Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Forgive and Forget

Michael Vick pled guilty to a crime and is facing possible prison time. Michael Vick found God. Paris Hilton was found guilty, and was facing possible jail time. Paris Hilton found God. It is an extremely common phenomenon with criminal defendants.

Primarily desiring the lawyers, and the probation officers and the judges and the prosecutors and the guards to think that basically they are “good people.” That they are a God-fearing, religious, Bible-believing Christian that made a mistake. Not one of those non-believing heathens for whom crime is a daily consideration.

This was a one-time instance. A fluke. Something that should be treated as out-of-character. They have learned their lesson—yessiree! No jail is necessary here, thank you very much. Reserve that cell space for someone who really deserves it.

So they join the throng of what they perceive as “good people” and become one themselves. Over and over, I have heard criminal defendants (both my own, and others at sentencings I have sat through) explain how they are a Christian. How they go to Church. How they love God. How they have asked forgiveness of God.

Humorously, they are blissfully unaware of how common this is. To them, of course, this is the only crime they have been charged with. What they don’t realize is that countless persons before them, have told the same Judge, and the same Prosecutor, how they are a Christian. And this was just a mistake. After 20 people that day have all claimed to be Christians, have all been convicted or plead guilty to felonies, and have all been sentenced to prison—do you think it is helpful to proclaim to be part of that same group?

If we thought this was more than a “jailhouse conversion” we would be seriously concerned about the number of “Christians” that are committing crimes! We know better, of course.

Secondly, I think convicted persons, facing jail, turn to god in hopes of receiving a lesser sentence. It is obvious their attorney has done the best they can. Also obvious that human judge is probably going to place them in a cell—what option do they have, but to go over the Judge’s head? Since most of us do not know the President (*cough, cough, “Libby Scooter”*) the next best thing is to appeal to the Creator of the Universe.

If God is convinced of what a good person they are, maybe He will step in and “save the day” in some way. (Again, just as humorous. If we humans can perceive the basis of these conversions; I would think the Almighty would have at least an equal perception into the selfishness behind the thought.)

Yet I see very similar thinking from many Christians. While they may (rightfully) be criticizing the Vicks and Hiltons of the world, they suffer from the same thought. That because of some “in” with God, they are entitled to special treatment.

In the Baylor Religious Survey people were asked a number of words, and if those words described God, in a range from “not at all” to “very well.” When asked about the word “Forgiving” 74.2% of the people said that this described God “Very Well.”

However, when asked if “Just” described God, almost the same number (67.9%) equally said that described God “Very Well.”

So which is it? Is God “forgiving” or “just”? I think many would say both. (I certainly would have as a Christian.) But when asked about the word “Forgiving” most of us would have been thinking of ourselves. How God would (hopefully) overlook our human frailties. How God could understand our difficulties in not sinning, or doubting, or failing to maintain his Standard. And we would constantly ask forgiveness, relying upon a God that 3/4 of us feel “Forgiving” describes him very well.

However, turning to the word “Just” we stop thinking of ourselves, and envision how God treats others. Those that did not believe right, or act right, or harmed us, or caused pain in others, or committed crimes--those were the sort that God needed to exercise a firm hand. Those were the sort that 2/3 of us think “Just” is a very apt description of God.

Trot out “Adolf Hitler” and everybody wants to talk about a “Just” God. (How many times have we heard the platitude about Hitler not being in Heaven?) No one wants to hear about a Forgiving God when it comes to Hitler! Imagine the…well…injustice in that!

Yet when we look to our own lives, we start talking about being forgiven. Oh, we couch it in terms of “not deserving it” and “I am just as bad as everyone else” and “I am chief of sinners” but in the end, when we think of God, we think of a creature that has forgiven us. Granted us mercy.

If God is forgiving, can you live with the same God forgiving the spouse that abused you? Or does that person deserve the “Just God”? Can God forgive the person that hurt you terribly? Or is that unacceptable? Have you ever thought of how many people YOU have hurt (maybe even inadvertently) that are secretly hoping you come face-to-face with the “Just God”? Oh, I know that you think because you didn’t mean to, or because you sincerely asked that you will meet the “Forgiving God.”

So does Vick. And Hilton.

For all the Christian blogs and papers and conversations decrying Vick for finding God, and finding the “Forgiving” God, you might quietly remember that you are no different. Why should Vick be dealt the “Just God” and you get the “Forgiving One’?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

How to Prepare for Trial

At the moment I am caught in the rut of methodology.

There are times when I think that there is little more to be brought to the table regarding theism. How many arguments have been stated and re-stated, and chewed to death? Is there anything that hasn’t already been presented six ways to Sunday?

So rather than contribute another blog on “who wrote the Gospels?” (which, *ahem* I have been framing together a blog on for about a week) I figured on taking one last stab on my methodology.

