Posts Tagged ‘Darwin’

SERMON: “A Closet Trinitarian Comes Out” by the not-so-reverend bob

Sunday, July 15th, 2012

I’m glad that I’ve read the Bible cover to cover at least once.  And I’m also glad (now) that I spent so many years as several flavors of a Christian: an evangelical of the “Navigators” style; a speaking-in-tongues Charismatic (think Pentecostal); and a moderate Christian apologist (of the type that leans on writers such as C.S. Lewis and Paul Tournier).  For one, it puts me in a position to more deeply understand aspects of the American psyche and culture.  For another, it gives me a basis for seeing the ways in which religion got things right almost by accident.

I realized today that I’m a sort of atheist trinitarian, in that I relate to my own body and consciousness as sort of a three-layered organism.  Not in the Greek or Christian manner of body, soul and spirit, but more through a recognition of the apparent natural divisions between levels of consciousness.  Don’t worry — I have not suffered a miraculous conversion from my materialist self.  For it turns out that one does not have to wax mystical to talk about the mysteries of our experience of existence.

As I’ve mentioned in previous sermons, I once asked a psychologist friend if my brain processed information differently when it entered through my ears.  His answer was “yes”.  This, to me, is why “prayer” works (no matter who or what you are praying to): there turns out to be a difference between just thinking a thought and saying it out loud in terms of just what our brain is capable of doing about that “thought”.

Clearly, someone other than me noticed this difference, and so preachers have long taught young believers to pray out loud to God if they want their prayers to be heard.  (They are also taught that God can see their innermost thoughts, but that is an issue of exerting remote control over the believer’s behavior, I think, and therefore has less to do with the issue of answered prayer).  Even my psychic of some years emphasized that I should say things out loud, as that was the only way that my “higher self” could understand my intentions (funny that we rarely question such confident pronouncements concerning unknowable things).

Now I can’t prove that any preacher or psychic taught these things with a full knowledge that he or she was simply slapping their stamp of ownership on a copyright-free bit of natural neural processing, but certainly they have all been building upon an evolved human trait that is a quite earthly-process and not, in truth, a mystical connection with the divine.

But be that as it may, this represents a way in which the promoters of the metaphysical have got something right, even if their understanding of it is wrong.  For whatever we may say, the phenomenon of talking out loud to oneself and “hearing” a response is real.  All that I’m saying is that it is one “level” of our consciousness (by which I mean the cognitive product of the physical organ of the brain as we experience it) “talking” to another.  It is a completely self-contained process — literally.

We are in a time of increasing research into the brain, and we are to the point where machines can now be plugged into the brain to “read” (in a rather crude sense) our thoughts (specific electrical impulses) and turn those signals into actions of an artificial limb, say (or conversely, an implant that can replace the damaged parts of the ear, generating signals that the brain can be trained, over time, to recognize as discreet sounds).

As in many discoveries of science, each new revelation of underlying physical processes that are observed and understood quietly removes one more plank from the increasingly rickety edifice of metaphysical doctrine.  And yet, in an interesting way, the more we learn about how the world works, the more we can appreciate the ways in which our ancestors made sense of underlying realities that they could not explore in such a scientific manner.

And this is where I get back to the idea of the “trinity”.  The Greeks, I believe, came up with the notion of the human being made up of the body, the soul (mind) and the spirit.  Early Christians took up this system and many of us today carry on with this conception of ourselves as being made up of three distinct domains joined together for the purpose of living out our years on earth.  The body is, of course, all that is physical about us: our bones, our blood, and our organs and tissue.  The soul is the essential, immutable “you” — your personality, your likes and dislikes — the thing that sets us apart from the person next to us.  (It seems to reside in the brain, but it is not dependent on the brain, and so we call it the “mind”).  The spirit is the part of us that is non-physical, eternal.  It enters us upon our birth (or thereabouts), and departs the body as soon as the physical phase of our life ends, returning to the source from which it came (taking with it, I assume, our “soul” — at least in Christian theology).

