Anyway, right when I was feeling pretty bleak about the future of HDC, I received an email that makes it all worth it. I got it from a nice man we'll call Abraham:
Hi Neece: I found your "Heaving Dead Cats" blog via the "Atheist/Catholic" blog. As I turned 50 earlier this year, I have done a lot of thinking about what and how I believe. In part from things you have said, and in part because of other issues, I realize that the best explanation about why there are things like "natural disasters", and debilitating illness is that if there is a "God", he/she/it is not involved in the things today. I know that a basic tenant of Christianity is that God is involved in things now. So, I guess that I am close to becoming a practical atheist (and it is scary). I realize that I have always been skeptical about miracles, either today, or in history, so I know I must embrace that. I have more of an issue about how things came into being if there is no God. Right now, I see God more as an "it", something that started it all, and does not interfere in things. I live close to a secular, liberal arts college, so I am sure there are atheists either involved in the college, or involved in the UU fellowship (I know from having attended in the past that the UU is open to atheists, and there is at least one there). I will say thank you for your assistance in helping me to think about things of this nature.
... I will keep you in touch on my journey towards atheism (which I am sure will be a complete journey). I had rejected the idea of eternal damnation about 10 years ago, so I did not have that to concern myself with. If I can figure out how the universe started, I think I can fully embrace the atheism that my head says is right.
For atheists who are out of the closet, it can be kind of frustrating at times, dealing with people who treat you differently just because you don't believe in their fairy tales and dogma. I've tried to have friendly discussions with True Believers, and not argue with them. It almost invariably fails. I've tried to keep religion off the table with family members and just have a secular relationship with them. They often can't seem to manage it. I've received many vitriolic emails from religious people through this site or others I've worked on, simply because I have an opinion that differs from their narrow worldview and/or because I'm promoting things they hate, like science and critical thinking.
It's amazing how religious people (who think they are morally superior) can be so hateful. No matter how reasonable I try to be, it seems that sometimes just my godless presence is enough to offend a True Believer, and that I actually speak my mind reminds them how "persecuted" they are.
Sigh! And you know, to be honest, when I read what happens around the country and around the world in the name of religion, I get pretty damned offended too. Most of the time, I'm quite happy to live in a quiet peace with people of differing worldviews. We can agree to disagree. But when you try to force your beliefs down my throat, or hurt others with it, I get really upset about that, and rightly so.
So when I get an email that says that I helped someone in some small way, "my cup runneth over" with happiness. I don't think that Abraham has to agree with me, or that he has to become an atheist. I'm just thrilled that I helped someone to think about things in a way that hopefully expanded their horizons or made them question their indoctrinated beliefs. These emails invigorate me.
What could be more wonderful than that?
So I told Abraham that a local UU church and his local college campus are both great places to find a friendly community, not to mention a local atheist/skeptical/humanist/freethinker group that might be in his area. They are popping up everywhere! :)
Now, regarding Abraham's dilemma of how the universe began, it's one of those mysteries we don't have a definitive answer for yet.
It's a wonderful mystery how the universe started. I recommended The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking (I haven't gotten to read it yet but it's on my list at some point, and I've heard interviews of Hawking talking about it). Hawking is one of the smartest people on the planet in his field (albeit not perfect of course, since he's got rather strong ideas about aliens, but hey, we all have our idiosyncrasies!). I think he has the most helpful hypotheses for how the universe as we know it began, but of course, we really don't know. The LHC - Large Hadron Collider - will hopefully answer more questions about the Big Bang, but we can never know what came before that. Unless you listen to string theorists like Michio Kaku, who sometimes sounds like he's completely off his rocker. :P
But, I'd rather have questions that can never be answered than answers that can never be questioned. I think we know so much, considering how long in the history of our species that we've been searching earnestly for those answers. Science is getting us closer, but like I said, we might never have the complete picture.