But rather than put it in the form of some theistic argument, I thought to share how it works in life. How it works in the situation we litigants often face when two sides tell completely different stories, and we are all attempting to ferret out what actually happened. When we are looking for truth in a courtroom.

Maybe this is what benefit I can bring to the table—rather than yet another armchair scholar’s opinion on rehashed material.

When do we start preparing for trial? From the first moment we meet our client. We immediately start gauging their mannerisms, their way of speaking, their story. Even their appearance. Everything viewed through the light of how a juror would perceive them.

And at that initial meeting, we begin mentally tearing apart our client’s story. I’ll let you in on a secret—your lawyer doesn’t completely believe you. We know that people lie to professionals. Just like I tell my doctor that I AM eating balanced meals, and I DO exercise regularly, and the doctor looks at my blood pressure with my cholesterol level and doesn’t believe me.

As the client is informing me that she only had 2, maybe 3 beers that night, when her blood alcohol level was .18, I know she is not telling the truth. It is a physical impossibility. (It is well-known that any amount a person claims to have had in alcohol when talking to a lawyer, judge or police person is going to be down played. “Two or three” really means “Four or Five.”)

Part of this is hard, jaded experience. As a young lawyer, I had a client that owed a great deal of child support. I truly believed that this person was incapable of paying more than a nominal sum. The Judge (a friend) pulled me into chambers and warned me that he was throwing my client in jail, with a substantial bond. I begged. I pleaded. I coerced. I did everything I humanly could to get the judge to understand that this person simply did not have the money. I knew where they were living. Heck, I was even doing the case for free to help them out.

All to no avail. The judge (who had seen more cases like this than I had at that point) was unmoved. I still remember being physically angry with the Judge for doing what I thought was a complete injustice.

So my client went to jail. With a substantial bond. And stayed there for less than three hours before coming up with the money.

That was a good lesson for a young lawyer. They had me completely bamboozled. You see that a few dozen (hundred) times, it makes you realize that people are not always honest with their lawyers.

Understand, that is perfectly fine by us. It is THEIR case. If they get caught in a lie, it only hurts them. Just like my lying to my doctor about what I eat does not clog a single one of his arteries. It only hurts me.

That is why, even in the very beginning, we start to gently probe our client. If they drove out of their way for half an hour, why go to that particular store for a common item such as toothpaste? Is a jury going to believe that the person drove that far, simply because the store had Colgate for 25 cents less? (No.) Is the jury going to believe that the person drove that far because their boyfriend works at the store next door, and my client wanted to see if his car was there? (Yes.)

We begin to ask for documents or other evidence that will support our claims. We also may start to gingerly (and sometimes not so gingerly) point out the holes in their story and the lack of believability. Over time, we will need to bring the client into the hard reality that their story may not sell to another person who is not so inclined to believe them.

We see this over and over. The person has put together the facts in their mind prior to coming to an attorney. They have mulled and contemplated, and perhaps shaded a few of the facts. (When preparing a witness for trial, we call it “sanding.” As in “taking the rough edges off.”) They often have tried this story out on a few friends or relatives. And these friends, wanting to support their buddy, say, “Hey--that makes a lot of sense.”

They somewhat expect their attorney to do the same. So they have built up this story, and have more than half-way convinced themselves that it is both true and convincing. Sometimes the initial meeting is their first shock that it isn’t so believable when another person starts to inspect it and probe it.

I know my client is going to be cross-examined. Very likely by a person who is an expert in cross-examining others, and is not their friend. I know that no matter how smart my client may be—unless they are a professional witness, a trial lawyer is cleverer at cross-examining than they are. They won’t fool him or her. Time to prepare them for that.

After we start a suit, we have a period called “discovery.” Exactly as it sounds—we “discover” things about the other side and they “discover” things about us. This includes document requests, exchange of exhibits and witness names, and depositions (testimony under oath) of the parties, and witnesses.

Essentially, I am looking for all the admissible evidence that will either:

1) Bolster my claim; or
2) Harpoon the other side!

But don’t forget—the other side is doing so as well. They, too, are looking for evidence. And we are very accustomed to searching.

“Well…you can look at every item in this office, but you can’t look in this box.” What box is it that I am most inclined to review? Or there is the other extreme (which is equally humorous), “Oh you want the specifications on the 1987 Chevette’s rear brakes? Well, we can’t limit those down, so here are the specifications on ALL the parts of ALL the Chevette’s for a period of five years.” Nothing like getting 50-60 banker’s boxes of documents from the other side to know that there is something within worth finding, but it is buried deep!

“They don’t have a copy of this letter. Don’t worry, it will never come up.” I wish I had kept track of how many times I heard that from a Client (or substitute “witness” or “testimony” or any other piece of evidence) and then surprise, surprise—it comes up!

Or “ask her this question and she will tell the truth.” No. She won’t.