We are learning that there are enough non-brain nerve systems in the body to build another animal-sized brain (should we want to do that).  So that our “gut” is sending signals to our brain about what’s going on “down there” (this in addition to the chemical signals of food and digestion).  So that when we talk about our body “knowing” something, there turns out to be an actual physical basis for that as well.

My high school senior photo — proclaiming the Christian “brand” with a Holy Spirit lapel pin.

What I’m saying is that there turns out to a quite genuine basis for the concepts of the body, soul (mind) and spirit being a sort of three-in-one in our own bodies.  Of course, I haven’t yet discussed the physical basis for the idea of “spirit” yet.  But actually, I have.

The part of us that we have always (historically) taken to be the voice of God (or our “higher self” or, in the case of mental illness, the “voice(s) in our head”) is that mid-level of our brain. (Here I mean in actual physical terms.  In terms of our experience of that part of our brain, we’d call it our consciousness).  This is the part of our brain that is activated when we ask ourselves a question out loud, or when we pray (which is, in practical terms, the exact same action).  This is the part of our brain that answers back in that “still, small voice”.

As an aside, I think that once we get closer to seeing ourselves as we actually are, some of the more troubling mysteries of life become less mysterious (though not always less troubling).  For example, I think that the difference between the average Christian who prays and hears God reply, and the untreated schizophrenic carrying on animated conversations with invisible others at Denny’s late at night is only a matter of degree.  The first is operating pretty normally, the second has just enough of a disorder in the brain that the normal operating system of that mid-level of consciousness is running at an unmanageable speed.  The ancients (and many of us “moderns”) may see the mentally ill as something strange and aberrant, but the truth is that it doesn’t take much of a genetic twist to turn what is otherwise a human exactly like ourselves into one we think of as less-than human.  So that the Bible stories of Jesus casting out demons and bringing the so afflicted back to their “normal” selves is not such a strange story to us if we just peel back the superfluous layer of magic and mysticism that keeps us from seeing human behaviors and illnesses of the past to be just like those that we see today.

And that is how I see the world — fairly free, now, of the filters of metaphysical belief.  Nothing about the world I see has changed, only the way in which I see it.

So one could fairly say that I still “pray”.  When I’m stuck, overwhelmed, or can’t figure out where I left my keys, I often have to stop and put my question into spoken words.  And in many cases, that other level of my brain kicks in and starts to work on the problem — as if by “magic”.

It’s tricky — as a hard-core Darwinian materialist — to “pray” in this way.  This act of talking to myself has been plastered with more brand-names than a NASCAR stock car, and there is a certain revulsion at the idea of giving any credence to the charlatans (be they well-meaning or not) who keep claiming this “secret practice” as their own.  But, in the end, why would I deny myself the benefit of this other part of my brain capacity?

When I was a young Christian, I was taught to pray.  This was the first instance of my natural capacity being sold back to me as a gift from outside of myself.  Later, there came a time when I felt that I recognized the voice of Jesus answering my prayers.  Later, still, the voice seemed to sound almost like my own.  When my Christianity came to its end, there was silence for a long time (I would ask no questions my “spirit” could answer).  Then a psychic re-branded my mind once again as my “higher self”, and we talked up a storm for years and years (this is where I really learned both the “power” and the limitations of this capacity).  When I finally moved beyond belief in toto, I grew silent again for a while, shy of the brand names still clinging to my “spirit”.

But why should I be shy about embracing this part of me that has always been, well, me?

Looking back it’s obvious that the voice that answered me has always been my own.  Perhaps that is why many have come to believe that God is not a jealous God at all, but will answer any who call on him.  These are much closer to the truth of the matter than those who are trapped within the particular “brand name” of spirituality that they have been sold.  But both of these groups are still only accidentally right about what is really going on inside our brains and our bodies.  They continue to live with an extraneous barrier between themselves and their own experience of that self.

