decision against the intuitive implication of certain facts because they choose to, say, take someone's word. For example, I tell you that I have a dragon in my garage with a straight face. You weight the facts/background information (having no experience of dragons, believing strongly that they are only mythical creatures, thinking that even in mythical portrayals they are too big for my garage, etc.) but choose to believe anyway because you think that my trustworthiness is that good. But this isn't really choosing for an arbitrary reason to believe. All that's happning is you, the black box, are weighting my trustworthiness against the improbability of the statement... and you find me more believable. I also theorize a few other items: • Many times when we say we're choosing to believe someone despite a lack of supporting evidence or in the face of contradicting evidence... I think that we're really saying that we're okay with choosing to act in a certain way. This isn't belief in my book. We're "going along" with someone's pleadings or insistence simply because the action doesn't require that much investment... but in our minds, we're not convinced. • On that note, I think we have a far lower barrier for "belief" or "belief-based-investigation" when the stakes are low. Relatively meaningless propositions about what someone did during their weekend or at work today pass through the BS filter and get integrated with our network of beliefs. There's nothing at stake to investigate. • Obviously, the converse is the opposite. When extremely high risks are at stake, we're far more cautious. Just "going along" with a dragon-believing-friend is one thing. Him telling you to bet your life on its existence and then holding a gun to your head as you prepare to open the garage door is far different. What does all this mean in the context of something like believing or not believing Christianity? I'm not exactly sure! For one, however, I'd at least like to put forth that I don't think my non-belief is anywhere near chosen to the degree that believers would like. I can't believe the number of conversations about this that have skirted the "choice" issue when it comes to belief -- why did I choose to go down this path in the first place? Why can't I just choose to suppose Christianity is true and then research from within the framework of belief? And so on. Perhaps I'm just self-deluded, but this is not how I've experienced my journey at all. I just started reading and found myself troubled by the fact that for every issue I began reading about, I found that the arguments/propositions/facts of non-believers struck me as far more likely than the apologetic-hoop-jumping I would read on the other side. Of course, it took a heck of a long time (nine years) for my radar to even get set off to the fact that Christianity might not be true! Prior to whatever recipe brought about The Quest, I would say that my belief in Christianity was not chosen, either. My background beliefs, environment which constantly reinforced that Christianity was true and real, and my interpretation of the facts (which were nearly unanimous in arguing for Christianity) led me to continue believing for nine years that Christianity was absolutely true. But I wasn't choosing that. I would say that I was choosing to live my life according to that belief -- praying, going to Mass very often, frequenting confession and adoration, etc. -- but I'm not sure what choice had to do with the belief in the first place. I'll end by saying that I think we can indirectly influence beliefs. To work on biases, irrational reactions to reasonable arguments and evidence in favor of a contrary position, and being aware of both sides of an issue and as much information about these sides as possible all should help one's belief be aligned with "what is." I still don't think you can choose that belief, but you can help work on the input stream (evidence, arguments, information) and the "black box" (you: biases, tendencies, gut reactions, intuitions, etc.) to help make sure that what comes out the backside is as accurate as possible. What do you think? Do you "choose" belief? ## 07 February 2011 ### Cumulative Case: My Story (4 of 5) This is part of a series in which I present a cumulative case for why I don't believe in god. The series index is here. This particular post presents my personal story as background information and is one of five parts. Part 1 covered my early life through some of high school. Part 2 and Part 3 present my experience at a Twelve Step boarding school and initial conversion. This posts documents my time at college, further conversion, and early marriage. Part five will present the events surrounding my deconversion. --- Edit/Preamble: This post got looooooong. My apologies if that's an issue. I'd like to state upfront why I put so much detail into my story. For one, I especially put detail into this post because I want to paint an accurate picture of what kind of believer I was: one sold out for God. I lived an attempt to be saturated by the Gospel. I believe I was a "Real(TM) Christian." I also want to present some of the more "miraculous" things that happened to me because I think it would be dishonest to gloss over them. If I am to part ways with my former worldview, those occurrences deserve reinterpretation. Perhaps in the future, I'll attempt to write where I stand on those events at present. In any case, I at least added a bunch of pictures to support my God-centered life, so the scenery should at least be nicer than my previous blobs of test. Good luck in making it through. Please also comment if the picture sizes is a huge pain (I can make thumbnails for the post body and full sized pictures if you click) or if Google docs is not showing the pictures or asking you to log in to see the pictures below. I've been having issues with that... --- Time to pick up the