Another pointer—when an attorney asks you a question under cross-examination, they already know the answer. If they don’t, they are not a very good trial lawyer. See, we only ask limited questions on cross-examination. Very specific, very determined. It has been compared to surgery, only cut what is necessary. No more.

While I may not know all the answers, of course, very often either a “yes” or “no” will get the witness in trouble in some way. And I know it. So I ask it.

It is common for my client to demand that I ask questions I don’t know the answer to, in the firm belief the other person will tell the truth. If I can’t verify it—I don’t ask. It looks like this:

“Ask her if she is having an affair.”
“Ask her!”
“Look, do you have anything to prove she is? A hotel bill? A picture? A video recently released on YouTube?”
“No, but I think she is. Ask her!”
“Fine. Your funeral.”

“Ma’am, is it true you are currently having an affair?”

“Nice job, there. Not only did we gain no new information, but we just proved she is NOT having an affair. Happy?”
“Ask her if she is lying!”


Occasionally, we are left asking a question we do not know the answer to, but only because to NOT ask the question is worse in the eyes of the jury.

I was once questioning an ex-wife that was pretty crazy. Had some very questionable testimony, and I could see that the jury thought she was a crackpot. Nuts. Someone to not be trusted. I got so caught up in my own cleverness, I forgot the basic rule—“Know the answer to the question.”

My client informed me that she had once sued the governor for $1 Million. I had no proof of this. No lawsuit papers. Nothing. But it seemed to fit, and I was doing so well, I blurted it out:

“Ma’am, you once sued the Governor for $1 Million over this matter, true?”
“That is NOT true.”

Uh-oh. What do I do? I had just rehabilitated her as being NOT a crazy person. I could see the jury turning to me with a question in their eyes—“Maybe she is not so bad? Why would you ask such a question?”

I was trying to think up a follow-up question, when the witness kindly helped me out by following up with:

“I sued him for EIGHT Million Dollars. And I sued the Mayor, the sheriff and the local police force, too!”

Saved my bacon, I can tell ya!

Why do I say all this? Because forefront in my mind is that I have an enemy. I have an extremely experienced litigator on the other side that is doing everything in her power to bolster her client’s claim and harpoon my own. If I have a letter that I think is beneficial to my position, I know that it is her desire—no—it is her job to paint that letter in the worst possible light. In the same way, if there is some item that supports her position, it is my job to make that as insignificant as possible.

We get very good at this. Law Schools are taught by the Socratic Method. Where the professor teaches by asking questions in the hope that the students figure out the answer. This results in randomly calling upon students and demanding a response. In my first year of school, the following exchange happened:

Professor: Person A was struck by Person B in an automobile collision and suffered horrible injuries. Student 1, you represent Person A—what would you do?
Student 1: I would sue Person B for negligence.

Professor: Very Good. Student 2, you represent Person B—what do you do?
Student 2: I would counter-sue!
Professor: You would…what?
Student 2: Sure! The way I figure it, it is Person A’s fault for being so injured. Think of the mental anguish Person B will go through—knowing they have injured someone. If Person A was not injured, then Person B would not have all this mental anguish. Therefore I would counter-sue!

That is what we deal with almost everyday. Trying to turn straw (or worse) into gold. What keeps us in check? The fact the other side is trying to do the same as well.

My enemy will provide me with no “gimmies.” I will not be able to put up a single item of evidence that won’t be challenged, questioned and the support for it demanded to be presented.

“Gee, can’t we let this in?” will never fly. Not with the Judge. Not with my opponent. “It sure seems reasonable to me” has no bearing in a trial. No persuasion. What may be reasonable to me could be completely unreasonable to every other person in the court room.

Simply because my client says it will never be enough. We even have a name for that “Believe-Clientitis.” It is where the attorney is so convinced by what their client says that they consider any statement that even remotely counters as preposterous.

MY client assures me that he would NEVER have said such a thing. And I believe him.”
[Uh-oh. Trouble right there.] “Were you there, Counselor?” (We usually reserve the term “Counselor” for Lawyers we are not very impressed with.)

“No, but I KNOW my client, and he would NEVER have done that.”
“How ‘bout we do a lie detector test—winner take all?”
“Yep, that’s right. If your client passes, we fold and go away. If he fails, we get everything we want.”
“Er…well…I don’t think they are very reliable.”
“What are you worried about? If your client couldn’t have done it, then even the most unreliable test will still pass him.”
“No…I don’t think we are interested in that.”
“Look, Counselor. You weren’t there. I wasn’t there. This is why we have trials—to let a jury of independent people make the determination as to what happened. Before either of us gets all wrapped up in whose client is telling the truth on something you and I can’t confirm, let’s try and look at what a jury would say…”

(I have only had one attorney take me up on the lie detector test. But as we were working out the paperwork, his client backed out. Huh.)

With all this in the back of my mind, I start preparing for trial when I first meet my client. I continue every time I touch the file. Every deposition, every meeting, every conference. You know the trite saying as to the three greatest things needed to sell property? “Location, Location, Location.” Well, the three greatest things need to win trials is “Preparation, Preparation, Preparation.”

