Defending your Faith-Free Life

Let’s start with a Bible quote and my coined definition:

…Always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear;
— 1 Peter 3:15

A Theological Christian:  a self-professing Christian who has feels they understand the Bible and theological issues such that they talk about their faith using apologetic strategies to fulfill the advice of the writer of 1 Peter.

Just as Christians feel they should be able to defend their faith, maybe Atheists should heed that advise and be able to defend their faith-free choices — and to do so succinctly, honestly, simply and modestly.

Most theological Christians, and other theists, feel atheists are too close-minded. They feel we should constantly be searching and at least be humble enough to say, “Well, it could be . . .”

I was talking to a Christian yesterday who felt non-believers (us faith-free folks) need to keep examining [their myths and theologies]. But I disagree. I am a pragmatic atheist — I realize I am close-minded because I have tested two things far enough that because of them I will act and believe as if I am certain that a faith-free life is a good choice for me.  The two things which stop me from spending days and years of continually studying the writings of all the various theist religions are:

(1) Interventionalism: I see absolutely no evidence of intervening spirits or gods. I understand the desire that magic prayer and thought projection really work, but they don’t.  This is a larger version of the Theodicy issue.

(2) Beliefism: I find it totally bizarre that even if #1 a god [Krishna, Amida, Yahweh, Jesus, Zeus …] existed, that such a deity would determine my afterlife depending on my correct belief or ritual actions toward that him, her or it.

So those two points are my simple defense of my faith-free life — such that any further discussions are almost immaterial.  I really need to let theological Christians know right up front how strongly I hold those two beliefs before we get distracted into talking about all the meaningless details.  For unless those two issues are clearly addressed for me, we could be talking past each other for hours on end.

Questions to readers:

  • Tell us the 2 or 3 things that you hold strongly that you would use to defend your faith-free life and which allow you to stop desperately “searching” but instead to joyfully explore your worlds? (see my post on searching vs exploring).
  • If you are a non-Atheist (an A-Atheist) who feels we Atheists need to keep searching, let us know why.

PS: I don’t care to debate my phrase “theological Christian”, because I only created it so as not to speak too generally about all Christians — because most of my Christian friends are Cultural Christians and not Theological Christians.  I know that there are many shades between all these terms to almost render them useless — but hopefully you see the real purpose of this post and the term will be helpful to that end.


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

75 responses to “Defending your Faith-Free Life

  1. My position: A-Atheist.
    My response: You don’t.
    My question (for A-A-Atheists): Why do so many feel a need to keep searching for arguments against the A-Atheist position?

    I know I’m being a wee-bit of a wise-ass but it’s an honest question, one that I feel safe asking here. Religious folk feel the need to consistently challenge atheism, while seeking new arguments against the myriad of attacks and evidence arrayed against theistic faith, for obvious reasons, such as the one cited above.

    Yet, if I were to de-convert, I would not spend the rest of my life arguing with theists (outside of sorting out my new-found beliefs and world view, of which debate is useful). I would know the profound grip that faith holds over reason, I would accept that I have this life only (and why waste it in argument?) and, if I were to encounter someone that was honestly inquiring as to their own religious beliefs, I would simply point to websites like this one. 🙂

    Sooo…can anybody help me with this one?

  2. Great post, Sabio!

    I guess I’m lucky I grew up in an environment where people respect privacy. That is, we think personal beliefs can be shared, but it’s no one’s darned business why we think that way. Or as my Grandma put it, “it’s none of your beeswax!”. 🙂

    I’m happy to share my reasons for non-belief, but I wouldn’t ever waste my time “defending” them any more than I would defend my taste for avacados.

    I think I stopped searching when I discovered nature and painting. I am still spiritual but with the understanding that it’s imaginary spirits I like.

  3. Faith-free life:

    I agree with your two, but here are more…

    -I spent 30 years as a Xian and, although I am sure I gained some things from the experience, I see no benefit to going back.

    -If a god exists (especially the Xian god), he should know exactly what it would take to (re)convince me of his existence but has yet to do so

    -I am fine with there being certain mysteries about the universe. I don’t feel a need to introduce a god into the equation to answer them.

  4. @Don hey, not sure if I’m so good with the triple-negatives but hopefully I understood the question. I think it’s mostly certain Atheists that try to get in everyone’s faces. I was told one one blog that I MUST call myself an Atheist since I’m not religious, which is absurd. There are many types of non-believers.

    The only believer that would have to defend their ideas with me are Creationists or other anti-science types.

  5. Hey Don,
    Nice to have you visit.
    You said:

    Why do so many feel a need to keep searching for arguments against the A-Atheist position?

    I have often thought about doing a post on that, but let me just give a few reasons which I feel are very pragmatic.

    (1) Anti-science: agreeing with amelie, many Christians are anti-science and their rhetoric and influence is dangerous. That deserves a whole other post, of course. I will not argue science here.

    (2) Political: many Christians’ theological stances affect our policies in the middle east to our detriment. Many Christians try to enforce their morality choices using the government as their tool

    (3) Exclusivism: many Christians teach their kids to belittle mine. Many people will avoid friendships with faith free folks including as real friends and more.

    (4) Jobs: I have almost lost my job a few times because Christians didn’t want a nonbeliever in their company.

    Well, that should be enough for now, don’t you think? Thanx for the compliment on the website. I am fortunate to have a large number of great visitors. May I ask how you found this post — I don’t remember your previous comments.

  6. Hey amelie,
    You are fortunate.
    I totally understand your stance — from what I understand.
    I have no problem with my Christian friends who are not of the theological type who just use their Christianity to find community, or a deist notion of creation with purpose, or a way to tell them that love is a worthy while activity even if it does not pay back often. It is the other things that I explained to Don the drive me ape-shit!

    @ MichaelB,
    Great additions from your life — thank for sharing.

  7. MaryLynne

    What has me content with my freedom from faith and why I finally quit searching for “truth” after 10 years:

    1. Problem of Evil: “So there is some kind of omniscient omnipotent being that allows or causes bad things to happen, and that’s supposed to be COMFORTING? I’m way more comforted by the fact that the the universe doesn’t care about us and things happen for no reason.” – my brother, Mike.
    2. Falsification of evidence: Not only is there no proof for a deity, any proof offered by anyone has been disproved. Until there is some kind of new evidence, beyond personal experience or authority or quirky brain activity, I see no reason to re-evaluate.
    3. It makes sense. I have a strong layperson’s interest in physics, evolution, and brain science. Fitting god into what we know through observation and experience about the universe requires squeezing him in sideways with a shoehorn and making lots of exceptions anyway. Take him out – the rest of it makes sense.