story again. This one will feature lots of pictures and I think this will be the most enjoyable to read of all my posts. When I left off, I had just described my initial conversion experience. As you'll recall, I had become Catholic (from non-faith) through RCIA, but that was purely to fit in and done in the midst of a fairly tumultuous time of life. My "saving experience" at boarding school was the first time I began to take faith seriously. I wanted to live for God. My life became God-centered. My thoughts and motivations were about pleasing Him and living out the fact that He had given me a chance I did not deserve. There was a parish priest who was a huge part of my conversion. He gave a homily at Mass one Sunday evening about an Eastern Orthodox icon featuring Jesus standing on the gates of hell and pulling Adam and Eve from their tombs, where they were waiting for his resurrection to free humanity. It's known as "The Pascha" and one version is HERE. I fell in love with the symbolism, probably in part due to how fantastic the priest's homily was. Jesus trampled the gates, broke loose all of the locks and chains (which are shown strewn about in the icon), and offers his hands to even those who brought about humanity's enslavement to death and sin at the beginning. The message: No one is too lost to be saved; all are offered redemption. It was beautiful and for my next birthday, I requested that this icon be my gift. It still hangs on the wall in my room (along with Lazarus, St. Michael, and an icon of an angel) On the back of it, I wrote the meaning of the icon for me: Yes, I'm an engineer with an artsy side (which will only become more obvious in this post!). In any case, I finished out my semester of working as a staff member at the boarding school and went on a pilgrimage to Lourdes, France, with a small group of graduates. It was fantastic. We were there for almost two weeks and worked as members of what's known as the "Hospitalite" -- a monstrous organization of volunteers who, essentially, help Lourdes run. There are six million visitors a year, many of whom are sick, and the Hospitalite loads and unloads them from the planes, trains, and buses they arrive on, wheels and/or carries them to and from the baths, Masses, and other sites, helps organize the evening Rosary Procession (all the little lights are people holding candles). I got to assist the sick into the baths (called the piscines) where many pilgrims immerse themselves in the water believed to have healing abilities. It was an intense time filled with much prayer at the grotto where Mary is believed to have appeared to the young St. Bernadette. Following my time at Lourdes, I went home for the summer before I was to start college. I got a job doing landscaping as well to keep busy. I don't recall an awful lot from that summer other than it being a bit frustrating to be back home with my parents. I think after leaving at 16 and not returning until two and a half years later took a bit of a toll. I recall really hating when things would be asked of me that I thought were below my newfound maturity. I wanted equality and think anything that felt like they were dealing with the snapshot version from years past grated on me quite heavily. Then, off to college it was. The University of St. Thomas was wonderful. I studied Mechanical Engineering, and lived (as said in Part 3) a house with other devout Catholics who were part of Saint Pauls Outreach (SPO), an evangelism-focused organization in St. Paul that has chapters (i.e. student clubs) at several local colleges/universities. It was a bit of a shock for me, though. My current faith life had been very "traditional", and I soon found out that SPO was highly charismatic. In other words, they prayed in tongues, prayed "expressively" (hands raised, dancing, spontaneous prayers out loud), believed in healings, gave prophecies, etc. It was a little weird at my first event to vaguely recall the leader saying something like, "Let's pray," me bowing my head in response, and then to hear everyone around me start praying out loud very... passionately. I sat that one out. Eventually, however, I grew to love charismatic prayer. It seemed to make sense (at least in how it was explained to me). The Psalms feature fantastic examples of using one's whole being to pray -- clapping, dancing, singing, raising one's voice, etc. We have been given bodies and find it natural to express ourselves with them. Why not do the same for God, who gave us our bodies? It also was an outlet for the emotional side, I found. I had extreme gratitude and felt a need to be very strongly devoted and humble before God. Praying in my own words seemed more satisfying than using something like the Our Father. I became quite a committed member of the group. I went to their prayer meetings, participated in small groups, helped lead events, tried some "recruiting", and went on the retreats. One event I want to relate has to do with my first retreat, which occurred about six months into my first year with SPO. It was called a "Fan into Flame" retreat, named after 1 Timothy 1:6. The retreat featured about 6-8 talks which essentially walked participants through salvation history. God created perfect, we fell and are without hope, which is why God sent Jesus. Jesus' life, death and resurrection brings about an offering of salvation, and through acceptance of that gift we are able to have new life in Jesus that is made alive through his gift of the Holy Spirit. The retreat climaxes at the Saturday night prayer meeting where participants are "baptized in the Spirit." Essentially, you make a profession of faith and then retreat leaders lay hands on you and pray that the Holy Spirit be released in your life. The profession of faith is much like a renewal of baptismal vows where one is asked if they believe in God the creator, that Jesus is the son of God and rose