But what are we preparing for? We are preparing to present our evidence, with the best arguments possible, while another person presents countering evidence, with their best arguments possible, to a jury of people who will determine what they think is the closest we can come to the truth.

In this preparation we cannot ignore the other sides’ evidence. To do so would be both unprepared, and unpersuasive. We cannot ignore the weakness in our own position. If I wouldn’t buy my own argument, there is little likelihood a juror would either. We don’t get to determine what is “important” and what is not. We may try to persuade the jury some things are more important, but to ignore an argument as “unimportant” is to invite disaster.

We can’t become enamored with our own arguments. This creates blind spots in which we think we are brilliant, and other people are not so convinced.

What does any of this have to do with theism?

Because when I first encountered atheists, I realized I had a bad case of “Believe-Clientitis.” I had NOT reviewed the other sides’ evidence. I had NOT taken the likelihood of their arguments being persuasive to a jury.

I had done in my spiritual life what would have been cataclysmic in my professional career. You know those dreams of being in a Final exam, but realizing you haven’t studied? This was like a slap in the face—I was in a trial in which I was completely unprepared.

For the first time, I began to review my own Christianity, just like I would review a case on behalf of a client. Sure, I initially figured that all it would require is a little study; a little discovery, an exchange of exhibits and witnesses, and then Christianity would come out shining again. It was “Truth,” after all, right? Even if my method was not completely reliable, a thing as grand as Truth from a God should easily withstand the test.

It was only as time after time, passage after passage, historical marker after historical marker, philosophical problem after philosophical problem that I realized if I represented Christianity, I would never want my case to go to trial. No matter how prepared, it would not convince the neutral jury of our legal system.

I know people have problems with my methodology. But it is what I do every day. It is how I have watched conflicting positions resolved countless times.

If I had a desire, it would have been for my client to win. I wanted Christianity to come out on top. However, I have that same desire for each of my actual clients. Clients that I know, despite my desire, will not. Clients whose positions do not conform to reality.

Eventually I was faced with the decision of how to tell my own Christianity it would lose?

Friday, August 17, 2007

another boring blog on methodology

I see so many discussions on theism boil down to personal opinion.

“I think this is a contradiction.”
“I think it is not.”

“There are no absolute morals.”
“There are absolute morals.”

We go back and forth making affirmations with supreme confidence; yet the conversation never seems to progress. Because each person is personally convinced of their own statements, and believe that the other should be equally convinced.

Can we agree on a few things, first?

We are all convinced differently

I know—that seems obvious. But perhaps it is good for all of us (especially me) to remember that. For some of us, what our friends believe is persuasive to us, for others it might be the credentials of a person making an opinion. For others it might be hard facts and figures.

Think about buying a car. To some people, if their friend recommended a Ford—heck, that’s good enough for them! Ford it is. Others will do long research, both on-line and in trade magazines, comparing and contrasting engine size, fuel economy, trunk space, etc. They will take six months to come up with what car they desire to purchase. Even others will simply go out test-driving in the morning and have bought the car they liked by mid-day.

For the researcher, a friend’s recommendation will be politely listened to, taken into consideration, and most likely ignored. The impetuous car-buyer does not care about the researcher’s findings on the wheel-base of other brands of cars.

Sometimes we (cough, cough “I”) forget that what is persuasive to me, and what I hold in high regard, may not be compelling to other people.

Honestly, personal testimonies of “Jesus changed my life” are not very compelling to me as to the reality of Jesus, even though others (such as the person relating them) find them to be highly convincing that Jesus must be real. I have heard these testimonies for decades. I have watched people who claimed to be changed, get active in the church, be “on fire for Jesus” and then slowly assimilate into the same, mundane, go-on-Sunday, back-to-reality Monday, nominal believers.

But just because they are not forceful to me—does not mean I can just discount them. I am in no position to disregard their existence since it does not “qualify” as good evidence to me.

We are all wrong

That may be a bit of a shock to you, so I hope you are sitting down. Comfortable? O.K., I’ll try it again, now that you are prepared—you are wrong.

There is something that you believe right now; something you are firmly convinced of that does not conform to reality. Oh, it may be as simple as the firm conviction that you are going out for dinner tonight, but unbeknownst to you; your significant other has plans which will wreck your evening.

Or it may be that you have a belief about theism that you will some day discover (perhaps in the afterlife) that you didn’t have quite right. Turns out there isn’t a hell! (Or worse—God is a Female!)

This should not come as too big of a surprise. Each of us, looking back on our lives, can find numerous, numerous things that we thought were true, but later discovered through experience or knowledge—most certainly were not. Both within our theistic belief, and in other aspects of our lives.

It is not too crazy to think that perhaps…just maybe…in the future we will discover we are wrong about something we believe right now.

