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The Elizabeth doctor

The Bing and I have an imaginary friend. She started long ago, when BB was very small. BB would have these odd, looooong tantrums 45-90 minutes. They would begin the usual way, when she was angry about some baby or toddler injustice. But then they morphed and the reason seemed lost. In fact, BB seemed lost. She’d scream, cry and any typical consequence for such rotten behavior seemed ludicrous. Attempting to comfort the lost girl was also no use. Over time, I found two things that were helpful in bringing her back. One was to turn on any her favorite Signing Time DVDs. The music seemed to reach in and pull her out. Another way was to talk about her, but not to her, in front of her. I would talk to one of the cats, quietly and calmly.

Nicky, she’s okay. BB is really mad right now, so she’s crying. But she’s okay and soon she’ll stop crying and talk to us.

But sometimes there wasn’t a cat around, but this way of talking about her being okay, but not directly to her, seemed to help. So, one time I picked up a toy phone and had the same conversation on the phone, just like with Nicky. It worked.

After several times of this, BB would hand me the phone, when she was calm, and I’d talk to our friend, often about BB. I’d talk about our day, about how a BB was doing,… anything really. Sometimes BB would talk on the phone too. One day I asked BB if this person on the phone had a name.

Yes

she said

Elizabeth.

Elizabeth Doctor.

Doctor Elizabeth?

I wondered.

No, Elizabeth Doctor.

And so she is.
We still call her. No more emergency calls over tantrums, these days. I still give updates on BB, but we also check in on her. More often than not, she’s traveling. Recently she was on a long flight, from Australia, I think, but there were no bathrooms on board. Luckily she made it home, though I’m not sure where she lives. She never says and BB is careful not to have her visit. We keep her on the phone. Happily, we keep checking in. I wonder how long this friendship will continue?

Six questions to ask and atheist: Part 3

 When people have embraced atheism, the historical results can be horrific, as in the regimes of Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot who saw religion as the problem and worked to eradicate it?  In other words, what set of actions are consistent with particular belief commitments?  It could be argued, that these behaviors – of the regimes in question – are more consistent with the implications of atheism.  Though, I’m thankful that many of the atheists I know do not live the implications of these beliefs out for themselves like others did!  It could be argued that the socio-political ideologies could very well be the outworking of a particular set of beliefs – beliefs that posited the ideal state as an atheistic one.

When people have embraced religion, the historical results can be horrific, as in the Crusades, Catholics vs. Protestants in Ireland, the Mormon War in America, anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim, anti-Christian, views all over the world, the Salem witch trials, treatment of the American Indians by European settlers in the name of Christianity, 9/11, the War on Terror, the Protestant led Ku Klux Klan, fundamentalist Christian anti-abortion violence,…  Many of those involved in these fights saw the “wrong religion” or atheism as the problem and worked to eradicate it.

My point is that violence is a human trait.  It isn’t correlated with atheism any more than with religion.  It just is.  The creation of in-groups and out-groups, which religions do beautifully, leads to conflict.  Not that atheists aren’t completely capable of creating in-groups and out-groups and fighting.  I watch it play out every day at work, on the Internet, on the playground and religion has nothing to do with it.  Both religious and non-religious people use their beliefs to justify hatred, intolerance, and violence; they also use their beliefs to encourage love, tolerance, and peace.

It could be argued, that these behaviors – of the regimes in question – are more consistent with the implications of atheism.

Yes, it could be, yet I find the argument flawed for the reasons I stated above.  I believe that both Christians and atheists are equally capable of good and terrible acts.

However, this brings me to another issue of ways Christians do hurt others in the name of Christianity. This is far less serious than mass murder, but it’s still a pet peeve of mine. I’m thinking of the Christian desire to “save” others and the terrible things done with this as the goal. Examples include whites taking Native American children to Christian schools, separating them from their families, language, and culture for the goal of making them Christian. Families adopting “heathen” children with the goal of raising them as Christians, saving them from the families and cultures they were born to. Missionaries whose primary goal is to convert rather than help, i.e. the helping is only done as a means to conversion, it isn’t done with respect for differences and simple desire to help.  It also smacks of dishonesty.  I don’t have a problem with missionaries who “preach to the choir” or help others as an expression of their faith with no desire to increase the flock.

Recently, Hubs and I were talking about this problem and I wondered, aloud, if there would ever be a solution.  He said, “sure, an alien invasion to earth.”  By George, that would bring us Earthlings together, wouldn’t it? Oh, maybe not.  We’d probably decide the Muslims, Republicans, atheists, gays (insert preferred outgroup here) brought them.  Darn it?  Why can’t we just get along?