  8. @ MaryLynne:
    Thanks for droppin’ in!
    (1) I absolutely agree with your brother Mike !

    (2) (3) — these both seem to fit together with my science objection. Well said.

  9. @Amelie – LOL. I think you did just fine! Yes, not all, just some, just like there are some fundies (Christian and otherwise) that seem to think a sword makes a fine conversion tool. It’s why I like sites like this one and others; at least a distinction is made, allowing me to speak without stereotyping.

    @ Sabio: I’ll answer the last question first:
    And no, no previous comment, although I read plenty of posts last week (consumed most of my day last Sunday). I also plan to “Share thyself”, but I haven’t decided whether I want to post my responses as a separate post on my own blog (with a trackback) or on yours with some detailed analysis (I learned something about myself after taking the quiz).

    As for your examples, I understand all of those. Of course, those that need to hear it most are those that are also completely dense and deaf (the exclusivism one is a particularly strong pet-peeve of mine as well). But you, and others that take a similar approach, aren’t the problem.

    it’s the opposite of the religious fundamentalist that bothers me some (and I say “some” only because their numbers are not large enough…yet?). It’s not just about combating ignorance, prejudice, religious intolerance, and so on. Rather, it seems that the objective is to “crush your enemy”. The Sam Harris’s of the world, who advocate eradicating religion without the understanding that genocide starts with comments such as his. Or, to put it another way, those that would never, ever admit to some of the doubts expressed on your post here:

    Religious fundies are easy to understand: it’s programming. “Atheist fundies”, if you can allow me some latitude with that term, are beyond my comprehension. Is it just reactionary to some of the points you mention above? Or is it something more? Is there programming on the other side of the coin as well, not by organized religion obviously, but a sort of group think, driven by leading thinkers and writers for atheism?


  10. @ Don:
    Glad to have you as a new visitor! Thanks for reading.

    BTW, if I may beg: please don’t post your “Share Yourself” on my comment thread with a detailed analysis. Please do that on your own site and I will visit. Thanks.

    Concerning anyone’s beef with Sam Harris, Dawkins or any atheist, I will not defend or attack — I don’t know their stuff. And I have put forward most of my stuff. So I will keep the conversation to what I have written or to what you write.

    Yeah, I won’t give you much latitude with “Atheist fundies” unless you define it, because even the loudest atheists I know don’t threaten to kill no believers, or abortion protestors or manipulate the government using taboo logic and much more, but that is another conversation. But group think, or lack of think is a continued threat to us all — I agree.

  11. Understood. I’ll split the difference when I’m ready.

    As for the term, I’m referring to “new atheism” as expressed by Harris, Dawkins, and others although, I agree, those people do not advocate violence, nor did I mean to imply that they do. Regardless, its not relevant, as this position is not yours.

    Looking forward to future conversations.

  12. I am not searching for God or faith. I am, however, open to evidence of God, if some should turn up. I am very comfortable with my current state of non-belief.

    I did spend my teen years as a born-again Christian, but doubt continued to grow during those years.

    Here’s the problem for theists who might think I should be searching: Even if I were to believe the Bible to be literally true, that would only convince me that Christianity is a false religion. As I read it, there is no Biblical support for the doctrine of original sin, nor for the trinity. And I was unable to find persuasive Biblical support for the divinity of Jesus. Add to that, the problem that some of the most outspoken Christians today are behaving in ways that Jesus clearly opposed.

    Oops, that’s more than 100 words.

  13. @ Don:
    Sounds fair — “splitting the difference”, that is. 🙂

    @ Neil Rickert:
    Like you, I am open to ESP, God, Telekinetics, and more. But when I say “open” I mean it far differently than when I speak of other subjects.

    Your objection to Christianity not being Biblical is an interesting addition. But that the point of my post is that, for me, it is exactly those conversations that are unnecessarily distracting when compared to my main two points.

  14. TWF

    Great answers, and great parrying of Don. Sort of in response to His question, I think the issues you highlight from your own experience is likely what helps to propel the “New Atheists” on to a more active role sort of like civil rights leaders of the past, but in a different way.

    I use the interventionism often, and from multiple polarities. For example: God would kill a guy who refused to get his brother’s widow pregnant, but God would let Hitler live on to do what he did. Go figure. 🙂

    I do not think there is a need to keep searching, as any god who really loved us would make that very obvious, just like you do with your children. There would be no room for doubt. Though I don’t advocate closing your mind. Should new evidence present itself, I would be happy to be a theist. It’s just got to be solid evidence.

    PS: You may want a slight verbiage refinement on your definition. 😉

  15. The reality is that there is no need to defend one’s beliefs unless one chooses to do so. Very often pro-active defence is merely offence against the beliefs of others.
    In addition, between religious belief and atheist belief, the two extremes at either end of a polarity, there is a middle ground of great richness. One does not have to be either/or in terms of spirituality or ‘faith.’
    In fact, anyone interested in spiritual expression or exploration needs to have some understanding of the extreme positions but beyond that, they are best left to their own devices. For devices they often are.

  16. @Don,

    Many people, not all, when they take an extreme position, whether it is religious or atheist, have a need to be right and when they are exposed to the opposite position it is unsettling. Hence the challenge from the religious to the atheist and vice-versa. When you think in absolute terms then any ‘chink in the armour’ is frightening. Just as you cannot be ‘half pregnant’ so, for extreme positions, you cannot ‘half believe.’ And that means the ‘opposite’ needs to be proven wrong, or at least you need to feel you can or have proven the opposite position as wrong, in order to make you feel secure. Because if you are not completely ‘right’ it threatens the ‘house of cards’ you have built and I suspect that people like this, unconsciously, know that there is really more ‘grey’ at work than black or white.

  17. hypercryptical

    I am happy with who I am and consider myself a good person – whatever I do that could be considered as a ‘good deed’ I do as it is the right thing to do and not to gain the reward of heaven – a heaven I have no need of or believe in.