Our opinions can blind us

I was raised in a home where we were required to make our beds everyday. To me—a person should make their bed everyday. In our home, children did chores. To me—children should do age appropriate chores.

As we look at our upbringing, with our locale, culture, education, experiences and socializations, we develop certain ideas about what is right and wrong. Often, when we marry, we are stunned to discover that our spouses were raised in an environment that was totally foreign to our own, and we are secretly amazed they managed to survive in such conditions.

We then have children and discover what was patently obvious and essential to us, is NOT so obvious and mandatory to our spouse. I am sure my readers never actually fought over such petty differences like my wife and I did—due to the maturity level of those who peruse my blog. I am not quite so mature.

In theism, we all have certain pre-conceived ideas. At one time, I was firmly convinced there was a god. To think otherwise…well…the person would have to be an unreasonable fool. I supposed a God in all I did. Now, I have a pre-conceived idea there is not. I never look for a God—there isn’t one.

It is not necessarily bad to have pre-conceptions—we all do—it is part of being human. I hope we all agree, though, that sometimes these presuppositions can blind us to reality.

People disagree

Again, it seems such a simple notion. Yet sometimes I view debates (perhaps “fights” is a better word!) in which two combatants are simply astounded that the other side actually disagrees with them. This is by no means limited to theism.

I have watched litigants, including lawyers, repeat the same thing over and over again, unable to grasp the fact that it did not knock the other off their feet the first time.

“Yes, I understand your position. You have made it quite clear. Please understand that my client has a different view of the events that happen—“
“But that letter was sent on Tuesday!”

“Yes I know. You have said that five times now. I actually heard you the first time. My client never received that lett—“
“My client says it was mailed on Tuesday!”

“Right. Again, I heard that the first (and now the sixth) time. Again, if you had something to show that my client received it—“
“It was mailed on Tuesday!”

There have been many times I have had to say to other lawyers, “Look. You weren’t there when you client mailed it. I wasn’t there. All we have is what our respective clients say. That is what makes horse races. That is why we have litigation. Let’s battle it out and see what the judge says.”

I want to remind all of us that there are people with theistic convictions, that are just as solidly in place as our own, that are just as firmly held, and just as dear to them, yet are diametrically opposed to our own. We disagree.

Now with we agree to those simple statements…

Why a methodology?

Because without it, arguments become a chaotic cacophony of opinions. We may as well boil it down to:

“Is not!”
“Is too!”

While that may be fun and even enlightening, at times we hope to progress further than that. A methodology provides us with a means by which we can arrive at a solution. A way in which we can remove some of those subjective opinions, and pre-conceptions, and be as objective as we humanly can. (Which is not always that objective.)

Imagine you and I were to argue over the best way to travel to Chicago. I may insist a plane is best. You may insist a car. Another may insist a boat or train or bus. Until we establish a methodology, though, we will get nowhere.

What if the methodology was “The shortest amount of time.” Then arguing about using a boat from New York City would lose. But what if it was “Carrying 10,000 tons of coal.” Then the plane would lose to the boat.

Yes, we may take the argument one step deeper as to what methodology to use. A person may argue that a plane ticket that cost $10,000, but delivers us to Chicago in one hour is too step a price for the time gained, compared to a car ride of five hours, but only $50 worth of gas.

Admittedly, I have only extremely rarely (as in never in my recall) argued over methodology. Most don’t want to discuss methodology. Most want to jump right in about the genealogy of Luke being that of Mary, without ever bothering to determine what method we will use to figure out genealogies.

The limits of methodology

Yes, I know that theism is a faith-based belief. That at some point, one believes, with a lack of evidence, and arguing over methodology of lack of evidence seems a bit like arguing how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.


Before we get to faith, there are some basic factual claims that provide a foundation for that faith. It is those factual claims—claims that “this is what actually happened” in which we can bring our methodology to bear.

For example, many Christians claim that the Ten Plagues, Exodus and Joshua’s Genocide actually happened. However, there is no archeological proof for these events happening as recorded in the Tanakh.

At which point I am often informed “Absence of Evidence is not evidence of Absence.” Fair enough—we have established a methodology. If a religion makes a claim, even though there is no archeological proof—it still could actually happen.

I then point out that the Mormons have claimed an advanced society existed in Mesoamerica, but equally there is no archeological proof for these events. Is the Christian willing to use the same methodology used to bolster their claim, to agree that the Mormon claim is equally possible?

See, before we get to faith—both Literalist Christians and Mormons make factual claims of what happened, and even provide a methodology by which we are to determine those events actually happened.

Or another example I recently encountered where I was informed that miracles happen, and we know this by testimonial evidence. Fair enough—our methodology is in place: “Testimonial evidence is enough to support a Miracle.” Will Protestants stay consistent with their own methodology and admit that Mary appeared in a Grilled Cheese Sandwich? Will Christians stay consistent and admit testimonies of Hindu Miracles mean these events must be miracles? Will Christians admit that God made Mohammed’s face appear in a tomato due to the testimony it happened?

