Why does God only reveal himself to some people?

It's been a while since I chimed in, and I have a lot of post ideas simmering, but in the mean time, here's an article that I found absolutely fascinating.

Why does god reveal himself to some people and not to others?

The article discusses free will, informed consent, hide and seek, heaven, and asks all kinds of interesting questions.

Let me know what you think!

Never stop questioning,


Guest Post - A Theist Perspective from Amanda

Amanda and I have been friends since we were 8 and in addition to being awesome, she's also seen every stage of my religious development, from devout Evangelical Christian all the way to Atheist. We've had countless discussions about religion over the years, slowly shaping our beliefs and opinions, and I have to commend her for sticking by me through all of my crazy Christian talk. No seriously, who stays friends with someone who firmly and vocally believes that you're going to hell? Apparently Amanda does, and I don't think anyone has been more proud of my deconversion than she has. Today she's here to present her version of theism, one that I'm more than happy to promote.

- Valerie
The original idea when Val and Mike started this blog was that I would be a regular guest-poster. Since I’m starting graduate school in a couple weeks, this might not pan out the way we had hoped. But I’d still like to introduce myself, and give you a little background information. This way, when I do manage to post an entry here or there, you have some idea of where I’m coming from.
I think I’ll start with my grandpa on my dad’s side of my family, which is the Jewish side. I’m sure when you try to imagine what they were like culturally, there are a number of Jewish stereotypes that come to mind: loud, abrasive, food-loving, warm, argumentative, soulful, quirky. And many of these are entirely true. But there’s an important component to my upbringing puzzle that I think you will find particularly important, especially in the context of this blog.
You see, my grandfather was a militant atheist.
I loved him dearly. He and my grandma were terribly eccentric. No one really understood their relationship. They argued constantly – often in Yiddish – and frequently went out of their way to get on each other’s nerves. It was fun to watch, but only if you understood that the whole conflict was rooted in a profound compassionate love for one another. Somehow, argument was their way of showing that love. It’s something I’ve grown to appreciate as I get older.
As you can imagine, a constant source of conflict was the topic of religion. My grandma insisted that my brother and I (their only grandchildren) be raised Jewish. As such, my grandpa was to be present at all holiday celebrations, and he wasn’t allowed to complain or get in the way. But he always found a way around this. So, we would all sit together at the table for a nice Passover meal, with my dad leading the Seder, pointing out each food in order and telling the story; “And this, the bread of affliction, which our ancestors brought forth from Egypt-“ always interrupted by a constant background of denial. My grandfather would elbow his way in with snide comments like “But it’s meaningless! It’s just symbol, it’s empty! Religion is a crutch!” Okay, so maybe they weren’t so snide as blatantly rude.
My parents remember these stories fondly. They giggle about my eccentric atheist grandfather and his refusal to participate in the Seder, year after year. And although I don’t remember these episodes myself, I have to believe that he had an influence on my thinking. Allow me to explain.
You see, I am a deeply religious Jew. I’ve discussed God and the Torah with Val and Mike for years now, and the deeper we delve, the more convincing arguments they provide for the non-existence of God, the stronger my faith becomes. I’ll write an entry on the nuances of these conversations another time, the important part for now is that you understand that I, personally, am religious.
But whenever I try to describe the tenants of Judaism to someone else, somewhere I always go off track a little bit. I stop describing the bearded father figure in the sky that many other Western Monotheists envision, and I move into a territory where people honor the Covenant with God while still questioning his nature. About a year back, I realized I wasn’t describing any traditional form of Judaism, I was describing the Judaism I was raised with. A Judaism where a symbol is presented to us – a story is told – and immediately after, we are challenged to question it. It may have been a mistake, something not necessarily calculated by my parents’ childrearing, but I think there’s a certain beauty to it. I am urged to read the Torah and understand its teachings, but only on my own terms. Only after I have thoroughly questioned every assertion it makes. Only then will I feel comfortable and grounded in my beliefs.
Frankly, I plan to raise my children this way. And I won’t have to work too hard at it. My boyfriend Brandon (whom I seriously hope to marry) is agnostic. He’s quiet about his non-belief, and he respects my religion and my need to raise my children Jewish. But still he is careful. He questions everything, and doesn’t allow me to take any religious assertion for granted. He carries on the legacy of my grandfather well, and I hope he can be a positive influence in my future childrens’ lives in that same way.
Furthermore, if my children, after examining and questioning the tenants of Judaism, were to deconvert, I would not be upset. So long as they continue to acknowledge Judaism as their cultural and racial background, I would be happy to see them critically examining the universe around them, and coming to what they find to be the logical conclusion - and a conclusion I can respect, at that.
On the other hand, were they to convert to Christianity (in any form), I would be devastated. I don't feel that Christianity is a logical conclusion when one critically evaluates Judaism. And I don't consider it to be a healthy lifestyle. Indeed, I would be deeply concerned for my child's well being, were they to convert from Judaism to Christianity.
I can shed some light on this in another post, when I discuss my personal beliefs - which digress slightly from traditional Jewish beliefs - in greater detail.