    I am fascinated by this Earth and its multitude of life forms. I see its beauty and am in awe of it yet also see that most fauna (including man) are predators fighting for the survival of their species – and nothing but – and there is no beauty in that.

    In my lifetime I have never witnessed a single thing that would make me believe in a supreme being.

    (Sorry if this is simplistic Sabio – just finished a night shift).

  18. @ hypercryptical:
    Hey, Anna, nightshift is a bear, isn’t it. Thanx for stopping in.
    I think a lot of non-Theists are like you in that they haven’t “witnessed a single thing that would make [them] believe in a supreme being.”

    However, many like myself, have had miraculous perceptions and minds which push them strongly to believe in spirits and invisible worlds.

    This difference makes atheists often misunderstand each other, much like a fastidious person has a very hard time understanding a slob, or a shy person misunderstands an extrovert.

    You find awe without magical thinking — I think most atheists have that in common. Many theists feel that their world would be dry, black and white, flat and uninspiring without using spirits and eternity to color it.

    @ TWF:
    Yes, I agree. I am glad for much of what I think is the impact of the Dawkins, Hitchens and others. Their type of voices have woken folks up who may not have understood as clearly without their emphasis.

    Ah, you added: #3 God does not make him/herself obvious. I think there is something to that obviously. But as I said to hypercryptical, I have had tons of superstitious/supernatural experiences which felt/feel like gods were/are talking to me. So I understand those who disagree with you on this one to some extent.

  19. Mary Lynne Schuster


    I would like to understand where you are coming from. What do you consider an extreme atheist position?

  20. @MaryLynneSchuster,

    What I classify as extreme is where belief becomes dogma and where the believer is actively hostile toward those at the opposite end of the spectrum. Many people believe in God and many people believe there is no God (whatever God might be) but they are comfortable with the fact that others hold different views and have no need or desire to convince them they are wrong or to ridicule or condemn them for their beliefs. An extreme atheist, like an extreme religious, is not comfortable with opposite views and does seek to convince, ridicule or condemn.
    Being extreme means being absolute in your position where you have to be absolutely right and anyone who disagrees with you has to be absolutely wrong.

  21. Ian

    My two starting points are this:

    1. I understand how religion works on a functional level. I can see the gears turning and the effects they have. It is easy enough to lift the hood of religion. And while I also don’t understand my car engine well enough to tell you the exact way every single component functions, it is easy enough to say how it works and why. Same with religion.

    2. Empiricism. I am committed to the idea that if things have any effect, we can go and check on them. Even purely psychological phenomena. Even supernatural phenomena (unless you go the decidedly unreligious route of insisting the supernatural is in accessible totally from the natural world). Plenty of theists like to reframe this as some slavish devotion to ‘science’, but its much more basic than that. Does what you’re describing have an effect? If so, let’s go check.

    So I’m very sure religions are man-made, as are gods. And when I’ve tried to look for the effects of the supernatural, they’ve always been absent or perfectly natural.

    I couldn’t be sure that there isn’t some tiny religion in the corner of culture that doesn’t work that way. But like Russel’s tea-pot, there’s no point acting agnostic about that. And besides, the people who are most likely to tell me to be open minded are expounding a religion I know very well, and have studied the drive-train of in great detail.

  22. @ Ian,
    Interesting. Your number 2 is like my number 1, I guess. I want empiricism as a test for interventionist claims — because salvation claims can’t be checked. Claims that religion make me happy, healthy or a better person — even if proved true — are not the ones I want to test, thus I don’t go a broad as needed to address ALL empirical claims of theists.

    Your number 1 is fascinating. But just because you can explain how something works — like Love, for instance, does not mean that will take the truth out of it for someone. But I do think that doing comparative religious studies can change some Christians when they see how similar their activities, hopes, fears and ambitions are when compared to others whom they think themselves categorically different from.

    I agree on Russel’s teapot — “no point acting agnostic” — thus I am pragmatically (acting as ) an atheist.

    Thanx for jumping in.

  23. Reblogged this on The BitterSweet End and commented:
    “To think and to be fully alive are the same.” -Hannah Arendt

  24. Ian

    @sabio – on removing the truth – no indeed. And in fact I know several Christians who’s views on how their religion work are indistinguishable from mine, who don’t think Christianity is anything different to any other. But who are Christians because they choose to be it. Which is okay by me, but not something I could stomach.

  25. @Ian,
    In reality there is no supernatural – everything is natural because it could not otherwise exist. That which is defined as supernatural or paranormal is only so within specific mindsets or belief paradigms which have developed in more recent history.

  26. Ian

    @ros – I agree, but I don’t think you have to assume naturalism to arrive at there being nothing supernatural. I think it follows from empiricism.

  27. Well, I’m not sure if this follows the train of thought, but I thought you might find it interesting to hear from a former “Born Again Christian”, now a “Spiritual-but-not-religious Seeker”: I had people in my Bible study group pray over me in tongues one night. Suddenly I felt a powerful welling up of something in my body and I began to speak in tongues. Before this I had tried to speak in tongues when I prayed, but it just sounded like made-up gibberish so I thought maybe it’s just for some people.
    It was not a fake experience. I don’t know what it is, I don’t understand what I’m saying when I “speak in tongues”, but it sounds like a real language of some kind and I can speak it at any time. I rarely do it, usually just to check if it’s still there. I know something happened to me. I no longer believe the Bible is absolute truth and I no longer attend a Christian church, by the way.
    I guess my point is that there are things that can’t necessarily be explained, but we shouldn’t discard other people’s spiritual experiences because it goes against what we believe, or don’t believe.

  28. @Ian,

    Yes, I agree with you. I perhaps did not explain myself clearly.

  29. @corinnelopez777,

    I agree with you that not all things can be explained and neither can they be understood by those who have not experienced them. No-one who has not given birth can ever truly understand the experience and I am sure that applies to speaking in tongues and other experiences.
    I don’t have a fixed view on this one although I do ponder it. I have a relative who speaks in tongues. She is intelligent, balanced, endowed with enormous amounts of common sense and while she is religious, she is so in a moderate, sensible way. I was surprised when she told me about the ‘speaking in tongues’ and when she said how it had surprised her and so I respect her experience as real and valid for her although I don’t understand it.
    Neither can I see any real ‘point’ to it in a spiritual sense except perhaps to demonstrate as you say, that there are things beyond explanation. The interesting thing about ‘speaking in tongues’ is not so much what it might mean as the fact that it happens, thereby demonstrating brain function capabilities which may be indicative of brain function potential we do not yet appreciate.

