Friday, October 27, 2006

War is Hell

I am at a war. Inexplicably, I did not know it, and only recently made this discovery. No, I am not talking about the tragedy in Iraq, nor some other foreign war.

Nope, me. Personally. I was informed by a believer that solely due to the fact that I am an unbeliever, he is “at war” with me. Wow. I had no idea it was that serious!

Have you ever thought about what it means to make a formal declaration of war? It is a statement that means for a period of time we can suspend normalcy. Normally we attempt to talk rationally as human beings and work out our differences. In a time of war, diplomatic relations are severed.

Normally we only involve those directly related to the situation. In a time of war, “collateral damage” is expected. Normally we do not take a gun, a cannon, a rocket launcher, and do our level best to render another human being into the smallest possible bits of flesh. In war it is called “a battle.” Normally we do not hold people for ransom. In war, we exchange prisoners-of-war.

In the legal field, we discuss the propagandistic value of calling it a “War on Drugs.” If we can convince America that this is no simple crime, this is no ordinary felony, but that we are actually at WAR then the suspension of what is normally expected can be justified.

If you are printing millions of counterfeit bills in your house, it is not reason enough to seize the home. But if you grow one marijuana plant in your bedroom--the house, the barn, and the real estate can be taken by the government. Why the disparity? Because we are at war!

It is amazing the amount of dollars obtained by police departments through drug forfeitures. I am aware of one department that had so much, it did not know what all to buy with it so they bought grenade launchers. Yikes! (“Stop or I’ll shoot” took on a whole new meaning!)

In my state, if you are caught smoking pot, your driver’s license is suspended for 6 months. Not if you are caught smoking while driving—if you are caught anywhere at all. Driving need not be involved. What does one have to do with the other? Nothing whatsoever. But because we are at war, we can use any means necessary to stop the pernicious drug problem.

Our prisons are overflowing, our system is clogged, and our probation departments overwhelmed. When you are at war, you take as many of the enemy as you can. You don’t stop and think about the consequences, you don’t consider your position. No, you fight, fight, fight until you win.

We certainly see it with our current “War” on terrorism. Normally we would fight to protect our civil rights. To NOT have phone taps without valid warrants. But since we are at WAR, what we expect in normal life must be suspended. Normally we would cringe to hear America has secret camps, or has engaged in torture, or refuses to provide hearings for accused persons. But once we discover we are “At War” we understand that such things are a necessary evil.

Of course once we are no longer at war, we expect things to go back to normal. Right?

The problem of the Drug War, or the War on Terror, is that there is no end. There is no point in which an enemy capitulates, and the rifles are put down. There is not time at which we can return to normal.

It is with those thoughts that I am confronted with the fact that another person is “at war” with me, simply because of how I believe.

It was intriguing that this claim came about because we were discussing when it is appropriate to deceive another. And the person justified the use of deceit against a non-believer because we are “at war.” What was even more fascinating was how many simply shrugged and accepted that statement as an appropriate response! What we would normally never accept, if cloaked in terms of “war” we justify!

“What are you doing to that man! You should stop!”
”Why? We are at war.”
“Oh. Sorry. Didn’t know. You go right ahead, then.”

Have we gone so far insane that we are now using “war” as an excuse to suspend normal interaction and vindicate whatever action we desire?

Before one considers me an alarmist—consider the actions of the Russians on the German front, at the end of WWII. Because of the long, terrible ravages of war, when pushing the Germans back, the Russians would enter a village, rape the females, and kill the mayors. We look back on this with disgust, and think, “How horrible!” but why was it occurring in the first place? Why wasn’t anyone stepping up and saying to their fellow soldiers, “This is wrong.”? Simple. Because it was a time of war, and war is a terrible thing. Shocking things happen in war.

It is a time when normalcy is suspended.

We only need to read the tales of the Tanakh to see the Canaanites were labeled as “non-believers,” the people were informed they were “at war” and genocides happened. The same people that inform me they are “at war” with me, believe God literally tells people to kill others solely for what they believe.