It could be argued that the socio-political ideologies could very well be the outworking of a particular set of beliefs – beliefs that posited the ideal state as an atheistic one.

Happily, in this country, we are all protected, religious and nonreligious alike, to believe and practice what we believe is right.  This includes believing others are wrong, but it does not include the right to legislate belief systems.  I have and will continue to defend the rights of others to believe what they want and I appreciate those who do the same for me.  Sadly, I see many wanting to tear that protection away, forgetting, I think, what that could do for them if their exact beliefs are not the “right” ones that become legislated.

Six questions to ask an atheist: Part 2

If we reject the existence of God, we are left with a crisis of meaning, so why don’t we see more atheists like Jean Paul Sartre, or Friedrich Nietzsche, or Michel Foucault? These three philosophers, who also embraced atheism, recognized that in the absence of God, there was no transcendent meaning beyond one’s own self-interests, pleasures, or tastes. The crisis of atheistic meaninglessness is depicted in Sartre’s book Nausea. Without God, there is a crisis of meaning, and these three thinkers, among others, show us a world of just stuff, thrown out into space and time, going nowhere, meaning nothing.

I don’t relate to this question at all.  I’m sure some atheists have a crisis of meaning.  I don’t.   I also don’t think this crisis of meaning is unique to atheists.  I think it’s common among religious folk too.  I don’t think it has anything to do with being religious or not.  Some of us are just more (or less) content with what is than others.  At one time, I was more concerned with the meaning of life and my life specifically.  At that time, I was pretty depressed.  Later, both the depression and the desire for meaning both disappeared, although I didn’t discover meaning.  I find that interesting.  That is not to say my life is meaningless, it’s just that I don’t feel a need to look for meaning beyond the here, now, and plans for the future.  Sometimes, I do wonder what I’ll think about my life when I’m in my old age, looking back.  I hope I will feel I led a good life, that it was satisfying, that I gave to others, but I’m not looking for meaning beyond that.

Six questions to ask an atheist: Part 1

This is the first installment to “Six questions to ask an atheist.”  There are actually far more than six questions.  It’s more like six categories of several questions.  I will attempt to answer each section, one at a time.  The questions are in bold; the answers are in standard font. 

If there is no God, “the big questions” remain unanswered, so how do we answer the following questions:

Why is there something rather than nothing?  This question was asked by Aristotle and Leibniz alike – albeit with differing answers.  But it is an historic concern. 

I’m only going to say the Big Bang and leave it alone.  My understanding of physics is terrible.  Still, why not something?  Honestly, I’m not that interested in the question.  If you want more, you’ll have to ask someone else.

Why is there conscious, intelligent life on this planet, and is there any meaning to this life? 

Conscious, intelligent life on earth evolved this way, through a slow, progressive, unplanned course.  I don’t understand evolution that much, but I know that it doesn’t happen by design.  I also know enough about our bodies to know they certainly aren’t well designed.  My back, for instance (which is fairly typical of a middle-aged, human back), is quite poorly designed.  Really, if someone were going to design a good, bipedal creature, the least he/she/it could do is give it a decent back, like, oh, maybe that of an early cylon.

Now that’s a back to be proud of designing; a back that wouldn’t need physical therapy to get through middle age. My back is better suited for traveling on all fours, or better yet living in water.  Yes, I have the back of a fish.

There are many other poorly designed parts to humans, other animals, and plants.  I won’t go into great detail, as there are too many examples for me to cover here and I’m no expert on evolution.  However, I find the example of the giraffe’s laryngeal nerve to be quite interesting and even bizarre.  The laryngeal nerve connects the brain to the larynx (voice box) by descending down into the chest and looping around the aorta before coming back up again.  It’s a terrible design for a giraffe with a 5-8 foot neck, as that nerve can be up to 16 feet long, when it’s beginning and end are only a few inches from each other!  In fact, it’s not even a good design for other mammals with shorter necks.  However, it makes sense from an evolutionary sense as the route is much simpler in fish, who essential have no necks.  Unfortunately, evolution doesn’t have the advantage of a designer.  It simply moves forward, unable to plan, so often we are stuck with poor designs. Not that we were designed.  We evolved, incrementally, with many flaws, as the stages before didn’t always effectively flow to make the best, next design.

This is why I don’t get angry about my lousy back.  If I thought a designer did it, I might be pretty angry.

As far as why humans developed consciousness and intelligence?  I don’t know.  It was working, advantageous to our species.  Sometimes…I’m not so sure it still is.