All the time we see validation of certain events, and then a later change in methods when another, competing theistic belief says the same thing about their god.

Before we get worried about faith—let’s work on the basics. What happened. What conforms to reality. Let’s put in place a method to determine that.

Which methodology to use?

One thing to keep a keen eye out for is a methodology that is designed to achieve the results it desires.

What if we are to debate who is the most talented actress? And I propose a methodology that it is the actress who has received the most Oscars. Seems a reasonable enough method. However, it turns out that I always thought that Katherine Hepburn was the greatest actress. A quick review of the Oscars…and…bingo! Turns out it was Katherine Hepburn.

Why is the most Oscars won a “correct” methodology? Why not the most nominated? (Meryl Streep) Or in the most films? Or highest paid? Or longest career?

One of the things to be careful about is to not create a methodology that pops out the answer we desire, as well as question why a particular methodology is the one to use.

We have all seen the claims for the uniqueness of the Bible. You know “written over 1500 years, by 100 authors from different walks of life…” The one that always makes me chuckle is the inclusion of “…on 3 continents…” Why does “3 continents” make the Bible unique? The Book of Mormon can claim 4—is it MORE unique? The Tanakh only 2—it must not be inspired. That is a method designed for an outcome!

Why I am attached to my Methodology

Trick question. I am not. It happens to be a method I am most familiar with, but if you have a better one, by all means—propose it! I would be happy to abandon my own for a better method. The only problem is—I don’t see too many people proposing any method. Let alone one that would provide more accurate results.

(Part of the reason that I respect John W. Loftus is that he, at least, proposes a methodology with his “Outsider Test” that is designed to solve the same concerns my own does. I don’t use his, only because I am more familiar with my own. I think his is just as effective. In two sentences, “Treat your own claims as you would treat another. In other words, treat your claims as if you were an ‘Outsider’ and not prone to believing it.”)

If you propose a method, I would ask that you take into consideration the items I listed above. Does it remove any pre-conceived notions? Does it deal with competing claims? Does it convince a variety of people? But the key is this: does employing your method leave open the possibility that you are wrong?

Can you devise a method that you are willing, by its application, to say, “Nope. That is not what I believe. I am willing to accept that, by virtue of my own method, I am wrong”? You may find that not so easy.

I have had a number of people tell me my method is wrong. Inadequate. Even “full of fallacies.” O.K.—then give me an alternative. Give me a method that takes into account humanity’s ability to deceive itself. Give me a method that together we can employ, and can together say, “Yep. I was wrong. I am willing to abide by that method, even though it goes against what I believe.

My method says that one’s claims should be so strong, they could convince a person who has no stake in the outcome. A neutral party. I am unclear why so many Christians that I propose that method to, fail to believe they can meet such a challenge.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Why I talk to Christians; Not God

I have perpetuated a misunderstanding that is entirely my fault. Hopefully this blog entry will clear up any confusion.

It was pointed out elsewhere that many of my blogs have to do with Christians. And problems within the Christian community. Because of this focus it was felt (again I can see why) that the reason I deconverted was due to my disappointment with Christians, not so much with Christ.

To briefly reiterate my reasons for deconverting: within my profession we are often placed in situations where we are trying to determine the basic question “what happened?” among a variety of competing positions, statements, proofs and arguments. In order to do so, we developed a methodology whereby a neutral person (or persons) decides which arguments, based upon the facts presented, are more compelling.

We become proficient at determining which arguments will fly, and which will not to people who have no stake in the outcome. I became involved in discussions with non-believers, who provided arguments and facts I had not heard before, except by those who didn’t actually believe them. This opened my eyes to a whole new world of possibilities.

Over and over, as I applied the methodology I use in every other aspect of my life to the questions surrounding Christianity and theism, it was obvious that a neutral party would never find in favor of Christianity. Eventually I reached a point where it was becoming harder and harder to have faith in something I was convinced was not true; despite my desire to maintain my belief.

I could not force my mind to grasp something that at every turn, it questioned why I could believe that, when I knew no jury ever would. That if I was faced with defending Christianity on a legal front, I would be desperately attempting to settle my case, as no jury would find in my favor.

I deconverted from Christianity to atheism. I have written my story elsewhere. To continue to do so would be as boring as watching paint dry.

I debated on a few forums, and even wrote some blogs about arguments for/against God or an aspect of Christianity. Much of me feels this ground is well-trod. Are there new arguments? Yes. But they seem so few and far between, and we seem caught in this perpetual rut of debating the same things over and over. I actually sigh, now, every time I see, “All of the disciples were willing to die for their belief in a physically resurrected Jesus.” How many times can one blog on that?