I’ve heard many Christians sputter the nonsense that modern humanist thought is all about elevating humans to the point that they displace “God” from his rightful role as our master.  Once again, they are partly right, but only accidentally.  For I do not say that we are God (as an actual being), only that God (as an experience) turns out to be a phenomenon of our own consciousness.  And though they may not be able to appreciate it, there is a huge difference between those two ideas.  I do not exaggerate the power of our natural mental phenomenon to the level of something metaphysical, but neither do I make the more troubling mistake of disdaining and discounting it because it is not of God.

No.  For my part, I strive to simply enjoy the modest “trinity” that is my own body, soul and spirit.  Completely of this world, and as temporal as my own life.  There is wonder enough in that for me.

t.n.s.r. bob

SERMON: “My Gut is Telling Me Something” by the-not-so-reverend bob

Saturday, November 20th, 2010

In what seemed an almost off-handed remark in evolutionary biologist Deirdre Barrett’s book “Supernormal Stimuli” (reviewed here this week), she said that consciousness only accounts for a small part of our brain’s activity.  My little ears perked up!

The reason I was surprised is obvious: my consciousness accounts for almost all of the energy of my, well…my consciousness!  And then I realized (yet again!) that there are lots of reasons that we humans are so completely self-focused, chief among them being that it’s only natural for us to be so, being — practically-speaking — hard wired for it by eons of evolution.

Another surprising bit of neural-data came from a video my anthropologist friend sent to me, in which I found learned that our “guts” have enough neurons in them to build a brain the size of a cat.  Yes: we have a “brain” in our gut.  Pondering that, the picture of what I’ve thought of as my “brain” — a discreet organ lodged in my skull — expanded into a more comprehensive view of the brain as a specific collection of neurons with specific functions, connected to a whole raft of other neurons with equally specific purposes, all of them feeding into the smooth functioning of the entire body.

Now this is one of those ideas that, upon hearing it, elicits a sort of bland “Well of course that’s how it is” (even though the minute before hearing it we could never have articulated such a concept).  But that’s how good data functions: like the right piece of the puzzle that someone else hands us and we snap into place to complete another part of the picture.

This is an exciting time for science and scientific discovery, for the trend I notice most is the increasingly rapid abandonment of the confident (and overly-simplistic) assertions of earlier discoveries for the more nuanced (and much more likely) realities of everything from early human evolution to dinosaurs to genetics.  There is a part of me that is relaxing into a deeper confidence in scientific progress even as new discoveries (indirectly) highlight past over-statements or over-reaching conclusions.

A side effect of this new wave of a more integrated scientific sensibility is a growing awareness that even much of what we now know more confidently will continue to be modified (or replaced) by new discoveries.

I don’t expect we’ll last long enough as a species to know everything (nor, frankly, that were we to live forever we could know everything).  But in science — just like in life — we have to strive for the best information we can get and apply our knowledge as best we can even as we understand that we will know more and better tomorrow, or in a week, or in a year.

I pity and fear those that carry metaphorical torches and pitchforks against science.  In modern society the anti-science mob fixates on a few favorite hoaxes in the past (Piltdown Man is a perennial), or the fact that science continues to revise itself in the face of new data (a habit that un-nerves those who want their truths eternal and fixed).  The irony, of course, is that the anti-science folks rant and protest (against the erosion of belief by evidence) while remaining blithely ignorant of how much of their lives (and their life itself) has been made possible and better by the knowledge we have gained only through scientific research.

Back to our intestines: the ramifications of understanding that we have a semi-brain operating in our gut are rather startling, and can point the way to better understanding our own behavior and possible corrections to that behavior when modern stimuli and historically novel food choices threaten our very lives.