Theists think too,


Atheist Peanut Gallery

Two weeks back ABC Nightline aired a special segment on Atheist organizations in America. The Friendly Atheist had a wonderful live-blogging post on how ABC choose to go for controversial shock value instead of doing honest reporting. A must read (no seriously it provides context needed for the rest of the post).

Not surprisingly, Fox News ran with the "atheist cult" narrative. As their audience mainly consists of conservative Christians, the sheer ignorance or hatred of atheists in most of the comments is not surprising either. Instead of my standard type of post, I decided to lift a random sampling of these comments and respond to them. I admit that I get more aggressive with some of these than I usually prefer to, but sometimes the best response to bigotry is ridicule.

Grammar and spelling are left as I found them, a few have been pruned down for length, and there were a couple from the pages that I sampled that were so nonsensical I didn't want to waste your time on them. Other than that, this is an authentic taste of what atheists see every day for the offense of not shutting up and hiding out of sight.

Are Atheists Fundamentalists? Part II: Religious Extremism

The last time I talked about fundamentalism I was contrasting a reluctance to believe something without justification to holding onto beliefs in the face of a contradictory reality. This time I'm going to address the charge many Christian groups have leveled that somehow New Atheists are religious extremists.

Quite recently an atheist billboard with a message of unity - "One Nation, Indivisible" (the original text of the Pledge) - was vandalized by theists. Chrissy Satterfield, a writer for World Net Daily, applauded this vandalism.

"Atheists have been vandalizing my beliefs for years, so it’s about time the shoe was on the other foot... I also need to extend a thank-you to some people in Sacramento and Detroit. In February, 10 atheist billboards were defaced in the Golden State and a slew of atheist bus ads were vandalized in Detroit... I'm happy that I can count on other Christians to stand up for themselves and for Christians everywhere. It gives me hope."

To Christians like Satterfield, Atheist "vandalism" is apparently the act of disagreeing with her beliefs and having the audacity to say so publicly. Here's the thing Satterfield, I may disagree with your beliefs, criticize them, even ridicule ones that especially deserve it, but I respect your freedom of speech. I would never destroy your property. I am unaware of any instance in which theistic billboards erected in response to atheist billboards (an entirely appropriate response by the way) have been defaced to mock theists. So you're wrong, we haven't been vandalizing your property, and frankly I find it laughable that you think someone can "vandalize" your beliefs.

Unfortunately this isn't the only example of theists showing no sense of perspective. Atheist outreach groups in the US have been accused of being militant, extremist, and even terrorists before I'd even heard of Dawkins and Hitchens. Here's some perspective on the issue.

  • Extremist theists fly planes into buildings.
  • Atheists are called "extremist" when they write books and give lectures at universities, their crimes are exacerbated when they use a mocking tone.