  30. @ corinnelopez
    Thanx for visiting.
    I had a similar speaking in tongue experience. I would not call it “fake”, but all my experiences tell me this is not because I am speaking a real language and no spirit is making this possible and I am not in connection with some other consciousness outside my own …

    If someone’s “spiritual experience” is that God told him that the end is near and I should give all my money to the poor (or worse, to him), I would indeed “discard their spiritual experience”. I think it is good to “discard other’s spiritual experience” if they are nonsense. The question is, where do we draw the line.

  31. @corinne,

    Apparently ‘speaking in tongues’ does not use the speech centre of the brain as MRI’s demonstrate. What I would be interested to know is whether or not the ‘speaking in tongues’ is the same or if there are commonalities of sound. Is there any connection with a known spoken language? Not that that would prove anything because so many languages have died out that if there is ‘memory’ involved then it could be a long-dead language. But for that, the ‘speaking’ would have to be consistent – in other words a lot of people are ‘saying’ the same thing or ‘making the same sounds.’
    It is certainly interesting:

  32. For those who have not read it, the book, God’s Debris, A thought Experiment, by Scott Adams, Creator of Dilbert might be interesting in terms of the focus of this thread.

    The book subscribes to the Lakoffian point of view, in that the mind is viewed as a “delusion-generator” rather than a window to true understanding. As George Lakoff said: “Our ordinary conceptual system, in terms of which we both think and act, is fundamentally metaphorical in nature.” The philosophy espoused can also be construed as a form of pandeism, the concept that God created the universe by becoming the universe.

  33. Ian

    @corinne, like Sabio, I learned to speak in tongues as a Christian, and can do so at will now.

    Speaking in tongues is not a language. There are mathematical patterns one can look for that exist in all languages, knows as the information density and entropy of the string. These show tongues is not a normal language, and in fact it carries very little information in the sound at all. The parts of the brain active in tongues speaking are parts associated with sound production, but not meaning or language. Lots of people in different cultures (not just Christians) speak in tongues as part of their worship. One hypothesis is that Christian make sounds based on their ideas about biblical languages: it sounds like a pastiche of unusual greek or hebrew. Lots of glottal sounds, terminal unvoiced ‘th’ and other stuff that is not common in English.

    The best analogy, I think, is Scat singing. It has similar patterns, though the actual sounds are specific to scat: shoo, be, do, whap, ba, sha, etc. If you chant scat replacing the sounds with ‘cha’, ‘eth’, ‘shah’, ‘mak’, ‘luh’ and so on, you get tongues.

    The study of tongues (‘glossolalia’) has recently moved from associating it with altered mental states, or trances (with which it is often correlated, but it doesn’t have to be), or as a pathological condition to the production of tongues as a perfectly normal thing anyone can do.

    Often, as in your experience, it takes an altered mental state to be able to start producing tongues, to get over the feeling of ‘faking it’. But that altered mental state doesn’t seem to make any difference to the actual sounds produced, or neurological response to producing them.

    Good references on tongues:

    Goodman, Felicitas D. Speaking in Tongues: A Cross-cultural Study of Glossolalia. University of Chicago Press, 1972.

    May, L. Carlyle. “A Survey of Glossolalia and Related Phenomena in Non-Christian Religions.” American Anthropologist 58, no. 1 (February 1956): 75–96.

    Newberg, Andrew B., Nancy A. Wintering, Donna Morgan, and Mark R. Waldman. “The Measurement of Regional Cerebral Blood Flow During Glossolalia: A Preliminary SPECT Study.” Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging 148, no. 1 (November 22, 2006): 67–71.

  34. Ian

    @ros – on the commonality with languages. Yes, there are commonalities at the level of phoneme choice (the sounds used), but tongues has no higher level patters, so there is no commonality of words, or grammar. I tend to the view that the phoneme choice correspondence is partly learned (Christians learn the sounds that are ‘allowed’ in tongues by listening to others speak it) and partly trying to emulate the sounds of exotic languages. I’ve heard, for example, someone who claimed to have a gift of xenoglossia (supernaturally speaking in other human languages) do a very bad impression of someone speaking in Chinese, complete with a sing-song imitation of tones.

  35. associatedluke

    “Tell us the 2 or 3 things that you hold strongly that you would use to defend your faith-free life and which allow you to stop desperately “searching” but instead to joyfully explore your worlds?” -Sabio

    1. Better to stand for something than define one’s self against something else.
    Commentary: Applies to belief as well as life in general. Being raised without a father, I attempted to define myself against who I thought he was. In doing so, I had extremely poor self esteem because I could only say what I was against. Not what I was for. Not what hope propelled me. Not what dreams I hoped to achieve or difference I hoped to make in the world.

    2. In the words of MLK Jr, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
    Commentary: I try and fail at being loving. I think it is the only way to bend the world towards blessing and community. Hate doesn’t get you very far. Well, only as far as the next war or battle. Thus I try to do so in my faith context and end up having more in common with others who take this approach in their faith/unfaith contexts than those who run the war route.

    These are how I explore my worlds as a Theological Christian.

    “If you are a non-Atheist (an A-Atheist) who feels we Atheists need to keep searching, let us know why. -Sabio
    -A chemist at Gottingen once stated “Discovery is our business.” I think that is true of all fields of stuff. Discovery ends old questions but also creates new questions. Theists and non need to keep searching. The big sin of the theists is thinking that we have the answer and certainty can seep in. All an atheist has to say is no… and cynicism can sink in. Cynicism can look a lot like sophistication… Neither stances lend themselves to the constant critical questioning that life demands of all of us. A broad brush being used here, but that is the pattern I see.

    Examples: Can a god/gods exist that doesn’t require your #1 or #2? Do theological positions already exist? Would it matter if they did? If religion isn’t on your radar, what is? By what story do you navigate your world? How do you push yourself to new discoveries that are beyond convention? What community do you claim? How do you relate to others or The Other? How do you and your community keep the questions coming, steering gently away from certainty yet avoiding cynicism?

    Note: While the questions start pointed, they get broader and broader until they apply to more than just an individual. Questions I too struggle with and am haunted by.

