Saturday, February 14, 2009

Cause and Effect

In this post I'll discuss what happened as a result of this recent experience of mine. What were the bad things that happened, what were the good things that happened, and why did I decide to begin writing about this in my blog?

The Bad
Its pretty obvious what the most negative consequence of these discussions was. My friendship with this girl has taken severe damage and it remains to be seen whether we can salvage it. I don't want to belittle this point, because this alone makes me very very sad. I got closer to this girl than I could have ever imagined. I typically don't form close relationships with people because I have a hard time finding friends that I really connect with. She is the one friend I have in Austin who I felt completely comfortable with. I felt like I could talk about anything with her and do everything with her. I really, really value my friendship with her and she's a very important person in my life. It makes me sad to think that religion could tear us apart forever. Even if that is not the case, I doubt that we will ever be as close as we once were.

I'm not so sure I feel entirely comfortable around her anymore as well. Her admission that she would kill young children if God commanded her too really scares me. I thought about this carefully and during an online chat once I told her I wasn't sure that I could feel comfortable around her anymore. She asked why, and I cited her earlier admission and said "What if God commanded you to kill me? How can I feel comfortable knowing that you wouldn't even question that command?". (She never responded to this question so I don't know her answer). There are numerous examples in the bible where God commands people to kill those close to them, including parents sacrificing their children. If God would accept the blood of the innocent, he surely has no problem asking my faithful friend to extinguish a blasphemer such as myself. Of course I don't believe in God so I don't think that he will ever tell my friend to kill me. I raised the point as more of a hypothetical question. Because if I did believe in God, then I may have good reason to fear my friend.

And her YEC stance makes me greatly uncomfortable as well. I've been thinking very deeply and philosophically about this lately. My friend and I have a list of activities to do around the Austin area. A couple of those things were to go exploring the local historical cave sites and to go star gazing. But can I really appreciate doing those activities with a friend who believes the earth is only a few thousands years old? If that were the case, most of the stars in the sky should not exist. If that were the case, then there's no way that she could appreciate the millions of years of erosion and geological formations in those caves. I can't imagine viewing the universe in the same way as a YEC does. For example, if I'm touring a beautiful garden with a friend and this friend says "Wow, look at all the fairies in this garden!". I don't see the fairies but my friend insists that they are there, making the flowers beautiful and taking care of them. Are we really appreciating the same garden? Can I appreciate nature and the stars and history with such a friend?

The Good
There are, however, many unexpected good results of this too. The best one is that my thirst for knowledge and understanding has been revived. When graduate school ended back in December 2006 I had to take so many months to recover from my anxiety disorder. By the time I was feeling back to normal, I just no longer really cared to learn anything anymore. But now that feeling is back and it is just as strong as it was before I became a graduate student. My passion to learn really drives me in life and I am very thankful to have it back again.

I have learned so much in the past two months it is incredible. Initially all that I was learning was about Christianity and the Bible. As I was reading the bible though, I began to wonder how true the stories in it were. For example, the book of Matthew discusses King Herod of Judea under the Roman Empire. This king really did exist. Matthew describes how Herod heard that the Messiah (Jesus) had been born in his lands and ordered that all infants two years or younger be killed (see massacre of the infants). Jesus and his human parents fled to Egypt to escape this massacre. The problem with that story is that Herod had a personal historian who kept detailed records of his days. Although Herod committed many awful acts as King according to his own historian, there is nothing in these records that describe the massacre of the infants. Furthermore, there is very good evidence that King Herod died in the year 4BC, 4 years before the birth of Jesus Christ. I've learned a lot of history about the times which are mentioned in the bibles.

After talking to my friend and learning about her YEC stance, I began re-evaluating my own stance. I do believe in evolution, and I do believe that the universe is billions, not thousands, of years old. But why do I believe that? What evidence support my beliefs? Am I justified in my beliefs? These questions led me to go back and re-discover the answers that I once found, evaluated, and decided were true. I've studied biology, chemistry, physics, astronomy, cosmology, palentology, archaelogy, and history. And I'll share the things that I have learned through my studies in future posts, and justify why I hold the views that I do.

I've also been learning about religion in general, not just Christianity. My roommate (also an atheist) took a couple courses on religion during his college years and lent me the textbooks that he studied. I've studied them to try to understand why people hold the beliefs that they do. Why do some people reject science and historical evidence when they conflict with their beliefs? What role does our childhood experiences play in what we believe as adults? I've started looking into psychology and sociology to find these answers. I have my own hypotheses about these answers, which I will share in future posts. I do hope to share them when I have better knowledge of the human mind and childhood development.