What was more surprising was that after I was informed I was “at war,” no one stepped up and said, “Whoa, whoa, whoa. Going a little far there, don’t you think?” Instead they sat around, sagely nodding their heads and rubbing their chins, stating, “At war, eh? I see. I see.”

I am not interested in a war. I will debate, argue, discuss, interact, and even fight. But when I start to see a person justifying an action we would never accept as normal under the guise of “a war” and others nodding in agreement, a great part of me wonders—what is next? There is no enemy to surrender here. There will always be unbelievers. How far will a person go, rationalizing their actions under that three letter word?

Friday, October 20, 2006

Wanna Fight?

I have been off, in my wanderings, looking into different possibilities about God. Mostly talking about God creating Time. What a spiritual realm consists of. And how to resolve the Problem of suffering. It is rather long, and fairly boring. I wouldn’t bother reading it if you are at all sleepy:

Part One
Part Two
Part Three

When we start a lawsuit, we have a period of “Discovery” which is exactly what it sounds like—I discover what witness, documents and testimony the other side will bring, and they equally discover the same about my position. There is no more “Trial by Surprise” anymore. (Although it really only reduces surprise, not eliminate it by any stretch.)

Before I debate, I like to “discover” what their position is. Not so much to avoid strawpeople, (my new PC term) but to actually communicate with a person as to what their particular belief is. Just saying you are a “Christian” is not very limiting. That means a whole variety of things from Catholic to Liberal to Charismatic to Mormon to Calvinist. And anything else, besides.

Admittedly, it is frustrating when the “Constant Fight” light is on, and the other person wants to pick apart every single possible item conceivable. “You are arguing against the Presuppositionalist position of the Missouri Synod of 1952, and I am of the Presuppositionalist position of the Indiana Conference of 1942. Second division.”

Give us a break, will ya? This may come as a surprise, but I have not memorized every position, every nuance, every offshoot branch of each and every God that has come out of the Tanakh!

And even then, it is better than the:

“Nope, that is not what I believe.”
“Nope, don’t believe that either.”
”Not my belief.”
“Nor is that.”

Do me a favor—tell me what you DO believe! Please. The constant guessing game begins to feel exactly like a New York Three Care Monte.

“Nope, wrong card.”
“Nope, wrong card.”
“Nope, wrong card.”

I am sure it is part of my presentation (and maybe even my reputation) but people get their hackles up when all I want to do is make sure I know what the heck they are talking about.

So much of the internet debate on theism has become “Who can win?” and less of “How do we believe differently?” And parties on every side of every issue are equally to blame.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Stuck on You

Ever feel stuck?

I have a confession to make that very few know about me. (Ahh, the anonymity of the ‘net.) I have a condition known as Brown’s Syndrome. Essentially, certain small muscles around my left eye swell, vastly reducing the range my eye can move. Of course my right eye continues to move just fine, resulting in double vision when I look in certain directions. (Up.)

It is intermittent. Which means it can come on in the middle of the night and either disappear by morning or be with me for a week. It can last five months, a day, or not affect me for a year.

It is a good reminder of what it means to be “stuck.”

(Humorous side note. You know you have a fun condition when the titles of your doctors get longer and longer. I went from an optimist to an ophthalmologist to a neuro-ophthalmologist. Nothing like having the head of the eye department of a local hospital network ask if you could come back tomorrow so he can have his students examine you as well, as they are never likely to see such a pronounced example of your situation. Greeaaattt!)

All of us are stuck at times. Stuck by our employment. Stuck by our location. Stuck by our church, our family, our marriage, our children, our medical conditions. Stuck by life.

In my practice two scenarios come vividly to mind.

There are times I deal with juveniles or teenagers that commit crimes. I am placed in the position of informing their parents that these young men will be serving prison time for many years. Or be in juvenile detention for years. I watch these parents’ lives crushed.