  36. @Ian,

    Thanks so much. That is an excellent overview of speaking in tongues. In truth I have never been greatly interested in it as a concept or practice but it is always good to have some understanding of things.

  37. @Ian,
    In terms of commonalities I think your earlier comment about it sounding like some ancient language – Hebrew or Greek – is important. Given that the practice seems to be confined (I might be wrong here) to fundamentalist Christianity, where the emphasis is on Old Testament, Biblical approaches, perhaps the ‘speaking in tongues’ arose because someone consciously or unconsciously wanted to believe they could speak in ancient tongues, although it sounds more like the babble of Babel, and it caught on in the way for instance that songs or music can be infectious.
    From my perspective it is pointless and no more than a ‘trick’ – the sort of thing, I think, Jesus mentioned as being fairly unimportant in terms of how best to live one’s life. In other words, it is a ‘performance’ which has little or nothing to do with true spirituality.
    I am not for a minute suggesting people who indulge in it are insincere – quite the opposite – just that it is thoroughly trivial in terms of any true spirituality and completely unnecessary if one is truly bent on connecting with God. It’s ‘playing to the masses’ or the congregation and pandering to ego as opposed to connection with God who in all truth could not give a toss about a lot of things done in the name of religion, but certainly not a bunch of people babbling away in what amounts to gibberish. To my mind it falls into the same category as ‘falling over’ or ‘collapsing’ – again a performance one finds only in the fundamentalist churches. Luckily God has an excellent sense of humour.
    NB: I use the term God for convenience, recognising that the word had different interpretations for different people.

  38. @associatedluke,

    You make some interesting points which make me think. In terms of questions #1 and #2 I would only say that they arise because a literalistic and materialistic view is taken. When questions of spirituality are approached from a metaphorical and symbolic perspective these questions do not exist because their focus has no reality.
    Religion is utterly unnecessary to a spiritual life although a religious life is better served if spirituality is a part of it. Religion can contain spirituality and should but often does not; spirituality can contain religion but has no need of it.
    And one needs nothing to have a story with which to navigate the world although most people come up with one. It is not necessary to have a religious, spiritual, scientific, atheist, humanist or whatever story to navigate the world but some story certainly helps, or rather, brings meaning to what often seems meaningless.
    Neither does one need any of these belief systems to push for new discoveries – curiosity is all one needs and motivation.
    Community is important but equally, it does not need any of the above-mentioned systems – family and friends are more than enough for many.
    Relating to others requires a capacity to care about, to feel for, to enjoy the company of others, that is all – no belief system is necessary although it can help if one has been ‘poorly raised.
    And questions will keep coming for some because that is who they are and never occur to others. However, your comment about ‘steering gently away from certainty and avoiding cynicism’ is salient because whatever system is involved, religion or atheism, it is absolute certainty which closes the mind to questions, tolerance, opportunities and enlightenment.

  39. Jerad

    On defending both a faithful and faith-free life.

    As far as defending atheism or a faith free life, I never feel that defense is necessary. And if it is necessary, there are quite a few articles on the horror of humanity’s actions that are easy to point to and say “There is no god. Or at least not a caring or intervening one”.

    As an agnostic, I do feel the need to defend faith in and of itself. But find it harder to defend faith in abstract concepts. I grew up in Mississippi in a very strict, maybe even somewhat cult-ish, Christian setting. The bible belt basically. It has left me with a very sour taste in my mouth for all religions personally. But there are lessons of faith that an individual could take from a religion and benefit. After all, if one can believe in an all knowing unseen being then trust would most likely come a little easier in other areas of life. But this, according to your perspective, could be a good or bad thing. It could in fact be a possibly detrimental value to hold on to. It all has to do with your own personal relationship with trust.

    The question I don’t think is whether to defend a stance of faith or faithlessness. But to determine whether they are working for you as an individual. More importantly would be to determine what is worth having faith in, and what is worth questioning.

  40. @Jerad,

    I agree with you. I don’t see a need to defend or justify one’s beliefs or lack of them but I suspect the issue arises when someone seeks to convert, or convince others to their point of view.
    Like you I believe that what works for one as an individual is what matters and whatever set of beliefs we come up with which does that, as long as they don’t actively harm others, is fine. Some of the most spiritual and grounded people I have met have been atheists; then again, some of them have been deeply religious. What neither have been are fundamentalist in their beliefs.
    Growing up with Bible Belt religion would leave one with a bad taste and while I personally have no time for any religion I would say there are far, far better versions of Christianity to be found than one might perceive from exposure to fundamentalists.

  41. Ian

    @ros – I think you’re always on dodgy ground if you make judgements about the quality of other people spiritual practice.

    Tongues is definitely not confined to fundamentalist churches, or even to Christianity. As per the references I gave, which trace its use in a broad variety of contexts. The book by Felicitas Goodman also shows its use in practice. She does not find that it is primarily performative.

  42. @Ian,

    That was not what I meant. That is simply my opinion. I think I said earlier and perhaps more than once that I believe people are sincere and I respect that.
    And perhaps this has moved into ‘divided by a common language’ and the complexity of internet communication with its potential for misunderstanding. I did not mean performance in the sense of something one plans and practises and executes for others in a conscious way, but that it was an outward expression which took place publicly and therefore equated with a performance and was therefore dependent upon the ‘participation’ and opinion of others and in that context was not a useful practice in terms of spiritual development. But that too is merely an individual opinion as are most words generally written when such issues are discussed.

  43. @Ian,
    I had a look at Goodman and she has done some interesting work. Glossolalia is not something I know much about but I have studied in depth altered states and many forms of shamanism. I will have to read more but I would be surprised to find the fundamentalist christian form of it is the ‘same’ as found in other spiritual practices. Something to explore and who knows, I may be surprised.

  44. Ian

    @ross – “That is simply my opinion.” I understood that. I was merely providing links to folks who had actually studied the phenomenon in depth and came to conclusions that disagreed with your opinion.

    And ‘performative’ in religious studies (as, presumably you know from your studies of shamanism) doesn’t mean “performance in the sense of something one plans and practises and executes for others in a conscious way”. I did not mean it in that way either. Our disagreement does not appear to be linguistic.

    “I had a look at Goodman” – do you mean you googled her name? Or you read the book?