I said in my very first sermon: “Because of Darwin, life on earth makes sense.  Because of Darwin, my life makes sense.”  We are lucky to live in a time when science can actually answer questions that mankind could only guess at for the last couple hundred thousand years.

t.n.s.r. bob

ALL GOOD GIFTS by the not-so-reverend bob

Sunday, January 17th, 2010

I have heard the claim that it is the fact that we were created by a loving God that makes our lives valuable.  (This in contrast to the callous disregard for life that humans would exhibit without the restraining and enlightening influence of the knowledge of our “special creation” by the God of the universe).  There is an apparent logic in this, it seems, and most of us nod our heads believing it — in some measure — to be true.  It’s not.  Not only is it untrue, but I suggest that this belief does, in practice, produce the very callous disregard for human life that it proudly claims to confer upon us mortals.  By insisting that humans are born sinful into a sinful world, and can only be redeemed in the present for an eternal reward in the future, our actual lives on earth are dismissed as a brief passage of travail through which we must pass to arrive — in due time — at the homes in heaven prepared for us by God.  Life becomes a bad vacation in a dangerous city in which we must be degraded to earn the “streets flowing with milk and honey” that will follow our death in Christ (or insert your personal saviors name here).  Humility before the vastness of the universe is one thing, self abnegation for a dicey post-life wager quite another.

This is another case of the classic schoolyard retort of “I know you are, but what am I”, and another example of how the good things about us humans are co-opted and turned against us by religious bullies.  I’ve seen in my own life the practical outcome of a strong belief in the hereafter: a loss of compassion for the very real and present suffering of others of our species.  (I do note the exceptions — those whose faith internalizes as a call to alleviate the suffering of others).  A proportion of the religious consider the physical suffering of humans a small price to pay if it will get them to bow down to the authority of God.  For that group of believers, what they call love is really a tool for prying open the injured to create an opening into which religious instruction can flow: what I call “Love as a crowbar”.

The standard division in basic Christianity (I will only assume the same holds true for Islam, as they are twin children of the same bronze-age monotheistic faith) is this: All that is “good” is of God, and all that is “bad” is of the world.  “Of the world” is a common quotation understood by every Evangelical Christian to mean this physical world of sin and suffering (including the planet of earth itself and every creature and plant that walks, crawls or clings to it).  Hence you must say “grace” over your meal to sanctify it;  sex can only occur in a heterosexual marriage sanctified and sanctioned by a priest, minister or rabbi; and entertainment can only be enjoyed if it carries a religious theme (or can be interpreted to support a godly precept).

I believe it’s Richard Dawkins that points out in his book “The God Delusion” that it is the very difficulty of obeying the strict self-denying tenets of a religion that can make up a large part of it’s appeal to the fundamentalist believer.  That is why the further up (or down) the “fundamentalist” scale one goes, the purer the believer, the more sure he or she is of salvation.  The New Testament calls upon followers of Christ to “take up their cross daily” and “crucify the flesh”, and — as an aid to those practices — offers the believer a dose of reasons to doubt his or her own reason: “For the wisdom of God is foolishness to man” (and vice-versa).

This, of course, points out a paradox of religion that is so screamingly obvious we can barely see it — so perfectly diabolical that it inspires a certain admiration in me for it’s very adaptability — namely this:  that religion has the gall to dismiss and degrade human reason, intellect and emotion (even our physical bodies themselves) and then — in the same breath — appeal to the very same reason, intellect, emotion and body to make of themselves a pleasing sacrifice to the God who made them so and who will (if we do it just right and for long enough) give to them a promise of entry into heaven when we die.

There are immediate rewards offered, of course: the knowledge that your sins (don’t worry, you’ll have help identifying them) are forgiven; the understanding that you can now talk to God and he will listen to you (the blood of Jesus covering up the earthy horror that is you so that God will not be sullied by his participation in the exchange); and a reason for living, a purpose for you life which is the proclaiming of the salvation that you have just received to everyone else on the planet.  (Personally, I think these “gifts” are pretty much on a par with a free frying pan for opening a new checking account or — my favorite — the offer I once got from the US Navy of two free t-shirt iron-on transfers if I would enlist.)

This practiced sleight of hand is difficult to see because we are distracted by the deep emotions that are played upon by the trickster.  What I mean by that is that the magician is taking something from our own human pocket, as it were, and offering it back to us as a gift.  (Nice trick, that: it does feel good to get our watch or wallet back, and our relief can delay the realization that some asshole has just had his hand in our pocket!)