Another positive benefit I've gained from this experience is awareness. I am more aware of (what I consider to be) some of the dangerous beliefs that some religious people hold. I can no longer afford to be naive about these people, because their views do affect my life both directly and indirectly. I'm aware now that as an atheist, I belong to the most distrusted group in America. In the past I've been somewhat of a "hidden" atheist. I didn't tell people that I was an atheist unless they ask or unless it is relevant information to share. That's probably why I haven't experienced a lot of discrimination from believers that other atheists have experienced. I've decided to be more open about being an atheist and to do my part to try and dispel the negative stigma about atheism. Like everything else, I'll discuss discrimination and atheism in a future post.

The Effect
So why have I decided to start blogging about all this? The main reason is because I've learned so much and prepared so many questions for my friend, and now I can't share them with her anymore because I agreed to not speak about religion or her beliefs anymore. All these thoughts in my head that I was going to share with her suddenly had no where to go, and it was driving me crazy. Thus, I decided to share them in my blog because I need to get them out of my head!

A secondary reason is to raise education and awareness about these sorts of questions that are so fundamental to our lives. I'm speaking to both atheists and religious people in this respect. If someone decides to accept or reject a viewpoint, I want them to have well supported and intelligent reasons in doing so. Education is something that I think our society doesn't respect enough here in the United States and across all other nations. And I do blame religion in part for playing a role in making people less educated and less enlightened about the world and the reality in which we live.

I realize that being on my blog and avaiable in the public domain, my friend has the access and opportunity to read what I have to say here. I'm not going to force my blog entries down her throat, but I will tell her that what I think and feel is available here. It will be up to her whether or not she chooses to read what I have to say, but I hope that she does. But I don't want her or anyone else to mistakenly think that I am writing these postings specifically for her because that is not the case. Using this blog to indirectly share my thoughts with my friend is a teriary reason for why I write.

That's all for now. Next time I think I'll discuss why it is that I trust science and likewise distrust religion.

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Blogger Sean Leather said...

Did I ever share the article on the Monkeysphere with you? This article profoundly affected my way of thinking about the circle of relationships that I keep and those outside that circle. I highly recommend reading it if you haven't.

As usual, good article. I agree with many things you've said. Strangely enough, I find it somewhat unfortunate that we didn't discuss more about life when we knew each other in the same city.

I admire your openness. I am still somewhat intimidated by the consequences of posting personal things to a blog, thus you have the lack of such information on mine.

On one hand, could it alienate people? Could it cost me a job in the future? Could it become a sore point in my side for some reason?

On the other hand, why not be honest? Why should I be afraid to explain myself? I should take responsibility for my feelings and my beliefs. If people have problems with them or if it causes me issues, then perhaps it's better to start off that way instead of finding out something later.

I have generally let the fear keep me from being open. Not being very confident in myself, I haven't been ready to accept responsibility for the things I might say.

But I don't know... I've often felt the pull to change, to be transparent, to address any potential disagreements upfront and head-on. We'll see...

12:52 PM  
Blogger Tyler Olsen said...

No you didn't. Its an interesting article so thanks for sharing it now. :)

I must admit that these are not the sort of things that I constantly think about. Life would be too difficult if I was always criticizing and critiquing and analyzing every little thing. (Strangely enough, my friend called me over analytical just a few days before she turned around and called me quick minded). But I'm thinking about them directly now because they are relevant to my situation.

I used to be pretty closed up like you. You're correct that this could definitely alienate some people. In fact, I'm wondering if I'm going to lose any of my friends on Facebook (who have access to this content, and many of whom are religious). But if someone is going to throw away their friendship with me simply because I'm atheist, why would I want to have friends like that in the first place? And any job that would discriminate me because of my religious stance or my views is not a worthwhile job either. I've never for one second regretted being open with people, but I have many times regretted being closed.

Actually I've been playing the idea of running for public office sometime in the future because I'm generally interested in helping to make the world a better place and I think I have the knowledge and intellect to do a good job at it. If I ever do decide to run though I'm sure some of what is written on my blog might not be the best to say for someone with political aspirations. But I still refuse to restrain my thoughts and feelings to myself.

I've also dealt with low confidence before, especially throughout my childhood. But through doing well in school, work, my races, and generally being a good and well-rounded person I've come to gain confidence. I am totally willing to accept responsibility for what I say and I'm fully prepared to defend my positions.

I used to be a very seclusive person. Thinking back to those times I much prefer the way I am now. It feels very liberating to be open and honest with everyone you meet.

7:30 PM  

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