  45. @ Ian :
    Superb info on tongues! Thank you kindly. I have a tongue post sitting in my writing bin — if you don’t mind, I will add your info to it and put it out in a while.

    @ Luke :
    Everyone has things they stand for. But when their is an enemy such as bigotry, hatred and such, we define ourselves against that. Atheist fight oppressive theism. Luke, you have chosen to align yourself with the majority religion in this country to do your good. I am not sure our addressed the OP or what you are trying to allude to, so I won’t guess.

    @ Jared :
    Thanx for stopping in.
    We agree with my # 1 — interventionalism. There is obviously no caring and intervening god. There is what we have — some need to color it otherwise.

    I have been accosted by Christians many times — and they have insulted and attacked my family’s reputation. And if even you question normal Christian assumptions in polite conversation, you may be asked to defend your lack of faith.

    This post is for folks who have that experience. If someone quietly does not challenge cultural assumptions and politely nods their heads through all conversations in an agnostic (“jeez-we-can’t-be-certain-about-anything sort of way”) then they may never feel this need. I am glad many folks don’t do that.

  46. @Ian,
    The limitations of the internet makes misunderstandings easy and Sabio does not like lengthy posts so seeking to clearly explain exactly what one means can be difficult. I think we are saying similar things at the end of the day.
    I had not heard of Goodman but there are, as you know, thousands of books covering the ground that she does, but I looked to see what I could find about her online and read a couple of things. Clearly one needs to read her books to gain a clear picture of what she is saying.
    Her views on the physiological and neurological impact of body posture sounds interesting and is in line with a variety of healing practices, including of course, yoga and things like Alexander Technique, Bowen Therapy, Tai Chi and others.
    However, having read this article, I would like to read more about her.

    And here:

  47. Ian

    @sabio – you’re welcome to. I’ve a post on glossolalia in my bin too, part of the serious on the supernatural I’ve been building. It will be interesting to see what we each choose to focus on!

  48. Sabio does not like lengthy posts

    Please take care in your accusations.

    In defense of poor Sabio, he likes long comments when they are:

    — coherent, logical and informed

    — focused at the Original Post (OP)

    — not arguing for argument’s sake

    — the author attempts to be succinct

    — have an engaging tone

    — are informative about info related to OP

    — written by folks with proven track record for productive dialogue

    Otherwise, it seems Sabio tends to ignore them.

    My suggestion to people who wish to write long, flooding comments with any of the above traits is to make their own blog and link to it. Then see if commentors here click on their link and visit their blog. It would be good feedback as to how people value your comments.

    PS – ironically, definitions are very important. Things written on this thread are called “comments”, not “posts”. “Post” is what I wrote. To confuse them perhaps illustrates part of the issue.

  49. @ Ian:
    My post on tongues will be merely biographical — I will supplement with your substantive material. I am using it to illustrate many of the points you have made so well. Thanx. Looking forward to your post.

  50. @Sabio,
    I was responding in light of the fact that you wrote very early on in the piece, and said you did not like long posts… or comments which are posted. internet terminology defines anything posted on a blog as a post but I can understand that you would like to differentiate between your original post or comment, and those comments which are posted in response.
    And others have apologised to you for long comments posted so I guessed it was not just me with whom you communicated on that count.
    And given your criteria I would say there are few issues for you.

  51. For me there are not 2-3 things that make me cling to a faith-free-life. And I would never describe it as clinging to a faith free life. Really I concluded that the faith based world view was irrational/illogical. As to what makes me cling to that, their were several things. Bible Contradictions, Discrepancies in Biblical Christian history, unanswered prayer, biblical character of God, morality and atrociites of God, and science.

    But really for me it was the Bible. The bible is what made me cling to a faith free life.

  52. @M.Rodriquez,

    The problem with the Bible is that it has been read and interpreted literally when its message is metaphorical. That and the fact that many chose to believe that it had been ‘channelled’ from God. Ditto for most religious ‘books.’ Read as symbol and metaphor, such writings make far more sense – not always, but often.

  53. associatedluke

    @Rosross: Agreed with your #1 and #2 but disagree with your religion comments. Marcus Borg defines religion as “cultural-linguistic traditions.” Much like being French or Turkish or Korean and so forth.. there are a set of assumptions, myths, values, and such given by the culture and particular meanings given to words. For example, the Christian tradition uses salvation and saved in specific ways and has the Bible in which to draw from. America has myths like Paul Bunyan, the Founding Fathers, and the Constitution to draw from. These things are important and must be considered. No one is free from these things.

    Let’s also explore the word “religion’s” roots: Roots of word “religion” are Religare= meaning “to bind together and connect” and relegere meaning “repeatedly observing something/examining over and over again.” Adequate definition? What would a definition of “spiritual” be?

    @Sabio: “I am not sure our addressed the OP or what you are trying to allude to, so I won’t guess.” I don’t understand this sentence, word missing?

  54. @luke,

    I am not quite sure which bit of my comments in regard to religion were relevant to your comments on Borg. So I am not sure about that with which you disagree.
    I do agree that all religions and societies/nations for that matter have cultural-linguistic traditions as probably does any system of any kind where it is corporate, scientific, academic or whatever. Understanding the myths of each is crucial to having any true understanding of how they work and why they are as they are.
    As to the definition of religion, I would just say that as with many terms, the original meaning does not really relate to its use today. Religion in its pure form would or should be about that which is ‘to bind together and connect’ and in fact this is how I would define spiritual. But religion as it manifests and has it has manifested for a very long time is often about the opposite – disconnection. Religion is also about rules, regulations, laws, dictates, structure and dogma and where such things exist there is less connection, not more.
    The definition of spiritual is:”of or concerning the spirit” (especially in religious aspects), c.1300, from Old French spirituel (12c.), from Latin spiritualis, from spiritus “of breathing, of the spirit; of the non-material. But this is not how I would define it nor how it works in practice in more primitive cultures or in its newly emerging form today.
    Spiritual is at core about connectedness and a spiritual view of life is one where everything has meaning and purpose and all is connected – the material with what we call the non-material; the normal with what we call the paranormal – as part of a whole from the macro to the micro levels and vice-versa. In essence what we call religion was once what I would call spiritual, certainly in those forms of religious expression before the patriarchal age.
    Living life from a spiritual perspective needs no God, no religion, no church, temple, synagogue or mosque; no rules, no system, no dogma and no demands. It is a way of seeing the world and of living in the world and it can be found everywhere, in all things and in all people. At least that is how I see it.