They would do anything to take the place of their sons. They worked hard to provide and love their sons, yet in a moment—in an instant of a bad decision--their lives are changed. They are stuck.

The second circumstance is domestic violence. I see these women, abused by their husbands, yet refusing to leave them out of a fear of financial or emotional deprivation. In the constant paradox of hate/love of a man who beats them, yet later hugs them. They too, are stuck.

Face it—it stinks to be stuck.

When I get Brown’s Syndrome, eventually there comes a moment, a time where, with a visible “Pop” my eye begins to move freely. Oh, what a relief! To see again without double vision. To look up, down, right and left and not worry about that annoying view; not worry, “Will it stay this way? Is this it?”

All of us that are stuck are looking for that “Pop.” That moment where we feel free. The breeze on our face, the sun in our eyes, and the bright anticipation of the future, rather than the dread of tomorrow.

The internet has changed all of our lives. We can now talk to someone in Singapore or Paris with just a few clicks on the keyboard. Looking for a domestic abuse group? Google will bring up hundreds. We can now talk to others who are completely dissimilar to us, or exactly like us. We can find people that have the same problems, the same stuckness we have. I imagine I can find others with Brown’s Syndrome if I looked.

It is here that—for a second—we can unstick ourselves.

We can assume silly monikers like “DagoodS” or “Flaming Hot Rod” or “Bunch o’ Fun” or whatever we want. We can argue, we can laugh, we can love, we can get into grudges, even! Isn’t it amazing to watch people that become personally involved with “Cranky Pete” and actually spend more time focused on exacting revenge on an unknown user from Arizona, rather than their own lives!

It is here that we can release those anxieties and communicate and find a respite from the everyday stickiness.

I have another confession to make—I have never met, in person, a deconvert. Oh, I have met atheists. Not ones that want to talk about God, of course, since it would be as silly (to them) as talking about Santa Claus not being real. John W. Loftus was recently in a debate, and had it been closer to my locale, I hoped to attend and meet him. Literally, just to meet another deconvert.

While I hope to meet one in real life some day (sounds like we should be in a zoo, doesn’t it? *chuckle*) at the moment it is enough to have a chance to interact on-line.

To all of us that feel “stuck” at the moment, I hope we appreciate the fact we have others that we can communicate with through this medium. I have many people going through my mind that I wish I could hop in my car and drive to their house to have a coffee with them. I can’t. So, for right now, the ‘net will have to do.

I know we all feel stuck in some way. I hope we realize, like my pesky Brown’s Syndrome, that it is intermittent. That someday, it will “pop” and we will no longer be stuck.

I didn't mean it.

Often we are confronted by people who are aghast at the notion of no after-life. No God. “How can you have any meaning to your life?” they wail.

To be honest, I do not recall the idea of “meaning” as even crossing my mind during my deconversion. (Lo, these two years hence.) At that time I was struggling with even the notion there was no Christian God, or if there was a God what it looked like, and if I picked the wrong one what the consequences would be.

Probably the closest I ever came to being concerned about losing my “meaning” in life, is my fear of getting the wrong “meaning.” What if I picked wrong and it turned out that the “meaning” in my life was to give some God glory by eternally roasting? Yikes!

But I never remember a moment of saying, “Gee, if I head down this path I will lose some ultimate meaning.”

As humans, we are so focused on our lives. I am at that stage where I am worried about daughter’s dating, future college expenses, house repairs, retirement, children activities, and whether I will retain enough hair to give it a chance to go gray before falling out.

My friends with their theistic belief, with their “ultimate meaning” have the same concerns and focus as I do. They are just as worried about their kids. About their jobs. About their marriages.

See, even with some “ultimate meaning” we have to live in the here and now. We have to replace the old tires on our vehicle, visit the doctor when we are sick, and treat our spouse to an occasional special dinner. We live.