And it does me no good to blog about what God should or should not be doing. There is no God. Many of us chuckle when we read “you are angry at god.” We have to believe it exists before we can be angry about ‘im, silly! It is similar to saying “You are angry at your College Chemistry Professor.” A resounding point…if I had chemistry in college. Since I did not—the entity “my Chemistry professor” does not exist. Therefore, it is quite hard to get very worked up about him or her.

And how many blogs can I write about what textbook my Chemistry professor should or should not have used? Since there is no such person—that can get a little dry.

But Christians!

Oh, I am quite certain and convinced that Christians exist. And while I may not have much say in what a non-existent God would do; I can hope that perhaps, just by writing a few words, I can have Christians pause and reflect for a moment as to how they appear to skeptics. Maybe even give a new thought or reflection to other theists, or agnostics or atheists or whomever.

I still think that blogs which provide arguments both for and against theism are important. I may still blog a few arguments myself. I most definitely think that blogs that argue for and against Christianity are important. I will absolutely blog regarding Biblical topics in the future.

What has currently drawn my attention, and hence my blogging topics, though, is less the actual arguments themselves, and more the people. How the arguments are presented. What believers perceive skeptics need to hear, what skeptics perceive believers are like.

How I see Christianity handling the upcoming crop of deconverts. (Not well.)

See, I am not writing blogs to have some Christian read, smack themselves on the head, and proclaim “In one reading I have gone from devout Christian to some other belief.” I think that deconversion is a personal journey. I am unaware of any person that was “argued” into deconverting. We search on our own; it is not discovered on a billboard.

I am writing blogs to hopefully make people think. Pause. Learn a bit. I envision most deconverts read my posts, nod their heads, and say, “Yep. Already knew that.” Perhaps a new insight on occasion. When I write to and about Christians, I hope they re-evaluate their presentation to the world.

To be honest, if more Christians actually practiced “Love your neighbor” my blogs could be shorter!

So if you think, because of my emphasis on how Christians act, that this had any part of my deconversion—I apologize. I do not mean to give that impression.

I emphasize on how Christians act because…well…that is how they act! Very very much like the humans that they are.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

What is Important?

I went on vacation. Again. (If anything I have learned in life is that we only have a few moments with our children and with beautiful weather in Michigan. Use ‘em or Lose ‘em. Literally.)

It is one of the times that I purposely plan to read for relaxation. The problem was that I did not have a book to read, so I did what so many others have done and wandered in a Borders bookstore looking for something interesting to read. I happened on “Sea of Thunder” by Evan Thomas. It is the tale of the Naval Battle of Leyte Gulf of October 1944 in the Pacific Theater of the Second World War.

To be frank, even as a college History Major, I had never heard of this battle. Few have. (Have you?) In point of fact, my word processor, while being able to recognize the word “Constantinople” and “Stalingrad” does not recognize “Leyte.” Yet this was a decisive battle within the WWII.

Curious how important it was at that time. How important to the Japanese. Important to the Americans. It filled the papers. Yet here we are in 2007 and even after having studying the very time frame this battle occurred and the very war within which it happened—I did not know of it. I have had numerous college courses for this time—and nothing.

The book follows the lives of four of the commanders of this battle—how they came to be there and why they made the decisions they made. (Needless to say; I highly recommend this book. It draws you in and causes you to be interested in what happens next. Even those not interested in such historic books would find this one good reading. My father happened to pick it up while on vacation with us and could hardly put it down.)

What was emotional wrenching is to see the useless loss of life. Both Japanese and American in a battle that (now) is long forgotten. How men bravely fought and lost fellow mates, limbs and their lives in order to protect their way of life. That a decision recklessly made could effect so many, or a decision made in the heat of a fight could turn an entire course of a battle, and even a war.

After having read this book (and becoming emotionally attached to the characters, their thoughts and the results of their actions) I happened to catch a music video in which a girl was wearing a shirt with the sign of the Battle Flag of the Japanese. (The flag with the sun and the shooting rays.) I thought of what those men would have imagined, having fought, sweated, starved, worked, feared, cried, bleed and yes—died against that flag. Now some person in some random show happens to wear it with little thought to the significance.

And, coming back from vacation, I caught up on my familiar blogs. I came across one that talked of the meaning of life.

How little we of the Internet community know of the meaning of life. Oh—we use it as a philosophical tool to argue some point on theism. How this one fails to satisfy regarding the “meaning of life” or that one fails to logically follow on the “meaning of life.” There are men and women who have suffered horribly and died, simply to preserve life as we know it.

A life that consists of the complete idiocy of making “talking points” of what the meaning of life actually must be in a discussion with some person from Aruba. Can you imagine being a person on a ship, with some repetitive task, such as transporting ammunition, or working a winch, with the sole thought of surviving the next salvo of torpedoes or bombs all designed with the intention of causing you the most harm possible? Either to directly kill you, or harm your ship enough to cause it to sink and hopefully drown you?