Religions have evolved right along with us humans over thousands of years.  Great.  So have viruses.  And like viruses, religion is parasitic: it has no body or structure to support it (except ours!).  If tomorrow the entire population of the world woke up not believing in God, God would vanish.  I take our inclination toward belief and the very concept of the spiritual to be by-products of our naturally-evolved human consciousness.  (Who knows if whales or porpoises or other primates have a sense of the numinous?  Perhaps they do in some different gradation than we do.  They can’t tell us.  Yet.)

But how can I say God doesn’t exist?  I can’t, really, for this reason:  lots and lots of people believe in God.  And as long as people believe in God, there will persist in our collective consciousness this loose assemblage of ideas and experiences and stories and impressions that make up our day to day encounters with God.  In that sense God does, indeed, exist as a “force” or definite “presence” in the world.  What I am fairly certain of is that God does not exist as an individual consciousness outside of our own human consciousnesses.  Maybe God is like the internet:  If I decide (like a totalitarian regime might) that the INTERNET is evil, and must be destroyed, where do I aim the missile?  Certainly I can use my own computers to block other computers, or rip computers from homes, or turn off the power, or imprison internet writers, but to a certain extent there is no INTERNET as a single organism, for parts of it are contained on millions of personal, corporate and governmental computers.  At this stage, you would just about have to wipe out our species to wipe out the internet and all the knowledge it stores and transmits.  And here’s the point: if you were able to accomplish that, the INTERNET as we know it would cease to exist — it has no consciousness or physical presence that transcends the tangle of wires and wireless transmissions and hard drives and servers that carry streams of digital data all around the world.

That being so, I’d be thought an idiot were I to claim that the internet does not really “exist” at all.  Any fool knows from experience that it does.  I expect there are a few of us out there who have taken the next step, and believe that the internet is, indeed, superhuman or somehow transcendent.  Wouldn’t surprise me.  It’s in our nature to ascribe to powers outside of us forces we cannot readily explain.  As rational as I think myself to be, I’m not above having those tingles of doubt in the dark that there might be something out there in the night.  But even that is part of my human heritage, and I can’t, therefore, bring myself to despise it.

That is why I’m careful not to dismiss the experiences of the religious: a) because I’ve had them myself and; b) because they are far too ubiquitous (and seemingly universal across human time and populations) to dismiss.  Were I to do that (some writers do), I’d be met with the inevitable “But I SAW (felt, just knew, etc.) it myself!”.  Just as the fact that the knowledge the internet carries is not dependent on the internet for its validity (it is true or false, as the case may be, on its own merits), so our individual experiences of the numinous do not go away when God does.  This I know from my own experience.  Here I refer to the pedestrian wonders we experience of people showing up when we think about them, a parking space opening up right when we need it or a helper appearing at just the right time.  The miraculous, it turns out, is a fairly regular natural occurrence.  (And let’s be honest here: these are just the sorts of events we tend to hang our spiritual credentials upon).

It is because of these shared experiences that I carry a certain tenderness toward this species of ours that has shared an evolutionary journey with every living thing on this planet for some billions of years.  We’ve come through a lot together, and the more I learn about evolution and the vagaries of natural selection, I find it wondrous that we have come so far in just a few thousand years:  From caves and stone-tipped spears to ballet companies and life-saving surgeries is not an accomplishment to be sniffed at or dismissed no matter what the preacher says.  Agreeing with Christopher Hitchen’s assessment (in “God is not great:  How religion poisons everything”) that “our adrenal glads are too large and our frontal lobes too small” I find it nonetheless delightfully remarkable that we are capable of being as rational, kind and thoughtful as we often are.