It has been my experience that most people are not devoting much time, if any, to the concern of some ultimate meaning, or grand purpose in their life. Only in internet debates, or perhaps the rare occasion by being confronted with an individual that is unconvinced of any after-life, does the thought even seriously cross most people’s minds. At best, it is a “someday something will happen” passing reflection.

While there have been suggestions that atheists should kill themselves, I think (I hope) most theists understand that just because we are unconvinced anything happens post-mortem, does not mean we cannot enjoy life now, and therefore we are squeezing every bit of meaning out of it as possible.

However, I have noticed a change within me. I have gained a sense of urgency that I did not have before. Unwittingly, I had “settled.” I had relaxed into a position that someday, somehow, I will have time to resolve any outstanding issues. When all of eternity stretched before me—was it really that important I attempt to heal every relationship possible? Here on earth, there were only so many hours in a day, but someday, in heaven, we could spend hours and hours sorting out our difficulties, and spend the next billion years or so, laughing away.

Further, I had someone watching out over me. If I screwed it up, God could step in and fix the problem. Without my even knowing it. If I inadvertently stepped on someone’s toes, God could come up behind and give the person a pat on the back—making it all go away.

I lost both of those concepts. I no longer have the luxury of time. No longer can “someday” be the day in which I repair a friendship, heal a wound, or hug a friend. No longer do I have the Great Unraveler to restore the harms I clumsily inflict. Nope. That all falls on me. To do now.

Too many prayers have gone unanswered. Too many times Christians believe they have received a “no” from God, and are waiting on God’s timing. Too many people are relying on too much time, and some other personage to do what they should be doing.

Look, if you believe in some Ultimate Meaning, some Grand Purpose in Life, because of a God, or an after life—great! But at the moment, you are living here. Now. And there are plenty of issues, plenty of problems, plenty of joys and plenty of moments of meanings that can be relished, experienced and reveled in.

What would the world look like, if rather than resting on some Ultimate Eventuality, we all set that aside, and considered living?

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Putting “Fun” back in Funeral

I attended the funeral of a former pastor this week. He was of the traditional Baptist school of pastors. Hell-fire and Damnation. Could (and would) preach at the drop of a hat. Golfed. Sang not great, but loud. A little menacing.

I had the chance to see many people I haven’t seen in more years than I care to really think about. What impressed me about the funeral was the upbeat tempo. Everyone was so happy (only a few tears) about how they would see him again in Heaven. How he was waiting for the rest of the family and friends to join him. How he was getting reacquainted with those who had gone on before.

I must admit feeling that in this regard, Christianity has naturalism beat. Hands down. It felt so pleasant—this exuberant permeation of hope. This claim that eventually we will all get together again.

My college was out of state, so I flew back and forth. In college I gained the closest friend I had ever had. Each year we would look forward to the next, when we could get back together. After each break the other person was the first one we sought out when we arrived.

I remember flying out, after my graduation, and standing there in the airport, she began to cry. “For the first time, I do not have a date when I know we will see each other again.” There was a loss of hope. The unknown.

The concept of an afterlife re-introduces this hope. That “someday” we will all get together. And once together we will be side-by-side forever and ever and ever. It makes a funeral more than bearable; it makes it only a momentary “good-bye” with an expectant “hello” around the corner.

As I watched the participants in this service, I completely understood why naturalism or atheism depicts a “loss of hope” and a “meaningless, drab life” to them. They are clinging on to this idea of someday seeing their loved one, and feel that without that idea, their entire worldview would come crashing down—that a world without an afterlife is a world without hope.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the idea of a Utopia. It would be fantastic to live in a world where I could see with and be with all my friends and family. Where we could laugh, and play sports (perhaps even with young bodies, and not injury-prone, out-of-shape, overweight ones we are currently saddled with!) No more sickness. No more separation. No more economic struggles. No bad news on T.V. No worrying where one’s children are. A new Monty Python Movie every week.