And your fate is in the hands of commanders, sometimes 1000’s of miles away, making choices as to where your ship goes, and with whom you will be engaged in said exchange of ammunition? It makes our discussion of “What Is The Meaning of Life” and “Why Atheists Don’t Have a Meaning of Life” pretty pointless, in my opinion.

I know I am supposed to be arguing against theism. I am supposed to be making clever points about how there is no God, or if I am to be more specific, no Christian God.

But today I am morosely reflecting on all those young men and women who have given their ultimate sacrifice to allow me to make such points. And the points seem pretty pointless in that light…

Friday, August 03, 2007

Why I only Argue with Fundamentalist Christians

There is a group in existence. They are called “Fundamentalist Christians.” Often abbreviated to “Fundy” or “Fundie.” If an alien landed today and Googled these words they would find two things:

1) It is generally considered derogatory to be a “fundy”;
2) It is almost impossible to define what it means to be one.

As I discuss with various Christians, I am very often informed, “Oh, you are not talking about me. I do not believe that way. You are only talking to fundamentalists.” Rare, indeed, is the person that owns up to being the fundamentalist to whom I am apparently referring.

I get the mental image of a group of people, that are all very certain there are fundamentalists amongst us, yet are equally certain that it is not them—but some person to the right of them. (Fundamentalism is ALWAYS to the right.)

Me: Are you a fundamentalist?
Person 1: Oh, no. I believe in Old Earth Creationism. Try the person to the right.

Me: Are you a fundamentalist?
Person 2: Oh, no. While I believe in Young Earth Creationism, I believe multiple Translations are acceptable. Try the person to the right.

Me: Are you a fundamentalist?
Person 3: Oh, no. While I believe in Young Earth Creationism, and I believe the King James Version is the only acceptable, I believe the Bible allows drinking alcohol. Try the person to the right.

Me: Are you a fundamentalist?
Person 4: Oh, no. While I believe in Young Earth Creationism, and I believe the King James Version is the only acceptable, and I believe the Bible condemns alcohol, I believe dancing is acceptable. Try the person to the right.

It is an elusive beast—this fundamentalist. We apparently universally agree it exists, and exists in large quantities, yet we seem to equally be convinced it is not us. Which is amusing, considering that skeptics are often accused of only taking on the “fundamentalist” brand of Christianity. If it was such a demarked division, why so slippery to find one? How is it that we are better at finding them than Christians?

I have heard the statement that the Protestant Movement got rid of one pope and created 1000’s instead. The idea that rather than having one uniform Church, Protestants have created 1000’s of separate churches, with separate leaders, and separate opinions of various theological positions.

With the growing sense of individualism over the past Century, and self-identifying, rather than group-identifying, I am seeing Billions of Popes! It has come to the point of rather than relying upon the Catholic Pope, or the Baptist preacher, each person is making their own determination as to what the Bible says.

Over and over, in on-line discussions I have seen:

“Well, I interpret that verse to mean…”
“I do not consider that inspired…”
“I think what Paul was trying to say…”
“Jesus should actually be viewed as…”
“The Americans have it wrong because…”
“The Europeans have it wrong because…”
“I use the Jewish perspective to say…”
“I use the New Testament Church perspective to say…”

And the Bible has become this sort-of general, nebulous beginning, from which we can twist and interpret, and translate and bend to say just about anything under the sun. It has all become a matter of personal taste and opinion, wrapped around individual desire.

While that may be fun and entertaining, the result is that there is no uniformity whatsoever. There is no black and white. It all becomes gray. So no matter what I say, it can be disregarded as simply being the wrong shade of gray to fit that person’s shade of gray. “Clearly he must be talking to some other person, because I interpret those verses differently.”

I agree that there are so many questions when it comes to the Bible. Was Paul talking about Jesus in a spiritual resurrection or a physical resurrection? Are the Gospels historical or legendary? Are the events of the Tanakh historical or legendary? Is Psalms 22 a prophecy? Is Revelation a prophecy or drug-induced blabber?

And because of these questions, and the multiple (maybe infinite?) way in which they can be answered, we end up with so many varieties, if I was to write a positional paper on any given subject, I would need to write millions of different responses in order to adequately cover yours.

I do understand that when I write “Christians say…” that it is impossible to follow that with any combination of words which would universally apply. Which means, at best, I can only cover the ground of a large group. (Probably not even a majority.) If a person would like to respond with, “I don’t believe that way, I believe this way” I am happy to engage in a conversation along their terms.

But I hope that people can understand that we don’t mean to only argue against “fundamentalism.” We are trying to discuss with YOU as to your position. We just have a difficult time figuring out who is a fundamentalist and who is not. If your position is not of fundamentalist stripe, then have a little charity and realize that those who you may accuse of fundamentalism say the same about themselves.

Never fear—I am sure I am not discussing your particular brand of Christianity. We can write it off that I must only be referring to the other person. You know—the fundamentalist. *wink*