  • Extremist theists murder doctors and cartoonists in cold blood.
  • Atheists are called "extremist" when they try to promote medical accessibility and education, as well as freedom of speech.

  • Extremist theists go on TV shows funded by their congregations to condemn entire societies for being unholy or worshiping the devil.
  • Atheists are called "extremist" when they go onto atheist-hostile mainstream networks to demand that our culture and government stop treating non-Christians (theist and non-theist alike) like second-class citizens.

Yes, atheists bring lawsuits against publicly funded institutions when Christian leaders subvert them to promote Christianity above other world views. That's because they're breaking the law. If a court, city council, or public classroom ever proposed starting every day with an affirmation that we are a nation without reliance on a god, a people that has grown up from its belief in spirits, you would sue too. And rightfully so, I would support you. Because its not the place of our public institutions to "decide" what belief is the right one.

So really, what have we done? Given speeches, written books, mocked superstitious beliefs, promoted secular education and the sciences, and supported the Constitution. I'm sure you all can understand my frustration, when I see people like me being labeled "fundamentalists," "vandals," and "extremists" for these things. These people don't have a right to not be offended, they are not entitled to special privilege, and I am not acting like a criminal or religious extremist when I point it out.

In search of reason,


P.S. On a more lighthearted note: It has been brought to my attention that extremist dyslexics fly buildings into planes. Have a great day!

Fears and Superstitions

When I first deconverted I at first felt at a bit like I was stumbling around in the dark. I'd slowly but surely let go of my old world views and superstitions, but there was no philosophy of how to live to fill that gap.

It wasn't long before my thirst for knowledge led me to the realization that some of the greatest thinkers from antiquity to modernity had been addressing similar issues. I'm finding that even after twenty years of formal schooling I am only just beginning to learn how to learn, how to think, how to live.

The following quote made me think of my posts on salvation and hell.  My train of thought strayed from Russell's words somewhat, but it was inspired by them.

"Fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty. To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom." - Bertrand Russell, British mathematician & philosopher (1872 - 1970)

I used to be afraid of dying, afraid of not living with enough devotion to an entity that I had never seen, heard, felt, or otherwise sensed. There's a very simple reason why preachers who say "god is love" one minute will cry out about how our society is not "god-fearing" the next.

As soon as I took the risk of questioning my beliefs I realized that it was nonsense to fear a god that loved me, such a god would not penalize its people for not believing when it knows exactly what it would take to convince each and everyone of them.

Without the fear it suddenly became possible to see all the other inconsistencies, each and every continuity error, every hypocrisy. At some level I became angry and frustrated at god, at religion, as if it was its fault for the falsehood. But that silly notion came from the framework of the world that I'd been raised with, one deeply rooted in superstitions.

Gods are no more than fictional characters, and religions social constructs of shared mythos and mores. The more autocratic a religion the more control it can have over continuity and consistency. The more liberal a religion the less it will conform to a consistent narrative or ethical principle.

Seeing religion for what it is, culture and folklore, allows one to stop being afraid of life, of oneself, of those who are different, and start to see the best in everything.

In search of reason,


US District Judge Finds DOMA Unconsitutional

I was very happy to read this last night. It is now law in Massachusetts that same-sex couples can marry and receive all the same State and Federal benefits as any other couple. DOMA has been ruled unconstitutional, and we are a step closer to marriage equality in this country.

The judge passed a Summary Judgement on the case, which will hopefully make the Justice Department be more cautious about appealing the case.

In the wake of DOMA, it is only sexual orientation that differentiates a married couple entitled to federal marriage-based benefits from one not so entitled. And this court can conceive of no way in which such a difference might be relevant to the provision of the benefits at issue. By premising eligibility for these benefits on marital status in the first instance, the federal government signals to this court that the relevant distinction to be drawn is between married individuals and unmarried individuals. To further divide the class of married individuals into those with spouses of the same sex and those with spouses of the opposite sex is to create a distinction without meaning. And where, as here, “there is no reason to believe that the disadvantaged class is different, in relevant respects” from a similarly situated class, this court may conclude that it is only irrational prejudice that motivates the challenged classification. As irrational prejudice plainly never constitutes a legitimate government interest, this court must hold that Section 3 of DOMA as applied to Plaintiffs violates the equal protection principles embodied in the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

The full decision.