I once spent a year of my teenage life waiting for Jesus to return.  I was 18, and for several years had heard the preaching that we were in the “end times”.  I was a bit like those cult members that follow their leader to a hilltop to await the Lord’s return on a specific day and time only to have to climb down the hill (in disappointment) in the dark.  It was a year of — basically — not doing much in college and finding myself unable to generate interest in preparing for a life to come (a future that was going to be cut short by the “Rapture” anyway).  At the end of that year I saw a poster with a quote something like “Go boldly in the direction of your dreams: A ship can only change directions when it’s moving”.  It was as if I woke up and was able to reason that Jesus would likely prefer to find me busy rather than idle when he came back.  Gradually (as the years passed and Jesus “tarried”) I looked less and less for his return.  Eventually I was able to build a deeply satisfying life that was sufficient unto itself to justify my presence on the earth.  Along the way I passed through my Christian beliefs and out the other side, and was faced with passing through that dark tunnel of learning to appreciate the man (myself) and the world that I had learned from my earlier Faith to despise.

I could compare the transition away from faith to quitting drinking or giving up sugar (using my own experiences):  at the beginning you only notice what has been taken away, and life seems pretty damn bleak (like a snow cone with all the sugary juice already sucked out).  But, in time, we adapt and learn to taste, to sense, to feel and to enjoy the richness that was there all the time but was blunted by the concentrated stimulation of a drug, chemical or — in this case — religious faith.  In short, one finds that drinking…or God…didn’t make things better at all.  It only made reality easier to avoid.  As in psychiatric counseling, one seeks to escape the parts of oneself that are hated, feared or despised, only to find that the therapist — instead of helping us excise those parts — turns us back toward the pieces of self that we have made enemies of and directs us to love them with all of our hearts.  THAT is the path to wholeness, to human-ness.

Speaking of psychiatry: modern religion does an interesting job of raiding the henhouse of medical science and stealing “eggs” for use in it’s own self-help omelet, while still calling the henhouse a den of iniquity.  Creationists do the same by wrapping themselves in a cloak of science while calling human science evil, corrupt and anti-God.  “I know you are, but what am I?”  More sleight of hand, bait and switch: robbing from the great human storehouse of learning, sacrifice, study and compassion and selling it back to the masses with their own religion’s logo imprinted on it.

As a human being, I resent that, and feel a compulsion to point out that the emperor is buck nekked.

I think the real hope for humanity is an acceptance of our true place in the universe, allowing the discoveries of science in anthropology, genetics, psychology, geology, biology and the like to inform a deeper appreciation of ourselves as individuals and as a species.  From that starting point we can do a better job of figuring out how to use our naturally evolved gifts (and the resources we have) to make the one short life we have on this spinning globe as productive, meaningful and good as it can be.  I could ask for no more than that.

If you think that life is brutish, cruel, filthy, sinful and pointless, well, maybe yours is.  Bringing God into it may offer a respite (with the added bonus of a sense of superiority masked as humility).  But as needing God’s salvation implies that your life is, indeed, as the preacher describes (ugly and in need of redemption), what you’ll end up with is, in practice, enshrinement of your lowliness before a pure God of the human imagination (no less tyrannical for such an origin).  This is a God who liberates even as He enslaves.

When Darwin speaks of man’s “lowly origin” he is saying something different: he speaks with wonder at our humble (not sinful) beginnings; he speaks with awe at our human accomplishments, and reverence for our millions of nameless predecessors that brought us here today (to our ballet companies and flying machines and spelling bees — for isn’t it also our creative, social and caring natures that “fit” us for survival?)  Darwin’s is a testimony of celebration of the human being, liberated from the false pride that “special creation” inspires.  Paradoxically, we are brought higher as we are brought lower: we are, indeed of this world, humbly made, sharing the same journey as the snail or the eagle, related to them, in fact, sharing our very DNA with the mouse, the monkey, the fish or a head of lettuce.  Alone in the universe, we see how remarkable our lives are on this ever-changing earth and gain a true appreciation for the brother- and sisterhood we share with each other.  We learn that we were once all of the same tribe.  (Only 200,000 years ago we were a very small band, indeed, emerging out of Africa and spreading out into the world, and diverging into the diverse shapes, shades and languages that we would eventually inhabit).  This is a story to tell our children, to tell ourselves.  This is a story and view of ourselves that gives us a real basis for valuing life.  For each creature living today represents, in their DNA, an unbroken thread stretching back over 2 billion years to the very first successful life forms that quivered on this planet, a planet that was born in fire, rich in the minerals and elements of the stars.  That is quite a heritage.  That is a truth that religion cannot match.