That, of course, does not mean that religion has the answers though. Just slapping the "God Did It" label on things says nothing. It simply stops us from asking any more questions. It's like your mother saying, "because I said so, now stop asking questions and eat your Brussels sprouts!"
And really, which is more helpful?
1. What we know now (through physics, math, observation and experimentation) is that the universe started in a Big Bang about 13.7 billion years ago. Our research has given us insight as close as less than a teeny little fraction of a second after the Big Bang. We are working to get even closer, to narrow that microsecond down even more. Science is constantly working on understanding this mystery.
We might never know what happened before the Big Bang, though. So what started it is speculation at this point, and might always be. But even here, the speculation is based on math, it's not just crazy people off their meds making stuff up. It's still not testable, though (like String Theory, multiverses, etc). It could be at some point down the road, but I wouldn't hold my breath for evidence any time soon.
2. God Did It. Everything in the Universe was created by God. God, of course was not created. Trust me on this, I know it doesn't make sense but God doesn't have to make sense. The whole universe was created for man, to worship God and tell him how awesome he is. (just ignore that 99.9999999999999999% of the universe is deadly to humans, and that something like 90% of Earth, our very own playground planet, is also inhospitable without some man-made assistance).
God created Adam out of dirt and then I guess he didn't have enough to create Eve, so he had to take a rib from Adam to make her. This is after Adam complained that he couldn't find a suitable partner with any animals. We all came from these 2 people.
Remember, this is the same "loving" deity who got angry that his toys didn't work exactly as he wanted them to (which shows how bad he is at creating!) so he wiped out all life on Earth except for one family headed by a drunk.
Then when his new toys (all populated from Noah's very small family were fruitful and multiplied all over the place, God got upset with how sinful his toys were again (no, he never addressed the problem), so he impregnated a virgin who was about to be married to some hapless fellow. Then Mary gave birth to God's son. This was so that his son Jesus, who is really God himself, would be sacrificed to fulfill some prophecies from before. God couldn't find any other way to fix his pesky problem of humans sinning and worshiping other gods (wait, there are others?). Having a son (who is himself) killed by the state is the only way. And hey, for giggles, let's blame God's chosen people, the Jews, so they will be persecuted for millennia afterward.
Of course, this didn't change anything here on Earth. People have never stopped being cruel to each other, and still sin a lot. But Jesus is going to return from Heaven someday (really!) and battle with Satan. Then the righteous will go to Heaven and the rest will burn in Hell for all eternity. Ways to get into Heaven differ depending on your interpretation of the extremely contradictory information provided in the one source that we have for all this, the bible. Yes, the punishment for being skeptical is the same as if you commit mass murder. You will burn in Hell, not for a set period of time for each sin, but for All Eternity. A billion years x Infinity +1! But, every good system has a loophole. So if you live a despicable life of cruelty, you can ask for forgiveness on your deathbed and go to Heaven. Sheesh!
A note on the bible: the old testament was written in the Iron Age. The new testament was written 40-100 years or so after the death of Jesus, by men who had never met him. But we are told that it's all divinely inspired. Ignore how much it changed over the last 2,000 years, especially when it was just being formed.
So that's more satisfying? This preposterous collection of fables told by angry, contradictory, misogynistic, barbaric goat herders 2,000 + years ago?
To be fair, Abraham basically defines himself as a Deist now, although he didn't use that term. In other words, perhaps a god just created the universe then went off to other projects, leaving it to do its own thing. I guess it's one way to look at it. But it still comes down to who created that god then, among other philosophical conundrums.
Why not just take out the middleman and say that the universe just happened for reasons we can't know, at least not yet? Science asks and answers billions of questions. Religion just tells you to shut up and bow down. It spoon feeds you a fairy tale that makes no sense, and you are supposed to blindly accept it or be tortured for All Eternity for trying to think for yourself. I'll take science and a bit of uncertainty over delusions and fairy tales any day.
I asked Abraham to keep in touch on is Quest.