In addition to the distinction between classes of married citizens being prejudicial, the judge also found that DOMA forces Massachusetts to discriminate against its own citizens in order to receive Federal funding.  The act "plainly encroaches" on the state's right to make legislation regarding marriage.  Generally the 10th Amendment gets drug through the streets by conservatives opposed to the federal government forcing states to protect equal rights (which would be trumped by the 14th Amendment), so it's ironic that it has been appropriately used to decide against this very conservative statute.  Nothing gets me moving in the morning like a good dose of irony.

In search of reason,


Christian Missionary Deconverted by Tribe

A happy and peaceful people teach one missionary that his religion doesn't translate across cultural boundaries as well as he thought. Having spent many years of his life with them, he slowly realized that his "faith" was just an ancient collection of superstitions.

He kept this hidden from those closest to him for two decades, because he feared the consequences. When he finally had the courage to share this part of his life, his family rejected him for it. I am not aware of anything beyond the biases of religions that can turn a family against their loved ones just for who they are and not for anything that they have done.

Video found with the help of Tracie Harris

I am lucky that my wife's deconversion was progressing not far behind my own when I told her. And I am thankful to her that, as distressed as she initially was when I shared that part of me with her, she was glad that I did and was willing to proudly stand by me.

In search of reason,


Are Atheists Fundamentalists? Part I

Many of the pro-science bloggers I read attended or closely followed the science conference Evolution 2010, and apparently during at least one panel things degenerated into atheist bashing.

BlagHag reports that it started out okay [We should be careful] choosing our wording as to not confuse others... Don't say you "believe" in evolution, don't call it "Darwinism," don't say you have "faith" in science, etc.

Unfortunately the attitude quickly came up that scientists should distance themselves from any atheist viewpoints.  The proponents of this want to win over more people by enthusiastic accommodation, or even outright encouragement, of evolution as a theistic rather than natural process. To these accommodationists, it seems like atheists are as extreme as fundamentalist theists. But is that perception true? Are both ends of the spectrum always extreme, the middle always right?

Most of the evolution deniers I've talked to have implied or even come out and said that they can't accept evolution because it contradicts their bible. No amount of evidence or logic will convince them, because in their mind evolution is atheism (at best a theist who accepts evolution is misguided and led astray from the inerrant truth of the bible).

"No matter what you say you can never make me stop believing" I've heard some say. When I was witnessed to last month the evangelist told me "Whether you are convinced by my testimony, ignore it, or respond to me with hate and anger doesn't matter. I have succeeded, for I have done what the Lord asks and planted his seed in you."  So no matter what, theist fundamentalists will refuse to change their minds, they see truth from their book, not from evidence in the natural world.

On the other hand New Atheists are arguing that people should think for themselves. We happily say "convince me" or "show me the evidence." If there is sufficient evidence we will change our minds with confidence that we are justified in doing so. Many atheists even have public lists of what would convince them of a god.

Are these two positions even remotely comparable? I'm all for introducing science education in a way that doesn't force a choice between science and religious beliefs, but lets be reasonable.

There is no evidence for a seven day creation 6,000 years ago. There is no evidence that the Sun orbits the Earth and that the Moon creates its own light. There is no evidence that Adam and Eve and a talking snake were real. There is no evidence that the hand of someone's god reached down and guided the mutations and selections of the evolutionary process so that it would inevitably result in humans.

We're not being irrational or stubborn for not believing in these things. We care about our beliefs being true and we won't accept beliefs if we find that we lack good reasons for them. All we are doing is applying the scientific process and concluding that we have no justification to believe those things. If you demonize atheists for being contrary to believers, you're not really trying to reconcile science and religion, you're trying to win a popularity contest.

In search of reason,