As I sat there and thought about it—it really IS too good to be true. Shouldn’t all our skepticism antennas go up, thinking about how it is wonderful, and great, and neat, and every single trouble is removed—when there isn’t a lick of proof of this place?

Imagine I told you that if you provided me with just one dollar, I will return to you One Hundred Billion dollars in ten years. But there are a few catches. First you have to actually provide me with the dollar. Despite all my good intentions, and love, and desire to give you One Hundred Billion dollars, and despite the fact I have pocketfuls of dollars, you MUST give me that one dollar. Otherwise—you get nothing.

Further, you have to give me the right dollar. It has to be the right year, the right denomination, and the right country. Now, I know what that is, and I even know how you could access it, but that takes all the fun out of it, so I will give you some clues, but you are left to guess out the rest on your own. But if you deliver the correct type of dollar, at the correct time, to the correct address—man, oh, man you will have it made!

Sounds too good to be true, right? Yet that is exactly what the “bet” is with heaven.

I looked about me at people all worried about their current economic trouble, yet each assuredly happy they had paid the right dollar to the right address. Each knowing that the fact the mortgage payment was late, and the car engine was knocking wouldn’t make a difference. Because someday--someday they were going to get One Hundred Billion dollars. And because of their one dollar investment, this was only a time of trouble, soon to be forgotten

I must confess that I felt even a bit guilty, sitting at the funeral. Who am I to take all this away from Christians? Who am I to point out that the fact we have no proof of an afterlife? Who am I to take away this hope? Even if the hope is in something completely imaginary—is it harmful? Should I leave them to this Hope—as wrong as it is? Nuts, it is like appearing in a Kindergarten and dispelling the myth of Santa Claus. How cruel is that?

If it was just that, I could leave Christianity alone. But this hope comes at a terrible price. See, in order for the crowd I was in to be happy about reuniting with their loved ones and a God of Love, they also require a God of Justice. One that exacts a terrible retribution for not providing the correct dollar to the right address. For them, this is of no consequence. They will be in heaven. Their friends will be in heaven. God will somehow wipe their memory of all the people in Hell.

They will be enjoying the benefits of heaven, founded on my eternally burning body.

And is it a good thing to instill hope on a false premise? What if I told my kids that once they turned 21, they would be rich beyond their wildest dreams? Don’t worry about school. Don’t worry about jobs. Don’t worry about anything, ‘cause someday they will be rich. They may be the happiest kids in the world. Until the world comes crashing down with the realization of the opportunities lost, relying upon this false hope.

We may be inclined to excuse this belief, as it is based upon events after death. In that example, my children would be left with a harsh reality, and a long life of problems—but belief in an afterlife does not affect one’s life. If there is no afterlife—what’s the harm?

The harm is that it is not the truth. And that element of falsehood is multiplying in divisions, and acrimony, and ostracism, and exclusion, and threats and war. While people at this funeral were smiling, thinking of re-uniting with Pastor; Muslims were laughing, thinking of flying planes into buildings. Both were counting on an afterlife. Both were equally assured they had deposited the “right” dollars.

The harm is that we must live this life as if it is the only one we have. Not some “warm-up” or “test run” for an eventual Utopia. I do not have the luxury of hoping some day wars will end. I must be actively involved in eliminating them now.

I enjoy life immensely. I will be sad to let it go, but it does not give me less hope for my future, the future of my children, and the future of those about me. It is similar to attending a great party, or watching an engaging movie. As much as we enjoy the moment, we recognize that part of reality is we will reach a point of saying good-bye, or that the credits will roll. It does not lessen the enjoyment.

I hope that my funeral will be a group of people getting together, saying, “Wow, he enjoyed life.” Hopefully a few jokes, a celebration of some good times, and then a recognition that the credits rolled.

But today…deep down…I feel a little bit guilty arguing against that hope of a utopian afterlife. Today…it seems cruel. Like the moment one has to admit Santa Claus is not real. How does the person take it? Who am I to take away that hope?