from the dead, and if they reject Satan and all his works and empty promises. For the first time (I had said these promises before), I felt a twinge of doubt about whether I believed that Jesus had risen from the dead. It wasn't a "real" doubt -- I just noticed for the first time that I wasn't sure I had ever really swallowed that truth. I told this to the prayer leader and he told me to pray the verse from Mark 9:24: "Lord, I believe; help my unbelief." I did that repeatedly but it didn't seem to help. They finished praying over me with no real result and I went back to my chair and the doubt began to envelop me -- did Jesus rise? Is the Bible true? Is God real? All kinds of things. Everything had been yanked out from under me. But, I need to point out something odd about those doubts. They were never doubts that actually wondered if they were true (religion/Catholicism/Christianity was false). I recall distinctly that they were all essentially doubts that I thought implied something was wrong with me. I didn't actually question whether everything was true... just that my doubting meant I wasn't getting some piece of the puzzle. The rest of the retreat was miserable. Tons of people shared that night and the next day during "Glory Story" time that they had been brought to God-given uncontrollable laughter, been given the gift of [praying in] tongues, a gift of prophecy, and the like. I had been given the gift of... doubt? Over the next two or three weeks, I became obsessed with trying to fix my doubt. I strongly recall not debating if any competing religions were true. I was sure of Catholicism due to the surety of those around me... I just didn't understand why I didn't get it. Particularly, I wanted to understand why we earned death through original sin and why Jesus' death fixed that. It was suggested that I read Stephen Clark's Reddemer, a hefty volume on this particular subject. I know Steve personally and have met with him post-doubt. He is insanely knowledgeable and his book seemed to help at the time, but I was still confused. After about three weeks, I was talking with the leader of the house I was living in who was a probably 15 years my senior about my dilemma. Despite the seemingly intellectual nature of my issue, I think it really came down to the fact that I didn't feel inside what I saw externally in those around me. I thought that if I really "got it"... then I would also feel the charismatic excitement and jubilation they seemed to be saturated with. The house leader seemed to sense that I was pretty torn up about this, and I was. I felt like I was broken somehow and was extremely frustrated that I couldn't "learn myself out of this." He said that faith was a gift and that I couldn't will it to come about. I was relieved on one hand (not something wrong with me), but confused on the other (when would this gift decide to give itself??). He said we could pray for that gift, and so we did. He said some prayer over me that I don't recall, and then I just balled my eyes out while proclaiming that I wanted to know Jesus personally and just knew he was there but couldn't find him. I remember expressing that through those three weeks I just knew that I could live powerfully for Him if I could just bypass my doubt. This moment of prayer would fuel my next several years of Christian living. I felt tremendous relief and consolation in that prayer and took that to have been me experiencing the risen Lord personally. I no longer doubted his resurrection, as I believed he was clearly alive and well. I became bolder in prayer (out loud, expressive, etc.), my prayer shifted to more of a discussion and constant awareness of His presence. I attempted to prayer constantly. I was set on fire. So it would be from the spring of 2004 until Christmas of 2010. I lived in those household programs my entire four years at college, right up until the summer before I got married in December 2007. I became a Student Missionary, which meant that I gave a certain number of hours each week to help explicitly with the mission of evangelization at St. Thomas -- event administration and setup, setting up coffee and handing out ads for upcoming events, giving talks, leading praise and worship, etc. I attended all the retreats and even led/assisted with some. I gave up my only income -- summer work -- in part or in full to participate in the longer summer training programs SPO offered. I was sold out for the mission. Granted, I had my issues. I often debated about whether it was in fact a good idea to give up practical needs like money for theological training. But I always gave in for the mission. It seemed like the trusting thing to do. In fact, at one point when I was out several thousand for a particular semester, my parents suddenly said they would give me a no-interest loan to cover my debt! On another occasion, I had been praying about tithing and spent hours trying to figure out how much I needed to donate to make up for all the times in my life I hadn't tithed. I arrived at750 (I'm positive I rounded up). I made the decision to be generous to the Lord and wrote out two checks for two different causes. $750 was about all I had to my name. I walked out of my room and checked the mail. There was a letter from my grandma, from whom I had also borrowed money from, in the amount of$4,000 for school. I always half-hoped that a letter from her would announce the early forgiveness of my debt to her, but it was always just a nice card or letter. I opened up the letter this time, however, and there in front of my eyes was the agreement I had signed and sent her, signed by her and annotated, "Paid in full." Not only that, but apparently she was "liquidating" and sent each of her grand children $5,000. She had cancelled my$4,000 debt and included a check for \$1,000. This was minutes after deciding to give away all I had to tithe. Unbelievable, huh?