  55. associatedluke

    What I disagreed with is “Religion is utterly unnecessary to a spiritual life although a religious life is better served if spirituality is a part of it.”

    I don’t believe this to be true. Either with Borg’s definition or with the root word. All spiritual exercises, ideologies, worldviews, etc. require, even as one as skeptical as Nietzsche put it “…a long discipline in the same direction.” This is religion. The practice of spirituality, of doing any ritual or using certain words that when are uttered are understood to mean certain things within the group… that is religion. And it is everywhere…

    Yet, “But religion as it manifests and has it has manifested for a very long time is often about the opposite – disconnection. Religion is also about rules, regulations, laws, dictates, structure and dogma and where such things exist there is less connection, not more.” is also true. Every system has it’s zealots, literalists, and boundary definers who push for narrowness even when the belief requires and calls for openness. Calcification of tradition or of the system sets in and we need to work in our respective groups to keep free of this… corporately and personally.

    Hope this clarifies…

  56. @luke,
    Thanks for the explanation. I suppose having seen many religious people with not an ounce of spirituality in any true sense or capacity to ‘connect’ in any way and having observed the destruction caused I have come to believe that religion with spirituality is a better course. And I guess seeing the limitations, narrowness, intolerance, ignorance and fears in many religions it is hard to see why spirituality benefits from its presence.
    Having said that some of the most spiritual, connecting, grounded, wise and compassionate people I have met have been deeply religious in the best sense and some have been atheist. Extremism is the problem.
    But yes, the clarification helps and I suspect we are closer in view than it may appear. I agree completely with the following:
    ‘Every system has it’s zealots, literalists, and boundary definers who push for narrowness even when the belief requires and calls for openness. Calcification of tradition or of the system sets in and we need to work in our respective groups to keep free of this… corporately and personally.’

  57. so should I interpret the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus as symbolic? and really real

  58. M.Rodriquez,
    Given that there is absolutely no historical evidence for a real Jesus Christ it would probably be wiser to interpret the story as symbolic in the way that the story was previously interpreted when told of other ‘saviours’ – Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Babylonian, Mesopotamian who share to varying degrees exactly the same story and attributes of Jesus Christ. There is solid evidence that Christianity created the story of Jesus out of existing redeemer/resurrection tales, just as they did with Mary whose attributes and important dates were lifted from the Egyptian Isis and other Goddess figures.
    To my mind, the importance of Jesus Christ is not in his literal existence as a human being but in the teachings – those same teachings which can be found recorded centuries before he was supposedly born and which clearly reflect the spiritual yearnings of human beings at core level.

  59. @ Luke :
    I could not understand what you were trying to say, or allude to, in your original comment. Did it include things like this:

    (1) Atheists define themselves agains theism — that is stupid.

    (2) Atheists are dark, they can do no good.

    (3) If Atheists don’t keep searching for God, their cynicism is just fake sophistication.

    Cause that is all I really read. Do you disagree with the two items I listed in my OP?

    PS: Arguing the meaning of an abstract word is a waste of time (as I have written about time and time again). Instead, folks should work on coming to an agreement of terms. “Religion”, “Spirituality” and “God” are exactly examples of such abstractions. And arguing meaning based on etymology is mistaken — words change, uses change, origins often don’t have anything to do with present uses. (see Etymology Fallacy)

    @ M. Rodriguez,

    Many progressive Christians get around all sorts of theological problems by choosing for figurative interpretations — and indeed many of the authors used figurative tools. If you escaped literalist Christianity, you may find that surprising — I did. Yes, many people who still call themselves “Christian” look at the resurrection of Jesus as figurative.

    Many non-Christians who like to think of themselves as “Spiritual”, New Agers, Astrologers and the like, often try to make all religion says essentially point to the same deep truth and make all sorts of authors into figurative writers that are pointing to their favorite interpretation of the universe.

    A Buddhist author I enjoy is “David Chapman” who has writte a series on this New Age thought soup — see his intro here: “Pop Spirituality: Monism goes mainstream“. The Wall Street Journal has a good article on this wishful thinking of all religions being essentially one here — an idea that pisses of actual believers themselves who feel these New Age Monists are trying to co-opt their tradition.

    Anyway, back to the OP:
    You said,

    Really I concluded that the faith based world view was irrational/illogical.

    All the Christians I know are not irrational or illogical in any general way at all. They may become that way when they discuss parts of their religions, as do Democrats and Republicans who try to defend their platforms, or some parents when they try to describe their children, or bloggers when defending their posts. 🙂

    The reason for my OP is that I have found that attacking the Bible has many problems: Hey, wait, maybe I will make a post out of that. So you will have to wait.

    But for a taste, most believers don’t believe because of the Bible, their religion is social activism (like Luke), or family and tradition or …
    They only fall back on Bible arguments when they feel your arguments may be threatening the core values — what they hold much more deeply than their beliefs.

    I hope that was clear.

  60. @Sabio,

    Spirituality has nothing to do with astrology or vice-versa so I am not sure why you link it. New-age is a media definition which has nothing to do with spirituality. And anyone who understands a spiritual perspective never thinks of themselves as spiritual – it doesn’t work that way.

    And this is so patently untrue I am surprised given your experiences:
    ‘… often try to make all religion says essentially point to the same deep truth and make all sorts of authors into figurative writers that are pointing to their favorite interpretation of the universe.’

  61. associatedluke

    (1) Atheists define themselves against theism — that is stupid.
    -Some do, and I don’t enjoy them. The 4 horsemen and their claim “If we get rid of religion, all will be well.” is beyond stupid. But this wasn’t the thrust of my argument. It is “defining ones self against something else and sole in terms of against without focusing on the for is faulty/unhealthy/not a holistic worldview whether it’s atheist or theist. You’re reading into my words.

    (2) Atheists are dark, they can do no good.
    -? no idea where you read that… Tillich, Niebuhr and Kierkegaard are all dark and are my fav theologians. Don’t see how this fits or where you’re getting this.

    (3) If Atheists don’t keep searching for God, their cynicism is just fake sophistication.
    -Another part that you read into. If they don’t keep searching PERIOD. Not for God. I really don’t care that they are an atheist, I only care when their beliefs calcify and get really rigid until their view is the only view worth having. I took pains to say that this is a theist thing too, not just an atheist thing.