If there is meaning, what kind of meaning and how is it found? 

For me, meaning is found in living life to the best of my ability.  It’s in loving others and being loved.  I find meaning in learning and teaching and learning some more.  I find meaning in grappling with questions I don’t really understand, but accepting that I can’t understand all the answers that are available and that there are many unanswered questions.  I find beauty and awe in the recognition that the more I know, the more we all know, the more there will be to learn.  It doesn’t end.  This is beauty.  I don’t need to give it an explanation given to me by a priest, a rabbi, a sage, a king, or a savior.  I accept that I don’t know and revel in the wonder of that.  I find that far more awe-inspiring than acceptance through faith.  I look for explanations for life’s experiences and when I have none, I accept that, finding using gods, kings, priests, rabbis, saviors as limiting.  I accept no limitation accept that of human, including my own, knowledge.

Does human history lead anywhere, or is it all in vain since death is merely the end?

Human history has certainly gone a long way so far, so I expect it will continue to do so.  Where that will be, I don’t know, nor do I need to know.  Is it in vain?  That’s not a relevant question to me.  I hope to lead a good life and to have positive effects on others.  To me wanting more, expecting more, desiring more is vain (ooops, different vain).  A more interesting thing to fathom is how amazing it is that I am alive.  That out of all the combinations of eggs and sperm throughout the generations of my lineage, most of which didn’t survive, that here I am, the result of a combination that did make it and that I have a moment to live, to give, to grow,… this is truly amazing and much more interesting to me than focusing on death and what might come after.  Instead, I focus on the amazing fact that I am here at all.

How do you come to understand good and evil, right and wrong without a transcendent signifier?  If these concepts are merely social constructions, or human opinions, whose opinion does one trust in determining what is good or bad, right or wrong? 

This is interesting, as I believe most Christians are perfectly capable of determining right and wrong independently of the Bible.  If they didn’t we would see a lot more stoning of disobedient children in the village square.

 Deuteronomy 21

21:18 If   a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the   voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they   have chastened him, will not hearken unto them:

21:19 Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out   unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place;

21:20 And they shall say unto   the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not   obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard.

21:21 And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and   all Israel shall hear, and fear.

It occurs to me that if my parents had been better Christians, I would have been stoned before I reached 20.  Then, I bet my parents wouldn’t have lived to childbearing age, if their parents had been better Christians.  Thank goodness the generations before me were able to decide right and wrong without simply looking to the Bible.

If you are content within atheism, what circumstances would serve to make you open to other answers?

I am content as an atheist and I am entirely open to other answers.  Like other areas of my life, I would want those answers to be verifiable, repeatable, and able to make predictions. I believe that neither Christians (nor other religious people) or atheists know for certain if God exists or not.  Christians take their belief in God on faith and do not seem open to other answers, as that goes against faith.  Atheists take their beliefs on what is known, what has been proven through the scientific method, and do not rely upon faith.  Personally, I’m pretty comfortable with not knowing.  Atheists are open to changing their opinion, just as they do about other areas of life when evidence is presented that is verifiable, repeatable, and can make predictions.

Six Questions to Ask an Atheist

Recently, I wrote the following on Facebook:

Been thinking about life after death ideas and people saying they can’t stand the thought of nonexistence. I think, how did I feel before I was born, the other time I didn’t exist, and I realize there’s nothing to fear. Literally. 

This led to a discussion between me and various Facebook friends, atheists and Christians, including an invitation by one friend to consider the following questions from a blog post entitled, Six Questions to Ask an Atheist.  I thought answering them would be a good opportunity for me to explain myself and really think about this.  I won’t do it all at once, as there are quite a bit more than six questions, as you can see.  This will come slowly, I’m sure, and will be interspersed with other topics.  Stay tuned.

Six Key Questions to Ask an Atheist
Many times, as Christian theists, we find ourselves on the defensive against the critiques and questions of atheists.  Sometimes, in the midst of arguments and proofs, we miss the importance of conversation.  These questions, then, are meant to be a part of a conversation.  They are not, in and of themselves, arguments or “proofs” for God.  They are commonly asked existential or experiential questions that both atheists and theists alike can ponder.

1.    If there is no God, “the big questions” remain unanswered, so how do we answer the following questions: Why is there something rather than nothing?  This question was asked by Aristotle and Leibniz alike – albeit with differing answers.  But it is an historic concern.  Why is there conscious, intelligent life on this planet, and is there any meaning to this life?  If there is meaning, what kind of meaning and how is it found?  Does human history lead anywhere, or is it all in vain since death is merely the end?  How do you come to understand good and evil, right and wrong without a transcendent signifier?  If these concepts are merely social constructions, or human opinions, whose opinion does one trust in determining what is good or bad, right or wrong?  If you are content within atheism, what circumstances would serve to make you open to other answers?

2.    If we reject the existence of God, we are left with a crisis of meaning, so why don’t we see more atheists like Jean Paul Sartre, or Friedrich Nietzsche, or Michel Foucault?  These three philosophers, who also embraced atheism, recognized that in the absence of God, there was no transcendent meaning beyond one’s own self-interests, pleasures, or tastes.  The crisis of atheistic meaninglessness is depicted in Sartre’s book Nausea.  Without God, there is a crisis of meaning, and these three thinkers, among others, show us a world of just stuff, thrown out into space and time, going nowhere, meaning nothing.

3.    When people have embraced atheism, the historical results can be horrific, as in the regimes of Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot who saw religion as the problem and worked to eradicate it?  In other words, what set of actions are consistent with particular belief commitments?  It could be argued, that these behaviors – of the regimes in question – are more consistent with the implications of atheism.  Though, I’m thankful that many of the atheists I know do not live the implications of these beliefs out for themselves like others did!  It could be argued that the socio-political ideologies could very well be the outworking of a particular set of beliefs – beliefs that posited the ideal state as an atheistic one.

4.    If there is no God, the problems of evil and suffering are in no way solved, so where is the hope of redemption, or meaning for those who suffer?  Suffering is just as tragic, if not more so, without God because there is no hope of ultimate justice, or of the suffering being rendered meaningful or transcendent, redemptive or redeemable.  It might be true that there is no God to blame now, but neither is there a God to reach out to for strength, transcendent meaning, or comfort.  Why would we seek the alleviation of suffering without objective morality grounded in a God of justice?

5.   If there is no God, we lose the very standard by which we critique religions and religious people, so whose opinion matters most?  Whose voice will be heard?  Whose tastes or preferences will be honored?  In the long run, human tastes and opinions have no more weight than we give them, and who are we to give them meaning anyway?  Who is to say that lying, or cheating or adultery or child molestation are wrong –really wrong?  Where do those standards come from?  Sure, our societies might make these things “illegal” and impose penalties or consequences for things that are not socially acceptable, but human cultures have at various times legally or socially disapproved of everything from believing in God to believing the world revolves around the sun; from slavery, to interracial marriage, from polygamy to monogamy.  Human taste, opinion law and culture are hardly dependable arbiters of Truth.

6.    If there is no God, we don’t make sense, so how do we explain human longings and desire for the transcendent?  How do we even explain human questions for meaning and purpose, or inner thoughts like, why do I feel unfulfilled or empty?  Why do we hunger for the spiritual, and how do we explain these longings if nothing can exist beyond the material world?

For further reading, see Ravi Zacharias’s book The Real Face of Atheism, and C.S. Lewis’s book Mere Christianity.  The RZIM website has many excellent resources on atheism, www.rzim.org, as does the Centre for Public Christianity, www.publicchristianity.org.

Neglected blog

Hmmm, it has been awhile. Is there anybody out there? Cavatica’s Web has been seriously neglected. I think about it, but it seems I’ve gotten very busy. I have this job, you see. It’s busy there. Very busy. I have a family. They are awesome and I’d love to blog about them, especially one very amazing 5-year-old. And there’s Facebook. Yes, Facebook has stolen my blog time. Sorry. Really I am, as fun as it is, it’s superficial. But there’s a few developments here, that make me want to blog a bit.
1) A few blog post swirling around in my head. Ideas for them, anyway. Things that just can’t be done well in a FB post. Just to give you a head’s up, mine especially, as I don’t want to lose track here, I’m thinking of a post I wrote a long time ago called My Promises. I would like to talk more about some of those things, 3 years later.
2) I’ve been writing more about my atheism on FB and getting some nice feedback, from other atheists, but also curious Christians. No one is being rude and this is marvelous. So, one friend sent me a link to questions to ask an atheist and I’d like to try to answer some of them, from my limited perspective, of course. I am just me, afterall. Still, I think it’s a good opportunity to think about this.
3) I have some absolutely marvelous pictures of The Bing that are just itching to be on here. Hubs, dear man that he is, is not my friend. That is, not my FB friend, and he has no way to share these lovelies with his friends. Also, I find this blog a nicer record than FB, so I gotta put some pictures up.

That’s about it. Let me know if you’re still out there.

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