During another extremely brief bit of doubt, I did a classic "Bible-flip-open" and landed at the the closing of Matthew 28 where Jesus announces, "... and behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Seemed too perfect.

Many things like this happened. Perfect scriptures, perfect "prophetic words" given, perfect song played at a prayer meeting, perfect conversation at the perfect time. It really was an amazing time.

Right after my "meeting of Jesus" in 2004, I met my future wife. We started dating shortly after -- probably too soon, and definitely against the counsel of those in the outreach. "If you're not ready to be married, you shouldn't be dating" was the common prescription. I think it's good advice to this day. In any case, we were quite serious very fast, but immaturity (at least mine) was also quite quick to surface. Awesome highs, horrid lows was the defining characteristic. I thought she was wonderful and would be brought to tears at the thought that God might entrust such a beautiful soul for me to care for. I made her this the following Thanksgiving while I was home on break:

Cheesy, I know. It now hangs in our kitchen. We dated for about a year and then decided to break indefinitely. There was no [stated] expectation that we would get back together. I always hoped for it, but we both knew that to grow we couldn't crutch along thinking that no matter what happened, we would end up back safe and sound in a relationship. That began the most miserable year of my life, though this past one has debatably topped it. I was in anguish. Primarily, SPO taught a process called "discernment" -- discerning one's vocation, or call, based on God's will rather than assuming it was one particular path or another. In layman's terms, does God want you to be married, a religious (priest, nun, brother), or "single for the Lord" (which essentially means to profess lifelong chastity but to serve God's kingdom from the position of laity). I had never done this, and it gnawed at me while dating the more I heard talks about it. What if God wanted me to be a priest, I would wonder? I should mention that the summer after my sophomore year, I returned to Lourdes for another pilgrimage with the graduates from the boarding school and my favorite priest. It was fantastic again. I loved unloading the trains. You were lifting the sick and disabled from the train cars about four feet up down to the platform so they could be wheeled to buses and taken to the pilgrimage site. You were lifting humans from fairly high heights again and again, but I never felt tired. The joy on their faces was fantastic. You were the first person they saw on what might be the best trip of their entire lives. It was also humbling to see individuals in physically worse shape display such joy when contrasting that to my own negativity despite being perfectly healthy.