Hitchens quips that religion will always have the advantage of “being there first” before science.  True.  But science will always have the advantage of being, well, true.  Perhaps, in time, that will win out.

Religion feeds on ancient fears: of the dark, of the unknown, of death.  It is a negative feeding on negatives, from which it somehow claims to (alchemically, I suppose) create pure good.  We’ve grown up with it in a nation sympathetic to it, so we have taken its claims to be true out of sheer familiarity even as the areas of knowledge over which religion claims dominion have been steadily eroded by scientific discovery.  Yet religion persists.  We continue to want to — need to — believe.

Upon reflection, I think I’m a bit too hasty to proclaim that God would be gone on that imagined tomorrow when we all wake up not believing in him: Because the phenomena that feed our beliefs would most surely persist.

One Winter night — after a lifetime of never doubting the existence of God — the thought came unbidden into my head: “Could I live in a world without God?”.  It was a shocking, shaking, thought.  Within a week, the question was moot, as I woke up to find myself living in a world without a God in it.  It seemed as if God had simply packed up his tents and left me alone.  I felt terror and exhilaration: a clear sense of complete freedom and complete responsibility.  But my primal fibers quivered at what the ramifications of this new state of being would be:  Would the sun rise tomorrow?  Would good things still happen to me?  I didn’t know.  But the sun did rise the next day, and good things, I could see, were still happening to me.  Eventually I realized that nothing in my life had changed except my understanding of it — my conception of the “why” of it.  The good things, the magical things, the serendipitous things that before I had taken as signs of God’s grace and my alignment with his will just kept on coming.

I can hear a counter argument out there (which I’ve had with myself): “What if God has simply been hiding himself, but has been showering you with his Grace anyway for all these years?”  It’s possible.  Or, at least, impossible to disprove.  And the Puritan in me also allows that he could just be waiting ’till I’m dead to tell me what a sinner I’ve been for ignoring him before he casts me into the fiery furnace.  That would be the punishing, righteous God just waiting to fuck me up.  (Sort of an Evangelical’s wet dream to be proven right by my delayed just punishment.  Would serve me right for being so damn happy without the support of Religion).

So maybe religion would return after my imagined morning of non-belief, rising again, ever the adapting virus, propelled by its own survival instinct, ever searching for a new host, a new believer among the young, the wounded, the sick.  Love as a crowbar.

Love as a crowbar is not love at all: it is a calculating opportunism that feeds on the suffering of fellow humans.  No thanks.  Give me the love of a humanist any day, and the company of a person that is not ashamed to share a distant ancestor with a monkey, whale or bumblebee.  That is someone who understands the value of life.

That is someone who understands that all good things around us are ours by right of our birth, made valuable buy our own very human capacity for valuing them.  The sun does not rise for us, nor does the flower bloom so that we can smell it.  Yet it is us humans that most appreciate both of these very natural phenomenon.  Our aesthetic sense is ours alone, part of our evolutionary heritage.  Likewise, we do not derive our sense of right and wrong from a list of ancient commandments bestowed by a deity — the commandments were taken from our own evolved social values and sold back to us as the word of God.  There is so much for us to enjoy, to taste, to sense, to feel, to do that each moment wasted on a heaven to come is a moment wasted right here on earth.  I don’t want to waste my time, and I don’t want religious bullies abusing my brethren.

As the hymnist says (well, at least in the hymn I wrote for The Church of Bob): “Therefore life is precious, life is good, but it’s not because God made is so.  No, our birthright’s written in the stars, in the sky above and earth below.  Then comfort take and comfort give, to our friends and loving family, Our live’s no less miraculous, just because they happened randomly”.