    “Cause that is all I really read.”
    -You need to read again without all your junk in the way.

    “Arguing the meaning of an abstract word is a waste of time”
    -Obviously I don’t agree. And unless you feel that your view is the only view worthy having, I still think we can be in conversation and relationship.

  62. @luke,

    Well said.

  63. associatedluke

    Missed this gem: “their religion is social activism (like Luke)”
    -That made me chuckle. I love when people say “the social gospel” like there’s some other version out there.

  64. Luke, what do you think of Christians who think that the ONLY place to look for inspiration and truth and advice on how to live is the Bible?

  65. @ Luke,
    I am not reading into your words, I just can’t (as is often the case — as you know) understand your words. Sooooo, I checked in and told you what I thought I heard. This is a common communication technique that you should be familiar with.

    (1) I truly doubt the atheists you describe *define* themselves against theism. I think you don’t understand the phenomena.

    (2) So if atheists are suppose to keep searching, what are they suppose to search for? Did you see my post here from Jan 2010: Searchers vs. Explorers. It may help you understand my point — even if you still disagree.

    Interesting analysis when you derogatorily said,

    -You need to read again without all your junk in the way.

    Maybe I need an exorcist to get all that horrible *junk* out of me.

    I am not sure you understand the philosophy of language and rhetoric stuff behind my statement on arguing about abstract words — so I am not sure if you would disagree with careful explanation. But then, you might. But I have written on that too much to pursue further here.

    I believe people can get by and even do well with all sorts of views — even wrong ones. You have seen me write on that before. I disagree about lots of things with very dear f2f friends — but we still debate often. I am sure you realize that.

  66. Earnest

    I like atheists better when they say what they believe rather than attacking other opinions. I also think that the very word “Atheist” is a comparing word, that references “Theist”. Maybe we should throw out the term “Atheist” and use something like “Realist”, someone who believes in the real and disbelieves the unreal.

    I am an Unrealist, as I have (fading) false beliefs in future salvation by a benevolent being.

  67. Earnest

    As an Unrealist am in constant search for the Unrealistic in life.

  68. @Earnest,

    Realist is not the right word because it is subjective and the opposite has to be unreal, which is too much of an unsubstantiated judgement since ‘real’ is often in the mind of the beholder.
    But you could use Materialist for atheist or empiricist, that would work. In reality the most sensible position is agnostic – or not sure – because no-one can be absolutely sure there is not a God, or conscious intelligence which has created and is at work in the universe, or that there is.

  69. [Note to readers, “Earnest” is a personal f2f friend in town]

    @ Earnest :
    You are a chameleon — you become religious when convenient and a skeptic otherwise. You find great glory in finding the right color– that is your exploration, your searching. And you are a successful, beautiful chameleon!

    On a serious note: I have a list of terms here that people have experimented for to describe those with a faith-free life.

    I think you are right, “Realist” is another good one. Particularly because it makes the point. At any given time, different expressions help make a point.

  70. You get ‘realist’ in ‘materialist’ pretty much. The trouble with realist is that it sits on a fairly arrogant assumption that what does not ‘fit’ into the use of the term, does not exist and that is dangerous ground. Things may not exist in the sense that they can be empirically proven or demonstrated by a materialist approach but that does not mean they do not exist fullstop.

  71. @Corporal Coran Qurtis, OSB: “what do you think of Christians who think that the ONLY place to look for inspiration and truth and advice on how to live is the Bible?”
    -Two things: 1. How impoverished they are. It makes me sad. 2. What crap that is. It makes me mad. They are usually looking at their own interpretation and culturally fed convention into what they THINK the bible says, not what it actually says.

    @Sabio: We all read stuff into stuff… we all have junk. Doesn’t mean we need an exorcism (plus I’m protestant, that’s a catholic thing ;-)) just means we’re coming from two separate places. Some of it is due to personal history, and some is due to the cultures we are in… and since you don’t believe in culture, that’s another conversational dead-end.

    Yet, (1) I truly doubt the atheists you describe *define* themselves against theism.
    -as Ernest stated, “the very word “Atheist” is a comparing word, that references “Theist”.” Plus the atheists I run into on the web and in my daily life have been so wounded by religion, they have every right to be mad.. yet they can’t see past their own wounds. Then you have peeps like tildeb and his juvenile view. I don’t think you realize that there is a group using the term “atheist” to mean this very think: defined against all things religious. Yet there are many mature peeps who also use the term who just mean they define their lives without the help of a religion or god/s and don’t have an exactly negative view towards religious peeps.

    “(2) So if atheists are suppose to keep searching, what are they suppose to search for?”
    -Discovery. Whatever that looks like. Keep asking questions and keep finding answers that cause you to ask new questions.

    I think I see the source of the problem that you labeled “not on the OP” which would be my example questions. Those are purely examples that came to my mind in that moment, and thus my questions. You gotta ask your own. Those were figurative… you know… examples.

  72. Atheistic_Theist

    A Atheist: I believe some sort of searching is good for everybody, but not necessarily religious searching. Many atheists and theists alike stop searching or caring about the big questions in life, or act like they have the answers. Searching should be done even if they are theist, as to how they should treat others and why the world is how it is.

    Atheists should keep searching for the same thing. I don’t think either one has cornered the market on intellectual thought, but I do think it is a shame to stop searching when there is an interest in Philisophically matters

  73. koppieop

    @Sabio: Another negative connotation of ‘Agnostic’ is that it easily suggests a weak opinion..”poor chap,.he can’t make up his mind”. Still, this is the term that best describes my views on life. I think that the answers to the Big Questions will NOT be revealed to us. This may sound pessimistic, but to tell the truth, I am not curious to know them – just like I don’t want to look behind the curtains of magicians. I am so comfortable trying to understand explanations, in constant awe. –

  74. @Atheistic Theist
    Nah, it is OK to stop searching for stuff for which all evidence fails to exist: dragons, bigfoot, intervening gods …
    Only so much “search” time in the day , after all.

    @ Koppieop,
    I agree “agnositc” does sound weak opinioned == poor chap.
    But you are describing = Apathetic — apathetic about certain question.
    Just as I am apathetic about Big Foot or Aliens, I guess.

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