In any case, several "oddities" occurred on that trip -- people asking me if I was a priest, or suggesting it -- that added to my confusion about the "discernment" thing. That, along with the increasingly bad valleys of immature emotional displays (stupid fights more frequently and longer reconciliation times) led us to split for a time of growth. Nothing ever swayed me from the hope I saw in our relationship. She was a fantastic potential wife -- great with kids, unselfish, attentive to the needs of others, etc. We also (in our highs) got along unbelievably well. There was no one I'd rather spend my time with. But... I knew I had a lot of things that contributed to the "muck." I spent that entire year apart trying to "detach" from her. I thought that to truly grow and seek what God wanted, I needed to be completely free from any desire to be together again. I prayed for God to remove my attraction to her, to make it clear if we were never to be together again, avoiding her, etc. It was awful. I never got an answer. I would have rather had God just tell me I'd never be in a relationship with her again and cry for a week and be done than go on not knowing for a whole year. Eventually, I found some solace. I was particularly inspired by reading Frances de Sales, Finding God's Will for You. He was the first person I ever heard talk about the integral nature of passion and desire in God's will. I always thought my passion was to be crushed. de Sales made the point that God has no intention of trying to constantly combat our own passion and desire -- He's the one that gave them to you. John Eldredge's Wild at Heart contained a similar message. Essentially, don't sin... but otherwise, do what you want.

Toward the end of that year, I embarked specifically on a time of intentional discernment. I spent most of the year just trying to work on myself, develop virtue and habits of daily prayer, etc. A year from when we parted, I specifically started praying about marriage vs. single/religious life. I set a date to decide -- I picked the eve of my Confirmation saint's feast day, July 31st, the feast day of St. Ignatius of Loyola.

I went on to ask my future wife on our first "re-date" on September 2nd, 2006. On Feburary 25th, 2007, after a fancy steak dinner, I proposed from bended knee in a chapel filled with candles via a song I sang while playing guitar. I don't think it could have been any better:

I also made another signature art piece out of a picture of her newly ringed hand and a small bit of my proposal song lyrics for her birthday a few weeks later:

We were married on December 1st, 2007 and had our honeymoon daughter on September 15th, 2008. I worked for Saint Paul's Outreach for my first year out of college. I was fairly sure I was going to end up in engineering (my degree), but wanted to serve God in this capacity while we were [shortly] childless and able to sacrifice financially like that (I received a stipend... but it wasn't much). My wife was the Executive Secretary for the same organization and worked up until a month before our daughter was born. I landed a job at a fantastic company as an engineer and started on September 2nd, not two weeks before out daughter was born! We had morning prayer in our apartment, prayed together, kept attending various religious events and retreats together, and so on. I strove for daily prayer and holiness. We wanted to be saints together. A kind of "parent" organization to SPO features a community of Catholic families who are also charismatic and get together bi-weekly to do praise and worship and listen to talks. It would be complicated to describe it all, but just think extremely committed religious people who do small groups, lots and lots of prayer, and pretty much have as their social circle those in this community. We somewhat passed through SPO into that group and discerned becoming lifelong members. I publicly committed to be a member of that group for the rest of my life along with my wife the summer of 2009.

I think I need to bring this train to a halt -- it's getting harder and harder to figure out where to end it! This has obviously been quite a monstrous post and I think I'll end up bumping things to a definite 5th part to describe my onset of doubt and may even break this post up so that it's more digestible. Thanks if you stuck around this long. Maybe its irrelevant, but I at least enjoy reading about other people's lives, especially those who have entered a time of similar doubt. Perhaps some will enjoy my story as well.

Here's one last artsy piece to finish things off... For our 1st anniversary, I engraved our wedding vows into the picture glass of on of my favorite wedding pictures. Here's the whole thing:

And here's the closeup where you can see the "frosted" calligraphy of our vows in the glass: