Posted by: Gayle Jordan | April 24, 2013

Dear Kate,

I recently published a post entitled “Moderate Faith” in which I expressed the position that I believe even moderate faith has a detrimental net effect on society, and additionally, allows radical faith to thrive, since both versions of belief are based upon subjective interpretations of the same book.

I received a comment from a fellow law school student and what follows is my response to the comment.  This method of answering is called “fisking” and while it may appear choppy and disjointed, it allows to me to address each portion of the comment.  To see the comment in its entirety, go here.   In this post, Kate’s words are in red.

Dear Kate –
Thank you for reading the blog and for posting.  I enjoyed your comment on so many levels, not the least of which was your overall tone, which made it seem that you really were trying to understand what I was expressing.  As parents, we have both learned how very critical it is to be heard and understood, even if it leads to disagreement.

Reading this post, I think I finally get what atheists are trying to do when they talk like this to believers–you think you are trying to save us from ourselves and to save the world from us, aren’t you? I always thought you were condescending, puffed up, and self-righteous in your own way. But, I think I see it differently now. You say this stuff out of genuine concern, don’t you?

Yes.  This so much.  Genuine concern for our communities, our society, our country, our world.  Yes yes yes yes yes.  That’s not to say that atheists are not condescending, puffed up, and self-righteous.  We absolutely are.  In fact, at our various conventions (the secular activist community in our country is an alphabet soup of organizations) we always address that:  Should we be kind and conciliatory or brash and aggressive?  Be a dick or a diplomat?  A firebrand or ambassador?  The speaker always leads us through the conversation:  How can we reach the most people with the message that reason and science will take us so much closer to peace, joy, and happiness than religion ever will?  The conclusion is almost always the same:  be yourself.  Different messages will reach different people at different places on the continuum.

All of that to say Yes.  We say these things out of genuine concern.

“Have you been saved?” (Don’t worry, I am not asking you that question.) That is what I hear all the time from evangelical Christians. They get angry at the LDS concept of grace, that Christ saves us through grace after all we can do ourselves to live his commandments and his gospel. They get angry because they think we diminish God and aggrandize ourselves, that we try to save ourselves through our own efforts. That is not it. We believe that the resurrection is a free gift of God to all, but that salvation of our souls is something for which we have to put forth effort, that our effort will never be enough though, and that Christ makes up the difference if we follow him. Bear with me, I know this is not a religious discussion on grace, nor am I trying to convert you. I am setting up an example.

Kate, you asked for me to bear with you, and I will, but I have to interject this here.  I don’t give 2 flips about whether salvation is through grace alone, or grace + works, or works alone, or whatever.  Here’s why:  I don’t need salvation, because I’m not lost.  I’m not broken or incomplete or unworthy.  And I don’t believe I need saving from something that occurs after death.  I don’t believe that we survive our own deaths, as there is no evidence whatsoever that our brains continue to function (which is where all of everything that makes us uniquely ourselves resides – our memories, our personality, our knowledge) after we have died.

My former step-daughter is truly distraught over the future of her half-sister, her father, her new step-mother, her step-brother, and maybe even of me. She truly believes that we will burn in hell for eternity. She happens to love these people in her family, and it is distressing to her. So, she tries to save us.

I’m glad you’ve put this paragraph in here.  I don’t know the specifics of your family’s faith, but I can assume it includes fear of eternal damnation to hell for unbelief.  I can understand why your step-daughter is distraught.  If I thought anyone, much less one of my family members, was going to suffer that fate, I would be more than distraught; I would be hysterical.

Lifelong exposure to this little piece of theology has hardened our hearts against this complete and utter barbaric and unjust cruelty, cruelty not only to the unsaved sinner, but to those commissioned with the responsibility for preventing it from occurring.  There is not a believer on earth, who as a child did not have terrors about this:  either going to hell ourselves or not being able to keep out of hell someone we loved.  And conceptually, the idea that a creator would create you with a mind capable of critical thought, give no evidence of his existence, actually allow evidence for the opposite, demand that you not only believe on no evidence but to LOVE HIM, and then condemn you to hell, eternally, for acting on that very logic and reason is beyond cruel.  It’s sadistic.

You are trying to save our souls too, aren’t you? (Or, since you likely don’t believe in souls since they are not tangible or testable, our minds?) You are trying to save our world? You think we will destroy it?

Hell to the yes.  You already are.  So many major problems in the world have a religious background.  There’s hardly a war that has been fought that was not fought because God was on each army’s side, and was compelling the battle.  Look at present sub-Saharan Africa, and the suffering there because the Catholic church refuses to condone or support condom use.  Look at inequality in America – is there a single secular reason for not allowing gay marriage?  Look at the suffering of women at the hand of religion, and not just Islam.  Mainstream Christianity still teaches that women are not equal to men, and we fight this in the arena of equal pay, reproductive rights, and lack of sexual autonomy.  I haven’t even mentioned radical Islam and its costs, and the religious world can’t help with this, because they are claiming EXACTLY what you are claiming:  This is what this book says to me about how to live my life, and here are the verses that endorse it.

This might be a good time to reflect upon the statistics from the most and least religious countries.  In every metric that can be measured, those countries with the most secular societies pass by leaps and bounds those same metrics in countries where religion is at high levels.

I try to reassure my step-daughter. I will try to reassure you. Goodness and love and progress will win out over hate, if we keep working together–the faithful and the secularists/atheists working together.

Read what you wrote.  “Goodness and love and progress will win out over hate”.  Agreed.  Where in that statement is anything about God?  These are the attributes promoted by every secular humanist I know:  To be kind.  To promote education.  To be fair.  To care about one another.  To work together.  And winning out over hate?  Where is that hate coming from?  Think it might be from religious instruction and the tribalism endorsed over and over and over in the Bible?  From the idea that anyone who doesn’t share your belief is wrong or misguided or deceived, or worse, has rejected your beliefs?  That’s a hop, skip, and a jump from contempt, and that’s edging ever-so-much-closer to hate.

Just as you have heard the “What if you are wrong?” question too many times, don’t you think we know about the murders in the Bible and wars throughout the ages committed in the name of God? Trust me, we have. Trust me, we grapple with it. You are right. It is problematic. We know that. Most of us have likely grappled with God on those very issues. We are not stupid nor are we naive or willingly self-blindfolded.

If you’ve read this blog long enough, you know that I am a former believer.  I don’t have to trust you that you struggle with it.  I know.  I had the same struggle.  I wish believers could hear the stories shared among the secular, particularly those still recovering from religion.  There are those former believers, clergy included, who left the faith screaming and clawing and desperately trying to hold on, knowing they were leaving the comfort of the familiar, knowing they couldn’t go back, but terrified to go forward.

Keep thinking, Kate, and keep trying to figure it out.  Why would God have acted that way?  Why would he have instructed soldiers to “dash infants to the ground” and “take the women as your bounty”?   Why would he currently bless you and your family with health and wealth and allow little brown children an ocean away to die hungry and crying at the rate of 1 every 3.6 seconds?  What is the most reasonable answer?  What is in keeping with what the writers of the Bible were trying to do?  Wars are much easier to win with tales of God being on your side.  To what does the evidence point?

Do me a little favor, an experiment.  Slip on your God Is Manmade goggles for just a minute and take a look around.  Does the world make more sense?  Does the universe act exactly as the universe would act if there was no God?  Does the empty inconsistency of prayer make much more sense?  Does our evolutionary heritage, and our tiny place in the cosmos fit into context  much better?  Does the claim by each and every religion on the planet that it alone is the One True Way fit flawlessly into the culture from which it emerged?  Are the historical and scientific errors of the Bible now explained?

Rather than the evangelicals trying to convert you (and me) and rather than you trying to “convert” the evangelicals (and me), I repeat my former question: Can’t we trust each other to have thought deeply about these issues and then join hands and work to make this world a better place, standing on a foundation of so many things we do agree on?

I want to trust that you have thought deeply about those things.  I really do.  But when I question you (the broader You) about the atrocities and inconsistencies of the Bible, you agree that they are terrible, and that they promote divisiveness.  You agree that there is a decidedly anti-education and anti-science bias in the Bible.  You agree that the Bible models the repression of women and indoctrinates children.  You agree that there is really no evidence for the existence of God, and that yes, a lot of evidence points to all indications that there is no God.

And then you say you believe it anyway, and when I ask why, you say I DON’T KNOW, IT’S JUST ON FAITH.

This is not noble.  This is not virtuous.  We wouldn’t accept that in a classroom, we wouldn’t accept it in a laboratory, and as a future lawyer you know we wouldn’t accept that in a courtroom.

Murder, war, carnage = bad


Dishonesty, taking unfair advantage = bad


Hate, prejudice, meaness, ignoring = bad


Torture = bad

Love = good
Care = good


Feeding the hungry = good


Taking care of Mother Earth = good


Helping those who need help = good


Building communities = good


Working = good


Finding cures to diseases = good


So much good to work towards together . . .

Kate, I think you and I could both come up with examples of the things on your good list that have been done by churches.  I did them myself when I was a member of a church.  Churches and religion have done good things.  But it comes with such a price.  All of the stuff on the bad list?  Religion has done those things too.  And doing the good things doesn’t require religion.  When the secular community gives, it isn’t because of a commandment.  It isn’t because of fear.  It isn’t because we are after eternal loyalty.  It’s because we’re moved to compassion by the suffering of another human being.  That’s it.

Furthermore, what are the greatest barriers to doing all those things up there in your Good list?  What’s the barrier to building communities?  It’s not the atheists that are saying Everybody But Gay.  What’s the barrier to finding cures to diseases?  It’s not the atheists who are saying Stem Cell Research makes baby Jesus cry.  What’s the barrier to caring for the earth?  It’s not the atheists who believe in Dominionism.

If I want to know how to deny the existance of God and rely solely on mankind’s intellect, I know who to ask. If you want to know how to turn towards God and use both faith and intellect, you know who to ask. I trust that you are smart enough to know when you want to know that. I am smart enough to know when I want to know that.

The audacity of this paragraph.  The idea that you are smart enough to know “when you want to know”.  I know this is not a typo or a misspoken statement.  I know you meant it like you wrote it.  In a very important relationship I had that was coming to an end over our difference of belief, I asked “If it’s not true, wouldn’t you want to know it?”.  The answer was:  “No.  Absolutely not.”  I don’t blog about that relationship, but I will say at that moment, my heart broke.

Kate, when you write something like that, you reveal exactly the problem with faith.  I know why you want to continue to believe.  I know it’s big and scary to face life without religion.  But hear me now:  I promise you with everything I am that the darkness is worth walking through.  The light, and air, and joy, and life that is on the other side of that tunnel is cleaner and deeper and brighter than anything religion could ever bring you.  The world is more beautiful.  People are more precious.  Moments are so much more valuable, and for me, life makes sense.  Consider this quote by the magnificent Robert G. Ingersoll:

“When I became convinced that the Universe is natural – that all the ghosts and gods are myths, there entered into my brain, into my soul, into every drop of my blood, the sense, the feeling of the joy of freedom. The walls of my prison crumbled and fell, the dungeon was flooded with light and all the bolts, and bars, and manacles became dust.”

So I ask you:  If it’s not true, wouldn’t you want to know it?

So, let’s move on and work together on what we agree about! You are concerned about my mind and the world, and I am concerned about your eternal happiness and eternal progress and the world. We both care about each other’s welfare. Okay, we understand that. We know whom to turn to if we need to.
By the way, I don’t follow your blog just to comment on posts like this. But, so far, these are the only posts that have prompted my comments. I started following your blog, believe it or not, because I felt we had a lot in common. I love fitness, I am a single mother of a teenager, and I am finishing up my second year of law school as someone who went back to school a little bit older than the average student. I still believe we have a lot in common, and I look forward to seeing your blog posts. I hope school is going well and all your other wonderful pursuits!
Oh, and if I am correct in my new hypothesis, that atheists sound like this out of care and concern for believers–thank you for that care and concern.

Kate Sherwood

Kate, I know my response has been harsh.  I’ve written and edited and rewritten, trying to find a way to say I’m OK, You’re OK.  But I think religion is a net negative for our society, our nation, and the world.  It stands in the way of peace and progress, and rather than fight it on every front, it’s my intention to work toward cutting the head off the snake.

And if I haven’t completely lost you as a potential friend, I’d love to chat about law school (I’m in my 3rd year), the joys of teenagerhood (mine are now all spectacular adults), and the love affair we have with fitness and nutrition.

Thank you in again for having read the blog, and for taking the time to respond.  I have stalked your blog (and assume it’s ok to post it as it is included in your comment) and I relate to so much you have written.

To everyone else…thanks for reading.


Responses

  1. You never right short diddies that I can read on the fly, do you? No, Suze–I do not. What fun would that be? (See, I know you so well that I can answer for you). :)

    I read the whole thing and still have a question (or two or three or four). Let’s take Jesus out of the picture for a minute. Let’s just focus on the existence of someone bigger than you are, bigger than I am.

    If there is a creator who formed the earth and all that is in it, it would explain to me the fact that I have feelings, you have feelings, and more importantly that we all in society, maybe 99% of us, have an innate sense of right and wrong. Our choices for what is right and wrong may differ, but the mere fact that we “feel” and “believe” in our definitions of right and wrong is very telling to me.

    How do you explain that we (athesists, Christians, and all of those in between) have these thoughts born within us? Isn’t it possible that there is a ‘god’ who created the earth and all that is in it, allowing the ‘creatures’ in it to evolve as the thousands of years have seen happen?

    How do you explain the compassion you have when I hurt? How do you explain the prideful “we are right” stance that atheists in general have? How do you explain the prideful “we are right” stance that Christians in general have? How do you explain that people stand in the middle, uncertain of which belief system they fully follow, choosing instead to follow in the middle? How do you explain the marches many participate in so that they can ‘stand for what is right’? I think that is proof that someone somewhere is bigger than we are.

    It doesn’t mean that you have to believe there is creator who is an active part of our lives, listening to prayers. It simply means admitting that you didn’t appear here all on your own. But on that note, couldn’t it be that prayer is concentrated thoughts—energy focused on a problem, an issue? For some, it is helpful to believe a ‘person’ is hearing those thoughts, for others it is enough to know that the universe responds as is appropriate to energy directed at something, and for others it is simply of no matter whether thoughts are focused or not.

    I offer those thoughts simply because I just can’t buy into the total non-existence of a creator. Atheists say they believe in nothing, but in that very nothing is something you believe in.

    I love you. Those are my thoughts for the day. I will always love and adore you. And I can’t wait to read your answers to my questions. :)

  2. Gayle, if you will allow me to do a drive by response to Suze’s comment, feel free to ignore, delete, or promote as you see fit:

    I would ask, where did the creator come from? If all our feelings, which can all be traced to biochemical reactions in our brains and which can be altered by brain disease, come from this great higher power, where did that power come from and who taught it what was right and wrong? If you just declare it the “first cause”, then it’s just another declarative faith card and it ceases to be evidence.

    We have compassion and love because the species wouldn’t get very far if we killed members of our own tribe. If I ignore the needs of my tribe, then we’d all end up dead, and that doesn’t help the tribe survive very well. Only our modern wealth has given us the time to add ethereal “meanings” to our feelings.

    Also, you will find that the “inborn morality” you mention changes drastically between cultures. Cultural standards of morality are subtly taught to children from birth on in ways we don’t even realize. So if you look closely, you’ll find that it’s not really inborn, children are just far more impressionable than we often think, and we are far less aware of the ways we behave that influence them than we realize.

    A fine distinction must also be drawn, Atheists do not “believe in nothing.” That is an active position. Atheists lack belief in deities; that is a stance of absence. Just as you don’t “believe there is no Santa Claus”, you don’t have a belief in Santa Claus. There is a difference.

  3. Gayle,

    Thank you for your response and for this conversation. I really do feel like I have learned some important things about the atheist point of view which will help me be more understanding. For me, that is invaluable.

    I would like to respond in two parts. First, I would like to correct a few misconceptions and make a few counterpoints. Second, I would simply like to briefly tell you what I, personally, believe about all this, distinguishing the general you/atheist and I/believer from specifically, what I/Kate, personally, believe. This is not to try to change your mind. Again, I trust that you know your own mind, your own thoughts. It is in the spirit of our conversation.

    Part One
    “I don’t know the specifics of your family’s faith, but I can assume it includes fear of eternal damnation to hell for unbelief.” My former stepdaughter is evangelical and so, yes, your assumptions are correct about her belief. The rest of us for whom she cares are a mix of a simple belief in God without organized religion (with no worries about hell topics), Catholic, and LDS. Your assumptions are wrong about the LDS beliefs. Rather than any burning in hell, we believe in various degrees of glory in which we will continue to progress, learn, and work—for basically everyone, unbelievers and the different denominations of believers. I could not believe otherwise. Surely, you don’t blame me?

    “Where is that hate coming from? Think it might be from religious instruction and the tribalism endorsed over and over and over in the Bible?” No. I don’t think all the hate comes from only these sources.

    You link to metrics and statistics about all the evil that religion causes in the world, causing war, destroying Earth. Surely, you must admit that the love of money and greed is equally to blame, if not more. Believers are not the sole cause of all evil in the world. I accept our portion of the blame, but plenty of atheists have helped that cause along as well.

    “Keep thinking, Kate, and keep trying to figure it out.” I love a particular saying that I see on many bumper stickers of those I assume are nonbelievers. “Not all who wander are lost.” When I say I love it, I am not being sarcastic. I absolutely love it, because it embraces so much for me: That it is OK to wander, we see things and learn things when we wander. Plus, for me, it invokes images of hiking and being out in the world—all happy thoughts for me. You were responding to my agreement that the carnage of the Bible (especially the Old Testament) is problematic and that I have grappled with God over it. I did not mean to say I had no foothold or grips. To change the bumper sticker a bit, “Not all who grapple are free falling.” I have come to some specific conclusions, including some conclusions that I don’t know everything—but those conclusions are content specific, not sweeping generalizations, and my comment is already too long.

    I do the things I do out of compassion and love. That is the only reason. That is enough for me. If it shows love for God as well to show love for their other children on this earth, all the better.

    “If it’s not true, wouldn’t you want to know it?” Here, you have misinterpreted me. You are right. It was not a typo. But, your interpretation is wrong. I will include more in part two. But, yes, if it was not true, if God did not exist, yes, I would want to know. If I ever, somehow, deny that God exists, and therefore want to know how to expunge God from my thinking, I will turn to you. But, before I could want that, I would have to deny something that is at the very core of my being and is part of who I am. So, yes, I think I am smart enough to know when that day arrives. I do have the audacity to claim to know what I think and what is in my mind. I do not apologize for that, although I am sorry for the hurt you have experienced in an important relationship. Truly, I am.

    Part Two

    There are only three things I claim to know regarding spiritual or religious matters.

    1) God exists. I know this because I have felt the love of God for me specifically in such a way that I could not deny either the love that enveloped me or its source. I know this so strongly, that I cannot physically deny it. My prayers are heard. I would not engage in an empty exercise. I do not pray rote prayers (not even for blessing the food). This is not an empty assertion or a hope. It is something I know from experience. (In my blog, I do discuss my struggles discerning between God-given inspiration and my own intellect and intuition. There are things I know. There are things I do not know. I am honest about both.)

    2) I know that I feel the Spirit of God more with me, there is more light in my life, there is more peace surrounding me, there is more wisdom guiding my path, when I read regularly from the Book of Mormon. Therefore, I believe it is scripture. I treasure the Bible as well, but I acknowledge that there are parts that have not been translated correctly down through the ages.

    3) We are here to learn to love each other and to serve each other.

    Those three things. You are right about other things attached to religion. I accept many of them on faith. I could be convinced to change them, with enough evidence and spiritual confirmation. Some would be harder to change than others. These three things however, are no longer faith. They have moved beyond faith.

    You said, “There are those former believers, clergy included, who left the faith screaming and clawing and desperately trying to hold on, knowing they were leaving the comfort of the familiar, knowing they couldn’t go back, but terrified to go forward.” And, “I know it’s big and scary to face life without religion.” No. This has not been my experience. I have desperately wanted to turn away from God and searched for a way to do it in at least three separate periods of my life. I was angry at God and I was angry at people in the church. And it was all irreconcilable. I sought for a way and looked and researched. I stomped my feet and yelled in anger. The problem was, even in all my anger and hurt and frustration with problems and problematic areas—I knew God existed. What can you do when you know God exists so thoroughly that you cannot deny it, even when you want to and are determined to? There is nowhere to turn. The choice at that point is either open rebellion against God or to align my path with the existence of God. I choose to align my path with the existence of God. It is a choice which I enter into fully and knowingly, with my eyes open. Trust me, it would be far easier sometimes to just turn my back. It would be easier, except for those three things.

    Those three things listed above are why I stay with the church. I stay to help make it better. God’s servants happen to be human, just like atheists are humans. I loved your last paragraph of your original post of this conversation. You said, “Determining the answer requires critical thinking, research, skepticism, more research, and finally an embrace that includes the possibility that through new advance, new research, new study, this truth evolves and morphs.” We believers have a similar process. It is described as learning line upon line and precept upon precept. Some course corrections span great time periods. But, we are learning.

    This comment was not brief, even though I tried. Thank you, again.

    Kate @ BJJ, Law, and Living

  4. [...] of my besties, and certainly my best friend who is a follower of Christianity.  Here’s the original post that Susan commented on.  She’s asked some interesting questions, and she’s agreed to [...]


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